Not Your Sweetheart

By Annie Lane

February 26, 2020 5 min read

Dear Annie: Recently, I went to a debate tournament where I gave speeches with other kids on laws that we wrote. When we got back our score sheets with feedback, I found a comment from a judge telling me to smile. I was very upset and angry. I'm a high school girl, and this judge was a dad from another team at the event.

The speech that I gave was a serious one. I was persuading my peers to reject an amendment I found to be a bad idea.

When I told my parents, my mom told me about her experience with men telling her to smile. My dad asked if she found it sexist. But then, Dad won Mom to his side by saying that I was overreacting and needed to calm down. My father dismissed why I would feel upset.

This all reminded me of a previous incident that occurred when I was 16. An elderly man saw me drop my ChapStick and grabbed it, calling me "sweetheart" to get my attention until he touched my shoulder. Months later, I told my parents and mentioned I was a bit creeped out at being called sweetheart by a stranger. My father dismissively said I should be glad he didn't say the "b" word, as if my feelings didn't matter.

Annie, I feel like I no longer trust my father with anything involving sexism and harassment. Am I wrong to be this upset and angry? — Upset Teen Girl

Dear Upset Teen: You are not wrong to be upset or angry. Your feelings should always be acknowledged. The comment that the judge made to you to smile more could have been explained in greater detail. If he said it as a way to connect with the audience, to persuade more people to your side of the argument, then his comment could be appropriate. However, HelloGiggles contributor Karen Fratti wrote about the impact of men telling women to smile: "Even in the most benign scenarios, it equates to asking a woman to change her behavior or appearance in order to fit what you think is most pleasant."

The incident you describe with the man calling you "sweetheart" to get your attention was inappropriate, as was your father's dismissive comment that at least he didn't call you the "b" word. Regardless of your father's views on sexism, his views toward you, his child, should involve understanding and protection. He is offering neither and is instead perpetuating small moments of condescension.

It sounds like he might do that to your mother as well. Sit him down and have a long conversation, sharing your perspective. Then listen to his. Smiling is a wonderful thing! But the standards for pleasantries should be the same, regardless of gender.

Dear Annie: I have a similar situation as "Where Did I Go Wrong?" It's with a close family member whom I adore. Repeatedly, I've asked her to not discuss my family's sensitive issues with other family members or neighbors. (She has done both, many times.) I spoke to her after each incident, but she does not understand why it is such a big issue. Finally, I realized that she is a big gossip, does not respect boundaries and does not believe she is ever in the wrong. It has gotten to the point where I no longer share important information with her, and l limit my contact. Gossip is insidious, cruel and damaging. I hope the mother-in-law looks at her actions to see if maybe she is the issue. Thanks! — Toxic Gossip

Dear Gossip: I'm sorry to hear that this is impacting a relationship with someone you adore. It's not easy to step away from toxic gossip. Like quicksand, it has a way of drawing us in. Congratulations on making that move. And I hope you discover a new way to share with your loved one.

"Ask Me Anything: A Year of Advice From Dear Annie" is out now! Annie Lane's debut book — featuring favorite columns on love, friendship, family and etiquette — is available as a paperback and e-book. Visit for more information. Send your questions for Annie Lane to [email protected]

Photo credit: Matvevna at Pixabay

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