Dear Prudence

Help! My Friend Was Fired for Sexual Harassment. But I Know That He’s a Feminist.

Obviously, this is not good behavior.

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Photo illustration by Slate. Photo from Getty Images Plus.

Our advice columnists have heard it all over the years. Each Sunday, we dive into the Dear Prudie archives and share a selection of classic letters with our readers. Join Slate Plus for even more advice columns.

Dear Prudence,

My close friend, “Will,” was fired due to a sexual harassment complaint against him at work. Will and the women involved are of similar ages and status in the company. I don’t work with him and don’t really know details, but from what I do know, it’s in the category of “hitting on women at work and continuing to after they said no.” He denies most of it. Without knowing what exactly happened, my guess at the truth would be that it happened and is possibly more severe than Will believes but maybe slightly exaggerated on the women’s part. Still, he shouldn’t have done it at all, and this is obviously not good behavior. Our friend group is divided: A few believe Will, a few don’t and have cut ties, and one friend who works in the same industry as Will (but not at the same company) fears his own professional reputation will suffer if he keeps the friendship. Another friend who used to work with both Will and the women involved is also unsure what to believe. I’ve been close with Will for years, and though he is a ladies’ man type, I also consider him a feminist (I’m a woman and also a feminist). He has always been a kind, respectful, and generous friend. Should I cut him off? Demote him to an acquaintance? Is losing his job enough of a punishment, or should he lose his friends too?

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If you don’t really know details, why not ask Will for more of them? Tell him what you’ve told me—that this seems at odds with the version of him you’ve known for years, that you’re not clear exactly what happened—and ask him specifically what he denies. Does he deny doing any of it? Does he admit to hitting on colleagues after they told him they weren’t interested but objects to their characterization of his repeated attempts? Can he summarize his employers’ position and the reasons they gave for his dismissal? Then use your own judgment as you listen to his response. Do you find his answers compelling and thoughtful? Do you find him reflexively defensive? Do you find his characterization of his former company and the women who accused him of harassment to be fair, accurate, and reasonable? How many women filed complaints?

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I realize you can only get Will’s side of the story, but you’re not being asked to offer up a legal ruling. You’re trying to get a better sense of your friend’s character, and you’ll have to rely on your own judgment as you evaluate his account of said character. Don’t avoid these questions in the uneasy hope that you can simply back off from a formerly close friendship without ever having to have a conversation on the subject. You’re not obligated to punish Will, even if you find his answers troubling, but if he’s really a close friend of yours, you should seek to learn more so that you can offer him useful advice and counsel—even if that counsel is, “Will, I love you, and I think you deserved to get fired because I believe you harassed those women, and you need to change your life.” Information is not your enemy here. It will help you make useful, clear decisions that are in line with your feminist values—values that are not incompatible with loving Will. —Danny M. Lavery

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From: “Help! My Friend Was Fired for Sexually Harassing Colleagues.” (Dec. 31, 2020)

Dear Prudence,

My husband was estranged from his parents for many years. He reached out to them when he was diagnosed with a terminal illness. They didn’t have enough time to discuss and resolve their past, but they were at peace with each other when he died. Now my husband’s parents wish to keep in touch with me and my toddler-age son, as he is the only link they have to their only child. The problem is that my son is not my husband’s biological child. I had an affair, the biological father dumped me upon realizing I was pregnant, and my husband (to cut the complicated story short) decided to raise the baby as his own. He didn’t legally adopt our son—we simply put his name on the birth certificate and that was that—or tell anybody other than our marriage therapist. It was a painful, regretful, and humiliating episode of my life and I do not wish to tell even my own parents. But I feel incredibly guilty whenever my in-laws talk to me about how grateful they are to have a grandchild to remember their son, or make comparisons between my son and my husband when he was at a similar age. I feel like I need to come clean with them before they develop a strong attachment to him. They are already talking about changing their will to include their “grandson.” What should I do?

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Your late husband was your baby’s father. In untangling your tale, my reading is that that you were married to your late husband, you cheated and became pregnant, your husband knew, but he stepped up and claimed paternity. I’m sure readers better versed in family law will chime in, but my understanding is that in such a situation your husband would be considered your son’s legal father and no adoption procedure was necessary. He also was your boy’s father in every other sense. Yes, you will have quite a story to tell your son when he’s older, and I believe he is entitled to hear it. (When you do bring this up, you can put the best face on the fact that your husband, his father, loved him and wanted to raise him, and not cast his origin story as that his biological father was a slime. ) But I don’t think your late husband’s parents need to hear this. Of course they see similarities between your son and theirs. It may be that both boys were confident and verbal, so their observation is correct. In any case, seeing such connections is natural and there’s no reason to disabuse them of this. Keeping up a connection to your son’s paternal family surely will only benefit him—he’s not going to get anything from his actual biological father. And I don’t see any reason to deprive your child of a potential inheritance. There has already been enough loss in your little boy’s life. There’s no call to cause an estrangement with loving grandparents; it’s not deceptive that their son was your son’s father. And some night, after you tuck your boy into bed, watch the excellent film, The Painted Veil. —Emily Yoffe

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From: “Help! My Son Is the Product of an Affair. Do I Have To Tell My In-Laws?” (Aug. 6, 2012)

Dear Prudence,

We live out in the country and have always had a problem with people abandoning their dogs and them turning feral. We raise goats and chickens and have lost livestock to them. The problem has gotten worse as city folk move in and proceed to do nothing but bitch about country life (no, we can’t make our rooster crow at a later time—he doesn’t have a snooze button). Our new neighbor down the road lets his kids and dogs roam over everything without a care, even letting his 8-year-old daughter into the pasture where we had a horse who likes to kick.

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The confrontation after we returned the little girl without a concussion has left our neighborly relations frosty. Last week, my husband shot and killed two dogs that got into our chicken coop. Yesterday I saw the missing pet posters on a tree by the turn off. It matched. My husband doesn’t think anything good could come from telling the owner, considering how little care he gives to his kids and animals. He thinks we should lie and say we haven’t have seen the dogs—only coyotes. Animal control is a joke, and going to the sheriff is bound to kick this up to a feud—I don’t know what to do.

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I want to be mindful of the fact that country life is different from my own and that you have a right to protect your livestock. But it doesn’t sound like the two dogs your husband shot were the same feral animals who have killed your chickens in the past, and I wonder if you or your husband had ever warned your neighbor that if his dogs wound up on your property again, you’d treat them as predators, not pets. You say the dogs were in your chicken coop, but not that they were attacking or eating any of them. I wonder if your husband saw an opportunity to get rid of animals he considered a nuisance. (I also don’t think that because your neighbor lets his 8-year-old child play outside unsupervised, he doesn’t care about her. He’s perhaps slower to adjust to the realities of country life than he ought to be, but his crimes seem mostly to have been of ignorance, not a lack of affection.)

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Here is my official ruling: I think you are already in a feud. I think your husband could have pursued other options before shooting the dogs. He is right that nothing good can come from telling the owner, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it. I think your husband allowed his earlier frustrations with newly arrived neighbors from the city to influence his decision to shoot first and ask questions later. You two should own up to what you did and face whatever consequences come as a result. If your livestock was truly being threatened, tell him that you caught his dogs in your chicken coop and had to defend your animals. Your neighbor has a right to know what happened to his pets, and if nothing else, it will give him a clear idea of how closely to monitor any future dogs he brings into his home. —D.L.

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From: “Help! My Husband Shot the Neighbor’s Dogs.” (April 11, 2016)

Dear Prudence,

My husband is a wonderful man and loves me dearly. He shows his love throughout the year with occasional flowers for no reason, compliments, and tender words of love. However, he is terrible when it comes to planning for special occasions. Christmas, our anniversary, and my birthday bring promises of trips or gifts that never materialize, printouts of items he ordered online for me that day, or something he ran to the store and bought. I always plan gifts that make him feel special. He used to think ahead about gifts, and I don’t understand why he won’t make the effort anymore. I want to tell him that while I appreciate his spontaneous gifts, his lack of thoughtfulness for special occasions is hurtful, and I would like him to make a special effort for Christmas this year. I’d say that if he would like suggestions, all he needs to do is ask, but that I will not accept any IOUs or last-minute gifts from him, and I will be upset if he doesn’t put some thought into a gift. My hesitation is that he really does show his love for me all year, and I don’t want to seem ungrateful or demanding. What should I do?

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So, three times a year your husband disappoints you in the gifts department. This gripe is worth talking about, but your planned discourse has a rather legalistic feel: “The party of the first part notifies the party of the second part that tokens of acknowledgment of Christmas, our anniversary, and my birthday will be sent back for adjudication if they have been purchased or promised within a designated period of less than 72 hours prior to said celebration. …” Lighten up, and instead of pouting and making demands, develop a joint giving strategy that will meet your needs. Tell your husband that you’ve felt slighted by his lack of planning for big occasions and that doing something special for each other is important to you. So for Christmas this year, you’d like to go shopping together. While you’re out, each identify several gifts you would enjoy, then split up and go off to make the “surprise” purchases. Instead of having your anniversary be a gift-giving exchange, jointly plan an event such as a weekend away or dinner at a great restaurant. For your birthday, at least two weeks in advance, hand your husband some catalogs with items circled and say, “If you order one of these now, you won’t be shopping at CVS the day of my birthday, and I won’t end up in tears.” Comfort yourself that most letters to this column that begin with the phrase “My wonderful husband” end with the news that he is “a lecher,” “an alcoholic,” or “a mamma’s boy.” —E.Y.

From: “Help! My Boyfriend Is Allergic to My Cat.” (Dec. 15, 2011)

More Advice From Dear Prudence

My wife was a nationally ranked equestrian when she was growing up, and rode competitively for her college team. We first started dating in college. At that time, her dorm room was covered in horse paraphernalia—photos, old riding awards, trinkets from competitions, horse-themed calendars, you name it. I never really paid much attention to it because I’m not a decorations guy and honestly didn’t care about the aesthetics of her dorm room.

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