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How can I stop my friend from objectifying women in front of me? Add to ...

The question

My partner and I are close friends with another couple. The man in the couple, while generally a lovely guy, can’t go to one dinner party without talking about how sexy or gorgeous another woman is, sometimes celebrities but including exes and friends. His partner seems unfazed, but I think it’s tasteless. Can I ask him over our next shared entrée why he thinks objectifying women is acceptable dinner conversation?

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The answer

I agree: It’s tacky. I try not to be that guy (“Oooh, what I’d give for one night with Sofia Vergara,” etc.) in general – but particularly in the presence of women, and most particularly in the presence of my wife, Pam.

It’s just bad marital manners. Some day, I plan to write a book called Manners for Marriages , predicated on my personal belief that a lot of marriages could be saved if the two parties simply treated each other with “common” courtesy, civility and respect.

I do think it’s basic not to praise other women in the presence of a woman, especially not in the presence of one’s romantic partner – and particularly not to wax eloquent over the sexiness of your exes.

Let’s call your friend Mr. H.C.C. (short for Mr. Hotness Comparison Chart) and his partner Ms. H.C.C.

I’m most surprised Ms. H.C.C. doesn’t mind Mr. H.C.C. praising his exes’ sexiness around her. Until not too long ago, it would bug me whenever any woman praised any man, even celebrities, when I was in the vicinity.

Woman: “Ooh, that Ryan Gosling, I’d like to run my tongue up and down his abs like I was licking an ice-cream cone, then when I reached his belt buckle, I’d … ”

Me: “Madam, are you aware that I, a man, am right here?”

But maybe I’ve mellowed – or even evolved! It doesn’t really bug me any more. Recently, when I objected, a woman said: “But, Dave, we think of you as an honorary woman, so we speak as we would to one another in your presence.”

After initially bristling, I decided that it was the best compliment I’d ever been paid, and to kick back, relax and enjoy.

I am thankful my wife doesn’t do it. She knows I’m the jealous type, so even if cross-examined by anyone in my presence, she’ll say stuff like: “Ah, Ryan Gosling doesn’t really do anything for me.”  Or: “Anyone that ripped probably spends too much time in the gym: That’s a turn-off.”

 In other words, the concept (at least in my presence) is: Ryan Gosling’s very ripped-ness works against him! Is she bluffing/lying about how she secretly feels? Who cares? She is exhibiting what I would call perfect marital manners.

Which boils down to respect. But if Ms. H.C.C. doesn’t seem too concerned about it, you probably don’t need to get your knickers too knotted up over it, either.

Having said that, I do think this sort of thing is vulgar and lowers the tone of a gathering. So, here’s my idea: Why not, next time he “goes there,” rather than confront him or be angry, bring it up as an interesting point of dinner-party debate?

Him: “Whew, that Scarlett Johansson, that is what I’m talking about. That opening image of her in the pink panties from Lost in Translation is still burned on my retinas, it haunts my every waking moment … ”

You, stroking your chin: “You know, your comments raise a couple of interesting sociological questions: First, is it really possible to feel sexually attracted to someone you’ve never met? Can men really find a woman attractive purely as a collection of body parts? Because I for one definitely need more information than that to become aroused by a man.”

You can even bring up, in similar interested/disinterested fashion, the fascinating question of whether it’s acceptable to praise members of the opposite sex in the presence of that sex, or not.

Phrase it in such a way so as not to implicate him particularly, if possible. I can more or less guarantee that a spirited debate will follow in the wake of these questions. If so, let a thousand flowers bloom. As long as everyone keeps the button on their foils, it should be fun.

Maybe,  especially if you get some backup from your sisters and brothers around the dinner table, you’ll be able to get your point across in a way that does not descend to confrontation, and he may even cease and desist from airing his sexual preferences over the dinner table henceforward.

Even if not, you’ll have had a lively dinner party, which is a good thing in itself.

What am I supposed to do now?

Are you in a sticky situation? Send your dilemmas to damage@globeandmail.com. Please keep your submissions to 150 words and include a daytime contact number so we can follow up with any queries.

 

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