I am a feminist blogger, so I often find myself combing the internet for new topics to write about, cool events to promote, and information on issues currently affecting women, girls, LGBTQ people, and feminists that I should file for future reference. I have the sites I find most engaging and topical, those I go to purely for pop culture updates with a feminist angle, and those I have learned to actively avoid. Recently, I've come across a new trend of lists, letters and blog posts offering often-condescending advice to the (homogeneously rendered) 20-something woman. And, while some of the advice articles come from middle-age women, others come from female bloggers in their late-20s and early-30s who actively dish it out to only slightly younger women like it's the latest baked goods craze (cronuts anyone?).
After glossing over all of the unsolicited advice blogs, lists, and articles I felt something like this:
Each article I come across is increasingly rage-inducing. Why do other women think a few years transforms you from incompetent baby to life winner?
I mean, without guidance from the lady blogosphere it would appear that I don’t know how to feed myself.
I get it! I need to give up all of the foods that I do eat (Velveeta Shells and Cheese, Oreos, day-old pizza) or I’ll be 100 pounds overweight by the time I’m 30? And I need to pair healthy eating with frequent exercise or I’m going to hate myself for not doing so later in my life.
Oh, let’s not forget the fashion advice. I should probably learn how to dress myself (since I’ve obviously never heard of "business professional" before now).
And thank goodness I now know not to wear my makeup like this:
And then there is the love advice. I should probably go get myself a boyfriend because if I don’t have a significant other in my 20s I’m going to end up completely unable to navigate a serious relationship in my 30s and beyond.
Thank you, lady bloggers, for helping me to avoid spinsterhood.
Oh, and let’s not forget all the money management advice. Like, if I don’t have a savings account by the time I’m 22 I’m doomed for a life of poverty (the broken economy and the dirth of entry-level full-time employment opportunities isn’t affecting my ability to save money whatsoever).
But I’d better get saving my pennies anyway because I’m going to need that money for when I inevitably have children, since my biology is my destiny!
But, before I have kids I should probably take up a hobby to fill all of my sad, child-free time.
And then there is the super weird advice, like how I need to have a favorite book that isn't Fight Club (see #7).
Or to remember to breathe?
Or what about the lady blogger who used Jane Austen quotesto really hit her points home?
So, I have a small piece of advice in return:
Please stop with the lengthy "must do" and "must have" lists for young women. Please stop mansplaining how to live a proscribed life.
I’m an adult. I’m pretty sure I can feed myself, dress appropriately for a job interview, find a date when the time is right, control my fertility, and manage my money. Because every time I come across another advice list, blog, etc. all it makes me think is:
Don’t get me wrong, I can understand what would compel a 50-year-old woman to write a letter to her 20-something self (decades of self-reflection and tough life lessons have led her to put pen to paper) for self-reflection, but not necessarily universally applicable financial advice. The world is a different place than it was 25 years ago. We have the internet, social media, a tanked economy, new political challenges, different social practices, and ultimately, a more globally connected world with its own unique issues that have shaped our generation.
And, the lists written by slightly older 20-something women leave me feeling like why the heck should I (age 25) be taking advice from a 27-year-old? What level of self-importance must that 27-year-old female blogger have if she thinks she has the authority to tell her fellow peers how to live? Why must there always be some kind of problem inherent to being a young adult woman that requires us to write, publish, read, and share "must have" and "must do" lists to "help" others avoid making their own mistakes and having their own faults?
What’s so wrong with screwing up every once in a while? Sometimes falling flat on your face is the best way to change your life or to find an exciting new opportunity.
Then there's the elephant in the living room: all of the advice generated by women for women led me to search the internet for advice for 20-something men. I wondered, "How many lists are there out there that simultaneously remind young men that they need to have a good suit, a handful of ties, a significant other, and a savings account while it drives home the message that if they don’t have all of the above that they must change now or risk failing at adulthood?"
A Google search for "advice for 20-something men" generated the following: "7 Musts for Any Self-Respecting Twenty Something Man" (notice, there are only seven "musts", not 27); "Five Dating Tips for Women — from Men!" (article by men for women); "How to Style Your Man" (again, an article written by women for women); and a handful of either gender-neutral articles on how to successfully build your career in your 20s.
Is it simply that young men are so incredibly self-aware and well-adjusted that they don’t need advice? I doubt it.
Rather, there is a gender-bias in how we think about who needs advice and when. When a man messes up it’s perceived as character building. When a woman makes a mistake it’s something she needs to fix — and fix now. If a young man has a messy apartment, no girlfriend, and orders takeout every night instead of cooking for himself there is a readily available excuse for his behavior. "He’s focusing on building his career right now and just doesn’t have the time to worry about such frivolous things," or the age-old "boys will be boys." But a young adult woman acting similarly is somehow failing at adulthood.
It’s high time women rethink offering unsolicited and highly gendered "advice" to one another and trust ourselves and each other to focus on doing whatever it is that they find personally fulfilling. I’m self-aware enough to know I’m happier working a 10-hour day and chowing down on takeout while I scream Jeopardy answers at the television with my partner than I would be running from work to the gym to a pottery class to home to cook myself an organic meal.
But, I’m not going to knock the woman who does enjoy just that. It’s her right to do what makes her happy. She is a grown-up, after all.