Why Women Smile Rhetorical Analysis


When doing my revisions of this piece, I had a lot of help from Dave, telling me to keep asking why the the Author Amy Cunningham did what she did. At first I only delved in a little bit, saying that she added things like the monkey smiling to add logic to the essay. But then I began to go deeper and deeper in each of her concepts, learning more and more about what was really going through her mind when she wrote the essay, and mine when I read it.

Rhetorical Analysis

Ryan Jackson

The essay Why Women Smile goes over how the author Amy Cunningham thinks that women have been heavily influenced by society in the way that they show or do not show their emotions.  It goes over how women are still not completely equal, as even though they are supposedly free and equal legally, society still has control over the way that women act. 

The reason that  Cunningham talks about how monkeys use the smile to show that they are passive and not going to cause harm to those around them is to make the connection between two closely related species. This connection uses logic and makes the reader to think about how it may be a biological trait for women to smile, using it as a tool just as monkeys do to show that they are non-threatening. The logic, in this case, creates an understanding for the reader, as the reader understands that a smile is a non-threatening action that is apparently biological. The act of smiling is seen as non-threatening though, because of how it has been perceived by others. This facial expression of smiling has actually gone through an evolutionary history much like any living species, following the rules of survival of the fittest. It has been seen so much as a happy expression, used when someone laughs or hears good news, compared to a negative expression. Because of this, it is widely seen as the stereotypical expression of happiness.

Another reason listed is that during the 1800’s women and African Americans were treated so badly that they needed to show by smiling that they were not dangerous to people who thought that they were superior to them. This brings emotion to the essay, going back to a period where many people were badly mistreated and abused. This is to cause thoughts of slavery and to make the reader think about how the smile has played a role in this horrible part of the nation’s history. The imagery of an African American in the 1800‘s, giving a large smile to the monster that forced the person to be a slave, just to try to keep from getting tortured. This picture brings in thoughts of how the smile may actually be a dark or simply masked emotion. This is done to get the reader to think of a new definition of the smile, taking a deeper, more intense look at what the smile may really be. This is to cause the reader to become even more intrigued as to what the author is saying, as the reader is now asking their own questions, and searching for answers in the essay.

The article also lists how babies make use of the smile, as by giving a certain emotion that someone close to them enjoys, they hope to get a similar emotion back. This reference is made to add both logic and emotion to the essay. The logic comes from again going back to the biology of humans and how it is used, but this time by introducing into people’s minds a cute, smiling baby, that is giving off joyous emotions. This is done to bring thoughts of the smile back to a pure and real emotion. This baby, who doesn’t think of unhappiness, whose only wish is to get this pure happiness and enjoyment back from whoever is around them. This aspect of the smile being a truly happy emotion is used to show the reader that the there are many different kinds of smiles. This is used for many different purposes, some good and pure, while others may still simply be a masked emotion.

Why first person? This essay was written in first person to add credibility, logic, and emotion. The author, who the audience knows is a woman, can add all three of those aspects by describing real-life examples of a why a woman smile’s. The first person aspect allows her to elaborate on each and every issue, giving both outside sources and her own thoughts on what is going on. This gives the reader a feeling of almost knowing the author, like they are actually listening to what the author is saying. This adds credibility and emotion to the essay, as listening to the trials of a real woman and the way that she feels society truly acts on women is both emotional and credible, as well as adding the logic that she knows how women feel. This is also done to increase interest in the essay, as the reader now not only wants their questions answered, but wants to hear the trials of a woman in society today.

Today’s social stereotype of the perfect woman may be a woman smiling. However, the essay states that for much of history, society has actually tried to force women to hide their smiles. For instance, Cunningham says that, “Ironically,  the social  laws  that govern  our smiles  have  completely reversed  themselves  over  the  last  two  thousand  years.  Women  weren’t  always  expected  to  seem  animated  and  responsive;  in  fact,  immoderate laughter was once considered one of the  more conspicuous vices  a woman could  have,  and mirth  was  downright sinful.  Women were  kept  apart,  in some cultures even veiled, so that they couldn’t perpetuate Eve’s seductive, evil  work.” This shows the social pressures that women are forced to obey, but also to show that society’s view on the smile also change, again causing the reader to question what the smile really is, wondering if it is only what society has forced upon us.

As Cunningham talks about society and women about the pressure that is put on women to show their emotions in certain ways, she begins to go over ways that society is changing the way that women are viewed. Towards the end of the article, examples of how new marketing structures from companies such as Nike are showing a strong view of women: “Nike is  running ads that show unsmiling women athletes sweating, reaching, pushing themselves. These women aren’t overly concerned with issues  of rapport; they’re not  being  “nice” girls-they’re working out.” This is done to show the power of society and media, even increasing the question of what is a smile, and how much are emotions affected by society in general. This again increases the reader’s interest into the essay, as the human intrigue kicks in and the search for answers in the essay continues.

I do agree with this essay, as I think that women are very affected by society in the ways that they show their emotions. I do not think, however, that it is something that women, or anyone else who smiles even if they are not extremely happy, should worry about. As shown in the essay, every member of society is constantly affected by those around them. From the ways that people dress, talk, act, eat,  travel, and even sleep, people are always affected by society. Fashion in a society completely affects the way that the majority of the people in that society dress. If something is in, and the majority of people feel that it is a “stylish” look, people may dress that way regardless of how they actually feel about the clothing, only as long as they believe that it pleases the people around them. Look at trends in any area, and you will see that people behave according to their surroundings. Kids in elementary school making farting noises because their friends think that it is funny. People eating and trying different foods because other people tell them that it is good. All of these are ways that people are affected by society to do things that they may not do otherwise.

What I really didn’t like about this article was how the author keeps making it seem like the women in society today are basically forced to smile. Society and media may put pressure on women to be beautiful and in shape, but it does not force women to be smiling. The quote “To limit a woman to one expression is  like editing down an orchestra to  one  instrument.  And  the search  for  more  authentic  means  of expression  isn’t easy  in  a  culture in  which women are still  expected to  be  magnanimous  smilers,  helpmates  in  crisis,  and  curators  of  everybody else’s morale.” makes it seem like women have absolutely no power over their emotions. This is not at all how I see women, and I do not think that it is how most people see women nowadays. Maybe it is just because I live in a very diverse and free thinking society in Ann Arbor. There may be many societies in the United States that see women in a way that they should always be smiling, but in my view, this is not how I believe society treats and views women. The author also makes it seem like not smiling and getting called out for it is a terrible thing. She quotes her friend saying, “A  friend  remembers  being  pulled  aside  by  a  teacher  after  class  and asked,  “What is  wrong,  dear?  You sat there for  the  whole  hour looking so sad!”  “All I could figure, ”  my friend says now,  “is that I wasn’t smiling.  And the fact  that she  felt sorry for  me  for  looking  normal made me feel  horrible.””

If someone asks if you are okay just because you aren’t smiling and your only response is that you feel horrible, maybe you should start smiling more. Maybe you should start finding more legitimate ways of smiling, maybe by looking on the bright side of things more often. For instance, in that situation, instead of just feeling bad about the whole thing, maybe double check that you don’t have a strange skin color or tears rolling down your face that you simply did not notice. If there is nothing incredibly strange or saddening about your appearance, possibly make a joke to yourself about the teacher’s comment, or just shake it off and move on. Parts of this essay makes it seem like women are somewhat powerless, like they are just singled out and controlled by society, when really they are strong and in most cases throughout history, able to stand up and speak for themselves.

A big reason that women may have the stereotype of smiling is because, like a smiling baby, they want an emotion from those around them in return. Most mothers love their children and want to see them happy, and may smile just to try to get a similar response out of their children. Some females may smile because they are genuinely happy. Some may smile because they think that it looks more attractive. Some may smile because it has been said that smiling is good for the health. Others may smile because they think that it is the way women should act, but I feel like that is not the main reason many women smile. I do not think that society tells women what they have to do. I think that Cunningham looks too closely at society, something that is ever changing. She states that society is now changing again, but makes it seem as if it is in a positive direction by saying:

“And  the search  for  more  authentic  means  of expression  isn’t easy  in  a  culture in  which women are still  expected to  be  magnanimous  smilers,  helpmates  in  crisis,  and  curators  of  everybody  else’s morale.  But  change is  already floating  in  the  high winds. We see  a  boon in  assertive  female  comedians who are  proving that Women  can  dish  out smiles, not just wear them. Actress Demi Moore has stated that she doesn’t like to take smiling roles.” 

So is this going to become the new normal for women then? That if ads start changing from smiling beautiful women to serious stand up female comics and unsmiling actresses, that this will give women more power over their emotions, giving them back a power that they lost long ago? What if some women don’t want to change? What if some women want to stay smiling? Are they just social outcasts, just as the author makes it seem a woman who does not constantly smile is, or are they heroes, standing up to society and making a statement.

People must remember that society is not a governing law. There will always be pressures from society, and everyone will view these pressures and society as a whole in different ways. Smiling however, is just an expression. It is up to the person whether they want to show this expression or not. As shown in the article, there are many different kinds of smiles. The question is not whether you should smile because society wants you to or not. It is to ask yourself why you are smiling, and whether you want to smile for that reason.

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