Stop Telling Women What To Do

Image by Engin Akyurt

Taryn de Vere wants to know at what age do women start getting treated like adults?

If you prefer to hear the author read this piece click here

I’m so sick of other people telling me what to do. 

I posted on Twitter that I have a relationship in my life that causes me pain. I did this because Twitter is my main connection with other adults and sometimes I just want to feel heard and to have my pain seen. One heart on my tweet gives me that – I’ve shared my pain, it’s been acknowledged by another human. I’m grateful.

Then comes the extremely well-meaning but extremely infuriating advice.

“Maybe pick up the phone, call this person.”

“Forgiveness is healing.”

“It’s never too late to mend a broken relationship.”

Each of the comments gets filtered through my knowledge and experience of the unique set of circumstances that caused the relationship breakdown. Each of the comments places the burden of fixing the relationship on me, in this case, the wronged party. How can these well-intentioned commenters know the harm they are doing with their unsolicited advice? 

Years in an abusive relationship taught me to second guess everything I do and say, how many thousands of times have I asked myself if I am the person at fault? If I am the terrible person, raking through tiny events to look for the nugget that proves I acted badly. Abusers thrive on making their victims feel like the perpetrators, it’s never the abuser’s fault, always the victims’. Breaking free of an abusive relationship involves de-programming from brainwashing. My ex brainwashed me into thinking I was always at fault. I know now that was a lie, but the habit of holding myself to an almost impossible standard hasn’t gone away. 

My child is having an issue at the school. I contact the teacher via email and ask them to let me know what they are doing about the situation. I get a dismissive response and a suggestion that I familiarise myself with the school’s anti-bullying policy. The email angers me, the teacher hasn’t answered my detailed questions and they are trying to fob me off, thinking I’m an idiot who is out of their depth. 

I reply saying I know the policy well as I co-wrote it, and ask again for the teacher’s plans to deal with the situation. I want to also say “Stop treating me like I’m a dullard.” But I don’t.

I go to the doctor with concerns about one of my kids. I’m worried about her behaviour. I’ve had enough kids by now to know that something is not right. The Doctor tells me I’m over-reacting and that all toddlers go through phases like this. I go back again and the Doctor is noticeably irritated by me, treats me like I’m a pest. Years later my daughter is finally diagnosed with additional needs, but only when I’ve saved enough money to pay privately for a consultation and therapy. 

Image by Malicki M Beser

I’m in hospital giving birth to my fifth baby. I’m in the final stage of labour and the midwife who by this point I have developed a hatred for is insisting I get up and lay on the bed. I tell her I always give birth standing up. She mutters under her breath and gives me a dark look. “Maybe dad can help me get you up on the bed,” she says.

I spread my legs and plant my feet wide, “I’m giving birth standing up, so you better get down there and catch this baby before it hits the floor.” I scream, and with the next breath, my baby gushes out of me. I had to fight a bullying midwife while giving birth. She tried to tell me she knew better than me how my own body works. 

I don’t know why so many people think I’m incapable of knowing my own mind, I just know that this has been happening to me every day of my life for as long as I can remember and as a result I can feel a rage building inside of me. I want it to stop. I want people to stop telling me what to do. I want to be treated like an autonomous, capable human. Is there something about me that gives of an energy of ineptitude, or is this happening to all women all the time? 

I run two businesses, I’m lone-parenting four kids. I’ve volunteered for numerous organisations, written for national papers, I am a peer-reviewed artist. I’ve been interviewed by international press and had my work included in a textbook for American students. There are probably more things I should be adding here but I can’t even remember all the things I’ve done. What level of adulting needs to be in place before people will stop treating me like this? I see rocket scientists and members of Mensa – who by virtue of being women – still get condescended to online. I suspect there is no qualification available that could stop this from happening to me or other women.

I don’t know if this happens to men too, or if it happens less frequently for men? I don’t know if people are so fixated on helping others that they forget to connect and empathise? The human connection bit happens in the space between my vulnerable offering of my pain and your being ok with it. You not wanting to fix it or cast blame on me (however subtle). The humanity happens in that quiet place of acknowledgment – where no one gets to be the hero or the smart one. It may feel a little uncomfortable, sitting in the presence of another’s pain – but that is where I, and I suspect others- need to be met. I don’t want to be told what to do, I don’t want solutions or advice, I don’t want anything but acknowledgment. If I want advice I ask for it. I start my tweet with “Advice wanted please.” I’m so clear. 

My own children have started infantilising me. They judge my decisions and offer up the solutions of children who don’t understand tax law/second-hand car purchases/how to run a business/whatever. I find myself having to carefully watch their reactions, the eye roll they give each other, “Mum’s such an idiot”. I created these people and taught them to be respectful so I don’t know where they picked this up from – is it the misogyny that pervades every aspect of their lives? They swim in the sea of patriarchy every time they pick up a laptop, leave my house, go to school or watch a movie. Has it infected them to the point that they watch out for any slip-up they can seize as proof their mother is the fool society tells them she is?

I’m fucking capable, I want to scream. I know my own body, my own finances, my own children, my own shortcomings, my own problems, my own desires, my own life. I don’t need a single other human to second guess me or tell me what to do. The effect this constant infantilising is having on me is immeasurable. I have a ball of rage in my chest, my rage dragon. It leaps up my throat every time someone does this to me, which is to say, every day.

Keeping my dragon at bay is hard work, It takes a lot of constraint not to scream at people when they tell me what to do, offer unhelpful, unsolicited advice, or treat me like a fool. No one prepared me for how to respond to a lifetime of being treated like I’m stupid. I kept thinking it would ease off as I aged, that it would cease when I had more experience, that one day it would just stop happening, All that has happened is my increasing awareness and knowledge of the implications of other people’s words. When I was twenty I’d have been annoyed but not had the language or knowledge to understand why exactly. Now I can immediately see through well-meaning advice to the undercurrent.  The fact that it is well-intentioned doesn’t make it any less condescending; doesn’t make it any less enraging to receive.  

If you have words of advice to offer someone be it a stranger, a lover,  or a friend, I suggest you stop and think first. Ask yourself, “Is there an opening here? Has this person asked for my advice? Am I assuming they haven’t already looked at this situation from every angle? Am I assuming I know better than they do?” Ponder too what the compassionate response might be – in my experience, the compassionate response is rarely the one that undermines the person’s capability or intelligence. 

Here’s a piece of free Quare content on us. We give you one piece of free content per month. If you enjoy this or want to to see more please consider supporting us to create more by subscribing.