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Updates: “Offended In-Law” Responds

It’s time again for “Dear Wendy Updates,” a feature where people I’ve given advice to in the past let us know whether they followed the advice and how they’re doing today. After the jump, we hear from “Offended In-Law” who was concerned about how to handle her sexist and bigoted father-in-law when she saw him during the holidays. “I’m not expecting him to change,” she wrote, “but if you have any suggestions for how I can tolerate being around him without blowing up in feminist rage or annoying my husband by complaining, I could really use the advice before Thanksgiving.” Keep reading to see whether you kept her feminist rage inside.

Now that the holidays are well behind us, I thought I’d tell you how things went with my father-in-law. I did take the advice to stop bitching about Hank to my husband, before and after the event. He could still tell when I was upset but I made an effort to not be too vocal about it, and he appreciated that. I also asked him if he would help me out if there was a situation when Hank was making me upset or uncomfortable – but he said he would stay out of it, not siding with either party. That’s his prerogative (and pretty much the answer I was expecting), so I didn’t push the issue or try to read into it.

Hank was unusually quiet and subdued at Thanksgiving. But he was back to his usual self when I saw him again at Christmas.

His 16-year-old niece, “Carolyn,” was wearing a sleeveless top with a low cowl neck and skinny jeans, showing no cleavage or midriff whatsoever. Not exactly seasonally appropriate, but nothing that would make Grandma blush. Hank’s first comments to her were to ask what corner she was “working” and what she charged for her services, and he kept up on the hooker thing on and off through the afternoon.

At dinner, he was talking to his brother-in-law, “Edgar,” who has been struggling to find employment. Hank himself was recently unemployed, too, and in both cases their wives continued to work. In a loud enough voice to drown out the dinner chatter and noise, Hank put his arm around his wife and said “So now that you’re not working, does your wife treat you like shit too?” And continued implying that during his unemployment, his wife did nothing but get on his nerves. In reality, she was incredibly supportive through everything that surrounded his job loss and transition, and tried to keep him from sinking into depression.

Through all of this I said nothing and kept myself calm by focusing on the lit candle on the table in front of me. Edgar started talking about the kind of work he wanted to do – he has been a psychologist for youth in correctional facilities in the past, and said he likes to be around young people. Hank took the bait – “Better be careful saying things like that these days, you might make people think you’re a pedophile.” I don’t know why THIS comment was the last straw for me, but I did not stop myself from replying, “Says the same man who was making sexual comments about his underage niece?” I admit: I only said it because it felt good, because no one else would call him out on his ridiculousness, and because knowing Hank, I was pretty sure he would just wave it off – which he did.

At this point, I count my blessings that Hank lives across the state and I don’t see him very often. I respect Hank as a member of the family and for his professional success, but I don’t respect him on a personal level and still consider him obnoxious and bigoted. For now, I’m going to continue biting my tongue, as much as I can anyway, to keep the peace. It does make me glad that we don’t plan on having kids, though, because he would have more than a witty comeback coming his way if he ever implied that my teenage daughter was a hooker because of what she was wearing. And I would not put it past him.

Thanks, everyone, for the advice on my initial letter.

Thanks for the update! I’m glad to hear things didn’t get too out of hand.

If you’re someone I’ve given advice to in the past, I’d love to hear from you, too. Email me at wendy@dearwendy.com with a link to the original post, and let me know whether you followed the advice and how you’re doing now.

Comments on this entry are closed.

becboo84 BecBoo84 February 16, 2012, 3:12 pm

I love your comeback… hilarious! Sorry that you have such a bum for a FIL. Also, it’s kind of a bummer that your hubs isn’t offering more support. I would think/hope he was offended by what was being said as well.

avatar MsMisery February 16, 2012, 3:17 pm

What a piece of work, that guy. I don’t know if you can keep up your behavior long-term without looking into Zen Buddhism or something, because it sounds like you were ready to snap all night, and I would have been too. Holidays and family get-togethers can be stressful enough without THAT added pressure. I know this is your husband’s family, but so are you. It would be nice if he could be a little more supportive of you, even in private (you don’t want to end up resenting TWO people). I hope you find a healthy way to cope and de-stress, or better learn to ignore him (even though he really deserves a punch in the mouth).

avatar LW February 16, 2012, 4:24 pm

Funny enough – I am a Buddhist. Or at least Buddhist-influenced, not full blown.

avatar MsMisery February 17, 2012, 12:37 pm

I think even Richard Gere would knock your FIL’s block off!

avatar lets_be_honest February 16, 2012, 3:32 pm

Am I the only one who thoughtHow can you “continue” to bite your tongue if you didn’t actually bite your tongue but said something equally childish and rude to your father in law?

becboo84 BecBoo84 February 16, 2012, 3:42 pm

Based on the comments so far, you do appear to be in the minority. Based on the letter, it seemed to me as if she did “bite her tongue” the vast majority of the time, but had one little minor snap.

avatar lets_be_honest February 16, 2012, 3:44 pm

I would’ve laughed if someone just said “yes” lol
This is a weird one for me to figure out why I don’t seem to agree with the other DWers. All I thought as I read this was eh, Big Deal, get over it, stop trying to drag your husband into a fight that is unnecessary. Maybe I’m crazy but she seems ultra-sensitive.

avatar iseeshiny February 16, 2012, 3:56 pm

I agree that she seems to be hypersensitive, and Archie Bunker up there doesn’t seem malicious, just coarse and vulgar. But I didn’t think LW’s comment was out of line at all.

bittergaymark bittergaymark February 17, 2012, 2:09 am

Actually, I felt the same way. Honestly, maybe I simply didn’t get it, I guess, but nothing he said was REALLY that bad or even THAT out there. (At least not to me…) Hey, kids, wanna dress like a Karwhorian for the holidays — be ready to take some flack. Oh, and I thought the line about “his wife treating him like shit” was just gallows humor. Unemployment sucks. Big time. To me that whole exchange was all about guys making light of a bad situation. Moreover, how do you REALLY know exactly how the wife is being to him about it? Seriously… What evidence do you have that she is all super supportive? I know I am playing the devil’s advocate here, but there ARE two sides to every story. And this LW clearly only believes what she wants to believe. She HATES her father-in-law. Hates him. That much is abundantly clear. Everybody else is a saint because he is evil…blah, blah, blah.

My advice? Seriously, get over yourself, LW. The rest of the world has REAL problems…

Meanwhile, there is a fine line between being a feminist and an entitled bitch. You sound just incredibly whiny. “Through all of this I said nothing and kept myself calm by focusing on the lit candle on the table in front of me…” Oh, please. This is the most unintentionally hilarious line ever penned in a Dear Wendy Letter…because, seriously, nothing remotely interesting or worth reporting had even happened yet. Grow up. Stop acting like your 12.

avatar Nadine February 17, 2012, 8:18 am

She described what the teenage girl was wearing. You think that’s “slutty”?

avatar LW February 17, 2012, 9:51 am

But that’s honestly what I did. I needed something else to pay attention to so I chose the candle. (See above – Buddhist.)

I clarified about his mental/behavioral condition because people asked.

I don’t hate him. I dislike him and have lost some respect for him, but I acknowledge his good qualities (he’s very handy around the house and he’s really good at slalom water skiing, for instance). This behavior in particular I hate, and it often flares up at family gatherings & holidays, which is pretty much the only time I see him anymore. But when they lived closer to us I spent a lot of time around him and know he has it in him to not be an ass. Which makes me question why he *chooses* to be an ass in certain situations.

All that said, I’m totally not surprised that *you* think it’s okay to call a female teenage relative a whore in front of her family for wearing a sleeveless shirt. I think you and Hank (who is really the one behaving like he’s 12) would get along famously.

Leroy Leroy February 17, 2012, 10:15 am

Have you considered that he doesn’t like you either and is saying these things to provoke you?

bittergaymark bittergaymark February 17, 2012, 12:37 pm

Perhaps we would because neither of us go around constantly looking to be threatened by people. We don’t constantly sit in judgment of every little thing people around us say… Why? Simply because we don’t take everything so fucking seriously. And while I can’t speak for Hank, I do know that one thing I never do is run around making mountains out of molehills because I am determined to make somebody else’s faults ALL ABOUT ME… In every incident you’ve described in this update…none of his comments were even about you… Yet you have somehow taken them all far too personally and that’s very illuminating on many levels.

PS — The fact that the best you can do to acknowledge his good points is to admit he is a good waterskier is downright hilarious. So thanks for the morning chuckle.

avatar LW February 17, 2012, 2:04 pm

He’s professionally and financially successful.
He cares a lot about his sons and will go out of his way to help them. We are currently living in their old house rent-free while my husband is unemployed – we had been paying rent for a while but when we told them we were starting to feel the financial squeeze, they said we could stop paying rent until he finds work again. No guilt, no bartering, nothing – Hank does have his kids’ best interests in mind.
He is dedicated and responsible.
He’s brought himself back from pre-diabetes through vigorous attention to diet and exercise.
He is a faithful, though not die-hard, Catholic.

I can say all of that and in the same breath assert that he is a bully (in fact, many of the same personality traits that have made him a professional success also make him a bully). To give you another example, he plays so rough with my dog that he makes him yelp, and he think’s it’s HILARIOUS to tuck a dog’s two front paws into its collar so it can’t walk. That’s just downright cruel. When he made my dog yelp for the third time I was ready to slap him across the face. You DON’T DO THAT. Just like you DON’T TEAR DOWN YOUR WIFE AND FAMILY MEMBERS AT CHRISTMAS, FOR A LAUGH.

avatar Addie Pray February 16, 2012, 3:56 pm

I’m with you, lbh.

avatar Valerie February 16, 2012, 4:20 pm

Me too.

Fabelle Fabelle February 16, 2012, 4:28 pm

With you guys as well, except I don’t really see her comment as being out-of-line. I actually think she & the FIL could have some very entertaining banter going on. If he has no filter, then maybe she shouldn’t either.

avatar lets_be_honest February 16, 2012, 4:33 pm

I don’t necessarily think it was out of line either. I totally agree with on the entertaining banter.

Lili Lili February 16, 2012, 4:17 pm

I would have turned it into a drinking game. You know, take a sip for every offensive thing he says. Although, I’m guessing she would have been quite drunk by the end of the night…I have some relatives who annoy the shit out of me, they are a malicious bunch of catty women. Next time I have to be around them, I’m going to start making a game out of it to distract myself and stay amused when they say insensitive/offensive/crass things.

avatar lets_be_honest February 16, 2012, 4:23 pm

Ha! That could go real bad, real fast when you end up hammered and speaking your mind!

Lili Lili February 16, 2012, 4:30 pm

HA. Yeah..although I must admit my relationship with my stepmother greatly improved after I played the ‘take a sip of wine every time she says something offensive’ game. It mostly worked though because we were on the phone an not in person. now that things are ok with us, I do miss the glass of wine when we chat now. Its like a missing companion lol.

avatar lets_be_honest February 16, 2012, 4:34 pm

Might have to remember that trick with my stepmom!

avatar Something More February 16, 2012, 4:25 pm

In all fairness, she did say “For now, I’m going to continue biting my tongue, as much as I can anyway, to keep the peace.”

Personally, I would be offended if those comments were made in my presence and would definately NOT be OK if he were talking about my 16-year-old daughter like that.

avatar oldie February 16, 2012, 3:38 pm

It is one thing to be vocally sexist and another to be a big bully. The FIL is both. His son likely doesn’t stand up for his wife or mother, because his whole experience growing up was just a ton of this crap. He ought to at least thank his wife, after the fact, for putting up with all his Dad’s crap. Perhaps he is anxious to see his Mom. I wouldn’t be getting together with FIL any time soon. Thanksgiving and Christmas is too much a concentrated dose of this jerk. LW should visit with her own parents, or she and husband should have their own holiday. If nobody does anything to change this dynamic, count on every holiday being more of the same. That is too much to grin and bear. You shouldn’t have to dread every holiday or family get together. At some point LW has to tell husband that enough is enough and that they might need to see less of his family.

Betsy Betsy February 16, 2012, 4:02 pm

That’s not really fair to tell the her husband that enough is enough. She knew how his father was before they got married, and like it or not she entered into a life-long commitment with both her husband and his family.

avatar oldie February 16, 2012, 5:56 pm

She doesn’t have to tolerate FILs continuous bad behavior, simply because it is continuous and she saw prior to marriage. She should not be expected to endure this every holiday. Her husband also saw her parents pre-marriage, but they’re not spending holidays with her family. Holidays should not be FILs opportunity to entertain himself by insulting the whole family. His attitude toward his own wife is kind of disgusting.

Tracey Tracey February 17, 2012, 11:15 am

I agree, Oldie. It may be the best way to keep the peace. Perhaps she could do what a friend of mine and her husband did because there was major bad blood between the husband and the MIL – one visit every “x” amount of years (in their case it was every three), for a set amount of days (less than a week), a set amount of time with the offending parties (a couple of hours at most), and they never stayed overnight at the family home. If my friend wanted to go and visit her mom on her own the rest of the time, she was free to do so, and hubby went off on his own to visit friends, sightsee, chill at the hotel, etc. (Later on, after they had kids, he kept them while my friend visited the family.) It worked for them, and this approach may work for her because FIL sounds like a bullying piece of work who no one wants to confront, or a man just this side of being diagnosed as senile.

Which reminds me, because I don’t remember this being addressed, does FIL have any diagnosed mental issues or health concerns like senility or Alzheimer’s? That aggressive, inappropriate behavior she describes can be a harbinger of possible problems like that.

avatar Temperance February 16, 2012, 3:49 pm

I personally think that your husband should speak up when his father insults *you* and women in general. I don’t think he’s staying “neutral” by not saying anything either way, he’s actually taking his dad’s side. His father is the one saying sexist, rude, offensive things, and by your husband staying silent, he’s implying agreement.

avatar sparky629 February 16, 2012, 3:52 pm

I’m just kind of wondering has the father ever been tested medically?? For some reason, his inappropriateness just reminded me of an ex co-worker who to this day I swear was either bi-polar or had ADHD.
He would just say the. MOST. inappropriate. things at staff meetings or out of the blue. It was like he couldn’t help himself. We just called it ‘diarrhea of the mouth’. He also didn’t realize why some of the stuff he said was inappropriate.
Anyway, it just seems like the FIL may have an undiagnosed case of either bi-polar or adult ADHD as either of these can lead to this level of mouth diarrhea. That in no way excuses his behavior but I’m just sayin’…he may not be 100% responsible for his behavior.

avatar iseeshiny February 16, 2012, 4:03 pm

But FIL isn’t at a staff meeting – he’s at home, with his family. And it doesn’t sound like he’s blurting, just thinks he’s funny. Maybe I missed it but I don’t see anywhere that the LW has actually, you know, asked him to tone it down.

Budj Budj February 16, 2012, 4:09 pm

In the initial letter she did, which resulted in him minimizing her briefly…I still think you fight fire with fire. Immasculate him…he has no job…that will cut deep for a guy like him. When he sees it’s just as easy to rip him apart he might stop.

avatar iseeshiny February 16, 2012, 4:21 pm

I think that would put the poor husband (and the rest of the family) in a really uncomfortable position. I would keep it to, “That’s repulsive, Hank. Why are you always so repulsive?” That’s how I got this one guy at work to stop hitting on me without having to go to HR.

Budj Budj February 16, 2012, 4:30 pm

No you are right. I’m working off the assumption that this guy is really as horrible as the LW thinks. If he is just vulgar and crass I can usually handle those personalities pretty well…and he is probably hoping people will join in on the berating because maybe that’s just how he socializes and “has fun”.

I guess my question for the LW would be does the rest of his family get offended by this? I mean…if his wife knows he is kidding and gives it back to him in some way shape or form that could just be how they navigate their relationship?…which would make you the uptight one at the dinner table that everyone is nervous will be offended.

avatar iseeshiny February 16, 2012, 4:54 pm

Yeah – and that could account for the husband not being willing to step in, too (your second paragraph).

Budj Budj February 16, 2012, 4:56 pm

And the high-five?

avatar iseeshiny February 16, 2012, 10:23 pm

High five on standing up to Hank? Way to act like a part of the family and not an outsider? Dunno.

avatar LW February 16, 2012, 5:10 pm

Nail on the head, Budj. This is unfortunately how he socializes and has fun, and I do often feel like the uptight one at the dinner table. The whole reason I wrote the initial letter is because I was struggling with that aspect of it – feeling under pressure to hold my tongue because no one ELSE is bothered.

Is it OK to be intentionally and unapologetically offensive as long as there’s a “just kidding” tacked on to the end? (And in this case, not even vocalized, just assumed by his audience?) I don’t think so, but others might disagree.

avatar iseeshiny February 16, 2012, 5:25 pm

Nope, he should be able to control himself, especially when he knows it offends you. But I’m betting he’s older, and views himself as the patriarch. If he doesn’t actually get offended when you make snappy comebacks (I thought that was clever up there, by the way) then why hold back? Say, “Jeez, Hank, you’re so sexist.” “Lord, Hank, you could offend a saint.” “Hank, what would Freud say if he could hear you right now?”

Is everyone afraid of him or are they the family McSmackTalk? Or both? But for me (and I’m obviously not you) snarky side comments would be the way to go, because obviously biting your tongue isn’t working for you.

avatar LW February 17, 2012, 8:25 am

A little bit of both. There’s plenty of smack-talk in the family – my husband explained it to me a long time ago that that’s how they show respect, you have to be able to dish it as well as you can take it. In the very early years of our relationship I was very much the “nod and smile” person, wouldn’t dare back-talk or be sassy no matter what they said to me. When I did finally start “playing along” I did notice a change in the way they acted towards me. Subtle, hard to explain, but I think my husband was right – it was respect.

I don’t really like playing dirty. That’s not the way I was raised to speak to my elders. But if that’s the language this family speaks, well, I adapt. But that doesn’t mean I have to tolerate outright bigotry. I think his comments cross the line from friendly familial teasing to pointed, personal insults under the guise of humor.

avatar sparky629 February 16, 2012, 4:15 pm

Oh, he was the same way at home. His wife and kids were really embarrassed to go anywhere with him. I imagine the FIL is probably the same at work and at home. It maybe that at work, it maybe a little more tolerated because people will just say, ‘Oh, that’s just how Jim is’ or they don’t care if the barrage isn’t directed at them.
I just think that there may be some medical reason why the FIL acts that way. It just seems that he is totally unaware of why some of the things he says is inappropriate and the family just doesn’t realize there may be something wrong because well…he’s always been that way.
It couldn’t hurt to have him checked out by a medical doctor. If nothing is medically wrong then at least you know he’s just a dick. *shrug*

avatar LW February 16, 2012, 4:18 pm

LW here.

I don’t know the details and have never asked because I don’t feel his diagnosis is really any of my business, but my FIL does have some sort of personality/behavioral disorder that he does take medication for. (This is how he behaves when he’s ON the medication – things get really crazy when he stops taking it.)

The entire family pretty much accepts this behavior as just “Hank being Hank”, no one really stands up to him or calls him out on his shit. ‘Cept me, of course, but I really do try not to, because I’m not trying to start a family feud. I feel I have a pretty good measure on what he will tolerate and what he won’t (and when I do snap back at him, his wife usually high-fives me, so I’m not going it completely alone).

avatar iseeshiny February 16, 2012, 4:33 pm

I would ask for the diagnosis (from your husband). His behavior is absolutely your business when you’re being affected by it and if it really is an illness and not just poor breeding then having some background on it might make his behavior more tolerable, or at least give you a better idea where he’s coming from. Having a personality disorder isn’t a picnic for anyone, even the person with the issue. If he’s medicated at least you know he’s trying to address it.

avatar sparky629 February 16, 2012, 4:46 pm

Maybe your MIL and husband can talk him into going to get his meds adjusted and into some kind of therapy to help him with his behavior. Just a thought, it may never be easy but at least he could become tolerable.
I know once we found out the the ex co-worker had a behavior/psychological disorder (we never found out exactly what it was though just that he had one), all of the erratic behavior and inappropriate stuff made so much more sense (still inexcusable though).
Then we felt kinda sad for him instead of always thinking he must be the biggest a-hole ever.

Budj Budj February 16, 2012, 3:53 pm

Sounds like a dominant personality with a bunch of submissive personalities.

Budj Budj February 16, 2012, 4:06 pm

No one stands up to him…everyone lets him run his mouth. I don’t think he’s looking for a reaction. Usually those guys think they are hilarious and the only way to break the behavior is to be just as horrible to them. Sometimes you need to meet it head on….unfortunately for the LW to keep the family dynamic ok it needs to be her husband or another blood relative doing it…but idk…everyone’s family dynamics are different. That shit wouldn’t fly at our Thanksgiving/Christmas.

avatar jlyfsh February 16, 2012, 4:22 pm

i get where you’re coming from. i think maybe i’m just less confrontational. people like him annoy me more than anything and in general i feel like they’re not worth my time. however, if i was the 16 year old or the 16 year old’s parent. i definitely would have had a reply to him. it just doesn’t seem to do any good to say anything to him so why waste the energy? i guess that’s where i’m coming from….

Budj Budj February 16, 2012, 4:26 pm

Yea – I think the hooker comment was out of line.

avatar jlyfsh February 16, 2012, 3:59 pm

Working on biting your tongue would be best, people like this want a reaction. It’s just better to ignore and change the subject. Otherwise they are getting exactly what they want.

CatsMeow CatsMeow February 16, 2012, 4:01 pm

I’m pretty sure I couldn’t have kept my mouth shut even for as long as you did, LW.

TaraMonster TaraMonster February 16, 2012, 4:22 pm

Uncle Edgar is a psychologist? Perhaps he could inform Hank that he’s projecting the masculine insecurities he’s feeling about losing his job onto his wife. Good Lord this man is a psychological mess if he’s accusing his wife of making him feel like shit, when he’s doing it to his damn self. And knee-jerk blaming a woman for how he feels about being unemployed? THAT says a whole lot more about his low opinion of women than his obnoxious comments.

While I did agree with people on the original thread who said holidays are not an appropriate time to get into verbal trysts with relatives, I would have had just as hard a time as you keeping silent while some loud-mouthed misogynist spouted crap like that. I usually do exactly what you did- with an extra hefty helping of sarcasm added in, which is par for the course in my family. So often the holidays ARE when tensions flare; just because people are related does not mean they agree on much!

One of my uncles loves to start saying racist things about Obama, spouting at the mouth about abortion (he did this on my FB page the other day over the Susan G Komen debacle), and using all manner of vile jargon to do so, especially after a few beers. When my cousin married a Puerto Rican guy he said it was more acceptable than my relationship (my boyfriend is black) because her husband (now ex) is very light-skinned and acts “white,” which he also said is the only reason he thinks my relationship is kind of ok- my boyfriend doesn’t act “ghetto”–Don’t get me started on how many ways that statement made my head explode.

This is all to say that I admire your restraint. I am not often so capable of holding my tongue. I also think that once you have children, you’re well within your rights to tell your FIL to STFU.

avatar moonflowers February 17, 2012, 11:27 pm

Hank was also projecting the sexual attraction he was feeling for his underage niece onto the poor girl, and blaming her for it too. Class-I projectionist. Pretty irresponsible and mean behavior, and a stunning lack of self-awareness too.

avatar Valerie February 16, 2012, 4:41 pm

LW, I’d totally be with you if Hank’s comments were directed at you, but in this case, they weren’t. Every example you gave was Hank making comments directed at other members of the family. It’s not your job to stand up to Hank when he makes comments to his niece, his wife, and Edgar. It’s Hank’s niece (or her parents), Hank’s Wife, and Edgar’s jobs to stand up for themselves when Hank makes derogatory comments directed at them. If it’s not directed at you, it’s really none of your business, as difficult as that may seem.

I’m wondering how the other members of the family feel about Hank’s comments. Sure, they probably all find him annoying, but it seems like none of them really cares as much as the LW does…

avatar iseeshiny February 16, 2012, 4:50 pm

Ooooh good point!

avatar SevenEleven February 16, 2012, 5:40 pm

Respectfully disagree. When a middle age man makes multiple comments to a 16 year old girl comparing her to a prostitute, someone — anyone — needs to stand up for her. Standing up to bullies is everyone’s job.

bittergaymark bittergaymark February 17, 2012, 2:17 am

Or maybe she should dress appropriately for the holidays… Honestly, I don’t get how telling somebody they dress slutty is sexist. I just don’t. Look if I showed up in, say, nothing but a tank top and short-shorts for X-mas dinner and somebody asked me what corner I’d been working, I could hardly get away with accusing them of being homophobic.

avatar CollegeCat February 17, 2012, 3:06 am

Tank top? Short shorts? What letter were you reading? She was wearing jeans and a top with no cleavage or midriff showing maybe not weather appropriate (no sleeves) but certainly decent for an indoor meal at home. A sleeveless cowl neck top looks like this –> http://www1.macys.com/shop/product/calvin-klein-top-sleeveless-cowl-neck-cami?ID=644884 not at all hooker-like! I love how easy it was for you to skim the letter and jump on the “its not sexist if its true bandwagon” I guess if her FIL went around calling any guy he didn’t consider manly enough gay it would be okay as long as the people he labeled were kinda flamboyant.

avatar Nadine February 17, 2012, 8:25 am

agree. also, telling someone they dress slutty is sexist because it is making assumptions about their sexual behaviour based on their clothing, with inbuilt judgements in a way that is not GENERALLY done with men.
So now you know 🙂

avatar LW February 17, 2012, 8:34 am

There’s an older cousin (she’s 30) who was an NFL cheerleader for a little while. She’s single and has been for a while, only a few short-term boyfriends here and there. Hank LOVES insinuating how promiscuous she must be and how many STDs she has. I’m definitely prepared next time he mentions it (which is definitely a when, not an if) to ask him exactly why he is so obsessed with his sister’s daughter’s sex life.

avatar LW February 17, 2012, 8:29 am

Looking at the top you linked to – hers wasn’t even THAT low as it is on the model. The fabric was champagne-colored and sparkly (kinda common around the holidays, no?), maybe THAT’S what made him think hooker. Either way, he should have kept that comment to himself.

avatar savannah February 17, 2012, 8:29 am

“Honestly, I don’t get how telling somebody they dress slutty is sexist.”
um because the way you dress has absolutely nothing to do with how sexually active you are.

avatar Caris February 16, 2012, 4:51 pm

Did the parents of the 16 yr old say anything to him after that incredibly rude and out of line comment? I feel bad for her if they didn’t…. If I had been either you or the 16 yr old btw I wouldn’t have kept my mouth shut.

What a jerk

avatar Caris February 16, 2012, 4:54 pm

Also, I really hope your husband is not a misogynist like his father…

avatar LW February 16, 2012, 5:02 pm

Aside from making, and enjoying, sexist humor (along the lines of “that’s what she said” and “women drivers” etc.), no, I wouldn’t call him a misogynist. But he does share some personality traits with his dad – including that he likes to say things to get a rise out of people. I am usually VERY quick to call him out on it, and he’s gotten better about filtering himself around me. I do sometimes worry, though, that as he gets older, he might become more like his dad. :\

avatar Valerie February 16, 2012, 5:59 pm

Hi LW,

I just wanted to comment here because I have a father who is very much like Hank. He spouts a lot of garbage in general (fortunately, it’s not directed at any particular family member), most of it for shock value, and over the years, we’ve pretty much just gotten used to it, although we do call him on his BS. At family gatherings my brother and I like to play a little game called “how long will it take dad to ruin dinner.” Usually not long, haha.

Anyway, this statement you made really stuck out to me: “I do sometimes worry, though, that as he gets older, he might become more like his dad. :\” I think it stuck out to me because I feel like I remember you making a similar statement in the comments when you wrote in originally. I’m wondering if your feelings toward Hank are the symptom of a bigger issue–the fear that your husband will turn out to be like Hank when he gets older, and it’s really hard to ignore Hank because you want to show that that sort of behavior from your husband will not be tolerated by you as he gets older, and this is why it’s so important to stand up to Hank. I think this is totally understandable to feel this way, but I think it’s important to also remember that your husband is not his father. Thank goodness my brother is not my father! I’m not sure what the best advice to give here is, but it might not be a bad idea to sit down with your husband and express these fears you’re having, if you haven’t already. It might also be good to discuss this because it might give your husband some perspective on why you feel so strongly about Hank. I think you mentioned above that Hank suffers from a mental illness, and someone above suggested asking your husband about his dad’s diagnosis. I don’t think this is a bad idea either, because then you can be aware of the warning signs, just in case your husband starts displaying any of these signs. This way, you can both be conscious of what the cause could be and start treating it early.

Anyway, I think that if you know if your heart that you married a good man, you have nothing to worry about. 🙂

avatar LW February 17, 2012, 9:25 am

Thank you, Valerie. I was thinking about this a lot last night and noticed a few patterns.

Both men have a need for almost constant attention. Hank achieves this attention by saying outlandish things. Hubby does that a little bit, but mostly gets his attention through teasing me, but not through insults – more like, getting in my way when I’m doing chores, trying to unhook my bra through my shirt, tickling, etc. (I don’t know if you’re familiar with The Five Love Languages book, but he’s definitely a person who expresses and interprets affection & love through touch. Knowing this has helped me understand his behavior and the intentions behind it.)

Both men don’t always know when to stop. For Hank, that means he often crosses the line with his comments. If I’m in a good mood I can handle Hubby’s hands-on teasing. But sometimes he takes it too far. We’ve talked about this and he has gotten better. Not perfect, but better, and what matters to me is that he makes an effort.

And both men pout when no one else wants to play along with their games. When they’re pouting, they’re either insufferably clingy and needy, or they try to sweet-talk their way out of trouble with whomever they pissed off.

Hank has anger and authority issues that, so far, Hubby has not really expressed himself. I think he saw the damage that Hank’s attitude problem wreaked on his career and his marriage and does not want to repeat that pattern himself. Thank god.

It’s also worth pointing out that the family I came from is so, so, so different from this one. My dad, indeed all of the males in my family, are NOTHING like Hank. Meanwhile Hubby has had to live with Hank his whole life. So what’s a culture shock for me is pretty standard for him. I think that might be part of why he doesn’t see a need to back me up.

I think you were right to read between the lines and see my desire to put Hank in his place as an expression of what I will not tolerate. I never looked at it from that perspective but it totally makes sense. I have confronted Hubby a few times about acting too much like Hank (hell, he points out when I’m being too much like my mother, too, I won’t pretend I or my parents are perfect angels) and I think he understands because his behavior has become a bit tamer. We’ve also discussed it with a therapist, so I think he knows how serious I am that I married HIM, not Hank, and if he becomes Hank, I’m not going to stick around.

So thanks for your comments, you’ve added perspective on my situation. I appreciate it.

avatar LW February 16, 2012, 4:56 pm

I knew my husband’s non-support would probably irk many DWers. He has a very rocky past with his dad, I know that’s part of it. (And contrary to one comment, he has stood up for his mom in the past MANY times when Dad has been *really* out of line – I think he might be just tired of fighting his dad.) His position is that I’m the one with the problem so I need to deal with it – and that’s his attitude towards most things, so I wasn’t surprised. Also, I am a feminist, but Hubby couldn’t care less about gender issues and is not offended by sexist humor. So he, like some of the commenters here, tends to think I am being oversensitive. To that, all I can say is, what bothers some is no big deal to others. I am aware of my sensitivities – women’s issues and sexism are sore spots for me. It’s just my bad luck to have a sexist FIL.

On that point, though, I do want to pose a hypothetical: If the 16-year-old niece “Carolyn” had written in to DW saying that her uncle made inappropriate comments about her outfit and implied that she was a hooker, and then repeatedly insulted her aunt over dinner, would you be telling HER she was oversensitive and to just get over it?

I’m not trying to be a hero to my cousin-in-law here. I wish she would have said something herself, but what little protest she did make just blew right over him (I don’t think her parents were in the vicinity at the time, or paying attention). This whole family plays along with Hank, possibly out of fear of his temper, which is formidable. It’s only us outsiders who married into the family who take issue. My sister-in-law (that’s Hubby’s brother’s wife, not his sister) has also talked back to him at times, but they live far away and we’re not often at the same family gatherings, so I’m often sitting there thinking “Am I the ONLY ONE who is hearing this???”

To Hubby’s credit, he does know I don’t LOVE hanging out with his family for long periods and is OK with me ducking out of family things. I can’t duck out of everything, obviously, but he often goes up to see them on his own while I have other plans on the weekend (legit plans, not made up to get out of going). And they really only come down this way every once in a while for holidays and such since most of the extended family lives closer to us. But I’ll probably be seeing them again soon, we’re going help them fix up the house that they have down here so they can put it up for sale…*sigh* I’ll just try to keep myself busy, I guess! I can always paint in a different room than he’s working on…

TaraMonster TaraMonster February 16, 2012, 5:11 pm

For the record, I’m very much with you. Calling others sensitive is often a way of silencing people who voice uncomfortable truths. But I’m a feminist in an interracial relationship, so I’m probably just “sensitive” too. 😉

avatar savannah February 16, 2012, 5:13 pm

“Also, I am a feminist, but Hubby couldn’t care less about gender issues and is not offended by sexist humor.”- I’m really curious about this statement because for me and maybe this is too black and white but its not like you can be a feminist, a misogynist or simply don’t care in between. To me and perhaps its the way I view feminism, you either let things slide or you don’t. You either encourage and affirm you share those same beliefs (even if by your silence) or you don’t. To me its like not calling someone out for being racist. You either believe that women are equal to men in all or most matters or you don’t and act accordingly. So the idea that he’s not offended by it or doesn’t care about it, for me would make it an issue in the way that non action can speak just as loud as action. I’m not saying that every time at all types of events he has to speak out against it, but his lack of support for you in this matter would really be a huge issue if it were my relationship, I think because I would start to question what he really thought about women.

avatar LW February 16, 2012, 5:23 pm

Maybe I should have put it another way. Gender issues are not a “hot button” thing for him the way they are for me. I do believe that he doesn’t HONESTLY think badly of women. I guess where the divide really lies is that I am more of an activist than he is. And I decided a long time ago that wasn’t a dealbreaker for me. We’re entitled to our own opinions and as long as he isn’t *seriously* overtly anti-female, I don’t take his silence personally.

TaraMonster TaraMonster February 16, 2012, 5:32 pm

One less headache-inducing approach is the subtle “I don’t get it.” For example, when someone makes a sexist joke I say with a slightly confused look on my face that I don’t get the joke. And then when they explain it I give a small “Oh, that’s why that funny to you? Huh.” And walk away if I can. I remember a few years ago there was a really interesting forum on how to deal with sexist comments on Feministing. If I can find it I’ll post the link.

That said, I’m pretty mouthy even when I know I won’t be agreed with! And I know for a fact I could never be with someone who doesn’t share my values. My ex used to make women jokes- and he’s my ex now isn’t he? My current SO is a feminist, and was long before I met him thank to his mother. His support is very important to me, but I know there are successful couples who have differing world views, I just know from experience I’m not one of those people!

avatar LW February 16, 2012, 5:42 pm

I have yet to try that approach with Hank. I’ll keep it in the memory bank for next time and see how it goes over. (Although… they’ve known me for ten years now so I’m not sure they’d buy the “playing dumb” thing.)

My husband makes woman jokes on the milder side, along the lines of “women drivers” and “that’s what SHE said” (ugh) but he would never call his cousin a hooker. Right now I’m employed and he is not but he wouldn’t dare imply that I’m making life hell for some somehow, and he’s never given me the “women belong barefoot and in the kitchen” shit for that matter either. And honestly, the jokes he makes are not much different than when we ladies go “Ugh, men, right?” or poke fun at them for acting like dudes/bros or whatever. The little jabs like that I can take in stride; calling a 16-year-old a hooker to her face, not so much.

But you and I might draw the line at different things, and hey, that’s A-OK. I respect you for it and appreciate they respect in your comments too.

TaraMonster TaraMonster February 16, 2012, 7:42 pm

The thing about playing dumb is that they generally realize pretty quickly what you just did to them- which is the point haha! But you’re right, I don’t do this when my family says offensive things because they know me too well. With them I just get really sarcastic and condescending, which isn’t always the best approach, I admit! People tend to get defensive when you act condescending. Who knew, right?! 😉

avatar mf February 16, 2012, 7:39 pm

I definitely don’t think you’re oversensitive and I feel VERY strongly that your husband should have you back on this issue. But it’s your marriage, so you have to decide what you need from your husband and what you don’t.

I’m really, really glad you stood up to Hank in front of your cousin-in-law. She needs to learn now, at a young age, that she should not be belittled because she’s a woman. She needs to learn that she does not need to tolerate comments like that. So for all the teenage girls out there, thank you for taking a stand.

avatar Holly February 16, 2012, 7:56 pm

THIS! I don’t understand the perspective that she should shut up because she’s oversensitive at all.

CatsMeow CatsMeow February 16, 2012, 8:35 pm

I already wrote a little about this in the forums, but my grandma says all kinds of racist/sexist, thoughtless, and just plain offensive stuff. She called my 11-year-old cousin fat on Christmas Eve, and it’s not the first time she’s done it. So naturally, my cousin started crying, then her mom got pissed, then EVERYONE got upset and there was lots of crying and arguing and nastiness all around. She never apologized; in fact, I think she demanded an apology from the rest of us. This isn’t the first time that my grandma has said something rude/insensitive/offensive at a family gathering that ignited the wrath of everyone present. In fact, it pretty much happens at every get-together these days. (She has suffered some small strokes, so yeah, she’s a little bit brain-damaged, but it seems like it has only magnified aspects of her existing personality).

The thing is, me and my family always call her out on her BS, and it ALWAYS turns into a drama fest. Maybe your husband’s family has just learned that it’s easier to not say anything. If snarky comebacks shut Hank up, then yeah, stick with that – ESPECIALLY when he calls a 16-year-old a prostitute! (Seriously?) Otherwise, there might not be anything you can do, unfortunately. And trust me, I know how bad that sucks.

bittergaymark bittergaymark February 17, 2012, 2:30 am

But… is the kid fat? Seriously… Inquiring minds want to know.

avatar Lydia February 17, 2012, 4:31 am

Even if she is, she really doesn’t need her grandma pointing it out to her. Kids in school and strangers on the street will do that for her on a daily basis.

bittergaymark bittergaymark February 17, 2012, 6:08 am

Eh, I just thought the whole letter was very whiney. I mean, I was expecting to be blown away by the sheer horror of what the man was saying… But, in the end, I just honestly don’t get why it bothers her all that much. Her endless updates of how he is mentally ill or otherwise impaired did, frankly, little to bolster her arguments either.

avatar GTR February 16, 2012, 10:58 pm

Sweetie, the man’s a bigoted old fool… so treat him as such. Speak to him in the slow, clear voice one uses with the elderly and easily confused. If he makes an offensive joke, give a fake laugh and say, “Yes, Hank, that’s very clever!”

In short, be patronisingly polite and considerate. SHOW him that he’s a relic for which allowances need to be made, rather than a potent centre of the family.

It may seem a bit odd, but you’re doing to him what he’s doing to others – striking where he’s most vulnerable. Older men HATE the thought of losing their power and alpha male position. It will hit him right at his core, and hopefully this will make him change when nothing else has.

avatar AliceInDairyLand February 17, 2012, 1:01 am

I just wanted to say “Thank You!” from a then-18 year old girl in a minorly similar situation. I was at a cousin’s wedding and so I was wearing a gray dress that has 1 flowing sleeve, zero cleavage, not super tight, and hit right at my knees. I was also wearing black heels but they weren’t caged heels or anything insane, however I am tall and skinny.

My cousin’s uncle on the other side of the family comes up to me and asks me what club I work at. “Excuse me?” I say, trying to process exactly what he was saying. He then insisted that he had seen me before, and wanted to know what club I had worked at. Shaken, shy, and not at ALL used to being referred to in a sexual context I just remember smiling really big and saying something along the lines of… “I had no idea you frequented so many strip clubs, but you wouldn’t have found me at any of them…” Then walked away and proceeded to cry in the bathroom for a little while.

People obviously came up to ask me what was wrong, and I was so upset that everyone kept telling me “Oh that’s just Uncle X… he gets drunk and then says horrible things.” I remember just being so angry that no one took him aside (even me!) and told him that it was not okay. So, thank YOU for standing up your your cousin-in-law even in a little way. Because that kind of stuff can really sting and being young you are less likely to be able to stand up for what you know is right.

So thanks. Do what you have to do to so you can sleep at night and feel like you were the best person you can be.

bittergaymark bittergaymark February 17, 2012, 2:19 am

Yikes… It seems it would help a great many to simply not go through life being quite so fragile. You can’t let the words of others have so much power… Trust me. In the end, they really don’t.

Budj Budj February 17, 2012, 10:27 am

This. Well said. Everyone is aware of outlandish and stupid comments, but “believing” it yourself instead of saying…”what a drunk ass hole”…is what gives those words power….if you don’t believe in it then it just makes the other person look like a jack ass instead of a bully.

TaraMonster TaraMonster February 17, 2012, 11:33 am

While I think growing a thick skin is good for people in general- just as a tactic for getting through life since life ain’t always a picnic, this attitude just perpetuates the idea that the onus is on the woman to deal with the craptastic behavior of misogynists.

Maybe this was the first time this happened to her, and maybe she was being fragile, but respectfully, you have NO IDEA how often men say and do completely inappropriate things to women and we’re just supposed to “suck it up” and “get a thicker skin.” How about these men take responsibility for their actions and try NOT saying every stupid, classless thing that comes to their minds? Yesterday ALONE at least 5 advances were made at me on my way to and from work that made me highly uncomfortable. And it happens every goddamn day. Am I used to it? Yes. Is it something I’m willing to accept lying down? Absolutely not. And that starts with changing the attitudes of the perpetrators NOT the victims of their assholery.

That’s why this website exists: http://nyc.ihollaback.org

avatar LW February 17, 2012, 1:45 pm

THIS! A MILLION TIMES THIS! I am suspicious of anyone who claims they are un-offendable. I’m no psychologist but that seems like overcompensation to me. Everyone is vulnerable to something and to say otherwise is kidding yourself.

To be fair, though, women can be perpetrators of abuse and harassment too. We are humans before we are men or women. And male victims are often shamed into silence by people who tell them to “man up” or who don’t believe them. Evidence here – Misandry is just as heinous an act as misogyny. It’s up to EVERYONE as individuals, as humans, to behave humanely and treat others with the same respect we expect to receive.

To that end, I would hope that others who care about me would defend me if I was attacked, so I should do the same for the people I care about.

Budj Budj February 17, 2012, 1:49 pm

I think it’s beating a dead horse to try and control the actions of idiots…they will continue to be idiots…the only thing we can do is make sure those behaviors aren’t passed down to future generations by shaming of the perpetrators of today. My line of thinking isn’t just growing a thicker skin, it’s choosing to control what you can control.

TaraMonster TaraMonster February 17, 2012, 3:03 pm

Who said anything about controlling the actions of idiots? I just said it’s their responsibility to act like decent human beings and the women who they target are not responsible for that behavior. And there ARE things that can be done to educate those who harass others, which is the root of the problem, so I’d hardly call it beating a dead horse. The website I posted above is one amazing organization taking action.

This is almost funny to me since I just walked down west 28th street on my lunch and got called a “stuck up bitch” for ignoring some guy making kissy noises at me. I’m not made of stone. I wish it would always just roll off my back- but wishing something will stop is just naive, and it can be incredibly exhausting when it’s as constant as it is in NYC. I’m aware I’m talking about something that you don’t think is such a big deal, or maybe just think it’s about adjusting our attitude towards something inevitable. That line sounds pretty frustrating to people like myself who experience it on a near-daily basis is all I’m saying.

avatar bondbabe February 17, 2012, 4:06 pm

Ummm…they are teenagers that are having outlandish and derisive things said to them by supposed adults. This type of behavior contradicts the adage we are taught that we should respect our elders.

avatar bondbabe February 17, 2012, 4:02 pm

Ever heard the saying, “The pen is mightier than the sword”? In these cases, it isn’t necessarily the “written” word, but the “spoken,” that has cut deeply.

avatar CollegeCat February 17, 2012, 3:14 am

Wow my drunk uncles usually stick to humiliating themselves. This is just terrible! And lets be clear here… it doesn’t matter if you were wearing g-strings and pasties he would still have no right to say that to you. The man is barely related to you and if he was concerned by your outfit he should have taken it to your closest family members there – parents, older siblings/cousins. But he was really just bored and looking for an easy target – what a gross individual to speak that way to a young girl! I work at a career center where we put on lots of networking events and whenever my male co-workers see a young woman dressed inappropriately they will send over myself or another female to *gently* let them know what part of their outfit is inappropriate and why. Public humiliation is completely unnecessary family or not!

avatar moonflowers February 17, 2012, 11:44 pm

This. When adults refuse to protect young women or girls from harrassment, it not only teaches the girls that this kind of behavior from grown men who *should know better* is okay or normal, it also doesn’t help the women reframe the situation as “someone else is acting out of line.” If no one stands up to say it’s clearly the guy being a douche, it leaves room for doubt. When you’re young and insecure, it is way too easy to blame yourself for the situation when you were entirely not at fault. And that’s a terrible thing, because it causes girls to lose so much confidence, to be afraid of all men, to hate their bodies and the sexual reactions that men have to them.

I think the big split in reaction between commenters is attribution style. Psych studies have shown that women tend to have internal attribution styles (“I bombed that test because I didn’t study enough”) while men tend to have external (“That test was unfair! There wasn’t enough time!”) to the same incidents. So it might be easier for someone with an external style to brush off a rude comment as “That loony old coot!” while someone with an internal style might truly think “It’s my fault and I messed up and dressed too slutty”. And that’s a truly tragic mistake to make.

Or maybe I’m just biased because the time some older man jacked off in front of me at the public library, my parents not only didn’t stand up for me, they blamed the shirt I wore that day. Yay.

avatar Valerie February 17, 2012, 8:50 am

Hey, did anyone see this?

Kinda goes along well with some of the conversations on this thread!

avatar CollegeCat February 17, 2012, 2:03 pm

I have the exact dress she is wearing (from urban outfitters) and i have worn it with tights a cardigan and boots too. LOL

avatar Bossy Italian Wife February 17, 2012, 9:03 am

Good that you stood up for yourself–and at least he isn’t making you the target of his misplaced sense of humor. Glad to hear Thanksgiving went well–perhaps you will find more creative ways to put him in his place in the future!!!!