Young women should listen to their elders. Here’s why:
I had to smile when I read a piece by a rather cross 22-year-old woman on The Punch recently, in which she had a stern message for women older than her: rack off.
The Punch intern and journalism/law student, Hannah Sinclair, was letting older women know that she didn’t need our advice on career, babies (and how to juggle both) thank you very much. She would work it all out herself, when the time came to do so.
She has a point. Who wouldn’t get sick of being bombarded constantly by messages that could be pretty intimidating and certainly interpreted as patronising? In particular, she didn’t want to hear Collette Dinnigan’s advice on not leaving babies until you’re in your early middle age (the designer has said she felt the need to give that advice, quite responsibly I think, because she’s been lucky enough to conceive naturally at 46 but didn’t want to create the idea this was run of the mill).
Nor did she want Germaine Greer’s career advice (get it cracking by 28 if you’re serious), or UK columnist Samantha Brick’s tips on marriage - which include staying slim for hubbie. To be honest, I don’t want Samantha Brick’s tips on absolutely bloody anything - she recommends that our greatest aspiration should be “trophy wife”- and I am a little older than 22.
“There’s a difference between offering advice and menacing caution,” wrote Sinclair. “I just wish my generational elders would learn the difference”.
“If older women had the same passion for charity work as they did for my uterus, the world would be a better place ... None of you have the secret formula, so why are you so obsessed with justifying your own choices and pushing them on us?”
Poor old (young) Sinclair was mauled in the comments on her piece, mainly by women who said other women’s advice had been a priceless source of strength and wisdom to them over the course of their lives, and who accused the writer of being an upstart.
My reaction, though, was “you go, girl” - get exactly as cross as I would have been at 22 when anyone “older” (especially over 40, ewwwww), tried to tell me what to do. I was certain I would work it all out in my own time, by making my own mistakes. And boy, was I right. I made plenty of my own mistakes and made absolutely certain that I didn’t cut any corners with that.
I was a pretty bad listener, especially to any possibly sensible words offered to me by someone old enough to be a school principal. Or someone who wore ironed silk shirts (sure sign of a “generational elder” if there ever was one), or someone who cleaned their shoes regularly (how out of touch with urgent 20-something reality could they be if they had time for that?).
I know it may be virtually impossible for a sharp 22 year-old to believe, but even some people over 40 can remember exactly what they were like at 22, and how they thought. And just reflecting on that, I had to laugh at myself a little bit (no, a lot) when I went back into the data bases to recall what I was totally certain of at 22 and how I think about those same things now.
How I thought at 22 and what I reckon now:
At 22: “It’s the thing you do in the office between having an excellent time with your 20-something mates. It is full of old people who don’t take you seriously enough.”
Now: It’s the place you run to with sparks coming off your shoes so you can sit among adults and not be confronted with the detritus still needing to be addressed by you at home. You happily work your bottom off, doing stimulating stuff, before going home to tweens, who perhaps don’t take you seriously enough.
On babies and children:
At 22: “They are quite messy, they involve a lot of snot. Now your babysitting years are behind you, avoid. Also, they often get in the way of the view of that lovely, cute, adorable dog you are admiring. Annoying.”
Now: God how lucky am I that I didn’t leave it too late to have them. Though they are so beautiful it does relegate even the most lovely and loved dog to the status of, well, not a baby, just a dog.
On planning more than five minutes ahead:
At 22: “That is for codgers who play bowls. What exciting or creative experience can really be scheduled to occur? Far better to let life unfold, and enjoy the ride.”
Now: You twit, planning a bit creates a calm space and un-hectic structure in which good ideas and real enjoyment can flow. Duh.
On saving money:
At 22: That’s for codgers who play bowls and want to drive there in a Volvo (with their hat on at the wheel).
Now: See “you twit” above. Yes you’ve traveled to about as many countries as Elton John, spending every cent you earned prior to 30, but perhaps you could have cut that back and put down a house deposit.
I could go on, but you get the picture. Clearly I knew absolutely everything at 22, and the older me is offering one big load of crazy, unsolicited, patronising advice.
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