I once had a discussion with my current partner which, for me, ended with “You’re lucky that you’ll never have such a difficult and complicated relationship with sex.” That conversation and others like it frequently weigh on my mind, especially when I hear men – and I’m going to be using this phrase to refer to cis, straight men – try to pull the “If your girlfriend/wife isn’t putting out, they’re responsible for the downfall of your relationship.” In all likelihood, while both parties are often at fault for the downfall of the relationship, the lack of empathy for how women view sex in any context probably doesn’t help.
It’s also true that my partner, and an overwhelming majority of men, won’t have the same kind of complicated relationship with sex that many women have. From young ages, many of us are sexualised by or are the recipients of minor sexual behaviours from grown men. This includes cat-calling and inappropriate flirting or gestures from older men, and it includes far more severe behaviours, too. This particular aspect increases, particularly in Western cultures, for women of colour and vulnerable populations, such as refugees. When it comes to the media that we consume, a study that was commissioned by the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media and backed by the UN found that girls as young as 13 years old were as equally sexualised as 39-year old women. And it gets worse when you start realising that we believe sexualised girls to be less intelligent or less deserving of help than others.
We’re frequently the focus of the majority of all dress codes at schools and work because our bodies “might distract boys and men,” but yet the market conveniently focuses on one whole style of clothing for girls and women that doesn’t even pass those dress codes. And rather than question male staff on why they feel uncomfortable when a girl is near them showing her collarbone, wearing leggings, having visible shoulders or knees, or wearing clothes that enable people to see our bra straps, we’re out there telling the girls to cover up; we’re not one bit worried about the men in the profession who are talking about girls as if they’re being sexual by merely sitting in class, but we’re concerned about the girls who just exist in those classrooms wearing clothing. And we’d rather shame girls who ‘violate’ the dress code by giving them detention or forcing them to wear intentionally humiliating clothing.
All of that is just the tip of the ice berg when it comes to how women have to interact with their environments; it’s not even getting into the rates of sexual violence (assault, rape); how we have incomplete, inaccurate, or conflicting data regarding the actual numbers of victims because of things like victim blaming; how we frequently neglect understanding that rape and sexual assault have, for so long, been part of war; and how we respond to people who have been assaulted, especially when it comes to law enforcement. This was far more poignant when the letter written by the Stanford rape victim was publicly released, and the father decided to tell the judge his son needed a light sentence because of ’20-minutes of action’, seeming to completely forget the life his son completely altered in that time.
Now, before I continue, let me reiterate that I stated the overwhelming majority of men will not experience these things; at no point have I stated that it won’t ever happen to men. I do not deny the existence of boys who have been sexualised or sexually abused while our culture either normalises it (‘sex with an older woman’) or forces it into quiet spaces. Many cultures openly make fun of men who are on the receiving side of any form of abuse when it’s perpetrated by a woman, which is absurd. So I’m not overlooking the fact that men can be and are abused, but I’m just not talking about it here.
It’s hard for me to have what people perceive as a ‘normal’ relationship to sex; throughout school, particularly from middle school on, I had questionable experiences with male teachers and my male peers. I can recount far too many instances that have changed how I view sex, that have changed how I view relationships with men. Too many things have happened for me to just ‘get over’ it, as my partner wishes I would do; like most men, he views how it affects him rather than realising that these are things I’ve had to live with and experiences I’ve had to learn from in order to survive. But all of those thoughts have made me realise that it’s past time for me to share my experiences. Not because I feel I’m obligated, but it is because I feel it’s right to do so.
“You need to act like you’re part of a couple rather than a single individual.”
This statement is something I’ve heard repeatedly from men I’ve dated, and I still can’t understand it. Every single time I’ve heard it, I’ve asked how I could better do that; I’ve asked what it is that I do that makes me seem as if I’m not trying to be a part of this ‘couple’, and I never get an actual response. I don’t get examples of times I’ve shown that I wasn’t trying to be part of that ‘couple’; I just get “I don’t know,” and that leaves me with absolutely nothing to do other than to either continue on the same path or constantly question whether I’m doing enough or anything at all. Really, it probably leads me to do a mixture of the two, which is a pretty messed up way to deal with a relationship.
Perhaps there are cultural differences that I’m unaware of, as my partners have not always been of the same culture as myself. I try my best to take someone else into consideration. I try to do small things: helping them out when they get busy with work, making sure things don’t get forgotten, and listening to problems that they may have. I attempt to do favours when they ask them of me, as long as they’re within reason. I make an effort to do activities that I wouldn’t otherwise do so that we can have things to do together.
But I know my limitations; I’m usually not as physically fit as my partner, so I request that they scale back if they wish for me to do things with them. I don’t like the atmosphere of gyms, so I tell my partners who do enjoy them that it’s fine to go without me. I don’t have the current stamina or endurance to climb mountains (or, rather, lots of stairs built into mountains, for my current location); it hurts my knees, but I can still do it. I just request that my partner scales down to my ability level when they wants me to join them because, otherwise, I feel as if I should’ve done it on my own. That seems like basic courtesy and respect to me.
I also request that my partner treats my interests and hobbies with respect, even if they won’t participate in them. I’m not insulted that they’re bored by things that I find interesting; it’d be difficult to find someone who is a 100% match for every interest. Just don’t tell me what I should do with my free-time; don’t tell me that my hobbies are ‘wastes of time’ and that I would be ‘better off’ doing something else. I may not enjoy many of your hobbies, but I certainly am not rude enough to try to ruin them for you.
When it comes to friendships, I never ask that my partners stop seeing their friends, but I do ask for advance notice of things like parties or dinners. I have social anxiety, so I need some time to prepare myself. I also need to know what kind of environment I’m entering. Is it a casual or formal event? How many people are going to be there? What will be expected of me at those events? At no point have I ever demanded that any of my partners stop going to events or stop seeing their friends; I just ask for information that would enable me to be more comfortable in those environments, allowing everyone to enjoy it more.
But – and this is particular to my current partner – when he points out that he’s stopped seeing his friends so that he could spend evenings with me, I find it a ludicrous example of things he’s sacrificing in the name of ‘being a couple’. First, I would never once ask him to do that, and I most certainly don’t agree with doing it. It’s absurd to think that a person should isolate themselves for a single person, regardless of what their relationship is. Second, I moved to a whole new city in a different country; I left my friends entirely, which means that I’ve literally sacrificed being able to spend time with them because I can’t. Despite the fact I’ve told my partner that I think it’s healthy for us to spend time apart and with our own friends, he makes a decision and compares it to one that I cannot possibly make because it’s not even an available option. If he wants to play the Sympathy Olympics with me, I don’t think it’s wise.
It’s also important to me to encourage my partner to make their own decisions and enable them to be more comfortable in their lives. When something has zero impact on me, I don’t feel the need to press the issue with them. If they ask me for an opinion, I’ll give it to them; I’m not going to interfere with something that isn’t going to harm us, them, or me. Do they really need to go to the library today? Do they have to conduct their business in the way you deem proper, or can it be done differently? If there are multiple ways or times to do something, I don’t see a need to get on their case about it. Let them be comfortable.
But compromise is something I find necessary. I cannot spend time and energy forcing issues where they’re too stubborn, even if it impacts us or me. My partner’s health is always important to me, but I cannot see a reason to keep harping on about something they’re doing if it’s only going to impact them negatively. If your partner enjoys a once-a-week single-serving ice cream, let them be; let them have a moment to enjoy something they like. It’s not hurting you, and it’s more than likely not going to be the nail in their coffin. And this extends to more serious issues than just being able to enjoy food.
I also acknowledge that there are times where, honestly, I shouldn’t have specific conversations. If they’re not conducive to anything, what is the point? Why continue pressing issues that have no impact other than to provoke an argument? If I know that discussing certain political events – Hillary Clinton’s emails, for instance – is going to leave us having an argument over something that doesn’t matter – technology and how people who oversee departments view it – and create a negative environment, I’m well within my right to express how pointless it will be for the conversation to continue. It has no bearing on our relationship, and it’s only going to lead to us being frustrated with each other. It’s not censorship; it’s simple boundaries, and you’re pushing them. What happens when the conversation is more serious and actually impacts one of us? It’s not going to end well.
With all of that in mind, I’d like to ask again: What can I do to make myself more a part of this ‘couple’? Because the only thing I can see is to be more submissive, passive, and do everything as I’m told without any complaint or suggestion.
And that definitely isn’t a healthy relationship, nor is it ‘being part of a couple’.
Sometimes I wish discussion regarding certain situations was more practical and real. I’m not saying that I wish it were insulting and rude, but I wish we would more frequently address aspects of life that genuinely happen and feelings people go through. At this moment, I really wish we’d have a more open and honest dialogue about being the partner of a person who is a parent of children under 18.
While searching for “what to do when you don’t like your partner’s children,” I came across a few scattered articles that discuss how some women don’t really like their male partner’s children; I’ve seen question-answer columns where women ask if it’s okay – or even remotely normal – to be jealous of their partner’s children. They’re not talking about how they hate them; that isn’t the case. They’re just saying that they don’t immediately like them, and they’re torn by the social pressure that women are supposed to like their partners kids (and the fact that we have so many stories about the evil step-mom lurking in the background to actively work against).
I just don’t feel like the discussion about this is open enough. To add to it, I didn’t find many articles by men who dislike their female partners’ children when I googled rather vague statements; they always came from women. When I tried to be more specific toward men’s reactions to the children of their female partner, I kept finding advice columns written by men to women who asked why their male partners won’t spend time with their kids. (Hint: “Men do what they want.”) This expectation isn’t placed on men; we don’t expect them to be good with the children of their parent-partners. But we insist on placing this expectation on women, and that is ludicrous.
I rarely see the same open support for women who genuinely don’t want to date men who have kids that we give men for avoiding women with children; we’re expected to be so much more tolerant of this fact, even if we’ve made the decision to be child-free adults. I literally have had family members tell me how ludicrous it is that I wouldn’t give a man with a child a chance because he could be really great, while they tell a male cousin in the same breath that he’s being ridiculous for even considering getting married to a woman who already has two children because it’ll be “too much responsibility.”
And just for fun, I also tried being even more specific because, as a bisexual woman, I was wondering if anyone has had this experience in a queer relationship. I genuinely couldn’t find anything about it, and my own experience in queer relationships has never involved already-existing children.
It’s not to say that I hate or dislike my partner’s children, but it’s certain aspects of their existence that can and do often frustrate me. I have a small list of things that have been getting on my nerves since day one (sorry, Twitter), but the biggest part is that I don’t feel like I have enough space to actively engage in the discussion about parenting them while they’re living under our shared roof because they’re not my children. I don’t feel like I have a place to say anything, and I feel like my (legitimate) complaints often go unheard because of his bias for the children.
Both they and I know I’m not their mother; I don’t want to be their mother, which is largely because they already have one and because it’s not a role I want to take on. For the kids, they might be wondering why this woman is trying to tell them what to do; I’m flustered because they won’t listen to me, even though it’s also my home, which means I do have some say in regards to the way we all treat it (clean your dishes, put your clothes away, don’t eat food in your beds, don’t leave messes for others to clean up). I mean, this place is more my home than theirs because of the amount of time I spend in it, yet my few small requests matter not at all.
It probably doesn’t help that we, as a society, also love skewering biological mothers who openly state that their children come second in their life, while they actively work on their own relationship with their husbands (which actually can have positive benefits for their children). If a mother is taking care of herself or being selfish for a whole moment, we assume she’s forgotten entirely about her children. For whatever reason, we believe that the mother should give up everything in order to make her children the center of her world; this same belief is not imposed upon fathers, even as they start to take more of a role in parenting their kids than their own probably had.
These beliefs and values are especially played out in the way that a lot of women perceive their partner’s ex, too. I don’t even want to go into how many posts (with similar comments) I found with the non-parent partner giving a scathing review of how terrible the mother of the children was, which often sounds identical to how many men describe their exes: money-grubbing, crazy, uneducated, fat. It’s disappointing, especially as it is just another level of women disrespecting each other because of how society continues to teach us that being catty is ‘just normal’ behaviour.
And, unfortunately, I can occasionally be momentarily guilty of it. I’m not immune from it, but I do have a lot of unlearning to work through.
I feel as if a lot of this plays out in how we talk about the non-parent partners when they’re women, too. While we don’t expect them to give up nearly as much – they’re not the biological mother, after all, and they didn’t make the decision to have those children – we still seem to expect them to sacrifice a lot (time, space, energy) for the care of children who are not theirs.
Some of these sacrifices I don’t necessarily mind; I love cooking, so spending time and energy teaching my partner’s daughter how to cook (because she genuinely wants to learn) is pretty fun and interesting. I love science fiction and fantasy, so talking to his daughter about books and giving her suggestions is quite fun; I adore that she asks me questions about them, even if they can sometimes be silly what-would-you-do-if scenarios. I love table-top and video gaming, so I have no problem spending time with his son and trying to help figure out which games are best for a growing 10-year old.
But sometimes I just want to be left alone, to read a book in peace and quiet; sometimes I want to work on the projects that I’ve been meaning to do but can’t because there’s always an argument or some nonsensical and overblown problem to resolve.
I don’t want to be the person who has to give up most of my time and freedom to do everything for or with them because their father is at work or in a conference or sleeping because he pulled another all-nighter finishing a work-related presentation; he’s allowed to put his work first as the biological parent, yet there’s an odd expectation of me as the non-parent partner. It makes no sense.
Perhaps it’s my job – I’m a middle and high school teacher, after all – that makes this even more of a conflict for me; I make a living from taking care of children that aren’t my own on a daily basis, and I love every moment of that. But that makes sense; I’ve consciously made the decision to do that, and there is a context for what I’m doing. Teaching has a written set of expectations, and I know why I’m there; I know what I have to do in order to be successful, and building relationships with my students comes naturally and over time.
Being the partner of a person with children doesn’t come with a list of role-related responsibilities; it comes with expectations, and they’re often unrealistic. And it would just be nice to have the space available to openly address them.
I’m not sure that I address this well; I have a lot going through my head and most of it stems from current circumstances. If I’ve addressed something badly, feel free to engage with me and provide me different perspectives. I’m still trying to sort out the feelings I’m having regarding my situation, and I’m sure conversation that stems from such will be very helpful. It’d definitely be appreciated.
In the past week, I’ve written a dozen posts about abuse that have tried to discuss issues that I have with the way that we’ve learned about it and how we have conversations about it. It’s been far more difficult than I anticipated, and I’ve found that I keep coming up with different questions every time I write a new post and subsequently delete it.
Mostly, I keep returning to one question: How do things like culture and socialisation shape the way that we perceive and address abuse?
Obviously, there are so many pieces to this question. When it comes to physical abuse, most people are more likely to agree that it’s unacceptable and will take action against it. This is part of why we’ve seen an increase of discussion on Twitter in tags like #MaybeHeDoesntHitYou and #MaybeSheDoesntHitYou, where people have been continuing discussion about non-physical abuse. And we also have had #WhyIStayed to discuss the reasons why it’s sometimes quite hard to leave partners who are abusive.
These discussions are all fantastic and necessary; it’s great to see them making more people aware of the existence of things that are less obvious: emotional, mental, and financial abuse. These discussions are also outlining the fact that even hard evidence doesn’t mean you’re safe from the unnecessary critiques of those observing you, as we’ve recently learned with the high-profile news about abuse that Amber Heard endured. And it’s even showing that, no matter what, your actions are never appropriate. If you stay, you’re ‘weak’ and ‘asking for it’; if you leave, you’re ‘not trying hard enough to make things work’ and ‘are taking the easy way out’. For people perceived as girls and women, this is particularly true; there’s a reason that Australia has released an advertisement discussing the influences for domestic violence and how it starts with disrespect that appears to be okay within the society. For those perceived as boys and men, it’s just unlikely that they’re socialised to even discuss any abuse at all and are told to just ‘man up’.
And in any case of abuse, you never seem to have enough evidence.
But back to the questions I asked: How do we discuss abuse while also accounting for aspects of culture? Let’s me use an example of something that I endured growing up: fat- and body-shaming.
Throughout the world, people have generated conversations that have made it possible to view fat- and body-shaming as the abuse that they really are. We’ve found that the more you shame a person for their eating and exercise habits, people who are attempting to lose weight are less likely to achieve their goals; it actively pushes them in the opposite direction, leading many to gain weight despite attempts to do the latter. Even for fat people who may not be trying to lose weight, many have been found to comfort eat and feel less comfortable engaging in physical activities; it often scares them from just trying a new dance class that they’re interested in or joining groups playing casual games of soccer. More than any of that, it’s just absolutely atrocious behaviour to verbally emotionally abuse someone under the guise of ‘concern’.
I can say that all of this applies to me: I gained more weight due to comfort and stress eating. I gave myself ridiculous goals, trying to meet them any way possible and often failing because they were absurd, leading to further comfort eating. I frequently felt terrified going into gyms or aerobics classes, and I still feel uncomfortable and terrified blatantly exercising in public; the only exceptions are walking and biking. Even my middle and high school PE classes made me so nervous and uncomfortable, as they perpetuated the problems because my peers would hurl abuse and my teachers enabled it (or, at the very least, didn’t dare stop it). I still feel bad doing hiking trips with my friends, feeling as if I’m holding people back even when they tell me it’s okay. It’s made me hate doing physical activities in groups, like running and biking; people who ask me to do it with them always leave me behind, making me wonder why I even bothered to go with them. I get easily embarrassed if I mess up in the dance classes, and I always feel immediately uncomfortable upon entrance. Much like Lindy West, I wanted to make myself smaller, allowing my personality to take up as little space as possible; I still identify with that so much, even as I’ve allowed it to grow in recent years.
And despite the level of my own personal experiences, all of that doesn’t even get into the fact that there are also racist aspects of fat- and body-shaming. It also neglects that people are willing to include transmisogyny in their body-shaming tactics.
But these conversations, though they seem older in some demographics, are taking place in other areas as a result of memes that are believed to be unhealthy and overt restrictions. For example, the variety of body-shaming memes that have been coming out from China have sparked conversations among many people both locally and globally: the collarbone challenge, the belly button challenge, the A4 waist, the 100 yuan wrist, the 2B pencil face, and the iPhone knees and legs. There are quite a few of these viral memes (along with a few hoaxes); they come out on services like Weibo, become globally viral, and then make the rounds until they fizzle out or are replaced with a new one. These memes can be quite harmful locally, and there are people who are discussing things like fat-shaming within the culture. As these memes travel, however, they lose the cultural context that they may have; they become far more literal to many non-Chinese people, losing any meaning and context that they might have.
From my own experience of having lived for a few years between both Taiwan and China, I have grown accustomed to occasionally hearing my local friends and co-workers comment on my weight or the foods that I choose to eat. When visiting the families of my friends, their parents have sometimes commented that I’m “much too fat” and “should work harder to lose weight.” Though it’s not meant to be harsh, it becomes overwhelming to a person who has struggled with their weight since they were a toddler; it’s exhausting to put their concerns and comments into positive contexts, even though I have heard their same comments from the mouths of my family. It’s emotionally draining hearing people tell me that I should “stop eating,” especially when I have cousins back home who once told me that I “should become anorexic so that I could be pretty.”
For me, the fat- and body-shaming is abusive because of the contexts in which I’ve experienced it; for some of my friends, they view it as being helpful by merely telling the truth. I’m not willing to comment more than that, as I am not a member of either culture; I’m not an expert by any means, which means that I’ve definitely glossed over many nuances of what is taking place.
That’s not to say that all Taiwanese and Chinese people do this because they very clearly don’t. When co-workers publicly shamed me, I had a number of students – primarily those who identified as female – that came to tell me how ridiculous and cruel it was that they should say such a thing; they told me about how they were uncomfortable with people telling them how they should lose weight, eat less food, and that they should change their appearance in whatever way that might be most appealing. One of my closest friends often took it upon herself to tell me and other people, especially our students, who were on the receiving end of their comments how beautiful we were in every way and how hard we worked so that she could try to counteract the things our co-workers had told us.
It’s also not to say that places like America are without guilt; I have been misdiagnosed with having a “nervous stomach” and told to lose weight only to later discover that I was suffering from ulcers caused by H. pylori. I lost a significant amount of weight because I couldn’t keep food down; people congratulated me for my weight loss, disregarding the fact I lost it due to illness. My mother had to fight with doctors to get them to do testing to figure out what was wrong with her, finding out that she had early stage liver cancer; the first few doctors said that she was in pain because she was obese. We later found out that her being overweight actually saved her life, as the tumour would grow not into her liver but into her fat; it was the pulling of the tumour from the fat that caused her such pain, allowing her to diagnose her cancer early.
But this can be applied to all kinds of abuse, not just fat- and body-shaming. And it constantly leaves me wondering: How do we discuss these in cross- and multi-cultural relationships or settings? And how do we define emotional and mental abuse in these scenarios, when it’s already so difficult to explain within one culture?
How many times is too many when I have to explain to my partner, who is a non-native English-speaker and comes from a different cultural background than I do, about why it’s not okay to tell me that I’m “too sensitive” or “too emotional?” How many times do I need to remind my partner that they have to ask me to do something rather than assume I’m okay with doing it? How many times do I have to remind my partner and explain why it bothers me that they override or question my decisions, even if they think it’s for my benefit? When does it become gas-lighting? When does it become manipulation? When does it become abuse?
How do I make my partner understand that, while I’m more than happy to take their culture into consideration when understanding their actions, they have to provide me the same respect – making the same attempt to understand my experiences and background – in order to make the relationship work?
Because I feel like this is an often overlooked aspect of abuse, and it often makes it difficult to navigate the world in which we live because we’re assuming all cultures and people view abuse in the same way, leaving many people to remain as victims of abuse without providing them the necessary services and knowledge.
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.