Dear Prudence answers readers' questions live at Washingtonpost.com.

Real-time discussions with Slate writers.
Sept. 14 2009 3:04 PM

Will Therapy Change His Woman-Bashing Ways?

Prudie counsels a woman with a sexist fiance—and other advice seekers.

Emily Yoffe, aka Dear Prudence, is on Washingtonpost.com every Monday at 1 p.m. to chat with readers about their romantic, family, financial, and workplace problems. (Read Prudie's Slate columns here.)

Emily Yoffe: Good afternoon. I look forward to your questions.

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Harrisburg, Pa.: I recently became engaged to a man I truly and wholeheartedly love, cherish, and just downright enjoy being around. There's no question that he's "the one." He did say something the other day, though, that has given me some pause. A while ago, I had mentioned to him that I felt he may be slightly sexist toward strong, assertive women. There had been a couple of times when he has referred to an assertive woman in person or on the TV who is not exactly friendly but more so civil and professional as a "bitch." I don't take issue with the word bitch as much as when I feel it's ascribed to someone who doesn't deserve it. I don't consider myself a feminist by any means, but I told him that if the woman had been a man and acted the same way, I'm sure he wouldn't have minded. The other day, we met with a wedding coordinator who was not nice, per se, but assertive and businesslike. Needless to say, he didn't like her and actually said to me, "You know, I think you may be right about me not liking assertive women." I asked him why he thought he had an issue with them, and he responded that he didn't know.

So I guess my question is: Should I do anything further about this? As a counselor himself, I know he'd be open to the idea of going to counseling to perhaps get to the bottom of this. If we had a daughter, I'd want to encourage her to be strong, confident, and assertive, so I'd like my future husband and I to be on the same page.

I'm a little surprised by this whole thing, too, because I am assertive and, let's face it, a bit of a smartass.

Emily Yoffe: He's a counselor!? What does he tell his female patients—stop being "hysterical" and act more feminine? I suppose you could assertively insist that your fiance go to a therapist with you, preferable a strong, no-nonsense woman, and see if that doesn't scramble his assumptions. It seems clear your boyfriend is a sexist if he categorizes as "b--ches" virtually all women who don't display his preferred soft and kittenish style. You may not object to the "b" word, but I do (and I think you do, too). It is a categorical dismissal solely based on sex. Since presumably he has had training in questioning underlying assumptions, perhaps simply continuing to draw his attention to his reaction and asking him to examine it might actually get him to make some progress. Millions of people have changed their beliefs about race and sexuality in recent years. You could also point out that he's chosen a strong, assertive woman, and if you have daughters, you'd like them to be that way and hope he would, too. And what's with saying you're not a feminist? I assume you believe women should be able to exercise their full capabilities in the world, which is the essence of feminism.

Albuquerque, N.M.: So I hired a P.I., who posed as an erotic masseuse, on my partner. My partner played along over e-mail while never being explicit himself. They arranged to meet, and he showed up at the appointed time. When he returned to his apartment (after all, the masseuse was a ruse), he wrote her an e-mail repudiating some of her sexier suggestions. He is now upset at ME for "violating his trust," even though he lied several times about his plans with her—and claims he ultimately made the right call. Any advice?

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Emily Yoffe: Hey, did you just see the movie Extract? This is a (spoiler alert) crucial plot twist. The protagonist hires a male prostitute to see if his wife will cheat, and if she does, then he has carte blanche to cheat himself. It doesn't turn out well in the movie, as it is unlikely to in real life—as you can see from your results. You are also missing a whole lot of back story here. Why hire the private investigator? What kind of P.I. also does erotic massage (OK, the good kind!), and was your partner at all suspicious that a random masseuse contacted him? My advice is to stop hiring outside consultants and talk directly with your partner about the troubles in your relationship.

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Missouri: I am having a tough time deciding how to handle some animosity in my family. I'm a white woman married to a black man. We've been married a year and have been together for six. Much of my extended family (two uncles in particular) have never accepted our relationship. I don't see them all that often—mostly at family reunions and Christmas. Every Christmas, my husband and I go to the family get-together and are ignored by more than half of the people in the room. Any attempt to discuss this with more open-minded family members is hushed; they'd rather sweep it under the rug and act like nothing is happening. My uncles used to storm out whenever we arrived, but they've taken to sulking and glaring in the later years. My question is, my husband and I plan to have kids soon, and while I feel that we, as adults, can handle this environment, I don't think it's fair to subject a child to it. Should I stop attending these events? Say something about it? Take my future children and hope for the best?

Emily Yoffe: I don't think adults should have to handle this environment. Enlist some more enlightened family members to speak to the uncles and explain to them that it's Christmas, not a Klan meeting, and their behavior is simply unacceptable. If they won't behave decently, it really is incumbent on your parents to withdraw from the big family gathering and say that they are going to celebrate separately because they will no longer stand for the treatment of their son-in-law. If you can't get any support for this, then tell your family you're spending Christmas with your in-laws, with friends, or volunteering at a homeless shelter—that is, anywhere you will be treated with a warm welcome.

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Huntington, W.Va.: Yesterday, my friend and I were waiting on a movie that was going to start in about two hours. She had commented that after a stressful day that she needed a drink. We went into a restaurant, and she proceeded to order two very strong margaritas for herself. We laughed and started talking about wine. She commented that she doesn't get drunk after having a whole bottle in one sitting. After she finished her drink, she ordered another one and some nachos. Before we left to go to the movie, I had to talk her out of getting another one. This time, I didn't think it was OK. Did I mention that it was 2:00 in the afternoon? A week before, she had two cups of tequila. Often, I find her talking about needing a drink or about getting drunk. I'm a little worried about my friend now. We're only in our 20s, and I would like her to reach her 30s without a serious problem.

Emily Yoffe: Someone who "needs" to get drunk at any time has alcohol problems. And someone who is doing this at 2:00 in the afternoon is well on her way to alcoholism, especially if she's boasting about how she can handle an entire bottle of wine at a sitting. Tell her you're very concerned about her drinking and it appears to have veered out of control. If she won't listen but continues to behave this way, tell her you aren't going to be able to socialize with her because she's no fun when she's drunk. You should also alert others in your group about your concerns, especially if she likes to get behind the wheel.

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Strong assertive women: I don't see this as a sexist problem. I don't like people who are arrogant ... you know, the ones who know everything and try to tell you they know everything. Very often it is a man acting like this, but women do too. So maybe the fiance just doesn't like people who are overbearing know-it-alls. He does need to clean up his language, though.

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