After being elected as the General Secretary of the Department in 2012, some of my classmates and I went out for lunch. While waiting for our respective orders, as the rest of the group engaged in loud conversations, I talked every now and then to a friend sitting next to me, overall avoiding any conversation. On the inside, I was trying to calm my anxiety, which had peaked ever since we had sat down in a large group. Unaware of this struggle, a classmate sitting opposite me suddenly remarked, “Rathi, you think you are better than everyone else here?” I was taken aback at the question, so sated with judgment and disdain, especially since she hardly knew me, nor I her. Even though I was offended, I calmly replied, “Yes.”
Being an ambivert, identifying with the introvert side of the spectrum, situations as the one I have written above are all too common for me. I also happen to be an INFJ personality and a highly sensitive person. This means, I have been, throughout my life, misinterpreted by women and men for being judgmental, sad, mad, or simply that “I don’t like them.”
Most people, with whom I have built and nurtured lasting relationships, have told me that they had thought in the beginning, “You didn’t like me.” This has happened so many times now that for a while, I believed that there was something wrong with my face, if not with my choice of words. In humour, I would tell people, “Oh! That’s just my face” when they asked me to “cheer up” or “not take everything so seriously.”
Not until recently did I discover something called the “Resting Bitch Face”. A Resting Bitch Face (RBF) is “(typically with reference to a woman) a sullen or scowling expression attributed to or unconsciously adopted by a person when in repose.” In addition, the facial expression could also be interpreted against gender stereotypes, cultural upbringing, human judgment, and against decision making as “angry, annoyed, irritated, or contemptuous.” When I began researching about RBF further, I found that women with different identities have been accused of “having a face” that did not rest well with traditional feminine demeanours and male expectations of femininity.
Although research states that the resting bitch face is “unconsciously showing up on people’s faces when people think they are just being neutral”, gender, personality types, and social realities can make life difficult. For instance, I have been often patronised by my superiors in workplaces for appearing “doubtful” or “unhappy” and have been asked more often than is necessary to “relax”.
That I identify as and am a woman, by default, goes against me, allowing men especially who don’t know me to presume things about me. I have been told enough times by [male] colleagues and peers, “We thought you were a serious person.” When I laughed with them, or when I disapproved of their “jokes” – “I knew you would say something”. Unfortunately, my ‘resting bitch face’ has also made women misjudge me as someone intending to be “above them” or “superior to them”, making them call out on me on “my arrogance” as in the earlier incident.
What most people don’t know is that as an ambivert and as a highly sensitive person, I am trying “to prevent the object from gaining power over” me, in Jungian terms. I am also fighting a double battle constantly with more things lined up against me than in my favour. The truth is, often times, even as I am trying to adjust myself to the external stimuli, I am hardly aware of the way my face comes to rest.
But I believe there is something sinister going around in the culture that women exist and live. There is an increased monitoring and policing of women’s body language and their language of communication, in addition to the way we look and behave, dissuading us from behaving and being any way other than what is dictated as acceptable. Women are being asked to “smile” more, “apologize” less, ditch “undermining language”, “speak up”, “relax”, and be “more professional” even by groups which are working to empower women.
There is an increased policing of women’s body language and their language of communication.
Like most women, I want to be left alone. To tell an adult woman to imitate a certain facial expression, or behave in a “better” manner is remnants of the infantilization that women and other groups have had to live with. It is certainly not any easier when one is constantly on guard, experiencing life as a highly sensitive person and as an INFJ personality type. I also understand that as individuals existing in the modern-day world, we are more likely now than ever before to meet people with different personalities, attitudes, and behaviours. And, as individuals and groups previously-silenced are rightfully claiming their own platform, we are exposed to a new world order, one where each one of us needs to become responsible. Perhaps, this here is an opportunity, an opportunity to rest our old prejudices, presumptions, stereotypes, and biases.
So next time you come across someone, who like me has a resting bitch face, walk up and say “Hi” instead. The chances are, we will also reply with a “Hi”.