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February 3, 2009

Lewd, or just Crude?

Filed under: The Fat's in the Fire — Francesca @ 3:25 pm


Yesterday, Dear Abby, whom Francesca adores, fielded the following question from one of her readers:

DEAR ABBY: My daughter’s 15-year-old friend “Willa” no longer comes over to our house. When I asked my daughter why, she said my husband told Willa she was getting fat. Willa told her mother, and her mother told her not to visit us anymore.

I confronted my husband and told him his comment was rude and that he should never have said it. My husband says I’m wrong, making a huge deal out of nothing and he did not mean anything by it. As a mother, I would not appreciate a grown man making comments about my daughter’s body.

Am I wrong to think my husband’s remark is a form of sexual harassment, even though it was not in the workplace? — UPSET MOM IN BELLFLOWER

Before you check out Abby’s answer, let us know how you would have responded.

And let us know what you think of Abby’s answer. (And then later Francesca will chime in, too.)



  1. I wouldn’t call this sexual harassment but the husband’s remark was out of place and rude. If I could I would get him to apologize to Willa.

    I agree with Abby’s answer.

    Comment by Nanners — February 3, 2009 @ 4:50 pm

  2. Not sexual harassment, but rude, tacky, tasteless, juvenile, and thoughtless. Or cruel, if he intended to hurt her.

    Comment by rabrab — February 3, 2009 @ 5:01 pm

  3. I agree with Abby that it wasn’t necessarily sexual harassment, but I don’t think she went far enough with her response. A grown man isn’t going to care as much as a 15 year old girl about disparaging remarks made about his body. She should have asked him how he would have felt if Willa’s father said something similar to his daughter.
    He needs to apologize to Willa and his daughter, and Willa’s parents while he’s at it.

    Comment by Kate — February 3, 2009 @ 5:04 pm

  4. After reading Abby’s answer, I think she got it right. Of course, she agrees with me, so I would…

    Comment by rabrab — February 3, 2009 @ 5:04 pm

  5. I agree with the others. Not sexual harassment, but way out of line, rude, boorish, and in need of a swift kick in the ass.

    Comment by La Petite Acadienne — February 3, 2009 @ 5:05 pm

  6. I ,too, agree with Abby. The guy probably thought he was being funny, but girls don’t work that way. Those kinds of remarks are hurtful and scarring. I was told by a relative that I looked like a Sherman tank over 30 years ago and I still remember it vividly. You also don’t forget the “well meaning” remarks about every thing you eat and wear and you have such a pretty face, if only… Those things take a long time to shrug off. Thankfully, I now know I am superfantastic and have always been so, but it takes a while to get to that point in your life.

    Comment by anon — February 3, 2009 @ 5:07 pm

  7. She should have asked him how he would have felt if Willa’s father said something similar to his daughter.

    I worked as a cocktail waitress in a divey bar one Christmas break during college. A man grabbed my butt one night. I asked him how he would feel if someone did that to his daughter. He replied snottily that he didn’t have a daughter. I asked how he would feel if he did have one, then stomped off.

    Before he left, he handed me a $20 tip. Heck, yes, I took it.

    Comment by class factotum — February 3, 2009 @ 6:07 pm

  8. what is wrong with people?!?!?!? what sane adult thinks that they should comment on a 15 year old girl’s weight, no matter whether she’s thin, fat, emaciated or just average??????
    not sexual harassment but certainly insanely inappropriate.

    Comment by kathi — February 3, 2009 @ 6:41 pm

  9. How would dad feel if another dad said this to his kid? And how would he feel if he realized this was a deeply scarring incident, one that may have made a long lasting negative impact on her self image? Do they not get it?

    Sexual harassment? Maybe. Emotional abuse? Without question. This father needs to apologize and quickly, if he cares about his daughter and her friend. Then he needs a good education program, like RAVEN, except over women’s body image issues. In fact, this should be required for every father of a daughter.

    Comment by slownews — February 3, 2009 @ 6:42 pm

  10. Absolutely it was sexual harassment. The comment was about the body, it was made by someone in a position of power over the person to whom it was made, and it clearly has sexual implications: your body – which I am viewing, objectifying, demeaning – is an unattractive sexual object to me in this culture. We have a mistaken notion in this culture that sexual harassment is the attempt to get sex – but it is much more commonly the creating of a harassing and unpleasant environment through sexualized commentary and actions. And commentary by an adult male on an adolescent girl’s body pretty much exemplifies that.
    To describe even as emotionally scarring does not really capture the abusiveness of what happened here: both of the mothers in this instance reacted very strongly because they implicitly recognized the predatory and abusive nature of the man’s commentary. “Dear Abby” did not – perhaps because the comments didn’t explicitly name a sexual body part: i.e. your as* is too big; your breasts are too small, etc. But we all know what is going on here – and I like to think that we would all be as protective of our daughters as these women were.

    Comment by Rosa — February 3, 2009 @ 7:20 pm

  11. I’m with Kate. The comment was at minimum hugely inappropriate and has had far-reaching consequences that the father should definitely care about even if he thinks (as I don’t, for the record) the reaction was excessive.

    Daddy needs a clue-by-four and a large slice of humble pie. He also needs to keep his big mouth shut about his daughters’ friends’ figures. Their bodies are not there for his amusement or commentary.

    Comment by Twistie — February 3, 2009 @ 7:40 pm

  12. I agree with Rosa, for the same reasons that she explains so well. I think Abby got this one wrong – an apology is absolutely required here, and both mothers were right to react so strongly. I’m not a middle-aged man, but I cannot imagine that telling a middle-aged man that he is balding or is getting a belly is as damaging as telling a teenager she is getting fat.

    Comment by jennifer — February 3, 2009 @ 8:48 pm

  13. I don’t think it’s sexual harassment- but certainly hugely inappropriate and you do have to wonder what exactly was going through the man’s head. An apology is absolutely needed- though in the interest of avoiding awkwardness on the part of the young woman, it should probably be written.
    If I was that guys’ wife, I’d be giving him a swift kick in the a$$

    Comment by Cone — February 3, 2009 @ 10:16 pm

  14. Dear Abby has made me irate with her conservatism in the past, and this is no exception. The issue of whether it’s sexual harassment or not is arguable; I tend to agree with those who see it as such. It was an abuse of power by an authority figure, and the fact that the victim is an impressionable girl – and that her body image was targeted – makes it unconscionable.

    While I love advice columns and Dear Abby, I’m finding her more and more conservative in a way that I can’t support. I actually wrote a complaint letter to her in response to a column where a woman asked if her boyfriend should split the cost of her birth control, given that their relationship was her reason for being on it. Dear Abby was horrified at the thought of asking him to share a personal expense and chided the author for her tacky gall at even asking. I disagree!

    Comment by Nemtynakht — February 3, 2009 @ 10:36 pm

  15. At 15, you’re sensitive to everything (real or not). Whether the girl still has ‘baby fat’ or is actually heavy, the comment to someone else’s kid is totally inappropriate. I don’t blame the girl’s mother for telling her daughter never to go over there again.

    And, would this man say this to an adult? Then why would he say it to a kid? And if he would say it to an adult..well, avoid the jerk!

    Comment by that redhead — February 3, 2009 @ 11:58 pm

  16. I think Abby’s right in that the man doesn’t “get” how wrong he’s been, but she’s missing the “sexual harassment” part. This remark was made by an adult man to an adolescent girl, and it was an observation about her body. I don’t see how it couldn’t be taken as sexual by the adolescent–and to me, it’s the equivalent of a grown man making any comment about any adolescent woman’s body. Yes, he’s incredibly rude and hurtful, but any young girl would know he’d have had to make a long observation about her shape before making such a comment. Even if he didn’t intend for it to be sexual, it would be “heard” that way by the young girl.

    Perhaps he’d “get it” if one of his daughter’s friend’s fathers made a comment about how his own daughter’s shape, sending her home in tears.

    Comment by thesearentchachaheels — February 4, 2009 @ 9:20 am

  17. I my opinion, it would have been harassment if he had made a compliment about her body, so I dont see why it should be less bad when he said something mean.

    I have to applaud the moms though for taking their daughters problems so serious.

    Comment by Steffi — February 4, 2009 @ 10:33 am

  18. I agree that he should apologise for his incredibly rude and inappropriate remark. I’d also be surprised if this was the only such comment he’d made to Willa. Refusing to ever visit a friend’s house again is a drastic step, so I suspect he’d been making her uncomfortable for quite a while and this comment was the last straw.

    Comment by MissPrism — February 4, 2009 @ 11:32 am

  19. Kate says: “She should have asked him how he would have felt if Willa’s father said something similar to his daughter.”

    thesearentchachaheels says: “Perhaps he’d “get it” if one of his daughter’s friend’s fathers made a comment about how his own daughter’s shape, sending her home in tears.”

    Sadly, I doubt that this guy would care if someone said something similar to his daughter. I suspect this is the type of guy who would tell his own daughter she was “getting fat” without batting an eye. Yes; his comment was way out of line, and he has no business commenting on the bodies of his daughter’s friends. Dude sounds like a real creep.

    Comment by Cat — February 4, 2009 @ 12:21 pm

  20. Man, this one hits home. I had a friend when I was about that age who was, shall we say, well endowed for a 15 year old. When she wasn’t able to come to a big family party that I had invited her to, my dad joked that that’s too bad since his (married, middle-aged) nephew in law would have “really enjoyed seeing her” (wink wink). You better believe both my stepmom and I were totally disgusted and he was in the doghouse for weeks over what he thought was just a joke.

    I totally agree that Abby was way too easy on this guy. Yes, on the one hand he thought he was just stating a fact, maybe in a lighthearted way. On the other hand, what we have here is a grown man who is an authority figure making intimate observations about a female who is a minor. What about that ISN’T ridiculously inappropriate? I’d be surprised if his daughter ever brought friends over again!

    Comment by Evie — February 4, 2009 @ 1:33 pm

  21. What an a$$. I think he needs to apologize to Willa, her parents, his daughter and his wife. He has no business commenting on anyone’s body, let alone a 15 year old girl. Furthermore, he needs to get some kind of sensitivity chip implanted. How inappropriate.

    Comment by Jennie — February 4, 2009 @ 1:43 pm

  22. Wow. I’m impressed with the mother. I think she got right to the heart of the matter. It’s not important what the comment was–it is wholly wrong for the dad to comment on the daughter’s friend’s body. In Any Way.

    The friend’s parents are also to be commended. I like that the young woman got a clear message that she should not be subject to inappropriate comments from any adult.

    I followed the rule, and now I want to see what Abby had to say!

    Comment by Lynn — February 4, 2009 @ 2:00 pm

  23. Sexual harassment? I don’t think so, but I can see how some people would call it that. Rude, out of line, showing extremely bad judgment, inappropriate, jerky, mean and an embarrassment to his family? You bet.

    If I were a teenager I wouldn’t want to visit a friend whose dad behaved like that. And if I had a teenage daughter, I wouldn’t want her to either.

    Comment by B.S.A.G. — February 4, 2009 @ 2:21 pm

  24. Without having read the answer yet (see, sometimes I actually follow directions) I would say that the husband was rude and inappropriate. I would guess that sexual harassment is taking it a little to far, but asshole seems to fit the bill.

    Comment by Sarah, Goon Squad Sarah — February 4, 2009 @ 4:52 pm

  25. The remark was rude and insensitive, and he should have to apologize for it. I think Abby should have recommended that.

    Assuming the insult wasn’t delivered with a leering tone, gesture or the like, calling it “Sexual Harassment” seems off. If an insensitive, nosy old lady had said the same thing (and don’t we all know a few of them that would), would it be sexual harassment?? Really???

    But then, it’s one of my pet peeves when terms like “sexual harassment” are overused to the point that we all get kind of numb when we hear them, and these terms start to lose their potentency. People who actually have their butt grabbed or were the recipient of an obscene demand by someone who had actual power over them tend to get annoyed when you claim to have been sexual harassed because a coworker told you that he liked your dress.

    Comment by SusanC — February 4, 2009 @ 5:28 pm

  26. I think the point that’s been made here by a few commenters gets right to the heart of this problem:

    He should not have been paying enough attention to her body to notice whether she was fat or skinny.

    The fact that he noticed anything is bad, the fact that he commented on it is worse, the fact that he commented on it to her face in an insulting and careless way is the worst. I’m not well versed enough in the law to say if this was true “by the book” sexual harrassment, but it was definitely harassment and completely unacceptable.

    Comment by mini_pixie — February 4, 2009 @ 7:30 pm

  27. SusanC: I see what you mean with the word being overused.
    In my case though, having actually been harassed by a girlfriends father at the age of 15, I can say that his words were almost as bad as when he finally decided to act on them, his actions just made it real so that I could no longer convince myself that it was just all in my head.
    I know this is a different scenario but there are different levels of harassment and I’d rather let the victim judge. From what I know about this case, she does not seem to have taken it lightly.

    Comment by Steffi — February 4, 2009 @ 7:40 pm

  28. Dad should definitely apologize. In his mind, he may not think it was such a big deal, but as we keep hearing from so many people in the world of body acceptance, cruel and callous remarks such as his do lead to eating disorders and disordered thinking.

    It’s bad enough that adults ridicule other adults for each other’s weight, but there is simply no excuse for hating on a child’s body. I also have a feeling this is not the first time Willa and her mother have experienced this, judging by Mom’s reaction. A lot of mothers either ignore it or even agree with it.

    Comment by Bree — February 4, 2009 @ 8:06 pm

  29. I don’t think it was sexual harrassment. It was just a jerky statement. I don’t know how long this girl has been a friend or going to their house, but maybe the husband felt comfortable saying that if she has been coming for years just like you would comment on a child getting taller. He probably didn’t realize he was being an asshole or realizing that the word “fat” should never be used to describe anything on a girl or woman. The husband should at first apologize to the parents of the offended girl, and then, if they agree, let him apologize to the daughter. This might make things better, but probably not well enough for her to start visiting again.

    Comment by BrooklynShoeBabe — February 4, 2009 @ 8:33 pm

  30. Sexual harassment – no (not from the information we have). Rude etc. as noted above “yes”.

    The father should have to apologize to the girl & her parents, with his daughter & wife present. Of course, he has to think/realize that what he said was inappropriate, and sincerely regret that he offended her in order to honestly apologize (not just say “sorry”). From the information we have – he as not ready for this yet.

    Comment by g-dog — February 4, 2009 @ 8:41 pm

  31. I think that the words “sexual harassment” get thrown around a lot, but if I were this lady, I’d find a new husband. What a horrible thing to say.

    As a girl who grew up a bit larger than my friends, I remember each and every one of these stinging comments, especially the ones that came from adults. What was the POINT of saying something like that? I just can’t get it through my head why someone would say something like that, even if they DID think it would do no harm!

    Comment by The Baroness — February 5, 2009 @ 12:11 am

  32. Commenting on a coworker’s weight is, I believe, actionable under harassment in San Francisco. I just took my online harassment training at work!

    Whatever happened to just being a gentleman with your daughter’s friends?

    Comment by Chaser — February 5, 2009 @ 2:40 am

  33. Commenting on anyone’s body shape or size is inappropriate, whether the commenter is male or female. That this comment came from a friend’s dad to a 15 year old girl is truly inappropriate. There is no such thing as a harmless, ‘jokey’ comment to a teenaged girl about her body.Sexual harrassment, possibly. Sleazy, definitely. Insensitive, hell yeah. Who the hell does he think he is.

    Comment by Fatadelic — February 8, 2009 @ 4:35 am

  34. In light of the fact that a sleazy middle aged man was “checking out” his young daughter’s friend, I wouldn’t want my child around him, either.

    Comment by Lilly Munster — March 2, 2009 @ 2:18 pm

  35. I would say Rosa speaks the truth. He turned her body into something for him, in a way taking away her right to it. It was also incredibly hurtful, especially to a teenage girl, who are already self conscious about their bodies, and don’t have the experience to defend themselves psychologically from remarks like these.

    I have heard people say that comments like these have haunted them for years are instigated depression, eating disorders and destructive behavior. This woman’s husband is a jerk and she is justified in her anger.

    And he owes Willa an apology.

    Comment by Haystacks — March 6, 2009 @ 11:53 am

  36. I think what he did was hurtful. He owes reparations to his daughter. If his teenager had insulted his boss, what would he have done to punish her? Something similar is owed to his daughter in this case.

    Comment by Jennifer (but not your Jennifer) — March 28, 2009 @ 3:49 pm

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