Political correctness is over the top at my job. What can I do about it?
I'm a college student in my 20s who has a part-time job at a nonprofit environmental organization. The work is very stressful and challenging, but I love what I do. Unfortunately, I have a problem with two of my bosses. One of them is an outspoken radical anarchist vegan ultra-feminist who refers to herself as a dyke. The other is just a feminist. At work, we have a "positive and progressive atmosphere" where what matters most about any type of interaction is "impact versus intent." I'm constantly being corrected, chastised, and punished for using the wrong words. I was reprimanded once because my boss overheard my conversation with a co-worker about my girlfriend. She poked her way into our conversation, asked me some probing questions, and left, then later confronted me in private. She was disgusted that I was talking about my inappropriate and immoral relationship. She said that because I mentioned my "girlfriend," she could only assume I'm a pedophile, because a "girl" is a prepubescent woman. As the rules of the office stated, what mattered was that she was "impacted." The other day I was corrected for referring to one of our members as a "wonderful lady." It turns out lady is also sexist and classist. It can be hard to be productive when I'm always walking on eggshells. I don't think I'm politically incorrect, and I'm always censoring myself, but why do they get to be themselves at work, while I have to pretend to be someone else?
—Not a Chauvinist
Your office sounds like as much fun as an impacted tooth. I don't see anything "positive and progressive" about older women with more power using the young male in the office as their personal piñata. As far as the dressing down about your "girlfriend" is concerned, your boss nosed into a private conversation for the purpose of humiliating you for her own pleasure. You should have taken the opportunity to apply the rules of the office to her, and responded by saying that you found her remarks intrusive, inappropriate, and offensive. You say you love what you do, but how can you when you're constantly under siege for the crime of having an Adam's apple? If you were supporting your family with this job, you'd be in a tough situation. But I will venture a guess that part-time work at this outfit pays around minimum wage. Unless you can relax and laugh to yourself about the constant reprimands, I'd say it's time to start looking for part-time work someplace more congenial. If you're willing to consider something outside the environmental community, a rap recording studio, an oil rig, or a race-car pit crew might offer you a chance to speak up without worrying about your impact or intent.
Dear Prudence Video: Meat and Potatoes
I have never had a close relationship with my parents. In my 20s, I had some serious medical problems, and the doctors said I should ask family members about giving me blood. When I asked my parents their blood type, I learned my father is not my biological father. My mother told me there was no way of knowing who the father was, as there were simply too many at the time. I asked her not to tell my dad, but when she was very angry at me (she likes to punish anyone she's angry with), she claimed that she told him. I'm almost 40 now, and lately my dad has been trying to improve our relationship. I brought up the subject of how his mother never believed I was his daughter, and he said that he set her straight, and anyone could see that I was his. I really don't look like him, but I realized that my mother hadn't told him he wasn't my father. So, do I tell him or not? To me, he's my dad no matter what. I have no interest in who may have been the sperm donor, not even for medical reasons. If I tell him, he may choose never to talk to me again, as he's not the forgiving type. Do I have the right to keep it to myself? Or does he have the right to know?
—In a Conundrum
I understand why you haven't had a close relationship with your parents. Your mother threatens to tell your father you're not his as a way to punish … you! You worry that if your father finds out the truth, he may never forgive … you! I admire you for keeping up any kind of relationship with these two. It turns out you don't know whether your mother has told your father that, with the exception of him, there are enough other candidates for who sired you to make up an NFL draft. You also don't know if your mother didn't have to carry out her threat to tell him, because he's known all along he didn't father you. This subject is clearly an open secret, since your loving grandmother likes to announce that you can't possibly be your father's biological daughter. It sounds more than likely that either explicitly or implicitly he knows, but he has never said anything to you because he doesn't want you to be hurt. What's important here is that neither you nor your father care who the long-lost fellow actually is, because you both agree he's your father and you're his daughter. Enjoy that he is trying to repair your relationship, and leave the discussions of blood typing to the Red Cross.
The other day my girlfriend of three years told me that she found a wallet with over $200 inside. When I asked her what she was going to do with it, she said she was going to keep the cash. When I asked her why, she responded that she "needed the money." While I can understand finding that much money just laying on the ground doesn't happen often, I am somewhat disappointed and shocked by the lack of ethics in her final decision (even though we are both pretty broke at the moment). I even had to plead with her to anonymously mail back the person's driver's license and other contents of the wallet because it was a generous thing to do. Part of me just wants to forget the whole thing ever happened, while another part of me tries to make her feel guilty for being so misanthropic. Are opposing moral views something I should just accept within our relationship, or is this a sign of a deeper issue?
—Mr. Goody Two-Shoes
I understand how shaken up you must be that after all this time of knowing someone so intimately, you discover that when presented with the right opportunity, she's one step up from a thief. But your next move should not be to try to make her feel guilty, but to get her to understand why you were so disturbed by this incident. Tell her you don't want to keep flogging this, and after this discussion you will not bring it up again, but what nags at you about the whole thing is how out of character it was for her, because she is a thoughtful, considerate person. You can add that you know that if she accidentally left her wallet somewhere, she'd hope the person who found it would return it intact. Obviously, you're looking for her to say that you're right, and that she realizes she made a mistake. She may feel so defensive that she can't do that now, but maybe after mulling it, she will. Keep your promise that you will then let this drop. You've known her for three years, so unless other evidence presents itself, consider it a one-time lapse.
I'm 24, and I've been with my boyfriend for about 18 months. We were friends in high school, then met again after college, and started living together almost immediately. We have been talking about marriage lately, which I am beyond excited about; however, my boyfriend has informed me that I need to lose 20 pounds before he will propose. He claims that's the only reason he hasn't asked me yet. In his words, he wants "a hot wife." Am I crazy to think that unconditional and true love still exists? Everything else in our relationship is great. I don't want to walk away from something so wonderful, but this just seems a little ridiculous. Help!
—In Love With Mr. Vain
Dear In Love,
I have a plan that will make both of you happy. It begins with you starting on a new exercise program. Get a comfortable outfit and a pair of excellent workout shoes. Then put all your worldly possession in a suitcase, pick it up, walk out the door, and keep on walking.
Photograph of Prudie by David Plotz.