Friday, August 6, 2010

Giving Advice to Women

I'm preparing this completely new course for the Fall semester. It's the kind of a course that has never been taught not only at my university but also at any other university where I worked. It's going to be completely innovative and contain a number of very original activites that I worked on all summer. In short, I am very proud of this course and can't wait to start teaching it. When some of my male colleagues heard about it, they immediately started offering me detailed advice on how to teach this course. The funny thing is that only one of them is even remotely related to language teaching. The others have never taught anything resembling this course in their entire lives. The unwanted advice I received was copious and delivered in very sanctimonious tones.

Women regularly receive tons of unsolicited advice from people we barely know or from complete strangers. How many times, while walking down the street or waiting at a bus-stop, was I admonished to smile, lose weight, quit smoking, stop drinking so much coffee, stop reading while I walk, and avoid fast food? When my sister was pregnant, scores of strangers would stop her everywhere she went and bombard her with advice on what she needs to eat and do and how she should prepare to give birth. When I would mention my sister's pregnancy to people I know, they also asked me to give her lists of advice from them.

I've asked many of my male friends whether they receive unsolicited advice regularly. From their confused reaction to the question I gathered that this advice-giving frenzy is mostly reserved for women. Patriarchal societies infantilize women through a multitude of strategies. Women, of course, often consent to this infantilization and even welcome it because it liberates us from many unwelcome responsibilities. As a result, we end up with the societally accepted image of a woman as a perennially childish, helpless creature who needs to be offered aid with every aspect of her life.


mongoose6 said...

Now I cannot unknow this - but thank you for pointing it out. I think I get less unsolicited advice than many women because I seem less receptive. I wonder if part of this is women's socialized behavior to listen and be receptive in general, or a tendency to be less assertive in conversations. Good food for thought!

Pagan Topologist said...

I received a lot of unsolicited advice from strangers during the year (1975-76) that I spent in Poland. I don't know whether it was because I was a man or because I was a foreigner. I find that I get some unsolicited advice here in the US, but not nearly so much as I did in Poland.