‘Resting bitch face’ perpetuates sexist idea of women as no more than smiles

September 16, 2016

Women undoubtedly face certain obstacles that men do not. These forms of inequality may not be as blatant as in past decades, like when women couldn’t vote, but the way we talk about women in everyday conversation is indicative of how we view women in our society. These more subtle transgressions are a huge problem that echo a time when women had few rights, were their husband’s property and were forced to take care of the home. One such transgression involves the so-called “resting bitch face.” We use this phrase to describe “a person, usually a girl, who naturally looks mean when her face is expressionless, without meaning to,” according to Urban Dictionary.

Although Brandeis is a liberal institution that boasts safe spaces, an open community and a very politically correct climate, this phenomenon is not unknown to the communitycampus. Quite frankly, the rampant use of “resting bitch face” at this university has done nothing but shock me over and over again. How is it possible that a student body so concerned with inclusive speech and forward thinking could endorse such a hateful and downright sexist term?

In multiple interviews with female-identifying individuals around campus, the range of opinions on the issue was far more varied than I originally anticipated.

“I have heard from a few people that I have ‘resting bitch face,’”Jeongmi Seo ’18 said. “I personally used it to describe myself a few times but I have never used it to describe others,” Seo mentioned regarding her opinion of the term. “That is because I know its offensiveness, and once I realized that, I stopped using it overall.”

If it was up to her, she would rather see the phrase die out. “As a person who is trying to enlighten myself and the people around me as much as possible, I would prefer if the word disappears—since it makes [some] if not many people uncomfortable.”

Another student, Julia Wolinsky ’18, had a wildly different perspective. “It’s fine. I think it’s kind of efficient. People won’t talk to you on the street. You don’t look very friendly, so they won’t stop you on the street.”

“People on the street have asked me if I’m okay. I assumed that it was because I wasn’t too happy, which can be interpreted as ‘resting bitch face.’” Wolinsky went on to further say, “It’s annoying when people ask, when they stop me on the street because I am okay. I just had places to be.”

In a final interview with Talie Massachi ’18, it became apparent that the “resting bitch face” debate couldn’t be any more varied. “I don’t think too much of it I guess. But at the same time, there’s clearly a level of ingrained sexism there. Because women don’t even think before putting down another woman for not looking friendly and inviting all the time.”

As a person who finds the word “bitch” empowering, it might come as a shock that I find the phrase “resting bitch face” offensive and derogatory. No one has ever used that to describe me, but I have had enough experience with other people using it that I would much prefer the death of the term. In many ways it harps upon stereotypes and reinforces the concept that women should be judged solely by their looks.

I’ve even seen women referring to other women as having a “resting bitch face,” so it appears that oftentimes women are the ones perpetuating the ill-conceived notion. It solidifies the idea that women are always supposed to be happy, perky and sincere, and that it is a women’s duty rather than a man’s to evoke these emotions through positive facial expressions such as smiling.

Furthermore, women are not allowed to express the emotions they feel without judgement—and in case you feel strongly that “resting bitch face” is real, that means that women should never be sad, unhappy, depressed or angry. With that said, “resting bitch face” is a way of denying someone their personhood.

So, keep in mind exactly what you’re saying, and what the implications of that are.

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