As a young woman, I am constantly in need of the advice and life mentoring of older men. At least, that’s what most of them apparently think. I blame it on the hubris of privilege, because most of the 40 year old+ men I’ve met who have taken this tactic seem to be laboring under the delusion what they say is somehow important solely because of who it’s coming from. I see the slight purse of their lips as they mentally measure the length of my skirt, or the widening of their eyes as I say something “unladylike.” (Don’t even get me started on the five months when I had blue streaks in my hair, which, for the record, both my parents were fine with and even went so far as to tell me they thought the color looked cute!) The offending behavior is brought up in conversation. And then the lecturing begins, always starting with, “Well, I’m not your father, but…”
My favorite example of this was when I came into work at my college job with every fingernail painted a different color. They all coordinated, mind you, and in my opinion it was very pretty. One of the full-time employees working there saw my hands, and reacted in the totally appropriate manner of being completely aghast. He grabbed my left hand away from the desk (fun fact: older males also think they are allowed to touch you without permission in order to dispense their paternal wisdom), and held it up for all to see. “Do your parents know you did this?!” he demanded. “And why did you do it?” I was so taken aback by this that all I could do was retort, “…You do know nail polish comes off, right?” To which he responded, “Well, I would never let one of MY daughters do that,” and left me sitting there with the mental image of me tearfully sitting down with my father, crying, “Dad…Dad, we need to talk. I did something. I…I…*stifled sob*…I used removable paint that will probably chip off on its own within a week to make my fingernails different colors!” and then he roars, “NOT IN MY HOUSE, YOUNG LADY!” and throws me out on the front porch with nothing but a hobo style bindle filled with all my sinful different colored nail polish bottles.
The reason why this angers me is because it’s not fatherly advice. It’s disapproval masquerading as having my best intentions at heart, when the real motivation behind it is a judgmental agenda. But I will concede, Mr. Judgy Older Male, that you are right about one thing — you’re not my father. Because you didn’t change my diapers as a baby. You didn’t remove the training wheels from my bike, then circle the block with me for hours holding on to the back of the seat. You didn’t put in a full day at work, then come home and spend hours every night teaching me math during the half of 6th grade when I was homeschooled because I was bullied so badly at regular schools. You didn’t teach me how to parallel park in your own car, your second baby, even though everyone probably expected me to hit something in it. You didn’t break down crying my first night away from home after I went to college. You didn’t drive out to my friend’s house when I was so drunk I was throwing up, take me home with no questions asked while Mom held my hair back, and then bring me a breakfast bagel the next morning and tell me stories of your worst hangovers. You didn’t hug my mother as she cried tears of joy when I graduated from college. And yet, you presume to know my character based on the way I look and my vocabulary. There is only one man who has been there to offer advice, support, and non-judgmental opinions to me through my highest highs and my lowest lows, and that is my actual dad. (And, of course, my mom, but she’s not a man.)
So, to the older males of the world who wish to tell young women what they would do if they were their daughters, please remember all of this. And then kindly shut the fuck up.