If You Ask Me…
Nov 28, 2018 | by Becky Oeltjenbruns
It seems these days we’re flooded with advice: from smart watches telling us how much more we should walk to reach our goals, to newsfeeds highlighting the top stories that should warrant our attention, or to shopping apps guiding our purchases. With all this noise surrounding us it can be reasonable to wonder: whatever happened to good, old-fashioned advice? The kind that is both thoughtfully delivered and thought-provoking? Beyond the algorithm-induced responses from a search engine, where can you turn for an honest opinion? For the vintage gals of the 1940s and 60s, they reached out to one of the most popular women in American politics: Eleanor Roosevelt. Her column, “If You Ask Me,” ran in Ladies Home Journal and was known for the candid guidance dispensed (and for the fact that no question – big or small – was overlooked).
Eleanor Roosevelt was a highly accomplished woman, a legend in her own time, and quite the spitfire. During her White House tenure she held press conferences, advocated for human rights, and lectured extensively. Her life after the White House was equally dedicated to public service and included stints at the United Nations. For a woman with such a full calendar, it’s truly extraordinary that she made the time to read and respond to the average Joe or Jane’s questions. But beyond the existence of the column itself, there’s something special about how Eleanor developed the column – yes, the responses are direct in tone – but just as she revealed the heart of a matter, she managed to also reveal a truth about herself. Perhaps that’s the best kind of advice, where you feel connected through a shared experience. In the spirit of sifting through the noise of our modern era, I’d like to share a few snippets from “If You Ask Me.” I think you’ll find the selections relevant (and I hope – inspirational too!).
Do you think equal pay to women who fill men’s jobs is economically justified?
Certainly. If women do the same work I have always believed that they should receive the same pay. – March 1944
What do you consider the best years of a woman’s life?
I do not really know what are the best years of a woman’s life, because it depends so much on how she develops. If she is able to learn from life to get the best out of it at all times, then probably at whatever age she is those years will be the best she has had. But we do not all do that.
If you ask me what years I thought were the most enjoyable I would again have to qualify my answer because the enjoyment is different at different times. Certainly the years when women have young children are very rewarding, but again they are often filled with anxiety.
The years of youth, when there is less responsibility, are enjoyable – but the anxieties of youth are also very marked, and there a few young people who escape them.
The best thing we all can do is to learn to make use of the years as they go by and enjoy whatever period of life we are in. – March 1951
Have you ever said to yourself “If only I were a man?” Or are you quite content with being a woman?
No, I have never wanted to be a man. I have often wanted to be more effective as a woman, but I have never felt that trousers would do the trick! – October 1941
What do you think is American women’s commonest fault? American men’s?
I am surprised that you should even suggest that the American woman has any faults; but since you do suggest it, I think perhaps it is their inability to take criticism and use it to the best advantage. This is a fault shared by both men and women very frequently. – October 1941