#297: Help: My brother is a teenaged misogynist!

Dear Captain most Awkward,

As I say in my subject line: Help! My brother is a teenage misogynist!

He’s always been really awful about treating women as people thanks to his preferred media and genres, as well as the fact that our mother and other female family friends and relatives enabled and enable him like… like the seagulls that run rampant at the beaches. I don’t just mean the little kid “Girls are icky and have cooties!” but that he was (TW for misogynistic slurs) calling me a “two cent whore” and a “fat whale” and a “bitch” by the time he was ten (to be fair, I responded similarly, but I realized pretty quickly that we had shitty role models and that Shit Like That Was Not Okay – not even a whole year later, I had my temper under way better control). He also has had a really bad temper.

It used to be that if he got bored or someone denied him something he wanted, he would hit and kick and scream, now he just sulks and has said that if he isn’t happy, he’s going to just make everyone around him miserable. Don’t even get me started on what happens if I turn off or change his music while I’m driving (I have a lot of driving anxiety, his music generally makes it worse). He’s been getting better, though, especially because his legal guardian (a family friend, it’s complicated, but both parents are definitely in the picture, despite being in other cities).

Even so, the misogyny? Is not getting much better. Being around our father makes it so, so much worse. He thinks sexist jokes are hil-LARIOUS and constantly mansplains. He complains when my mother or I comment on something problematic in the media, or if I say anything about rape culture (which apparently makes me like a racist because I think everyone is an asshole?) or misogyny (No, I don’t use the terms, really, because that would be ineffective communication right now and make him turn out). And he really, really wants to be a marketing/advertising/businessman type.

It makes me feel awful because I know he could really hurt a lot of women around him and, tbh, most of the people in his life are really bad role models. I’ve been the only one to enforce consequences for him, which makes him view me as one of the Big, Bad, Scary Feminists as well as his “bitch sister.”

Please, Captain and Army Awkward, help me come up with some ways to introduce my baby brother to the idea that Women Are People? Maybe some women produced media that would hold a seventeen year old’s attention? Links to discussion of the use of women in advertising? Hopefully so he doesn’t fuck up anyone’s life when he goes away to college next year?

Thank you all so much,

Concerned Femin-sis

Dear Concerned:

Your brother sounds like kind of a tool. But who isn’t at 17? Check out this blog by Melissa S. He’s not alone.

I can tell you one hopeful thing and some not-so-hopeful things.

First, I have a confession to make. Between 18 and 20, I was a libertarian. It started when I met some of the people at my college’s student activity fair.  I wanted to sleep with/hang out with them at their super-fun parties full of underage drinking, the male-to-female ratio was definitely skewed in my favor, I was a college freshman at a fancy international affairs/political science/economics program and therefore had a high tolerance for mansplaining. Since I had just previously tried on Communism as a political philosophy (mostly to piss off my conservative Grampa) it made total sense to go with the complete opposite for a while. I was so far in that when the guys who ran the club graduated they made me the co-president and I used to set up poorly-attended talks by the “fellows” (and they were always fellows, if you know what I mean and I think you do) at the Cato Institute. Years later during grad school I used these old affiliations and an ability to speak the correct buzzwords into a bunch of scholarship money to make weird feminist movies.*

Hopeful thing: I got better. Your brother might, too.

I was rebellious and shitty wanted to “provoke” people with my “unconventional” “wisdom” because I was a young kid whose chief talent was thinking I was smarter than other people. My perspective changed with time and reading better books and meeting different people and trying on a few different political personae to see how they fit. See also: a) having people I liked and respected totally demolish my idiotic arguments b) traveling overseas to formerly socialist countries and seeing what happens when the social safety net get completely and gleefully demolished by Harvard boys treating it like a fun science project and c) developing some maturity and fucking empathy for a change.

Your brother’s misogynist ways are going to get him a lot of positive reinforcement from the dicks of the world, but in college he’s going to meet all kinds of people and try on all kinds of ideas and identities. And, if he’s straight, he’s going to want to meet and sleep with girls and some of those girls are going to tell him where he can stick his insults and retrograde ideas.  Maybe he’ll run into it in the workplace, or in class from a cool professor who shuts down his sexist bullshit in front of the whole class. Wherever it happens, at some point I have to hope that it will become embarrassing and unproductive for him to spout this stuff, and at that moment he’ll either start to evolve or he won’t.

Here’s the less comforting news: He’s trying hard to find his own identity and pull away from family influences, including you, right now. He’s going to be way more concerned with what his peers and role models (maybe your dad is one of these for him – far enough away to loom large) have to say than with hearing a lecture or some feminist reading recommendations from big sis. I get that it feels like your job because he’s your brother, but recognize that even if he is absorbing your lessons and example they might not sink in for a long time until he’s ready to hear and understand them. This is pretty much true of anything anyone tries to teach kids.

I think you can do three things, basically:

1) Say “Wow” whenever he says some bullshit, and then withdraw yourself from the conversation so you’re not getting pummeled with this stuff when you’re trying to drive him around. Mouthing off might just be a way of getting your attention and a safe way of picking a fight to let off steam, so what would happen if he didn’t get attention? You can’t control how he’ll behave or what he’ll say, so think of it more as trying to make things more bearable and comfortable for you.

2) Make a “driver chooses music” rule in the car.  You drive, your music or no music. If he wants to listen to his music, he can walk. There will be a big argument when you drive off and leave him somewhere, probably, and he’ll feel like the Wronged One. It happens. Outside of spaces you control, he will watch/play/listen to what he wants to, and you can’t really police it. And you shouldn’t even try to police it. As the great Snarky’s Machine says, it’s very easy to point out problematic aspects of pop culture you don’t like anyway and very hard to look at the problems in the stuff you love.

3) Try to have one serious heart-to-heart about sex, rape, consent, birth control, STDs, etc. before he goes to college. Or refer him to someone in the family or a friend of the family he does get along with and trust to get this done. A good approach is “I’m sure you know most of this stuff, but can you listen to me for 15 minutes? We can set an alarm to go off when it’s time to stop.”  

The least helpful thing I can offer: Misogyny has real-world consequences. Hurtful attitudes and hurtful words actually hurt people and make the world a worse place. But if he messes up his or someone else’s life, it’s not your responsibility or your fault for not having somehow gotten through to him. All you can really do is try your best and be a good example. Plenty of racist and sexist people grow up with comfortable, loving two-parent homes, and in the end we’re responsible for ourselves no matter how we came up.

There are tons of recs for media made by women in this thread and tons of advice (and examples of how not to act) here. I wish I had some magic “Stop being a misogynist!” spell or pill or powder, but I don’t. Can any commenters tell us heartening stories of how you talked someone out of problematic belief? Or, much more likely, can you share stories of your own realization and letting go of a problematic viewpoint? What influence did others have on your change in thinking? I’d especially like to hear from men here.

*It’s still pledge drive week, so let me remind you that you can watch one of these weird feminist films for the low, low price of a dollar donation to Captain Awkward Dot Com enterprises.

41 comments
  1. Greg said:

    Are there any feminist male role models in his life? I think you’re right that he’s apt to tune out anything from his sister. I had the same problem with my little brother when he was in high school, but I think I was able to get through to him just because I was a man that he looked up to.

    And I think it helped that I didn’t really call him sexist or misogynist, just an asshole/tool/douchebag. Talking about sexism invites debate about whether something is really sexist or if it can be backed up by science or what have you, but there isn’t much room to debate being a douche. Nor is being a douche something to be perversely proud of, like being an asshole or a jerk.

    Rather than respond with anger, it might also be helpful to respond with derisive mockery. Showing that he can push your buttons gives him what he’s looking for, but making fun of him keeps you in control of the interaction. It takes away the power of misogyny as a weapon if you don’t let it hurt you (outwardly). At their core, there’s not much difference between “ew, cooties” and “two-bit whore”, so if you treat the latter like it’s the former and make fun of him for his childishness, he’ll feel infantilized, not powerful.

  2. General Expression said:

    Oh LW. So sad. But I agree there’s hope.

    When I was in college, right around the time I was graduating, a guy in my wider social circle said something along the lines of (I don’t remember exactly): “You know, when I got to college, I didn’t think that women could be strong and awesome and kick-ass. But you and some of the other women we know have changed my mind about that.”

    While this guy was cocky, I had never thought of him as particularly misogynist, but it was still a really nice compliment. And the way me and those other women changed his mind was just by living our lives and doing our thing. Not by having a big discussion where we argued him into changing his mind (although college has plenty of big late-night discussions!)

    I think the Captain’s advice is right-on: as a family member, you don’t have a lot of influence in the direct ways you want over the beliefs of a teenager, and college and wider exposure to the world should help. (College might; wider exposure to the world almost certainly will.) But he’s not going to read a book or a blog just b/c you suggest it. He is, however, going to observe you, even if he absorbs the observations at a much later date.

    If you often do things together, you could consider trying to widen his exposure right now; he might not be up for a lot of women’s sports, but maybe something like roller derby? Also, Haywire is a pretty kick-ass movie. But really, the main thing you can do is go on being yourself and continuing to maintain boundaries by saying “Wow” and withdrawing when he does something insulting. It sounds like you are going to have to go through a period where you are not his friend, but an older relative, which is kind of sad but I think inevitable.

  3. Hahahaha! This is my subject of expertise! No, really: I have five brothers, one of whom was seventeen until about a month ago. All of us grew up with very conservative parents (example: who feel there is something innately wrong about a woman with children working.)

    So, the first thing: your brother knows your buttons and he’s pushing them. If you gave money to save the whales, he’d develop an encyclopedic knowledge and approval of traditional Japanese whaling technique just to piss you off.

    There’s a kind of shitty older-sister-younger-brother dynamic in which the younger brother will poke, poke, poke, poke to get your attention and anger. Your attention, because you are older and important to him. Your anger, because he wants to differentiate between you two. The best way to stop it is to get off the ride. Stop being annoyed. (Easier said than done, I know.) Just say, “Huh,” and then go somewhere else. He can’t annoy you if you go away.

    Depending on your relationship with your dad, you can also roll your eyes and say, “You sound like Dad,” and then go away. This works if 1) you and your father are on speaking terms, 2) he and your father are on speaking terms, and 3) he is more teen-rebellious in his attitude towards your father than hero-worshipping. He wants to differentiate himself from your dad, too. Telling him he sounds like dad’s puppet would discourage most males in their late teens. This won’t work if there’s serious bad blood, though, because then it sounds like you’re starting a fight.

    Don’t start a fight. Don’t reward his obnoxious bids for attention by giving that attention. Don’t let yourself get mad, or at least don’t show it.

    In my experience, teenagers are lovely and wonderful and all that jazz, but they aren’t really interesting until they’re somewhere between 16 and 18. At some point, it’s as if the timer on the brain goes off, and suddenly they’re more like adults than kids. They’re more able to talk about the outside world. They’re less self-obsessed. They’re less self-conscious. It’s wonderful. It may not have happened yet for your brother, and it may have happened and you haven’t noticed. In any case, you should try to have conversations with him in which you do not sistersplain*. Talk to him about what interests him, and don’t dismiss what he says as mansplaining. Start finding out what makes him tick. As you begin seeing him as a unique and interesting near-adult, he’ll start seeing you as a human being, as well.

    If provoking you doesn’t work, but you will have interesting conversations about ancient Rome or lowriders or what have you, I swear that the amount of obnoxious will decrease a lot.

    Your job is not to teach your brother about feminism and social justice. It’s to establish an adult relationship with him that’s as free as possible from the power dynamics of your childhood relationship. Have a driver-chooses-music rule for the car, by all means, but respect that rule when he’s driving, too. Respond like an equal (backing away when he’s obnoxious) not a superior (correcting him when he’s obnoxious.)

    Preaching feminism will make your brother dig in his heels. If he has cool feminist friends, he’ll figure this shit out on his own. Be one of those cool feminist friends.

    *Sistersplaining is really older-child-splaining, in which the older child takes advantage of his/her superior age and wisdom to lecture the younger and/or denigrate the younger’s opinions or beliefs.

    • Thanks for this advice – I’m not the LW, but I have a seventeen-year-old brother who’s a budding Nice Guy and something of a libertarian. I know his personality somewhere under that is incredibly sweet, but very socially awkward, and he definitely does the poke-the-red-button-until-it-squawks thing.

      I hadn’t identified some of my behavior with him as older-sibling-splaining, but thinking of it that way will definitely make it easier to cut it out.

      (I can also testify first-hand to the “You sound like Dad” thing. Our dad is a Limbaughian extreme-conservative. My little brother, though a Nice Guy/libertarian, is an atheist and a programmer who does things like buy ninjas and bring home snakes from school. Pointing out that he’s Acting Just Like Dad is an excellent way to get him to step back and look at what he just said a bit more critically.)

    • TR said:

      Three brothers, definitely agree with everything you say! They all got a lot more interesting and developed actual personalities when they went to college (honestly, I couldn’t wait for my youngest to get to college.)
      And don’t worry too much about being the big sister “bitch” enforcer too much. I had to do a lot of that with my younger two when my mom got sick, and yeah, it sucked for a while and they really resented me at times, but now that we’re older and more adult-like, they translated that into ‘my sister is dependable and I know she loves me and is there for me.’ It’s a way of showing you care and chances are he knows it somewhere deep down and it’ll manifest later.
      As for the music thing, there were a couple of times when I was a young driver where I pulled over and said I didn’t feel safe driving with whatever was bugging me. You can do that too.

  4. zilla said:

    I hope your brother gets better. Many do, but some don’t. At 40, my brother is 100 times worse than he was at 17. He has stopped calling me since I started hanging up instantly whenever “bitch” or “cunt” or “whore” comes out of his mouth.

    I can’t offer any advice, because I have had nothing but failure in this area. So I will just say, take care of yourself. Jedi hugs.

    • Martine said:

      Yeah, I know a lot of people are saying hopeful stuff about how people can change, but some people are like this, or worse, as adults (it sounds like LW’s father is one of them, if being around him makes her brother worse), so it’s certainly not guaranteed that he’ll grow out of it.

      And, seriously, why even try to have a relationship with someone who believes and says despicable things about you? They’re “family”? Fuck that, blood doesn’t obligate you to care about someone who thinks it’s funny to hurt you, or thinks you’re not a person.

  5. Britt said:

    Oh LW, my (much) younger brother is seventeen, and I feel so much of your pain on this one. Thankfully my brother is a mostly wonderful human being, but he has a tendency to mansplain and be pedantic and contrary for the sake of nothing more than being contrary and he’s got some problematic ideas about entitlement and gender and all sorts of stuff and I totally get the feeling of responsibility to FIX THAT. The Captain and commenters above are right, though. You can’t. All you can do is force the best relationship you can with him, on as equal footing as possible, and hope that he gets a clue-by-four to the head eventually and maybe the good example you’re setting for him clicks.

    Good luck!

    • Liennae said:

      Love the clue-by-four. I’d love to give one of those to my older brother.

  6. Copcher said:

    Aww, LW, that sounds really crummy. I don’t have much advice to offer. I have seen a few guys who used to use fairly misogynistic language eventually work those words out of their lexicons, I think from exposure to feminism and other anti-oppression type communities. I mostly lost contact with the ones who held on to their bigoted language, but that isn’t always possibe (or desirable) with a little brother. I agree that, as an older sibling, you can’t do much to change his behaviour right now, but any example you set today might speak to him at some point in the future. As much as you can, draw clear boundaries and withdraw from any conversation if he crosses them. Absolutely enforce your boundaries in the car: if he doesn’t respect your needs as a driver, he doesn’t get a ride from you. Good luck!

  7. Andrew said:

    I would say that I was a pretty misogynistic teenager until I was about 16. I started to change when I started hanging out with a group of awesome, feminist young women. As I became more liberal (my parents were politically conservative, so I started with that as the “default”) I became more and more feminist.

    I really like Starling’s advice above, but I also want to note something that I’ve been thinking about a bit lately, and that’s that it can be really crappy to be a teenager. Teenagers are usually broke, usually living in an environment that’s designed for people with a lot more resources than they have, and they’re usually treated as children by most people older than they are. Many adult relaxation techniques, like drinking, are disallowed. They can have difficulty enforcing boundaries due to the fact that they’re living in someone else’s house. Cutting your brother some slack – not necessarily in the misogyny department, but maybe in other areas of life – and treating him as a peer rather than someone who needs to be watched over and talked down to could really help your interactions with him in the near term, and maybe help start him down the road to becoming a less terrible person in the longer term.

    • Britt said:

      I think there’s a lot to be said for the idea of cutting him slack where it’s reasonable. Don’t let the misogyny or other hateful behavior stand, but if you can let the little stuff slide, I can imagine it would make him more receptive to the stuff that you *do* need to call him on. If it’s less “my pushy older sister who is always on my ass about everything” and more “this is a specific thing my sister is actually trying to talk to me about”, I think the results might improve.

  8. Wow, I was startled to get so many views on my blog so suddenly! Especially after I haven’t updated in so long (which I feel extra guilty about now :c) But thanks for the shout out! You’ve got some really solid ideas in this post, and I think I’m going to have to check you out. 🙂

    • JenniferP said:

      Hi there! Welcome, and thanks for your site. It’s hard to change our opinions and beliefs.

  9. case-in-point said:

    Another idea you might find useful– it’s doubtful that recommending media to him to look at will do you much good since he’ll probably ignore you, but you can tune into the nosy little brother instinct by getting good books, movies, or other media and leaving them about where he’ll happen upon them. You have to walk a line by getting things that he might be interested in and that touch on the topics he needs most to hear. If it’s do-able for you, it may be one way to get your message heard, without sparking any kind of push-back at all.

  10. Reformed asshat said:

    LW, I think it’s really great that you’re trying to shut down your brother’s misogyny and problematic beliefs and I think the Captain’s advice is spot on as always. I can only give you my own perspective as someone who used to have all manner of problematic beliefs about feminism (fun killers!) and rape (you can stop it happening to you!) and rape culture (no such thing!). I also used to believe wholeheartedly in eugenics. In short, I was an unmitigated asshat teenager who went to snooty private school, had no understanding of my own privilege, and thought it was really cool to be right wing. I am heartily ashamed of having held these views, but I will put them out there, so to speak, so you can see how far I have come.

    When I got to university, I met some feminist people and was naturally suspicious of them. Eventually, I got sick of getting schooled in arguments about feminism, precipitated by horrendous backlash against an incredibly stupid rant I posted on facebook, and decided to look into this feminism business more closely. I read survivor threads (what a horrendous wake up call that was), started reading the Pervocracy (from the first ever post, because I’m obsessive that way), Jezebel, feministe, shakesville, and other feminist blogs. From there, I found the Captain, and started realising what an asshat I had really been.

    Simultaneously, I watched some of my less fortunate university friends struggling with the UK benefits system and came to have a better understanding of why my right wing views were so short-sighted. Now, I’ve gotten to a point where I notice so many problematic things in rom coms, advertising targeted at women, and would proudly consider myself a feminist.

    tl;dr I used to be an asshat, then I found positive places to be on the internets, now I’m (hopefully) less of an asshat! There is hope for your brother, LW.

    • Caito said:

      Ohmigosh! I was also a massive tool as a teenager! I was of the obnoxiously pro-life and homophobic stripe, who also had no understanding of my own privilege. College was also my evolutionary period. Originally I sought out friends in campus ministry who reinforced my beliefs, but then eventually gravitated to other activities, and the friends I made there challenged me.

      On the pro-life end, eventually I started looking into why people might need options. I specifically remember reading a heartbreaking first-person account of a late-term abortion that rocked me to the core. My thoughts on the issue continued to evolve, and now I hope I am a more empathic person. What other people do with their bodies is no longer my moral concern. (I also eventually realized I was Acting Just Like Mother. WHOA. Talk about earthshaking.)

      I was also forced by friends to confront and address the “issues” I had with gay people. As it turned out, I was just parroting religious “arguments” against homosexuality. When I seriously examined it, I didn’t really have any beef with gay people, except maybe the fact that they were getting laid more than me. And that wasn’t their fault, it was because I was a wet blanket killjoy.

      No one specifically preached or ‘splained to me that I remember. But, like Reformed asshat, I encountered reasoned challenges to my beliefs and I sought out on my own to educate myself. I revised and later threw out my then-beliefs and started developing my own from scratch. Years later I consider myself a better person for it.

      So my advice is: be cool. Be someone your brother likes and looks up to. If he admires you, he may seek your approval, or at least avoid your disapproval. That’s what got me evolving to begin with: I liked certain people and I wanted them to like me. I’m actually really pleased to say I am a Cool Big Sister these days, when I wasn’t five or ten years ago. I go on adventures! I fix machines! I have a cool career! You can ask me about sex and birth control and I am totally chill! (Thanks, Captain Awkward!)

      But because you’re his sister, you might never be cool in his eyes. (Some of my siblings are less impressed by how cool I assure you I am. It’s the younger ones who think I’m the absolute shit.) So, in that case, I echo the advice to NOT ‘splain, remain chill, and don’t engage his bottommost haberdashery.

      And finally, driver ALWAYS picks music. I’m pretty sure it’s a law*. How does your brother not know this?

      *well, it should be.

      • AwkwardNoho said:

        Bottommost haberdashery! That.is.amazing.

  11. Alice said:

    I don’t really have any advice, but man, that sucks and I hope your brother will grow out of it.

  12. anewgirl said:

    I don’t have any advice, really, but that really blows! 😦
    My brother is very much the same, except that he is older than me (in his late twenties). He has a severe case of the mansplaining, combined with older-child-splaining, and I don’t know what to do about that. I tried to change my way of communicating with him (not give him any ‘bait’ etc), but that didn’t really seem to work, so basically, we don’t really talk anymore these days. Which I find sad, but the other options were certainly not working for me, so it’s probably best for now.
    Here’s to things changing for the better in the future though!

    • JenniferP said:

      My younger brother is a Jerk for Jesus, and I call what he does Jeezsplaining. You can’t pick your family, but you can pick your chosen family.

      • anewgirl said:

        I like your neologisms!
        And I totally agree on choosing your own family, as well as the life you want to have in general.

    • I wish I had knew how to make things work with older siblings, but I don’t. I’ve got an older brother whose opposition to the Lily Ledbetter Act was, in his own words, because “I’ve got mine; why should I care?” So I hang out with his daughters when he’s in town.

  13. AnthroK8 said:

    MCA from the Beastie Boys did a teen-misogynist to stand-up-dude turnaround.

    I bring this up merely because I love MCA and have been watching Beastie videos this weekend. Well, and you know. Evidence that people figure it out and make that clear, sometimes. You have to hang in there and let them do it for themselves, though.

  14. statusstories said:

    LW, you asked for media recs. Without knowing what your brother is into, one thing I can think of is action movies with lady protagonists. I’m thinking Resident Evil, Wanted, Colombiana, etc. Obviously these movies are not perfect, and the fallacy that only ladies who are unfeeling and shoot a lot of guns are cool is problematic, but if we’re starting from “women are dumb and can’t do anything,” that might be a good place to start? At the very least, almost all of the seventeen-year-old boys I’ve known think explosions are cool.

    One thing I can think of that may help your brother is exposure to people who are feminists besides you. Do your awesome friends hang out with you when he’s around? If he’s dating anyone, is she cool? Does he have female friends you talk to? I agree with other commenters that an awesome older dude would be a good fit for this kind of thing, but barring that, the presence of people who are not his older sister saying this kind of stuff could help. Since you are one of the good influences in his life (and go you for being a good sister), he might also see you as an outlier.

    If you don’t have a feminist posse that can, like, appear on call (I mean, none of us actually do, but how awesome would that be?) you might be able to find bits-and-pieces allies. Like, maybe your aunt doesn’t care that your brother uses bad language to describe women, but she agrees with you that Twilight is creepy. Or your mom will let him do what he wants, but she doesn’t want him and your father to make sexist jokes. The aim here isn’t to reprogram your brother into a non-misogynist jerk, it’s to help him figure out that there are more people than you who feel this way.

    I want to emphasize what the captain said: this is work he has to do, and all you can do is create space for him to do the work, and encouragement when he does good things. He might never change, and if he does, he might never acknowledge that you were right. But, as a fellow older-sister feminist, I want to give you an Internet High Five for caring about your brother and trying to help him.

  15. solecism said:

    I don’t have any useful advice to offer, just lots of sympathy.

    I’m convinced my brother is a misogynist, just a much politer one. However, he’s in his 30s, married with 3 kids, so I don’t know if he’ll improve much. I moved out of the house when I was 17 and he was 13. We weren’t on good terms then, so leaving home was a relief. I then proceeded to live far away for 10 years, and then returned to my home state to reconnect with all of my family. So we became reacquainted as adult strangers and really haven’t progressed beyond small talk. And it took me awhile to realize that my brother really doesn’t respect women–he humors them: can’t live with them can’t live without them, amirite?

    And man, is he into the gender policing. I did have a have a talk with him earlier this year because I thought he was doing a fine job of setting his kids up to be bullies by modelling that it was a good idea to actively mock people who don’t match your narrow expectations of gender presentations. As if I had ever really matched them, and he grew up with me! His wife and my partner were there too, and it quickly turned into a couples session as my sister-in-law jumped in with how he undercut her authority with the kids. While she is a great person, she comes from a conservative family and supports the gender policing to some degree and bears much more of the household burden.

    But then, he also grew up with our dad and extended family. Again with the gender roles. He hated doing chores because that was women’s work. And he’s in the military (Reserves, nowadays), so while there are many fine women serving, it is very much a boy’s club. I think my brother follows the hypermasculine model, and we had a set-to when he assured me that homosexuality is a lifestyle choice. I guess my brother didn’t have the benefit of exposure to strong, feminist women, hasn’t ever been a full-time college student, or otherwise had a social circle with lots of strong, single women (I suspect mostly women in couples). I don’t know that he’s really had female friends. I mean, our mom was a strong, independent woman, particularly after the divorce as a single mother, but he spent his childhood chasing after our distant father and rejecting the women in authority over him.

    I hope you are able to reset your relationship with your brother and perhaps introduce him to women his age who could adjust his worldview from simply the area effect of their awesomeness. And maybe think about what potential awesomeness that your brother has that is overshadowed by the misogyny? Any way to bring out more of the positive in him? And feminist men in your circle who he could connect with and that might be able to be positive role models for him? In other words, rather than trying to fix him yourself, introduce him to a wider set of acquaintances that might have a positive influence on him.

  16. Liennae said:

    Ugh…just lots of ugh.

    I think my advice is maybe coming out of left field considering I was very close to my little brother when we were growing up, but my little bro has turned out pretty awesome in terms of being not an asshat to women, so I guess I’ll share. (Apologies if it’s completely off base.)

    I adore my little brother, and somehow he looks up to me as his cool older sister (I have no idea why…I think I’m probably the least cool person I know) But I’ve always been there for him as best I could. I tried to lead by example and never be a hypocrite to him. If he wanted my advice, I shared the gory details of where I screwed up, what I’d learned from it, and hoped he’d find some nugget of truth to take away from all my blathering. And if I thought he was wrong about something, I didn’t give him a lecture about it, I just turned up my nose at the idea (for a lack of a better term). Much like the Captain’s suggestion to say “Wow”. What he needs is to have the negative thought snubbed, not his personhood that is snubbed.

    Try to bond with him over the things you can, and be supportive of his life in general. It’s a lot easier to take critiques from someone who is pro-you than someone who thinks you’re a screw up no matter what. And family is a pretty strong tie for most people, I think most little brothers would want their older sibling’s approval, even if they vehemently say and act otherwise.

    I completely second the suggestions that he find another ride if doesn’t like the music. Driving can be very stressful and you need to feel comfortable in your space, so you 100% get veto power – buuut I’ve also been on the other end of some drivers with tastes in music so horribly clashing with mine that I considered jumping out of the moving car to get away from it. I’m sure you’d get awesome sister points if you guys put your heads together to find some artists/bands you could agree on. Or switching stations every couple songs (i.e. when something plays that reeks of misogyny).

    Do not react to his childish behavior when he doesn’t get his way and do not take it upon yourself to make him happy again.

    On the other hand, I have an older brother too…and even though we’ve mostly gotten along since we passed the hair pulling stage…and even though we’re both nearing our 30s and are mostly mature, about a month ago we had a yelling match because he still knows how to push my buttons. *sigh* Siblings are not always smooth sailing. And as much as I love both my brothers, they are responsible for their own damn selves. Same as you’re not responsible for how your brother turns out either.

  17. Stray Cat said:

    “Between 18 and 20, I was a libertarian.”

    *brain explodes*

    OK, silliness over.

    I was kinda dumb back then too. Youth is a popular time to be kinda dumb and selfish and naive. But he’s got many transformative years, like 10-20 years worth, during which change is seriously possible. I think the most spot-on stuff Cap said was the best way for serious, deeply-held, ideological changes to occur is for someone’s role models to change.

    So his fate probably relies on whether he spends the next decade or two in echo chambers or absorbing new experiences. Best thing you can do is to set a good example, quietly encourage experiences that will challenge his entrenched self-centered worldview, and absolve yourself of responsibility for his personality.

  18. RodeoBob said:

    Two angles of attack that might have gotten through to 17-year-old me:

    1.) PHMT – In order to sell this to a 17-year old boy, I’m going to have to speak “his language”. Not everything I’m saying next is true, but some of it is, and most of it is shaded one way or another. The goal in this bit is to challenge the kid’s thinking about feminism by making him consider how it might benefit him personally…

    There are lot of grim statistics out there for me. Men tend to die earlier than women, retire later, and despite getting more and better treatment at hospitals, men tend to die more often of heart attacks. Manual labor jobs, even in the trade field (construction, carpentry, electricians, etc.) have a high rate of disability and job-related injuries like arthritis, back problems, knee problems, etc. If the case can be made that men, as a gender, are quite literally working themselves to death in order to be good providers, then even a brief study of feminism and it’s goals of providing equal access to the workplace would be good for men!

    If family courts give custody to women more often, and require men to pay child support, and if you think that’s unfair to men, then wouldn’t you support an ideology that helped women earn more money so they wouldn’t need child support? Wouldn’t you want to see things changed so that men would be seen as just as good stay-at-home parents and primary caregivers as women? If you don’t like the idea of men “losing” at divorce, wouldn’t a good solution be to make sure women are bringing as much to a marriage as the men? Because feminism supports all of these things.

    If he’s whining about how hard it is to be a man, try to get him to unravel the sources of his whines, and then point out where feminist goals would help make those things better.

    2.) At 17, this kid’s probably already learned the “sex as a commodity” model. Sex is really exciting and really important to 17-year-old boys, so suggesting that he imagine women as people, like him, people who sometimes want sex and sometimes enjoy sex with people they like, might be an effective hook to get him to think about women as people like him, who like things and dislike things based on their own personal natures, rather than as some monolithic gynocratic hive-mind. You don’t have to be so blunt as to say “feminism can get you laid”, but if you can get him to understand that women can want sex, and like sex, the same way he does, it’s a big step. If you can get him to understand that women want to feel safe before having sex, and comfortable, and find ways to make him consider that he wants those same things, that’s another step. (“Would you want her to laugh at your naked body? Would you want her to make jokes about you with her friends afterwards? Or show them pictures of your skinny/flabby/hairy/pale stomach/arms/back/legs/butt? Because those are some of the things women worry about with men…”)

  19. maggie said:

    If misogynist rap is one of the things your brother likes, maybe you can try sneaking in other stuff…

    http://www.dangerously.ca/#_ Jesse Dangerously is a feminist rapper, and quite enjoyable even if you usually don’t like rap. Put his stuff on in the car, perhaps.

    (Full disclosure, I know him…but I don’t get kickbacks for promotion…)

    • Mercy said:

      If hip-hop is his thing, there’s always Jay Smooth’s videos and radio show.

      • Britt said:

        Jay Smooth is an A+ recommendation.

  20. minuteye said:

    LW, my own younger brother had some of the characteristics you’re talking about here (although I don’t think he was ever quite so bad). Casual misogyny and homophobia, and extreme hostility when he was called out about anything. The thing that made the most difference? First-year university. Suddenly, instead of watching Family Guy and taking his cues on how to act from his (very insulated 17-year old) peer group, he was watching Doctor Who and taking his cues from a diverse set of people (many of whom were taking women’s studies classes). His attitude shifted dramatically and immediately.

    Since then, I’ve had a better reaction talking to him about this stuff, and I think there are two reasons for that:
    1) Being away from home, in a school-focused setting has given him more confidence in himself as an intelligent and capable adult. He now knows a lot of interesting stuff that I don’t. So now, when I point something out in what he’s said or in pop culture, instead of “My Sister Trying to Control What I Do” he hears it as “My Sister Trying to Have a Discussion With Me About Something, Where My Opinion is Valid.”
    2) I’ve learned that bringing things up with him has better results if I do it in a way that doesn’t make him feel threatened. You can’t really argue someone into changing their mind; at least in the short term, they just dig in and defend their decision for the sake of not being wrong. More successful (for me) have been small scale statements or questions that have an impact over time.
    Examples:
    – He uses a slur. Response: “Please don’t use that word around me, it makes me feel uncomfortable”. Then letting it go completely. No getting mad about him ignoring that, not repeating yourself (in the same interaction). It’s very difficult to argue with “I feel uncomfortable”.
    – No positive response, and no attention. The Captain has had some excellent posts on using silence in difficult discussions. He is still trying to work out what he wants his identity to be, and part of that is trying out different things, and watching to see if they get the reaction he wants (positive or negative). So do not give him the reaction he wants. He tells a rape joke? Neutral face, no laugh, (if somebody comments on your not laughing, a “I just didn’t think it was funny” is a good way to go).
    – Ask him questions that get him to examine what he thinks. We remember and value knowledge that we have to earn much more than knowledge someone gives us. “Why do you think that’s the case?” “What makes it funny?” “What about (exception to stereotype)?”

    Hopefully something in there is helpful to you, even though your circumstances are different. To reiterate the excellent advice the Captain gave: You are not personally responsible for his actions and beliefs, and you have a limited ability to impact them. Take care of yourself.

    • Janey Mac said:

      Along the same lines, when my brother was in his phase of using “gay” as his default negative adjective, I’d just respond to “School is gay!” with a deadpan “What, it’s attracted to other schools of the same gender?”

      He didn’t stop saying it, but he did stop saying it around me.

  21. Rosie said:

    I personally think the most important lesson you can teach a misogynist teen boy about to enter college is that there is *no gray area* between consensual sex and sexual assault. If he’s got a sense of entitlement combined with the belief that women are less-than, he’s going to fit right in with mobs of frat-boys happy to validate and feed his beliefs. I think if he were my brother I’d send him off with a little card to keep in his wallet reading, “If you can answer yes to any of these questions, it’s not sex, it’s rape. 1. Did she say “no”? 2. Is she unconscious?” etc.

  22. Thing my father actually said as a Teenage Misogynist: “Men write poetry. Women write verse.”

    40+ years later he’s the most enlightened, happening dude I know. But it wouldn’t have happened without women calling him on his teenage misogyny. So there’s that.

  23. LW said:

    Thank you all so much for your input and advice! I really appreciate it. I’ll try working on reacting (or not reacting) to his actions and what he says – sadly, he still knows how to push my buttons and thinks it’s funny. (Pretty much anything that gets a reaction is “funny” – which is not a good combination with my exaggerated startle response; hopefully it’s something he understands is rude and cruel when he gets older). Also less of the older-sibling-‘splaining. “You’re sounding like our father” will hopefully get him to stop and think, too.

    Unfortunately, my brother doesn’t really have any other female influences in his life (though, unfortunately, most of his friends via school seem to be really unopposed to his casual misogyny, etc, which isn’t helped by the fact that he lives in an area known for conservatives and restricting religions), particularly not ones with more feminist viewpoints. Hopefully, as most of you suggest, he’ll find some cool feminist peers in college (of any gender).

    Rosie – Is there a socially acceptable way to do that? Because, seriously, I worry sometimes. Violent tendencies plus entitlement plus misogyny tends not to have good outcomes. “But she didn’t say “No”” is exactly the sort of thing he would say…

    Anyway, thank you all again for so many responses and for all of the jedi-hugs and sympathy. Too much time around him and the family and I start to wonder if I’m just imagining all the problematic behaviour.

    • CPALady said:

      It might be a little advanced feminism for someone in your brother’s position, plus the problem with a book is there’s no way to guarantee he’d read it, but maybe buying him a copy of “Yes Means Yes”?

      Maybe you could find one or two pieces in it that are a little more on the 101 level and flag them for him?

      It’s possible that this won’t work AT ALL. But it’s a thought.

    • I think these British PSAs are really, really effective — the whole “if you could see yourself, would you see rape” framing is, I think, aimed at guys who are not versed in the terminology of consent. They show how awful date rape is, for example, by showing the scene from more than one perspective. I find them chilling (in a good way).

  24. alphakitty said:

    I totally relate to the desperate desire to shape your little brother into a good guy. I was honored beyond belief a couple of weeks ago when mine (8 years younger) and I were talking about the less delightful aspects of guyhood (in the context of dropping my 16-year-old daughter off to stay with him for a 5 week visit and internship) and he gave me 50% credit for him turning out to be one of the good ones (which he totally, totally is; I’d be proud of 5% credit)… I’m raising a 14 year old son now, and when my brother said that I was like “Shit! I wish I remembered how I did it!” My son is great (we agreed he’s another of the good ones in the making), but even he sometimes comes out with snippets of ill-considered popular culture that make me say, “uh, no. That is really not ok.”

    Like I said, I only *wish* I remembered what I did with my brother. But a couple of things I have done with my son, that seem to work: (1) I always speak respectfully, like I know he is a good guy, but maybe a little fine-tuning is in order — and I express the agenda in part as making sure he doesn’t come across to girls as a creeper when in his heart I know he’s not. Actually, that’s true in his case… but I think that might still be a good way to express this stuff to your brother, who you’re not so sure isn’t a creeper inside! Saying “I believe in your best intentions, you just need to know how women are going to perceive that” is less alienating than “you are such a fucking asshole I don’t even know where to begin!” And at least it addresses the behavior.

    (2) After I express the “don’t do/say stuff like X,” I’ll give him some context for why X is not going to be well received — like a discussion of the rapey, vulnerable-feeling world women live in, and how that colors their perception of certain acts (e.g., how something that he admits is tasteless but he thought was harmlessly so could make a girl/woman feel unsafe, because it suggests a disregard for her comfort levels/boundaries). Hopefully that addresses things on a deeper level.

    Good luck! When my son was around 3, I heard the phrase “boys will be men” (I think it’s the title of a book), and it really resonated with me, how important not to let boys be little jerks on the old “boys will be boys” model, but to consider the kind of men we want them to become.

  25. I doubt I have any socially useful things to say that haven’t been covered, but my suggestion for feminist indoctrination is fiction. He’ll probably see a book of feminist theory, or even human-ish relationship advice, as attempted incursions by the evil ladyhoardes, but stories where cool things happen like explosions and intrigue might fly under his radar. Our stories and our culture are intertwined, and if you change one, you change the other.

    If he’s at all nerdy (and most people seem to be, all of a sudden) you’ve got a good angle there, despite the icky, misogynist side of fandom. Joss Whedon is a jumping off point, sure, but if he’s at all a reader, I’d say go for books. Sci-fi and fantasy books by female authors are numerous and often awesome, and most of them have too much going on in the way of battles and backstabbing to seem like girl propaganda. N.K. Jemisin, Lynn Flewelling, Cat Valente, and Tanya Huff all come to mind as purveyors of cool female protagonists who simply get things done and are fully fleshed-out characters. TV-wise, there’s the Legend of Korra and… Well, TV is still much more of a misogynist’s game in the circles I like running in. And I often lack the patience to keep up with shows.

    I’m best at nerd stuff, but there are cool female protagonist versions of everything out there, and throwing in Alien for an evening’s entertainment might work better than pontificating about the evils of misogyny.

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