Miss Manners by Judith Martin, Nicholas Ivor Martin and Jacobina Martin

Dad of Five Daughters Sick of Sexist Questions

DEAR MISS MANNERS: I am the father of five grown daughters, the last one having just graduated from college and gone out into the working world. Over the years, I’ve grown accustomed to jabs about living in a household that is, with the exception of myself, completely female, though I resent the assumption that I’d prefer it otherwise.

Many times, I’ve had to put up with such stereotypical questions as trying to find husbands for all of them -- some of which were meant to be good-natured, but simply ended up sounding outdated and sexist.

However, the one question that I was repeatedly subjected to after the birth of each of my daughters was “Did you really want a boy?” -- something I found offensive to both myself and my children, oddly questioning if I loved them fully and would have preferred them to be replaced with males.

I always tried to change the subject immediately without answering, careful not to show my anger, watching those questioning me become embarrassed when I went stone cold. Luckily, as years went by, I stopped getting these sorts of questions and things calmed down.

However, two of my daughters have now provided me with the most charming grandchildren, all little girls, and I’m being struck anew with guffaws and the like, some even commenting that the family cannot seem to break the “curse” of generating anything but daughters. Indeed, the offensive remarks seem to have multiplied with this new generation.

How do I finally put an end to such comments without making my wonderful children and grandchildren sound as if they were not the gifts that I was expecting?

I adore my family exactly the way that it is, but feel angered at the assumption that I must even voice that aloud.

GENTLE READER: That this problem is getting worse shocks Miss Manners. Only the banality of such remarks must account for their not having been followed by a solid female punch.

So let us bring this train of thought out into the open and watch the attempts to defend it.

The first rule about dealing with dumb remarks is to refuse to accept them as mere pleasantries. Rather than giving even a weak smile, you should stare at the speaker -- this will be hard -- as if you had never before heard such a thing. After a pause, you should utter one word: “Why?”

Your interlocutor should become thoroughly unnerved, and murmur something to cover a retreat.

Use a tone of curiosity, rather than condemnation. The idea is not to cause embarrassment so much as to make people examine the implications of what they say so thoughtlessly.