Dear Media: Stop Trying to Speak For Women With 'Advice' Columns
While there's no question that gender disparity exists in this country and myriad solutions exist for how to address the issues, there is one clear way not to fix it: write an advice column "for women." As issues of women's pay, health care, and equal treatment make headlines, there has been a corresponding litany of articles giving women all kinds of advice on how to overcome the various obstacles we seem to face. How to use your body type to make more money? Want to know how to date a rich guy? Even less sexist topics like how to get ahead in business are part of this seemingly endless market for telling women things that – if not sexist and demeaning like the Wall Street and body type article – are not unique to gender and in many cases are things that most women probably already know. These advice articles, like the "Nine Rules Women Must Follow to Get Ahead," continually throw reasons at women for why they are underperforming men in fields like business; while they rarely offer good advice, they also detract from the larger issues of gender imbalance and why it still exists.
It’s one thing to write articles directed towards women on issues that specifically affect women, like contraception (though of course even issues like this affect both genders!), but it’s another to take basic, common advice, throw a gender slant to the title, and call it “advice all women need.” The reason women are not at the top of the ranks in Fortune 500 companies is not because nobody ever gave them this advice that they need to “network with peers” (unlike men). Or, how about that they need to “work hard.” Really? Work hard? And here I thought Sheryl Sandberg just got appointed to the board of Facebook because she leaves early every day and sleeps through meetings. Articles like this are not only pointless, but also create a false sense that the only reason women are not achieving in this way is because of their own personal drive and, apparently, ability to dress well or play golf. This simply isn’t true. From outright sexism to less obvious benevolence, there are many more factors at play here.
That’s not to say everyone shouldn’t work hard. Will you be more likely to get ahead by working hard, networking, soliciting mentors, and taking on more work as this article suggests? Of course. Will droves of women suddenly make boards because they suddenly heard this advice and followed it? Of course not. While I am all for good advice that perhaps does apply particularly to women, I am tired of reading columns of advice that I already knew and articles that seem to be trying to convince us that simply following these rules will lead to success, especially for women.
I know I need to work hard. Now you need to work to stop perpetuating attitudes and stereotypes that are feeding the structural problems that is keeping many women’s hard work from going further in the workplace.