By Miranda Weindling
I love International Women’s Day. Every year on the 8th of March, I am a beaming emotional well of fizzy excitement and empowerment.
I re-read poems by Maya Angelou, thank my goddesses for those who spearheaded women’s suffrage the world over and reflect on the people who have bolstered my ideas of powerful women with important voices from Hannah Arendt to Jameela Jamil. It’s a yearly hit to re-inspire me, and make me believe that equality is possible.
Anything that celebrates women, trans women and anyone who identifies or aligns as a woman, is welcome in my book. I could rhapsodise on this subject for hours, but, I’m becoming increasingly aware of a sticky issue when it comes to discussing women’s progress and empowerment.
Sometimes, just sometimes, this sort of subject matter can encourage people to offer, quite frankly, unwanted, unneeded and unwelcome advice.
Avoid The Unsolicited Advice Trap
Both are singing from the same song sheet, but with slightly different emphasises. #EachforEqual is focused on gender equality in the business world and is advocating for gender-equal representation (and pay, of course!) in everything from the political sphere and boardrooms to media, sports coverage, to healthcare and wealth. Generation Equality focuses on recognising the role of young people to bring about change, defy gender stereotypes and empower their collective voice. Preach.
Both campaigns recognise the importance of diverse gender experiences, celebrating them on the individual and community level. Diversity of experience is essential, and it should be encouraged.
So, on a day that is focused on celebrating all women, I wonder why so many people think it’s appropriate to offer up generalised unsolicited advice?
It’s all too common for people to offer up their experience or opinions, even when it’s not relevant or needed. It’s not that advice can’t be useful, but it should be requested first. Sometimes we get advice that is easy to dismiss, like when somebody mansplains, or you are talking to someone who clearly isn’t on your wavelength. But other times, it can take you by surprise…
For example, I was recently talking to a friend about my goals for the next few years. I sensed their hesitation over my grand plan, but their response floored me. ‘Well, when do you plan to have kids? Because by the time you get through all you want to do you will be nearing the end of your most fertile years.’
I was speechless. Not only had I not asked for their opinion, but I also found it such a socially regressive comment––and frankly anti-feminist (although our past conversations about Simone de Beauvoir, tells me otherwise). There is nothing wrong with planning to have kids, but I was shocked that it had been assumed that babies were on the cards for me, or that I wanted a traditional pregnancy. They were presumptuous, yet felt they were being insightful into my situation.
Historically, societal expectations of women have been used as tools of oppression. Progress has come through those who have actively pushed against society’s norms. After all, both Rosa Parks and Emmeline Pankhurst were arrested over their activism and belief in equality.
Learn To Listen
As a woman, there isn’t a right way to do things, or better choices, or particular ages by which you need to have ticked off X, Y and Z. There are only your choices. Your decisions, successes, mistakes, and everything in between.
As my mother likes to say, you have two ears and one mouth for a reason. So before we jump in with our two cents worth, let’s hold our tongues and work on listening to each other.
And not just because it’s respectful, but because it is an opportunity to gain greater insights on diverse experiences and choices. Listening gives way to compassion, and compassion is essential for radical change.
Give These Instead
So from today, let’s boycott unsolicited advice, both receiving it and giving it (we’ve all done it, maybe unintentionally or accidentally). Let’s focus on these things instead:
The freedom to be who we are, free of judgement, embracing and celebrating differences.
Equal opportunities at work, home, accessing healthcare and education.
Join in the fight against systemic discrimination.
If you have equality, extend a hand, a platform, a listening ear or a shoulder to lean on.
This International Women’s Day, and every day of every year hereafter, let’s unsubscribe from giving or receiving unsolicited advice and focus our energies on the real battles at stake for a more diverse, equal and inclusive world.