Resting Bitch Face: A Symptom of Sexism

The “resting bitch face” (or RBF, for short) has found its way into our list of slangs in the modern English language. No, this phrase does not (as of yet?) appear in the Oxford English Dictionary, even though they proudly, and a bit pretentiously, point out that they are “the definitive record of the English language.” However, “resting bitch face” does appear on Urban Dictionary, and more importantly than appearing in a collection or database of words and phrases, has become relatively prevalent when talking about the faces of women.

Before scrutinizing one generation for the creation of the systematic suppression and objectification of women through symbolic and expressive medium (i.e. through video games, linguistics, music, movies, art, etc.) it is important to remember that this generation has more opportunities to spread ideas and cultural trends than may have been allowed in the past, simply because of the fact that we currently have access to more forms of technology that allow for the dissemination of our work. In other words, Millennials didn’t “create” sexism and misogynistic attitudes. It’s simply easier to see them now than it was before, given the availability to spread one’s thoughts via the internet.

Instead, let’s try to understand why the muscular social expressions on the faces of women have managed to garner such an incredible amount of attention. It seems trivial, something that one may mention in passing, a harmless phrase, something to add to the perpetually growing laundry list of grievances that some neoliberal political correctness officers are enforcing. But it is important. Let me try to explain why.

The language we use as individuals reveals the sorts of attitudes and thoughts we might be housing in our heads. They expose our feelings, ideas, and views. And sometimes, our thoughts and opinions turn out to be problematic.

So let’s get into the issue. What is a resting bitch face? One writer summarized it brilliantly as she commented on retrospectively looking at her own face: “My mouth curled slightly downward, my brows were furrowed, my lips were a little pursed. My eyes aimed forward in a deadpan stare. I looked simultaneously bored, mad and skeptical.”

The issue here is that this description is, more or less, only applied to women. Why is that? Is it because only they are capable of performing this look, something that throughout the course of human evolution, the male individuals were never able to develop? No. Of course not.

The answer is that men actually are capable of making a similar facial expression. And more importantly, they do. It’s just that when a man isn’t smiling it’s somehow presumed that he is some mysterious pensive character. Or more often, we, as society, just don’t really notice or care. However, women are expected to be smiling due to societal pressure.

Cat-callers have earned a reputation for uttering phrases along the lines of “smile beautiful” and other unwanted compliments. It is one thing to genuinely speak kindly of someone’s appearance, smile at a stranger, do someone a random act of kindness, etc. We all know what unwanted attention looks like, and it’s time for this to stop.

It’s time for us to move past the days of considering women our societal objects for use, mere accessories that men will decorate their lives with, telling them what to wear, where to sit, what to eat, when to talk, when to smile, etc. It’s time that we acknowledge that patriarchal institutions are in fact telling women how they ought to exist and one of the symptoms of this horrid condition affecting the collective body of society is believing that there is such a thing as a “resting bitch face.” There is no resting bitch face. There is only a face, one that only the person behind the face gets to decide what they will and will not do with it.

This article was written by Amar Ojha, founder and writer at dusk magazine. 

1 Comment on Resting Bitch Face: A Symptom of Sexism

  1. This is a great consciousness-raising piece. But there’s two points to make.

    First: Some people are just unpleasant, having nothing to do with sexism or any other form of institutional disadvantage. Some people suck.

    Second: It’s not fair to take out your drama on someone else. If your boss is a chauvinist prick, it’s not really fair to treat some male customer unaware of that reality with hostility.


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