Dear Captain Awkward,
I have a dilemma that I suspect is quite common, but I’m still running into mental roadblocks as to how to properly approach it. Background: I’m a lesbian and a big-eff Feminist working in a male-dominated field, in a male-dominated company. I’ve worked marketing, event planning and PR for rape crisis centres, and volunteer on rape crisis support lines. I know a lot about anti-oppression and actively work on acknowledging my privilege and on calling people out when they’re being oppressive asshats. Except that’s not what I want to do at work. At work, I wanna focus on my interesting tech stuff and not feel I have to educate my boss and coworkers on racism and why and how they’re being fucking offensive.
My boss is a young-ish, laid-back, former hippy who’s travelled all over the world and loves to talk and thinks he knows everything about everything. A nice enough guy, but these topics he brings up at work are raising my blood pressure. And it doesn’t help I have 3 male coworkers who fall easily into the conservative end of the spectrum, so I’ve got no backup there. The lot of them could talk until they run out of breath, not really caring if they have a lick of knowledge about the subject. I mostly keep my mouth shut when he brings up touchy subjects, because I cannot be bothered to try to get into convos with people who won’t change their minds, have no investment in the topic, and will keep talking until I give up bc I’ve got other shit to do and my face is red and I just want them to STFU.
So, the question in all this, is how do I draft a nice, calm email to my boss about work-appropriate conversations and how his oft-racist verbal meanderings are contributing to a hostile workplace for me? I don’t wanna quit my job, I don’t want to go over his head to HR if I don’t have to, and I don’t want to be “the one who caused a scene” b.c., oh yeah, he’s also a huge gossip. Help?
Damsel in de tech
I was raised by a mom who used the silent treatment. Whenever she was really mad about something- maybe once a month- she’d just shut down for several days at a time and not talk to anyone except to sneer at them. This only applied to people in my immediate family- my dad and I- as she’d easily turn around and be smiley and chatty with her father on the phone or a neighbour, and then continue to freeze me/my dad out. This has been going on for about as long as I can remember- one incident in particular stands out, when she refused to even make me dinner. I was about eight at the time. As I got older, it grew less damaging, since I didn’t rely so much on her approval, but it still left scars. She was my primary caregiver- my dad also lived with us, but he’s not so great at parenting as opposed to being a pal, so she was the only authority I really looked up to at home, and in my childhood, I needed a lot of looking after. (I had and have several leaning/social disabilities that necessitated a lot of care.)
Now I’m in my early twenties, and I think this treatment may have left some scars I’m not entirely sure how to deal with. When my mother is quiet or avoids me for extended periods of time, I start to freak out because I think I’ve done something “wrong.” (When she did this when I was a child, she never told me what she was angry about, so I had to guess until I got it right.) Even when I confront her and she insists she’s not mad about anything, it doesn’t calm me down, because I feel like she’s trying to make me guess again. This may be tied to my social anxiety, which I’ve been working on with a therapist, but I think it’s also just a byproduct of how I was raised. It’s also affected how I make decisions- whenever she disagrees with something I want to do about my life (enter a school program, move to a different place) I start to panic and second-guess myself because she’s been The Authority in my life for so long. I can’t talk to her about this, because whenever I do, she turns it into a conversation about what I’ve done to frustrate or anger her, and I end up defending myself instead of explaining to her that she’s hurt me. We’ve been trapped in this pattern for so long, I don’t even know if she realizes she’s doing it, or that it has this effect on me. How do I stop myself from being this needy child who’s desperate for her mother’s approval?
The Sound of Silence
Dear Sound of Silence
Thanks for your letter. I think it speaks to many, many of the writers in my inbox who I will probably not have time to answer, so if you’ve written something similar consider this your answer. And Sound of Silence, you are definitely not alone.