Hear Me Out is a weekly limited series in which Ifoghale and Ibukun share unsolicited opinions; some people think others are living, but everyone should hear.
As a woman, people tell you stuff you don’t care to hear, especially things you didn’t ask for. “Smile more”, “wear this”, and “this is how a woman is expected to be”. Unsolicited advice masked as concern isn’t only given to women in underdeveloped countries. In the countries we assume are advanced, women still suffer from hearing unsolicited advice that helps no one.
The concept of telling women what to do with their lives and bodies stems from the infantilization of women. Women are frequently seen as people who should be handheld and guided. We’re supposed to be meek, assumed to be like sheep who need a shepherd. Women are taught to ask “how high?” when the rest of the world tells us to “jump”.
As a plus-size woman, one of the most annoying forms of policing I get is what every other person assumes I’m supposed to wear. “Won’t that outfit show your belly?”, “Don’t you think you should dress according to your body type?” and so many other questions that irritate me when I hear them. Is my belly an accessory I can leave at home? If the dress was made in my size and fits me, why do you think I’m not dressing according to my body type?
Women are told to smile more and wear their hair straight and sleek. I once had a guy try to toast me by telling me he hated dark-skinned, fat women with natural hair (all the things that I am) but was willing to make an exception for me. Although this happened a few years ago, I still wonder what he assumed that information would do for me. Did he think his admiration of me, despite his preference, was going to make me happy and excited to be with him? Did he even think at all?
You assume the theories of what women should look like comes from the men till you meet women who spend all their time telling other women how to “woman better”, how femininity should be done in a way that pleases men. Like women don’t look in the mirror or know how to think for themselves, go to the salon for themselves, admire themselves when they go out, or women don’t like to feel and look good for their own confidence.
Beyond telling women how to look, women are also expected to get married at a certain age, dedicate their lives to caring for children or be forced to have children they don’t want. When women bring up wanting to get rid of children they don’t wish to have, people bat an eye and twist their lips to say the worst things about the woman and her decision. Women are expected to listen to what every other person thinks they should do and not what they want for themselves.
When women get battered, hurt or killed, we hear people ask questions we don’t expect to hear anymore. Questions like, “what was she wearing?” The onus is on women to protect ourselves, preserve our honours and always listen because it’s assumed everyone knows more about our realities than we who live our day-to-day lives through it.
Constantly telling women what you expect them to do and how you expect them to look and behave is very harmful. These ideas and ideologies are passed down generations, raising women who don’t know what to do if they’re not told. It breeds women who are used to living a version of themselves that was created by others, who aren’t confident in themselves and their abilities.
If the first thing that comes to mind when you see a woman is to tell her your thoughts on how she should be a better woman, maybe you should take a minute to check yourself. Check your projections, sit with yourself and ask why it’s so important to share your question or opinion. Put yourself in her shoes by giving yourself advice or sharing your opinion with yourself.
Of course, there are situations where you need to stand up to someone. Where you need to explain to them why you think their choices are harmful when you know they aren’t exactly seeing reason. That’s where emotional intelligence comes in. Helping a woman shouldn’t come with insults and degradation. It shouldn’t be wrapped and served the way harmful and insulting advice is.
The most important thing to do before speaking to a woman and sharing your thoughts on her appearance or action is to find an empty room and talk in it. Let your words echo back to you. If you need to police anyone, please, join the police force in whatever country you reside.
Hear Me Out is a brand new Zikoko limited series, so you can check back every Saturday by 9 a.m. for new episodes from Ifoghale and Ibukun.