It should go without saying that I am capable of making my own decisions, and it should also go without saying that I don’t want unsolicited advice. Which also means that any unsolicited advice that you offer will only make me angry. There’s a reason for this: I didn’t ask for it, and I didn’t go out of my way to gain your insight on something you’ve got no right to advise me on. You’re not my keeper, and most of my decisions that you’re commenting on don’t even affect you.
I have yet to meet a person who likes unsolicited advice. Rather, let me amend that statement to be more accurate: I have yet to meet a person who likes receiving unsolicited advice. I have met so many people who enjoy giving unsolicited advice; most of the people I’ve met who do this, unsurprisingly, have been men. It’s generally when it comes to how I present myself, ranging from my sense of fashion to how I perceive actions in relationships to professionalism (which is pretty ironic when you consider how unprofessional most unsolicited advice is). It’s not just me who gets this slew of unsolicited advice about everything; it’s pretty common for most women, and it only seems to get worse once a person with a uterus decides to have a child.
That isn’t to say that men are the only people who do this or that women are the only people getting advice they don’t want; women are guilty of it, too, and it tends to be aimed at other women more often than not. It shouldn’t be shocking to learn how much the advice they give embodies patriarchal values: narrow beauty standards, how to be a mother, how to make yourself less intimidating, etc.
And it amazes me that there’s one simple fact about the vast majority of unsolicited advice: It has never been valuable or useful in my life. When my former 80-something-year old superintendent told me that I “should wear more make-up” because he thought I looked homely, it did nothing to benefit me; it did the opposite, and it made me realise that he only wanted young women around him for his visual pleasure rather than our genuine capability in the job we were hired to do. His advice made me uncomfortable at work, especially when I had to deal with him specifically. Every other young woman who worked in this school received the same advice, ranging from him telling us what kinds of clothes he thought we looked nice in or how we should all hurry and find a husband because we were “getting old.” (Side note: All of the staff members he targeted were 30 and under.)
But he wasn’t the only person to provide someone with unwanted advice in that school; a female teacher in her 40s, during a presentation about bullying, told the girls that they needed to consider “how they didn’t look ladylike while bullying someone.” There are very specific characteristics about what “ladylike” looks like, and most of them only serve to enforce some negative gender roles in girls that make it more difficult for them to speak up or have a positive body image, among other things. To her credit, she did respond positively when another teacher and I explained why we took issue with the phrase. Unfortunately, she proceeded to give students unwanted advice in a future presentation: Don’t wear your hat backwards because you’ll be a bully. As we’re all aware, style is the number one cause of a person treating others like garbage, not the fact that they’re an insensitive jerk.
It’s also not a coincidence that I’m exhausted from dealing with opinions about my capabilities and personality. When a person who is a friend or acquaintance tells me that I “should be nicer” and that I “shouldn’t argue with” someone, they have shown me that they really don’t know who I am. They’ve also shown me that they don’t respect my assertive nature, which isn’t uncommon; there’s a reason that we view assertive women as “bitchy” or “bossy” while assertive – and even aggressive – men get to be viewed as “driven” or “standing his ground.” My partner is one such person who has, whether he’s realised it or not, told me to be less intimidating to other people, even though he’s also claimed to “love my intelligence and strength.” He’s also given me explicit information about how to treat people, as if he seems to think that my strong-willed nature precludes me from having manners and being polite. Strangely, he didn’t seem to understand why that made me upset.
I’ve received that same advice repeatedly, and I’ve seen how that particular double-standard plays out in a person’s actions. At my former job, I gave the principal suggestions that I was receiving from students and other teachers that I felt would help make the school a better place and improve the quality of education for the students; he perceived everything I said negatively. When my male colleague gave him the exact same suggestions, he thought they were wonderful and could be implemented at a later date. Why? I legitimately can’t find a difference between how we made those suggestions other than our gender. I was accused of “making my boss look like a fool” and “being disrespectful,” but my male colleague was seen as “wanting to make improvements.” If I wanted to make a suggestion or if I needed resources for my classes, I had to find a male teacher to champion the cause for me because it would never get done otherwise. (Spoiler: There weren’t many of those who were willing to help, either.)
- Things of that nature are part of why I hate unsolicited advice. I could fill volumes with all of the unsolicited advice I’ve received:
- People telling what to wear (don’t wear blue because you’ll look sad, those jeans are too loose and don’t show off your curves, that shirt needs a jacket),
- Irrelevant tips for when and how to do a teaching demo at a job interview by non-teachers (ask for another week because there’s no way you can possibly make a lesson plan in two days),
- How to talk to people (never tell people how you feel, just deal with it on your own because they won’t change),
- How my hair should look (you shouldn’t cut your hair short because it looks better long, never cut it, don’t dye it),
- How much or what kind of jewelry I should wear (don’t wear gold, wear a minimum of three pieces, don’t wear more than two rings),
- Non-teachers or teachers outside of my subject area telling me how to teach my classes and what topics I should cover (you’re including too many non-white people, there couldn’t possibly be this many women in history).
It literally does nothing other than make the person at the receiving end upset; when you provide someone with unsolicited advice, it shows that you don’t understand how it’s harmful, especially when you’re not bothering to care about how the other person feels when they receive it. It’s genuinely not functional feedback; it’s always on something they never asked for feedback about. Not least of which, it’s just bloody rude.
I’m confident in my abilities to do my job and conduct myself professionally, I’m secure in knowing how to interact with people, and I’ve been working hard to maintain a positive body image despite the fact that I’ve so rarely had one. But I also like being opinionated and assertive; these are not negative traits, even when we view them as such when women embody them.
So don’t give me unsolicited advice. I don’t want it, and it means nothing to me.