43

I was in a country in Eastern Europe. I went to a practice-public-speaking event, as a visitor (to see if I wanted to join the group). After the event, all of us went to a small restaurant close to the event, to eat brunch and drink coffee.

An older man (65 years?), from the US, who was part of the group, said to me (another man) that the women there are beautiful and make good and loyal housewives, didn't I think so too?

I didn't like that question, because I don't like looking at other people as housewives or someone's "servants". Also, I felt ashamed, because there were many women there (members of the group), and I didn't want to be seemingly participating in a discussion about them being housewives.

How can I reply to him in a way that makes him abruptly stop talking about that? And that doesn't offend him?

If he gets offended I'd be a tiny bit worried he'd start ridiculing me in front of the others. He was referring to one of his children as a social justice warrior (which is a negative/ridiculing phrase), and on the Internet he writes bad things about people from Africa, and calls his other children things like lazy and selfish. All of his three children have broken all contact with him.

Do you have suggestions about what to say / do? (and how do you think he'd react, if I said that?)

I was a bit curious about who he was, and was okay with continuing talking with him, but about other things. So just walking away, would have felt a bit ... boring, and maybe unnecessarily impolite.

I didn't want to offend him, because

  1. maybe it would be interesting to talk with him about other things, also I got curious and wanted to find out more about him and his viewpoints.
  2. I think if I "angrily" rejected his attempt to talk with me, the others around us might have noticed, and ... I was new in the group, my first day. He was a long term member. And I think that, the first day, rejecting a long-term member in a not-polite way could have given a bad impression of me. ... Also, if two people seem to not get along with each others, the others nearby won't know which of them is "weird", or maybe they'll think both are.
  • 49
    This guy sounds rude and I'm confused why you would care if you offend him personally. – djsmiley2k - CoW Apr 3 '18 at 8:15
  • 26
    @djsmiley2k "If he gets offended I'd be a tiny bit worried he'd start ridiculing me in front of the others". Sometimes it's diplomatic to avoid confrontation, even if it feels justified. I believe OP is saying this is one of those times. – Lord Farquaad Apr 3 '18 at 12:36
  • 4
    @djsmiley2k Generally if I randomly met someone like him for example outdoors, I would be okay with maybe offending him, like just ignoring him or saying "not interested, bye" and walking away. But this situation was different, he was a long term member for example — I appended an edit to the question, to clarify more. – AnonymousNo345 Apr 3 '18 at 13:52
  • 1
    Can it be a cultural thing? In some places speaking that alound can get womens flatered while in some places you are asking for trouble – jean Apr 4 '18 at 17:54
  • 1
    There might be a big difference if the guy was actually 75+ rather than 65. North American society changed a lot in the 1960s and 1970s. To a much younger person they might both look "old". – Spehro Pefhany Apr 4 '18 at 18:13
75

One thing you could do is highlight the positive qualities of women while avoiding directly contradicting him

I find that the women here are highly motivated. The ones who choose a domestic lifestyle are very successful at it. However there are also many women who choose other paths, and they are very successful in those areas as well!

Something like this avoids offending him, as on the surface you are not disagreeing with the fact that women could have a certain quality without limiting them to that role in general. A response like this would avoid conflict, while at the same time create a possibility for a healthy and non demeaning conversation about what women are capable of.

  • 42
    Gently correcting somebody through reformulating what you're agreeing with, rather than harshly confronting, is a good skill to develop. I'd suggest something simpler, though: "I think they're beautiful and they'd probably be good at anything they set out to do." – Ask About Monica Apr 2 '18 at 20:05
  • 38
    @kbelder Leave out the "beautiful" part, that can easily be seen as an inappropriate remark – thanby Apr 2 '18 at 21:02
  • 4
    @thanby - Wouldn't it be better to keep the "beautiful", as to align more with the other person? – Malady Apr 2 '18 at 23:13
  • 21
    @Malandy But aligning with the other person is not the goal, here we want to redirect the conversation to something that is appropriate just without disagreeing with him. If "beautiful" is inappropriate then the whole purpose of this answer would be to avoid using such language without directly contradicting him. The easy way to do this is to leave it out. – Jesse Apr 3 '18 at 3:18
  • 2
    @kbelder " reformulating what you're agreeing with, rather than harshly confronting" is an amazing tactic that I discovered a while ago and has done wonders in my marriage. I've found it gives my partner and I an opportunity to find common ground instead of things just deteriorating into a fight. – user6818 Apr 3 '18 at 20:16
42

If you ever feel someone's trying to drag you into a potentially uncomfortable conversation, you can always look a little puzzled and ask something like:

What do you mean?

This lets you postpone any confrontation, but also forces the other person to lay out their opinion in more detail. Hopefully, their opinion is actually reasonable, they just chose their words poorly. This gives them an opportunity to clear any of that up. However, there's also the chance they spoke correctly and that they double down on their original comment.

Now, luckily most people have reasonable moral compasses. The fact that you were with a group of people here helps. If he's trying to express an offensive opinion, adding detail is only going to make that more obvious to people around you. There's even a chance one of them will jump in and let you off the hook. However, if there is any awkward confrontation to follow, it's hopefully a little more clear where the both of you stand (you also have a unique opportunity here to gauge a little more if you want to join their group. I assume if that man laid out a distasteful view of women and the group agreed, you'd be less inclined to join).

Really, you could keep asking him to clarify after this. Some people have sobering moments of clarity when forced to explain an offensive stance in public. However, this also makes it more likely that this person will see you as the source of their discomfort (you are, after all) and that seems to be something you're trying to avoid.

Once you're ready to give him a response... Well, I think that part's actually answered perfectly by Link0352. I've honestly been trying to write this part independently, but they've said exactly what I'd like to say (so if you like this answer upvote theirs too). Don't respond by disagreeing with him; choose a positive attribute and focus on that instead. If possible, even finish your thought with a followup question of your own to try and direct the conversation down a better path. In fact, if you very desperately want to avoid talking to him, try to direct that followup to someone else in the group.

  • 3
    This may work well with people who are a generation or two (or a culture) separated from where you are. Sometimes what a person says is relative to the people they converse with. Times change, people change, meanings change, standards change. A word that was used by the government in a non-offensive way in the past might become offensive today. Loyal might not mean 'servant' rather 'life partner' to him. Or, he might be a jerk. – MikeP Apr 4 '18 at 20:25
  • 2
    This is the best answer. It avoids assuming his meaning or intentions, and it gives him an opportunity to explain himself or just change the subject. – Ben Apr 5 '18 at 1:28
15

I don't know the exact country you're talking about, or where you are from, so I can't comment on social norms there. But you say this man is from the US, and that's a culture I can speak to.

Simply put, his attitude is fast falling out of style in the US. A comment like that would make a lot of people pretty uncomfortable in this day and age, though someone of his generation grew up when it would have been perfectly acceptable. I propose two different ways of tactfully handling it.

First, a method that would likely redirect that bit of conversation in a fairly non-confrontational but still reasonably clear way:

I'm sure they would be just as good at whatever else they might do.

Simple, direct, respectful. You might be tempted to qualify that with some statement about them seeming intelligent or having ambition, but that is just as sexist in the opposite direction. What a lot of people seem to be missing these days is that there's nothing wrong with being "just a housewife". That can easily be a full-time job in and of itself, and shows no lack of intelligence or ambition. This statement should be enough to deflect the comment and let you change the subject.

A little less passive way that would allow you to challenge his thinking without offending would be:

Oh? Why do you think that?

When you meet something you disagree with head-on, you can easily find out why someone thinks the way they do and either understand them a little better or leave them scrambling to justify themselves. Either way you're signaling you don't share their view, and asking them to justify their statements, but doing it in a polite and mindful way. Unless they aggressively dive into a debate about it, it will also allow you to easily shift the topic a moment later if you don't want to continue talking about it. But it at least gives them a chance to speak their mind, which is just as important as making your views known.

Either way, you can easily signal your disapproval without being offensive or sounding like an "SJW". I personally recommend the second method, because it also shows you aren't afraid of uncomfortable topics and won't just go along with everything someone says.

Also, don't comment on the "beautiful" part. Again, in the US, that is a behavior that is becoming taboo, because it is regarded by many as being shallow or sexist.

  • 3
    This is me over-analyzing things, but "Oh? Why do you think that?" seems to leave a pretty big opening for an uncomfortable "Well don't you think they're beautiful?" type of response in this specific case. I agree that it's a good sort of direction to head towards, though. – Celos Apr 3 '18 at 8:37
  • 2
    True, but if that's what he fixates on you can easily steer him back with something like "I was referring to your comment on their choice of profession." If the guy gets malicious about it by trying to make it sound like you don't think they're beautiful, then he's just going to be unreasonable to talk to anyways and would be grounds for gracefully terminating the conversation. – thanby Apr 3 '18 at 11:20
  • 2
    ...which is probably exactly why he's living over there instead of in the US. – T.E.D. Apr 5 '18 at 0:13
7

I could reply like so:

"I'm not interested in that question. Please find someone else to talk with about that."

However maybe that (above) is an a bit "angry" response? A bit like "Get away from me!"

Another, more friendly?, approach could be to just ignore the question. I could pause for two seconds, in silence, and then instead say or ask something different, about something I was actually interest in talking about.

Explanation:

I think pausing and ignoring the question, is a bit friendly because I don't directly confront him. I don't directly tell him it was a "bad" question.

Also, by pausing for a short while, and then not replying but saying something else instead, then I would think I'm indicating to him that I didn't want to talk about the things he mentioned. Assuming it was obvious that I heard what he first said. ... And by thereafter looking friendly and asking him about something else instead, he'll realize I'm not "angry" at him and that we can still have an interesting conversation about ... something else.

  • Please consider explaining why your answer works for OP's goal. As it stands your answer is more of a "try this" response. – Jesse Apr 3 '18 at 3:24
  • 2
    @Jesse Note that this is from the OP – fyrepenguin Apr 3 '18 at 6:22
  • 3
    @fyrepenguin Aah I didn't realise, although I think the need for explanation still stands... possible solutions OP is considering i think we advise to include these in the question rather than an answer. Might try and double check this though – Jesse Apr 3 '18 at 6:47
  • @Jesse Ok, good point, I edited the answer and added an explanation, I hope it makes it clearer how I was thinking? – AnonymousNo345 Apr 5 '18 at 12:53
6

I sometimes meet people with such narrow-minded ideas. Some are not really looking to discuss ideas, and just seem to take pleasure in telling their ideas one-way. Others just have no idea how shocking what they are saying is, a recent example from a young Japanese who probably had no idea: "Oh you come from [some country]! I went there last year, it is so beautiful but there are too many [some ethnicity]".

In such cases, I always choose between these two alternatives, depending on whether trying to make the person reconsider their opinion sounds worth my time and energy or not:

  • If motivated, I tell them that their comment is narrow-minded, and explain why, in details. I also explain that their comment would be considered shocking/misogynistic/racist/etc by most people.
  • If not, I just pretend they were not talking to me, turn my head to the other side, and join the conversation that is going on there, or start a new conversation if none is going on. That way, the weird conversation dies and you join a more interesting one.
  • Genuine question: How often have you told someone "that their comment is narrow-minded, and explain why, in details", and out of those times, how often have you been able to verify that it successfully change their opinion/perspective? – mtraceur Apr 4 '18 at 18:26
  • @mtraceur: About once per month I would say. Most of them I haven't met ever again, so I can't verify. I can only verify that some are more careful, even though that might be only when I am present. – nic Apr 6 '18 at 1:31
3

The best polite answer to a conversational gambit that tries to enroll you into something offensive is typically

I wouldn't know.

Preferably said without a smile or any other encouraging vocalizations or body language.

This question on the English Language and Usage site goes over the exact nuances of this phrase. Here's an excerpt from the second answer:

"I wouldn't know" is also sometimes used in contexts where the speaker wants to emphasize that it isn't a subject with which they have any acquaintance. In effect, it says "I don't know that and I am not the kind of person who knows that sort of thing." There is a distancing of the speaker from information of that type. It is often used this way in popular culture.

A polite person would take the hint and drop the subject. An impolite person may take it as an invitation to enlighten you, but at least you've established that you won't be actively participating in this topic. I've used this myself inside the US with racists, and its fairly effective, and at least distances you from the racist when it isn't.

1

I didn't like that question, because

Suggested reply: "I'm more of a feminist myself, but since this is a debate club, why don't you try to convince me?"

Use a friendly tone. This announces that you are open-minded and interested in dialogue, but it also forces him to put his money where his mouth is. Just wait for him to decide that his arguments wouldn't be that convincing anyway, and change the subject... On the other hand, if he decides to argue about it, then discuss. Once you earned his respect by giving him some respect, then you can ask him what he thinks the other women around would think of his opinion.

How can I reply to him in a way that makes him abruptly stop talking about that? And that doesn't offend him?

Well, there's a bit of a contradiction here. You want him to shut up because you are ashamed, as you say in your question. He will only do what you want if he cares enough about your feelings... but you propose to antagonize him instead, which will make him want to disregard everything you say and offend you even more... that's counter-productive.

Also, I felt ashamed, because there were fairly many women there (members of the group), and I didn't want to be seemingly participating in a discussion about them being housewifes.

Why don't you ask these women for their opinion instead of deciding yourself what they think?

If he gets offended I'd be a tiny bit worried he'd start ridiculing me in front of the others.

Something tells me you are much younger than him (you say he is 65) so if you attempt to tell him what he can or cannot say, expect backlash. Old people often react like this, actually it happens between each generation, just think about musical tastes for example... that's another reason why I picked the "try to convince me" approach.

He was referring to one of his children as a social justice warrior

Well if you want him to respect you, not acting like a SJW would be a wise choice then!

I am quite appalled that another answer suggests to get him kicked out of the group for thoughtcrime. If you go with that approach, try to think about this: why wouldn't he do the same to you?

  • 18
    Not everything needs to be a debate. Not everyone has to debate whatever opinions they're presented with. It appears the OP does not want to debate the role of women in society with this individual, and is looking for a way to not have that conversation. That someone says something you disagree with should in no way oblige you to have to hold forth a debate on that topic, nor must one be "open-minded and interested in dialogue" on every opinion out there. – Zach Lipton Apr 2 '18 at 21:20
  • 1
    I agree that the invitation to debate should be optional. Just saying the line about being a feminist sounds sufficient in that case. – William Grobman Apr 2 '18 at 22:18
  • 8
    Encouraging the man to go into further detail seems to be the direct opposite of OP's goal (to make him abruptly stop talking about that). Disagreeing with the stated goal/frame of the question is fine, but there are proper ways to do this on our site that don't include accusing OP of being oppressive and intolerant. – Jesse Apr 3 '18 at 3:32
  • I really like the beginning of your post. One thing that could be said as a response is "Yes, they probably do make good house wives. But that's probably because the men here treat them with respect". That kind of throws it back in his face, and he can take this in more than one way. If the original intent of the comment was selfish, then he will likely not want to talk anymore, which is what the OP wants. – Alex Cannon Jun 11 '18 at 20:01
  • OP clearly stated "How can I reply to him in a way that makes him abruptly stop talking about that?" and I'm failing to see how this post answer his question. Feel free to edit to make it clearer. – Ælis Jan 5 at 9:56
-1

You cannot avoid such question at all. Actually, you can - avoid any conversation with anybody.

The only thing you can do is to try to difuse the tension caused by a such rude question. From your other hints it is clear thet he does not deserve your worry about his feelings at all.

You can "answer" with annoyed humm, or "yeah, whatever" and ingore him at all focusing on much more interesting topic. That clearly states who you care about.

You can also respond only to a part of his comment: Yes, women here are beautiful. And smart, if you are willingfull to listen. This partial acceptance should prevent him to be offended (much) while the other part clearly states yor disproval of the offensive part. If you want to talk to him, ask about completely different (whatever-phobic-free) topic.

protected by NVZ Apr 5 '18 at 17:49

Thank you for your interest in this question. Because it has attracted low-quality or spam answers that had to be removed, posting an answer now requires 10 reputation on this site (the association bonus does not count).

Would you like to answer one of these unanswered questions instead?

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.