Dear Crankypants Mondays: Why an advice column?

I've been telling people about my plans for the advice-column part of the blog, and I've been getting the same reaction over and over: "What does that have to do with feminist response to pop culture?"

At first, I would answer, "nothing." And in response to the inevitable follow-up question, "Well, so why are you doing it on your Bitch blog?": "Because I've always wanted to do it, and because I can." It's not like that's totally untrue—I have always wanted to, and one of the things that's gonna be the most fun for me about doing this blog is that I can do whatever I want.

But in answering that question multiple times, I've remembered longstanding connection between advice columns and the gendered behavioral instructions that permeate all of pop culture. Advice columns—like man-pleasing women's-magazine advice, cautionary talk-show tales of cheating men and "out-of-control" teenage daughters, and anti-aging eye cream commercials—are an essential part of the conduct literature of our times.

Even if it didn't bug me at all that some people get paid what's doubtless a good salary to dish out consistently crappy advice, a feminist advice column (not to be confused with a column that gives information about feminism) is long overdue.

While many contemporary advice columns are far from staid or conventional, that doesn't mean that the advice they give is free from ridiculous gender stereotypes or even base misogyny (with the notable exception of the almost universally great Carolyn Hax, whom I found while researching this post; I promptly thefted several hours from my day job to read months' worth of her archive). Dan Savage has a lot of great qualities, but he killed my fandom years ago with repeated comments on the grossness of pussy. Cary Tennis is benign and even borderline politicize (if not exactly helpful) much of the time, but sometimes he feels the need to do things like ridicule a woman who doesn't want to waste her limited social time on second dates with men she's not interested in getting to know better. (For the record, my advice to her would have been that the desire to not hurt anyone's feelings requires her to figure out polite, comfortable ways to decline second dates, but that doing what we don't want to do to spare others' feelings is something our culture expects of women, and we we have the right and even responsibility to refuse. Besides, how is it actually good for anyone, including the men whose feelings are supposedly being spared, to have dinner with someone who's just not interested in getting to know them better?) As for Amy, the so-called advice goddess, there is sometimes some decent advice hidden in there among the snark, conceit and misplaced evolutionary psychology, but...ick.  

So. That's why. 

by Lisa Jervis
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