Sense & Sensitivity by Harriette Cole

Stepfather's Sexist Remarks Irritate Reader

DEAR HARRIETTE: My stepfather has been making increasingly sexist comments whenever I visit him and (mostly) my mother. Now that they have been married a few years, I believe he thinks it's acceptable to let his guard down and spew his thoughts about how “women aren't really fit for the workplace.” I know it's a bunch of malarkey, but it still angers me that my mother doesn't say anything to him. She's been working for over 30 years! Is it not my place to speak up? I feel like he says this to get a rise out of me. -- Ignoramus Stepfather, Cambridge, Massachusetts

DEAR IGNORAMUS STEPFATHER: If your mother has yet to make a statement about her husband’s behavior, chances are, she doesn’t plan to do so. That means it is time for you to learn to ignore him. If you do not react to his comments, it is likely that he will eventually make fewer of them in your presence. You may want to figure out ways to spend time with your mother outside the house. Go on mother-daughter dates where the two of you can enjoy each other without him in the room. In this way, you will be able to avoid interacting with your stepfather for the most part.

Read more in: Family & Parenting | Etiquette & Ethics | Abuse

Reader Ready to Cut Out Small Talk

DEAR HARRIETTE: I am not a particularly talkative person, and I am comfortable with silence. What I have realized, though, is that I am atrocious at barbershop small talk. When getting a trim every few weeks, my barber attempts to speak to me about anything from sports to family. I'm far too private and awkward to give him a good conversation, and I wish he didn't feel the pressure to keep up constant conversation with me. Is there any way I can steer the conversation toward silence, or is this just a fact of life? -- Ixnay the Small Talk

DEAR IXNAY THE SMALL TALK: The best way to get your barber to stop asking you questions is for you to start asking him questions. Come up with a list of a few basic things that he typically likes to talk about. Then you start off the conversation by asking one of them. It could be as simple as “How was your week?” Or you can ask about some of the regulars who frequent the shop. You don’t even have to listen attentively. A few grunts and “uh-huhs” should keep the conversation going. When he turns the conversation to you, ease it back to him. You can say, “Oh yes, my family is fine. How is yours?” That gives him the opportunity to spend time talking about himself. You can also close your eyes and pretend to take a little nap -- or just stop talking. It could be awkward for your barber at first, but if you stop responding, eventually he will stop asking you questions.

(Harriette Cole is a lifestylist and founder of DREAMLEAPERS, an initiative to help people access and activate their dreams. You can send questions to or c/o Andrews McMeel Syndication, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106.)

Read more in: Friends & Neighbors | Miscellaneous | Etiquette & Ethics