Do you suffer from Asker’s Syndrome?

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It's a little understood, but surprisingly common condition that afflicts women from all walks of life. The main symptom of Asker’s Syndrome is that you’re incapable of asking for what you want. 

I was alerted to Asker’s Syndrome during a recent visit from my mother and mother-in-law. Both of them are incapable of articulating something as simple as what they would like for dinner. 

For example, asking my mum which frozen meal she would like goes something like this: 

Me: Which dinner do you want?

Her: You choose.

Me: No. You choose, you’re the one who’s going to eat it.

Her: Whichever one you don’t want.

Me: Mum!!!!

Her: Just open the fridge and the first one you pull out will do. 

Similarly, when I asked my mother-in-law to select which meals she’d like me to order from the home-delivery menu she only chose the ones her husband would like. I asked her what she would like and she said, ‘I’ll just have whichever one is left over’. 

This goes way beyond politeness. After pushing both of them at length to state a preference — and failing — it would seem that they are actually incapable of voicing what they want. 

And it’s not just older women who have a ‘this is good enough for me,’ mentality. A friend who works in marketing told me about a focus group she ran with thirty-something women. The express purpose of the group was to find out these women’s preferences. 

But they were only able to articulate their preferences through their children or partner. Rather than saying what they liked, they would answer ‘My son would like this,’ or  ‘My husband would enjoy that.’ 

And Asker’s Syndrome can strike young. At five years old my daughter Violet is showing the early stages of Asker’s Syndrome. She’s learned that women don’t ask, but rather drop hints.

She’ll say, ‘Mummy I saw yoghurt in the fridge,’ rather than, ‘Can I have a yoghurt please?’ or ‘Remember last Sunday afternoon we went to the park?’ rather than ‘Can we go to the park?’

These examples are mostly about food and so could be explained away as one more example of women and girls’ problematic relationship with appetite and food. But, it’s not just meal times when we content ourselves with the scraps or defer to somebody else to choose for us.

It’s widely documented that women are less likely than men to ask for pay rises and promotions. Instead they beaver away without fuss, hoping that somebody else will decide they are worthy and bestow one upon them.

No doubt, many women develop Asker’s Syndrome as a defensive measure because they’ve been labeled as pushy or rude for simply asking for what they want. But in the long term, stunting our ability to express our desires doesn’t serve us well.

I have married friends who leave product catalogues around the house when it’s their birthday and are inevitably disappointed when their hints fly under their husband’s radar. And I have single friends who won’t ask a man out on a date because they fear being considered ‘too forward’. Whatever than means in 2014.

Even men’s magazines are aware that women are reluctant to articulate their preferences and desires, giving sex advice such as ‘follow the moans.’ Why don’t you just ask her? Probably because she wouldn’t feel entitled to express want she wants through actual words. 

If Colleen Hoover’s breakout YA novel Hopeless is anything to go by, the younger generation of women will be expressing their sexual desires in moans and hints as well. When protagonist Sky spends half a day agonising over when a boy will kiss her, I want to reach through the pages and scream, ‘Just ask him!’.

I was raised with the mantra of ‘All good things come to those who wait.’ Thirty-eight years on, I know that at best that advice is insanely optimistic, and at worst, a symptom of chronic low self-esteem.

It’s time to cure ourselves and our girls of Asker’s Syndrome. I don’t want to raise a future ‘burnt chop mother’ who denies her appetite for food, sex, power and success and anything else.  I want my daughter’s mantra to be ‘If you don’t ask you don’t get’ so I now insist that she asks for what she wants directly.

For women in our culture, asking is a skill that we need to learn and practice. And if we all do it, then women asking will become the norm rather than the exception.

Kasey Edwards is the bestselling author of four books, www.kaseyedwards.com.

51 comments

  • This is one of the reasons why female equality is not to the standard most feminists demand.

    ....but somewhere along the line, most feminists will still blame men

    Commenter
    sum
    Date and time
    August 19, 2014, 9:15AM
    • and after this time I've realised I've got it all wrong, seems sum has put it straight for me... inequality in the workplace, sexism, abuse of females.. whether sexual or physical is all the fault of women...

      finally i'm free of feminism and the desire to be treated as an equal.... but i'm confused, does that mean all men will respect women, their opinions, their bodies and their desires... or does it just mean I can ask for that meal I want, but in the meantime I should just shut up.

      and in reply to sum's comment... ''This is one of the reasons why female equality is not to the standard most feminists demand'.... ARE YOU SERIOUS... the reason why there isn't equality for females is because we live in a patriarchal, misogynistic and sexist society... which asserts that women should be timid 2nd class citizens...

      hopefully I get this posted as I've really toned this down as i'm fuming from this comment.

      Commenter
      cuteclaudia
      Date and time
      August 19, 2014, 10:13AM
    • cuteclaudia

      ARE YOU SERIOUS?

      xxx

      Commenter
      sum
      Date and time
      August 19, 2014, 12:52PM
    • cuteclaudia
      Well done for proving sum correct.

      OT
      This reminds me of that picture of the resaurant called "Whatever", or "It doesn't matter, whatever you want".
      As in "Where do you want to go for dinner tonight?" "I dunno, whatever you want".

      Commenter
      Bender
      Date and time
      August 19, 2014, 1:15PM
    • Claudia - do you realise that in response to Sum stating "most feminists will still blame men", you basically just came out with "I blame men!!" (ie. is because we live in a patriarchal, misogynistic and sexist society)?

      Every man that I know prefers a woman to have an independent mind and be capable of rationally and calmly expressing her thoughts and desires. Ladies, feel free to be that woman. It only becomes rude or pushy a person insists they get their way without adequate justification, or without allowing for the opinions of others.

      Commenter
      Blue
      Location
      Melbourne
      Date and time
      August 19, 2014, 2:17PM
  • It would be wonderful if we could aspire for the next level and take what we want rather than asking permission.

    Commenter
    M
    Location
    Brisbane
    Date and time
    August 19, 2014, 9:18AM
    • More importantly wouldn't it be great if the author or any female could just accept the first answer, rather than constantly pushing for the answer they want to hear!!!

      Commenter
      Me
      Date and time
      August 19, 2014, 3:58PM
  • Excellent advice for both men and women. If you want something, ask for it. If it's something small like Italian for dinner rather than Mexican then just ask. A lot of the time the other person doesn't care either way and is happy to have the decision made for them. If it's something big like a pay rise then have reasons why they should give it to you. But if you don't ask people are just going to assume you are happy with the way things are and you won't get what you want. That's the way the world works.

    Commenter
    Hurrow
    Location
    Hurrowhurrow@yahoo.com.au
    Date and time
    August 19, 2014, 9:23AM
    • Yes, but it's WHY are girls and women told that it's not polite to ask, to not put themselves first and articulate quite clearly what they want or need?

      I always told that it's not polite to ask or to wait my turn so you ended up missing out because you didn't want to do the wrong thing. We need to make sure that girls are okay with asking and not to tell them off for expressing themselves. It's a bit like telling off a girl for helping a teacher and calling her bossy instead of encouraging her want to lead. How many times have I seen my mum put herself last, eaten the burnt chop, and see her miserable? Too many and women who do this are then see as martyrs and there's no sympathy.

      If I come across an asker I will tell them that it's okay to ask and that they're not going to get in trouble for telling me. Sometimes there is a look of confusion but often it's a look of relief.

      Commenter
      Ripley
      Location
      Hunting Aliens
      Date and time
      August 19, 2014, 10:26AM
    • Ripley I’m always a big fan of people taking responsibility for their own lives. I know some men who won’t ask for things, I know some women who won’t ask for things. That’s their problem. If people do ask for stuff then I try to treat them exactly the same way regardless of gender etc.

      Similarly I’ve had a bunch of managers both male and female. Some were assertive and direct, others were more laissez faire. Both the female ones were very clear about what they wanted which I appreciated, likewise when I delivered on that they were appreciative. I didn’t call them bossy because they weren't but they were definitely good managers and a lot better than some of the male managers I have had. You know who did call them bossy? Some of the women who worked for one of them and thought they’d be able to get sympathy from her like they had from the less effective previous male manager.

      I’ve got no problem whatsoever with people asking me for things and I’ll often make the effort to ask them what they want, but if they don’t tell me then in the absence of any signs to the contrary I’m going to assume that they are happy and fine with whatever decision I make. If they’re not, it’s up to them to tell me because if they don’t then how am I supposed to know? Suffering in silence doesn’t help anyone.

      Commenter
      Hurrow
      Location
      Hurrowhurrow@yahoo.com.au
      Date and time
      August 19, 2014, 12:02PM

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