Thursday, March 23, 2023
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Would I be wrong to ask my wife to play a stepford wife for a business dinner?

OK, my wife (36f) and I (36m) are going to a dinner with my bosses and their wife’s at a fancy restaurant in the city. During this dinner business and personal lines will blur and I want to make sure we don’t ruffle any feathers in upper management.

I met my wife 9 years ago and she is currently pregnant with our first child, the pregnancy has been rough on our relationship but that’s another story. She has breezed through the pregnancy physically and still maintains a normal routine at 8 months.

When I met her she was fiery, would always fight for what is right, and point out the wrongs no matter what it meant for her personally. We have lost friends over the years because she has made a stand against something that she thought is wrong and not backed down. It is one of the reasons I love her and would never want her to change.

Last week she was standing behind me and noticed on my emails that we had been invited to a restaurant dinner with my companies upper management. She indicated she wanted to go and she is excited as this would be the first time she had gone to a formal dinner with the managers at my company. Note she has met a few co-workers at mingle events and Christmas party’s.

Now the problem… our managers are old misogynistic, rude, crass and blunt. For example out CEO believes that men are better at engineering than women and when I first arrived at the company it was all men except admin positions. So over the last 2 years I have slowly been changing the company culture from within making more diverse hiring decisions and starting internal programs. One change I made was trainee ships were only sourced from a private boys school (CEO old school) and now we source from a public school down the road. Women in engineering is one of my passion projects.

I could have walked away from the job but I took it to make a positive impact. Management wont accept a full 180deg change straight away but incremental small changes fly under the radar. I see it as a game that needs to be played subtilty as not to rock the boat too much. I often talk to my wife about my job and we talk endlessly about making it a better workplace and it is slowly getting there.

My wife however is the opposite of me and I know when she gets into the room with these managers she wont take any shit from them and will point out their behaviour, will behave unacceptable in their eyes and upset them. She shouldn’t have to take that or be subjected to it, but I don’t need to rock the boat and jeopardise not only our income stream but also the positive changes I can and have made at the company.

I want to sit her down and ask her to basically play the stepford wife, which is everything she does not stand for (I cant say that I’m going to enjoy it either). I am also going to offer her the chance to pull out as well and we can just say the pregnancy on the day is causing some nausea or something. This is a hard conversation to have as I’m asking her to bottle up her core beliefs and personality. Any advice how to start this conversation as well as how to phrase this conversation?

I don’t want to lie and say we cant make it as this issue is going to come up again as I move into upper management.

TLDR How do I talk to my wife changing who she is and how she behaves while meeting my bosses in order to get through a business dinner?

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  1. You need to have the conversation, but definitely rephrase it.

    She knows what your workplace is like. Make it clear that these people are misogynistic, but that arguing with their views will put your job at risk and prevent you from making the changes you’ve been working hard on. Give her the option of coming or staying home with the pregnancy or another excuse.

    When you do talk to her, make it clear how you actually feel about the situation, but that you know it’s a fine line to walk and change can only happen if you’re in a position to make it so. Also emphasis that you love her fiery it is, and if its encouraged you before be honest. But don’t dance around what the dinner is.

  2. Oh boy. This is rough.

    I (44F) think she should stay home and pull the pregnant card IF she doesn’t think she can suck it up, put a lid on her principles, and play nice.

    Your job could be impacted. This isn’t a “social” gathering. And if you guys have lost friends due to her behavior—even if you SUPPORT her beliefs—then she has no place taking a seat at the table for what could be a highly political situation even if it’s quite subtle.

    I (44F) work in a male dominated field. I am usually the only woman in the room or on the call. I have had to deal with a lot of misogyny and what not. But the only way to change it is from the inside—not railing against it from the outside. And it sounds like you are trying to do that. (Thank you!)

    I wouldn’t want to ask your wife to have to tone it down when she’s damned right. But the thing is, sometimes you have to choose your battles to win your wars and that means playing the game.

    I have a friend who is very outspoken on feminist issues and other things, and while I agree with her, her combative approach really turns people off. I wouldn’t even introduce her to some of my other friends because she can turn nearly everything into a battle and it really sets people sideways. Love her to death but sometimes she just doesn’t see the nuances or read the room.

    So I get it man. I would offer her the opportunity to fake her way through else stay home because your livelihood may depend on it.

  3. Frankly, your wife absolutely should not go. I am like her in terms of being outspoken when it comes to issues of social justice and bigotry. And sitting through a meal with those kind of men and having to keep my mouth shut would be torture. Not to mention she would also have to witness YOU handling their misogynistic crap with kid gloves rather than just letting your bosses have it the way she knows you both want to. I couldn’t watch that, because while rationally knowing you care about this stuff, are committed to making change, don’t share their beliefs, and have to “play nice” for the sake of your job and continuing to improve it, actually witnessing what that looks like would for me, hit a nerve that would make me feel like my partner was being hypocritical. I definitely would not want to be there if I were her. I don’t think you would be doing any favors for her feelings, your career, or your relationship by having her there, pretending to be someone she’s not, and having to tolerate these gross men’s words and behavior in silence with a smile. There is no good outcome to this. My husband has had to work with men like this before, and the best decision he made was keeping them the hell away from me, not even for his job’s sake, but as a way of protecting me from the awful experience it would be to have to interact with them.

  4. You’re framing it wrong. She doesn’t need to be a Stepford Wife to not be reactionary at a professional dinner. Here’s the thing: ostensibly she knows the climate of your company and is on board with you making positive changes while remaining employed there. Is that correct in terms of what you’ve agreed on so far? If she indeed wants you to stay employed there for the foreseeable future (my inference from the post) then you need to have a (positive) conversation about how the two of you should not engage in debate with the CEO of the company at a formal dinner. If she needs to choose a formal dinner with your bosses to grandstand for a greater cause, then it’s probably best if she sits it out

  5. I mean, you’d be wrong to phrase it like that.

    I’m a fighter in the way that your wife is. Every now and then, we all have to bite our tongue. It’s part of being an adult.

    I think you should tell your wife how you feel, in regards to your concerns. You could express that you are not comfortable going to the dinner if there is a risk of confrontation. That you’re both fully aware of the BS these men will spew over the table. But also a discourse between herself and them will negatively impact your lifeline.

    I would leave it up to her to decide if she still wants to go to the dinner, knowing that she’ll have to listen to a table of misogynists mouth-farting and need to not react. I would make it very clear that you don’t want to go if she can’t agree to the terms.

  6. Do not use Stepford wife in this conversation. In fact, stop asking for that all together. You do not need a trophy wife for this dinner. You need your wife. You need her to understand the long game you are playing and play with you by not causing a scene.

    Just be completely honest with her. Honey, my boss is a misogynistic ass. He’s exactly the kind of man you would rip to shreds. Normally, I support you in this endeavor. However, I fear that if you tear my boss a new asshole, he will fire me and then all the good work I am doing will be reversed. Can you attend this dinner with me and smile politely while he spews ignorant bullshit? I understand that is a big ask. If you cannot do it, I’m happy to go alone. If you do come, you must do so with the understanding that you may bite your tongue so hard it bleeds.

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  8. What do you think happens if you say something like “This sucks but my boss is a dipshit on gender issues. If this turns into an argument at dinner, I lose the fight, I lose my job, and I have zero leverage to change the company. I have already changed our recruitment to getting trainees from a public school instead of a private school. I’m not asking for giving up, I’m asking for you to let me choose the time and place for the next move.”?

  9. Have you read The Stepford Wives? Or seen the movie? I imagine you don’t mean it this way but I strongly suggest you find a way to rephrase this before talking to your wife. It’s a satire of men fearing women’s liberation, and that men would rather have their wives murdered and replaced with a robot than treat her as their equal.

    If you really think she’s going to mess up this dinner then I think you should ask her to stay home.

  10. I don’t envy the conversation that you need to have with her, but your wife needs to understand that if she confronts your CEO then it’s quite possibly going to impact on your career with the company, sometimes we have to keep quiet on things so as to not adversely impact others, if she doesn’t feel that she can do this then it’s better for her not to attend.

    Try explaining to her that you are working from within to slowly change things, but you can’t expect everything to change at once, it is better to make gradual progressive changes than not be able to make any progress at all. While these changes are being made gradually they are flying under the radar of the Snr Mgt, and you would like to be able to continue to make progress, so it’s better not to raise this at the dinner.

    All I can say is good luck!

  11. I’d make sure she knows this is not a social dinner or an opportunity to have some serious discussion. Rather, this is a working dinner and merely another office function even though it is at a fancy place. She needs to support your career in whatever way you know this to be. She will also be supporting the incremental changes you’ve made over the years. Her love for you must be stronger that her hate for the old, established system that you are fighting against as a team. Do not sugar coat how harmful a meaningful debate could be to you and your future goals as a couple. Good luck OP. I’d love an update after.

  12. I am a woman who’s a broadcast engineer in a heavily male dominated industry and I frequently have to be in situations where misogyny, politics, and offensive topics get brought up constantly. I’m also fiery, outspoken, and share traits with your wife.

    I recognize there are instances that I have to pick my battles, tone it down for the sake of keeping the peace, or just try pivot and steer the conversation in another direction. If she can’t do the same for the sake of your job security and the passion you’re putting in then she can’t participate in the dinner. She doesn’t have to play a dumb home maker to be included, she can still contribute her passions through civil discussion. It sounds like she has an approach issue that might be the culprit. She should already be familiar with the toxic aspects of your job, another warning of what she can expect gives her time to mentally prepare to support you for a short time.

  13. Oh boy!

    You just described me to a teeth… and yes, I wouldn’t play the stepford wife role. And even if I don’t open my mouth, they’d be able to read my disgust on my face.

    So, while I would not be willing to put up with that BS, I do understand that change takes time and if you have the opportunity to make such important and impactful change then it’s critical to not sabotage the opportunity that you have.

    I’d pull the very sweet and acceptable pregnant card and stay home.

    How do you start this conversation? With honesty. Start by explaining how important she is to you and how much you respect you she is and continue saying something along the lines of ‘because of women like you, it is important for me to continue working at this company and make the change. To make things better, to open the possibility of bigger and greater opportunities for the women in industry, which is so much necessary’ and the present the scenario. Make very clear that you disapprove their behavior, but you can’t change anything if they end up hating or firing you.

    If your wife is rational and has an open mind to all the possibilities, she’ll understand but if not you’re screw.

    Good luck!

  14. My wife is similar but slightly different in tactics, she won’t go at anyone unless they come at her. I would talk to her and say “listen there are going to be men there that are AH and are going to say a lot of things you aren’t going to agree with. When that happens I’m going to ask you if you can something like “”that’s an interesting comment. I don’t happen to agree with it but interesting”” and then change the subject.” If she can do that, fine take her with you. If not, then explain that maybe she should stay home and explain why you need to keep this job, it’s not just for you.

    If you think you have it worked out and she goes and it starts to go sideways, have a code word ready for her or both of you to go home. With her late term pregnancy you have a built in excuse for her to leave.

  15. From the description of your wife: Good luck with asking that from her. She ended friendships over her views – do you really expect that she will bend to a bunch of misogynists? And even if she agrees to do that: No way she’s going through with it. The moment one of them makes a misogynist comment on her behalf she’ll throw the stepford wife BS out of the window.

    You are most likely better off asking her to not attend at all.

  16. Just let her stay home.

    It’s not fair to ask her to sit there and put up with all their bullshit, and obviously her telling them about themselves as they deserve isn’t going to go well for you

  17. Ehm, there should be a middle road between stepford wife and fiery ragemonster. Seriously, do you think it would affect your job if your wife said something like ‘I happen to disagree. I see plenty of smart accomplished women in my job!’ when it would come to that?

  18. If you were just working there and didn’t mind the culture, I would say get a new job.

    But the fact that you’re actively trying to make it better makes me think it is important you stay in that job and keep doing what you’re doing.

    I don’t think your wife could play a role at that dinner and pretend to be something she’s not (I couldn’t do it either), so my stance is that she should stay home.

    Subjecting herself and the unborn baby to the stress of being treated like a lesser being by mysoginist old men is not it.

  19. You shouldn’t say she should play the stepford wife. You should say that the CEO is an asshole and this won’t be the fun and exciting dinner she thinks it will be. And that when someone has dinner with the CEO, it’s just smile and make him think he is some kind of genius.

    I think she might end up choosing to stay home and use the 8 months pregnant as an excuse.

    I think don’t understand why you stay in that place. Yes, you made some changes, but working in that environment has to be kind of toxic and every employer knows how things work there. Don’t you think that the longer you stay, the less other companies will trust that your values or management style are in the right place? Hiring women is positive, but bringing them into a climate like that and in which they won’t have allies is not good. You aren’t doing those women any favors other than giving them a shitty job with sexist people around them.

  20. TBH, You’re already worried about your wifes behaviour affecting your career. Once you’re promoted to upper management the lines between business and personal will get even more blurred than they are now. Your marriage probably won’t survive a promotion into an environment like this.

  21. I think you should show her your post. Your admiration for your wife shows through, which is fantastic. Your wife sounds pretty similar to me to be honest. My social opinions are pretty important to me. My integrity is important to me.

    At 36, I have also recognized there are times to keep my cool and play along rather than rock the boat. It’s really hard, sure. But that’s what alcohol is for! Give me 3 drinks and I can play nice with anyone.

    But, like your wife, I am also pregnant (31 weeks) and tolerance for bullshit is pretty much zero. That combined with not being able to drink, I would definitely stay away from the boys club.

    Maybe take her out to an intimate, formal dinner just the two of you instead. I’m willing to bet she’d enjoy it a hell of a lot more.

  22. In all honesty talk to her and try to convince her to stay home. People who argue to the point of losing friends don’t know how to play the long game to win. She is going to cost you your job.

    My mom is like this. After awhile it gets tiring being around someone who had to get their five cents in at the expense of those around them.

  23. You’re framing it very dramatically; this isn’t about fundamentally changing who your wife is and turning her into a Stepford wife, this is about behaving professionally at a work event, with emotional intelligence and discretion.

    As you’ve demonstrated in working at this place for most of every week, it’s entirely possible to disagree with someone or be annoyed or disgusted by them and just… choose not to engage. Abstain from the battle, win the war on a longer scale. Take away the dopamine hit from being Righteous Always and Speaking Your Truth and it’s pretty clearly a waste of time, effort and political capital in the case of your colleagues, they’re going to roll their eyes at a heavily pregnant woman and dismiss her as a hormonal lunatic who’s not one of the tribe and wouldn’t have a clue. There’s no up-side, no road to Damascus moment, no riot cops sharing a Pepsi and a cheesy smile with photogenic and diverse protesters, only downsides for you.

    So, have an honest conversation with your wife but steer clear from creating space for self indulgent moralising to rear its head. It’s a working dinner and the professional rules of engagement apply; knowing that it’s going to be both boring and aggravating for her to support you (and this is exactly the role of any partner in this situation, with no grandiose cinematic Main Character dialogue), what’s still appealing to her about attending?

    If she’s morbidly curious and wanting to run amused commentary inside her own head like Sir David Attenborough, or keen to get out and meet new people within some clear rules of engagement, or most importantly eager to support her beloved husband in something that he values highly, then marvellous. If it’s going to be just another social jousting match, it’d be wise to go it alone.

  24. I’d just be blunt and ask if she is able to keep quiet for the night as your family income is at severe risk if she doesn’t

    If that isn’t a resounding yes where you are 100% assured she will be able to keep her word.

    I’d be attending alone as 8 months pregnant is an easy excuse for her not coming

    Opinions don’t pay the bills but they can easily stop them being paid.

  25. Oh god I could see myself in exactly her situation. I can’t stand people like your bosses and I really don’t have time for their bullshit. I absolutely wouldn’t be able to hold my tongue and if it were important for my partners career that I did hold it, I would choose not to go. I’d definitely blow it!

  26. One of my fave things is taking very principled stands. I thrive on it. My principles ground me, and are center to me. I work in a space where having them and leveraging them is quite important.

    *HOWEVER,* I would be jobless if I was reactionary with my stances. I would be friendless. People wouldn’t want to engage with me. Because there is a difference between spirited debate and talking at not to people. As well as knowing that interactions need to be adjusted in professional settings.

    I have a general internal understanding that I am the rule, not the exception. I will more successfully be able to educate those I work/live closely with over time by meeting them where they are because I know them, but on a large scale, older people who I don’t engage with frequently likely won’t have all of their views changed my be over one dinner. So honestly she should just enjoy the (I’m sure delicious) food or just don’t go..

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