Papa (& Mama) Don’t Preach

By Shampa Dhar-Kamath| Published: 05th August 2018 05:00 AM

I wouldn’t write that if I were you… You must speak up more … You must talk less… For years, women have lived with know-it-all men who consider it their birthright to counsel us—unasked—on how we should live, love, look, work, eat and exercise. Their words carry an underlying implication that we women don’t know what’s good for us, and it’s up to the men to bring us up to speed. As I wrote in this very column many years ago (https://bit.ly/2mZ8Ujj), unsolicited advice takes various forms. On rare occasions, it can be (and feel) kind and well meaning, even helpful, but, mostly, it’s intrusive and irritating. It can’t not be. When unsought, even good advice sounds obnoxious. Not least because it usually comes from pompous prigs looking to score brownie points.  

Many writers on the subject focus on mansplaining, where men without the requisite expertise insist on (condescendingly) explaining things to females, sparing little thought for the latter’s intelligence or knowledge base. If called out, they try to excuse themselves by saying they do it to other men too and so, it’s not sexist. (That’s not true; research shows men lecture women more than they do their own sex.) 

However, it’s not a universal or exclusive gender trait. Not when you consider the mountain of unsolicited advice that we women get from other women. And I don’t mean meddling Mamta masi or clueless Kanchan kaki. Studies on unwanted counsel show that while most advisees are women, advisors include both sexes—with women in the majority. The comely counsellors may not sound as bossy as the men (because women’s speech is less obtrusive and marked by more qualifiers, like ‘if I were you’ or ‘if you ask me’) but that doesn’t make them any less annoying. 

I had first-hand experience of the phenomenon last week, when my family set out to sell some things online. As is the norm, we put up pictures of the items with a line in description and the price. Scores of people responded, almost instantaneously. The men asked about additional features or posed price-related questions. When we responded, they closed the deal or quietly backed out. The women reacted very differently. They too asked questions. But if they didn’t get the answers, I presume, they wanted, they—without exception—found fault with the products, berated us for our pricing and lectured us on market conditions. ‘Don’t want to negotiate but this sort of item is only worth x’, ‘Bed useless without box’, ‘You should lower your price if you want to sell here,’ were among the comments. One lady criticised a sofa for not having arms and declared us ‘mad’. 

Incensed, I sat down to respond—but didn’t. Not because I didn’t have the critical words, but because I had them—and had used them, just like my unwanted advisors, too many times in the past. Worse, I had inflicted my unsolicited advice on people I actually knew—and liked. Having seen the other side, the ugly confluence of overconfidence and disrespect, I knew it was time to call it a day. But before I do, ladies, here’s some unsolicited advice. Stop giving unsolicited advice. Let’s leave that to the men. 

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