Working on a Smile: Responding to Sexual
Provocation in the Workplace
Julie A. Woodzicka
Washington and Lee University
Scan any social situation involving both sexes and you will likely see differences in how women and men communicate both verbally and nonverbally. One nonverbal behavior concerns the fact that women tend to smile more than men. Indeed, numerous studies done over several years provide strong support for the finding that women smile more than men irrespective of whether the measure is frequency, duration, or even the size or kind of smile (Hall, 1984; Hecht & LaFrance, 1998; Henley, 1977; LaFrance, Hecht, & Paluck, 2003).
A recent meta-analysis showed, however, that the size of the sex difference in smiling is contingent on several factors (LaFrance, Hecht, & Paluck, 2003). In other words, women do not always smile more than men do. For example, women and men smile in comparable amounts when both sexes believe they are not being observed but women smile more than men when everyone is conscious of being evaluated. The sexes also smile in comparable amounts when they are in the same situation, role, or occupation. Both these contexts suggest that there are social expectations for women to smile and for men not to (LaFrance & Hecht, 1999). In fact, smiling women are evaluated more positively than those who do not smile (Deutsch, Le Baron & Fryer, 1987). Women smile more than men when the emotional climate is tense or negative than when the emotional milieu is comfortable and positive. That women smile more when the context is strained may spring from feeling greater obligation to try and do something to set it right.