how do I get out of political discussions at work?

A reader writes:

I’m a grad student interning at an apolitical government agency. In an effort to make conversation with one of the permanent staff members on my team, we got to talking about our respective collections (he collects coins, I collect political campaign buttons). I regret telling him this, however, because now he has taken to quizzing me each day on obscure U.S. political history. This behavior is a little annoying because it makes me feel like I’m constantly being forced to prove myself in a capacity that has nothing to do with my job performance, but I can write it off as an awkward effort to be social.

What is becoming progressively more annoying is that these quizzes and conversations are venturing into clearly partisan territory. For example, he asked me to take this misleading (and debunked by several reputable fact checking organizations) “quiz” he’d printed off of a right-wing website, makes snide offhand comments about liberal elected officials, and tries to start conversations with me about things like the Supreme Court case on birth control and the racially problematic mascots of major league sports teams. I’m a politically aware person and generally have no problem having discussions about political issues, but I am uncomfortable doing so with a superior in an apolitical, nonpartisan office, especially because it is clear that we are at opposite ends of the political spectrum. I’ve taken to trying to avoid his questions, or answering them as neutrally as I can, and occasionally feigning ignorance or changing the subject when he makes his more extreme statements, but I worry that makes me come off as ditzy, poorly informed, and/or apathetic, particularly since I am a young woman.

How should I handle this situation? Should I stop keeping my liberal opinions to myself? Just deal with it? Or is there a way to tactfully ask him to stop putting me in the hot seat?

I answer this question over at Inc. today, where I’m revisiting letters that have been buried in the archives here from years ago (and sometimes updating/expanding my answers to them). You can read it here.

{ 208 comments… read them below or add one }

  1. Dr. Johnny Fever

    I don’t think the OP has to point out that their politics differ, just say that she is getting uncomfortable with the discussion and would rather beg off from discussing politics at work. Stating that their politics are different could be an opening for arguments from Bob, which could exacerbate the problem.

    Personally, I just don’t discuss politics anymore. I’m blue in a red state, so I assume that it’s likely I won’t agree and don’t raise the subject. And I use the suggested language above to dodge discussion, even with similar views, so I don’t get pigeonholed.

    Reply
    1. There's Always Money in the Banana Stand

      I think you have a good point here. If the OP is comfortable saying that she has different views, then sure, but Bob sounds like a real badger, and might take that as an invitation for further debate. I think a solid, “I am uncomfortable debating politics at work–please stop”, would work.

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      1. Solitary mouse

        I agree about not mentioning political differences. The OP might be able to put the kibosh on political discussions altogether by saying that she collects the buttons, not to make a political statement, but because she likes the graphics, or wild slogans, changing designs, or whatever. Followed up by “I prefer not to discuss politics at work,” to repeat as needed. Be careful not to over-explain!

        Longtime lurker, first time commenting.

        Reply
        1. Important Moi

          Even that sounds too long. How about:

          “I collect all sorts of political buttons. I prefer not to discuss politics at work.”

          Reply
      2. Specialk9

        Exactly. I’m pretty aghast that a govt worker would talk politics. That’s a big no-no, outside of the political side (eg Congress). The bureaucracy, you keep your mouth the heck shut on politics! I’ve worked for a lot of govt agencies too, and that’s a given.

        Definitely don’t tell someone so aggressive that you’re on the opposite end of the spectrum. He shouldn’t know that about you, both in general and because he specifically will almost surely let it color how perceptions and reactions.

        “I’m not comfortable talking politics or religion at work. I’m sure you understand.” Rinse and repeat.

        If he still heckles you, pull side someone in management. They want to know this is happening.

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        1. PSB

          I so wish it worked that way everywhere. Several years ago, I was briefly a manager at a state agency. I’m also blue in a deeply red state and from past bad experiences have a deep aversion to political discussions almost anywhere, but particularly at work. Our office was full of casual political talk. There were a couple of employees near me who’d often have late afternoon conversations of an hour or more about how terrible government is and how government employees are all lazy and worthless…without the slightest awareness of the irony. This was a place where I’d come into a group that had worked together for about 10 years and I had no support from my director to change the culture, so I left after about a year.

          Reply
          1. VermiciousKnit

            Uggghhh that’s awful. I’ve worked for various state agencies for the last decade, and while it’s quietly obvious sometimes that everyone tends one way or the other (I’ve worked with the education dept, the child welfare dept, and veterans affairs), in absolutely no office did anyone ever blatantly and partisanly speak of politics. Sometimes we have to acknowledge the way political realities impact our work (things like policy changes and turnover of cabinet and high-level staff), but otherwise such things are just Not. Discussed. and everyone knows it.

            Reply
    2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

      I agree. Even when my politics are on another end of the spectrum from the other person, I don’t usually draw attention to our divergence. I just jokingly note that I don’t discuss politics or religion at work, and then I evade or change the subject any time it comes up. I don’t think drawing attention to the divergence will be useful to OP when the real problem is that OP doesn’t feel it’s appropriate to talk about personal politics at a governmental agency where the civil service is encouraged to be nonpartisan.

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    3. Seriously?

      I agree. I think that it would be better to stick with “I prefer not to discuss politics at work.” Since they are an intern, they may be able to ask for advice from a mentor in the office or in the internship program about how handle the situation.

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        1. Snark

          No. The rules that apply to political activity at work regard things like electioneering, using your official office or uniform to lend legitimacy to a political campaign or cause, soliciting poltical donations, that kind of thing. It has nothing to do with politics talk around the office.

          Reply
            1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

              Oh, for sure. I think Snark just wanted to clarify what the rules typically include because it’s not accurate to suggest that political talk at the office violates those rules. There are problems that are problems because they’re inappropriate or rely on power dynamics, and then there are separate problems related to ethics and workplace policies. This is a situation that falls into the first problem bucket.

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              1. Snark

                Right. The Hatch Act isn’t to police politically-shaded uneven power dynamics, they’re to prevent Colonel Zorkl from standing up next to his favorite candidate in full dress uniform and saying “The US Space Force supports Candidate X! Vote for zim if you value your precious bodily fluids!”

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            2. OP

              I’m the OP! This was years ago, but my supervisor was no help on this front –there was a printout of one of those conservative email forwards (“12 reasons why you might live in a country founded by geniuses but run by idiots!”) posted on the wall of his office. There was also the super fun time when he told me about how his daughter was getting married to a woman and how he didn’t know if he was the father of the bride or the father of the groom! SO funny, especially since I was still closeted at the time… In general, it was not a great cultural fit for me.

              It was only a summer internship, so I didn’t have to stick it out for too much longer. I also got moved to a different desk when a new staff member started, which put distance between Bob and me and helped tamp down the politics talk. In the course of some meetings I went to as part of that internship, I made connections with people at a closely-related government agency, and ended up landing an internship with them for the rest of my time in grad school. That second internship informed my thesis, which set me up for a great job after I graduated. It also had a much more comfortable, though still apolitical vibe. When I accidentally came to work the Monday after Pride (which was also the week after the Obergefell decision) with rainbow nail polish, I got a smile and nod from the queer executive director.

              So, all’s well that ends well.

              Reply
              1. Dr. Johnny Fever

                I’m glad that it went well for you and that you have a great job now!

                BTW, I think political buttons are cool. :)

                Reply
              2. Moon

                Did you send this letter years ago or more recently? I’m curious, because a lot of these letters seem time sensitive, and it certainly wouldn’t be helpful to the writers if they are responded to so late, that by that time the OP will have to make a decision themselves on what to do

                Reply
                1. Ask a Manager Post author

                  Per the note in the post itself, all my columns for Inc. are reprints from my archives here.

                  (That said, it sometimes takes me months to answer a letter because of the volume of my mail! The point isn’t just to help the letter writer but to be useful to others as well; otherwise I’d just answer them all privately.)

                2. OP

                  I sent this letter and Allison posted an answer in 2014— you’ll see the link to the original post tagged above. This is a reprint, but seemingly an always relevant topic.

          1. Doc in a Box

            Snark, I worked at a VA during the 2016 election and we had plenty of emails from HR reminding us not to engage in political talk while on duty, citing the Hatch Act.

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            1. Umvue

              I had a similar experience as a fellow in a federal agency in 2008. I wonder if the deal is that because agencies are dependent on Congressional funding, and therefore vulnerable to anything that has a whiff of scandal, the leadership prefers to stay far away from the proverbial “line” defining Hatch Act violations. See: the difference between the ethics laws applied to me (I wasn’t sure I was allowed to accept gifts from old friends if they cost more than $20) vs my peers with fellowships in Congress (they probably still have some but I think the dollar value limit is significantly higher).

              Reply
    4. Greg NY

      I agree as well. Would this be any different if the subject was childrearing or medical issues? Politics can be very divisive and controversial (and I think this is why Alison frowns on the subject here, because it WILL take over comment sections very quickly and possibly devolve into vitriol), but the key takeaway in this case is that this person is tired of discussing a subject that is at best a chore for them to discuss, if not outright irritating to them.

      I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t pick up on subtle signals. I’m pretty bad at telling sarcasm. But I do know that if I’m overtly told that they prefer not to talk about something (and that something isn’t a must for a family or work interaction), pressing the issue would be selfish and inconsiderate. Just one clear explanation by this person is all that should be necessary for these discussions to stop.

      Reply
    5. annejumps

      Yeah, mentioning that their politics don’t match up will be like red meat to the guy. Emphasize that you need to work or get back to work.

      Reply
      1. Snark

        Oh god, yes. Keep it neutral: “Oh, I don’t talk politics in polite OR impolite company, haha! Catch you later, Chad, I’ve got to ask Dweezil about llama regs.”

        Reply
        1. Lil Fidget

          Since she has to change course though (as presumably she formerly seemed open to these discussions) I’d say, “I realized I shouldn’t discus politics at work anymore.”

          Reply
      2. Snickerdoodle

        Exactly. Never give them anything to work with. I just say “I don’t discuss politics at work” and repeat as necessary.

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    6. Anonymeece

      I was about to say the same thing! No need to bring up that you’re differing. I usually just joke, “There’s a reason election ballots are private!”. If it continues, I bluntly say, “I don’t discuss politics at work.”

      And the great news is that this works with people you actually agree with politically! I still don’t want to talk politics with anyone.

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    7. I Wrote This in the Bathroom

      Agree, and want to throw in another possibility of what Bob might be after, based on my own experiences. First, the experiences:

      One, when I was a fresh college graduate in an office full of older men, most of the older men tried to mentor me in some fashion; to act as father figures. One guy especially (the oldest in the office and more than twice my age at the time) kept coming at me with unsolicited, unhelpful, and inaccurate advice.

      Two: during the last few years when my Dad was alive (and in his early 70s), his politics had shifted so far to the right as to make every political conversation with him uncomfortable. He also wanted to talk politics all the time. When I told him I did not want to talk on that subject ever, he started bombarding me with forward emails of the worst nature. Think something to the right of Fox News and just a tad to the left of Infowars. All of the original emails came from the same college friend of his, so I assumed it was the case of an older man who’s new to the internet, automatically forwarding whatever hits his inbox. But when I asked him to stop forwarding, he looked sad, and said that he’d been doing that on purpose, to convert me and to get me “to stop being liberal”. Then he stopped forwarding, because he was my dad, and a great guy otherwise.

      Summary: I think Bob might be trying to convert the OP, on the assumption that she’s a “ditzy, poorly informed, and/or apathetic… young woman”, who would not be able to see the light without his help. If OP tells him that their politics differ, that’ll just make Bob work harder at converting her.

      Conclusion: agree with everyone else’s advice to end every political discussion with Bob the moment he starts it, without going into any details, other than “I do not talk politics at work”. Will that make Bob think of the OP as ditzy, uninformed, and so on? Probably so. But who cares what Bob thinks? To everyone else, OP will look like she’s being professional by avoiding divisive, non-work-related talk in the workplace – added bonus!

      Reply
      1. Snickerdoodle

        My dad and I *agree* on most political topics, and I still don’t talk politics with him because he won’t shut up, gets very negative, and vaguely agrees that it would be better to change the subject and then doesn’t. So I just leave the room when it comes up. OP may have to resort to physically leaving the space if possible.

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    8. Moon

      Agree. Really bad advice on this letter. That’s just opening oneself up to more problems and judgement, by mentioning that he’s on the other side.

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      1. GreenDoor

        I don’t see it as “bad advice.” I took as OP would basically be saying, “we’re never going to convert each other here, so let’s drop it” or “we’re clearly not going to seee eye-to-eye so I’d rather not waste energy discussing this kind of stuff.”

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    9. Alton

      I can see both sides, to be honest. On the one hand, sometimes people take any sort of engagement (even if it’s to express that you don’t agree) as encouragement to keep prodding or “convert” the other person, and it’s possible that this is partly his motivation to beg with.

      On the other hand, sometimes people have an echo chamber mindset where they really don’t stop to think about the possibility that they’re talking to someone who has differing views or experiencess, and sometimes a reminder can be good.

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    10. Argh!

      I’m also blue in a red state, and I just cut it off. They are equally likely to cut it off when they see I don’t agree, so this situation is a case of a coworker being a jerk, and it’s not just politics.

      Unfortunately, LW has taken the bait and has become a rather fun toy for Bob. Any kind of reference to feelings or any “I” statement won’t work – a jerk just knows they’ve gotten to you when you say those things.

      “Can’t we all just get along?” is a good closer. Who could argue with that?

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    11. CanCan

      Exactly. Just a simple: “I’d rather not discuss politics at work.”

      Successful relationships are about finding commonalities, rather than differences. Pointing out that your politics are different without finding something to agree on (which you can’t, without a discussion

      I wouldn’t want to discuss politics in any work setting (or other controversial topics, for example, vaccines), because finding out that a colleague has an unreasonable point of view (from your standpoint, and vice versa) is alienating and may damage the working relationship.

      This is especially true in a government agency. Your agency (or a related body) may even have a policy on political activities by employees. If you need ammunition, you could find it and allude to that.

      Reply
  2. Indie

    What is it about these types of guys and their pop quizzes?
    “OH you like (non girly) interest, do you? A LIKELY STORY. Please regurgitate all the dates connected to said topic when I click my fingers: GO”.
    OP is already chastising herself as must-not show dizziness or lack of information while female.
    I like to give a laugh, then when they go ‘What don’t you know?’ I tend to say either:
    A) “Oh I know you’re not seriously giving me a pop quiz. That would be ridiculous!” The harder he insists, the harder you laugh.
    B) Squint and ruche up your mouth as if you’re not sure how to break this to him: “Oh, I know *some* people like to memorize the details parrot fashion but I don’t think it gives one a greater intelligence on actually understanding the topic. Still, if the minutia gives you pleasure, you should continue to indulge in it.”

    Reply
    1. Aveline

      He’s not trying to discuss anything. He’s trying to win. To assert dominance and superiority.

      Best thing to do is not to play the game. It’s rigged.

      I disagree with anyone mentioning their politics are opposite. That will only deepen his desire to win.

      She simply needs to say their discussions are inappropriate and she doesn’t want either of them to get into trouble for it.

      Then not discuss it further. Ever.

      If he starts in, she walks away.

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      1. Ms. Ann Thropy

        Exactly right. A clear statement of “I don’t discuss politics at work,” is all she needs, without offering a reason why, which Bob will take as a challenge to overcome. After saying it once, all his efforts should be met with a silent, unsmiling stare, followed by her resuming doing whatever she was doing.

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    2. Persimmons

      Gatekeeping is bad enough in the context of sports or gaming. Applying it to reproductive rights is an extra layer of gross.

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      1. Indie

        Oh good point. What could be more of a feminine interest?
        “Are you…..quizzing me to see if I know about reproductive rights?”
        “Yes!”
        “You know that I’m a woman, right?”
        (Wait for him to fall into the trap to say something about women)
        “WOW”.

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        1. Specialk9

          He wants to force her to talk about racially inappropriate sports mascots. At work. He’s a pretty awful human being — mansplaining domineering political stuff aside.

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          1. Indie

            Yeah, if I was OP I would totally relax about trying to impress him. I’d bet a week’s pay that people roll their eyes when he enters a room.
            If anything, it’s conversing with him at all that’s going to hurt her reputation in case they look friendly. I’d distance myself sharpish.

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        1. Falling Diphthong

          The usual meaning of the phrase is that the person has moved out of their proper (low-ranking, unquestioning) place, and needs to be put back there. See ‘still, she persisted.’ It’s not used for putting someone in their proper high-ranking place above oneself.

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    3. epi

      I agree. In the OP’s place, I’d be trying to become boring to this guy in general, not just on politics.

      I majored in history, and actually went to grad school for it, before changing careers and going into epidemiology. People– always men– would constantly ask me about specific names, dates, and trivia from topics that were not even close to my area of history.

      One way to look at this is, people who do this aren’t just telling you that they are insecure and want to put you in their place. They are also displaying their own ignorance of the field in which they are trying to assert dominance. Professional historians do not memorize names and dates, or know way more than the average person about topics from a totally different century and region of the world than the area they have specialized in. Political scientists don’t have encyclopedic knowledge of any given political campaign. Being a fan of something isn’t usually about being able to name all the works in order and recite the stars’ birthdays. Etc.

      If someone thinks they can assess your competence in your professional field or your hobby with a pop quiz about some trivia, they are telling you they are too ignorant for their opinion of your expertise to matter, and too unpleasant to humor. Feel free to say, “Oh, I specialized in [extremely specific description of your obscure topic]” and let it be awkward. The person who does this embarrassed himself.

      Reply
      1. CM

        I say with a smile, “No, I’m not answering that.” Then I look at them and don’t say anything else until they either double down or change the subject. If they do double down, I will reiterate something like “I’m not playing this game.”

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      2. Indie

        Yeah sometimes I like to stroke my metaphorical tree beard and chuckle over the naivete of calling trivia ‘knowledge’.

        I have been known to lecture people about Bloom’s taxonomy and how ‘remembering’ is the lowest order skill possible and how true afficianados are more about ‘evaluation’ or ‘inspiration

        But only to people who deserve it!

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          1. Indie

            You definitely *do* need a solid facts-knowledge base (depending on the subject) which is why I am surprised this counter argument never gets zinged back at me by trivia dudes; too dumb perhaps? The best methods I’ve found for moving up are to ask yourself the right questions: ‘What’ questions for the lowest level, ‘How’ for the middle layers and ‘Why’ for the top.

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      3. Annoyed

        History here too. “Why don’t I know the answer to every single historical event EVER? Seriously dude…? Hahaha.”

        And yeah always a guy.

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    4. Snickerdoodle

      Oh dear GOD. Yes. The “Do you REALLY do [non-stereotypically-girly thing]? Well, prove it and tell me everything about it” jerks. I’ve been on the receiving end of that in dating contexts a bunch. They want you to prove to be ignorant so they can crow, and if you know more than they do, they’ll get sulky and find something else to try to be superior about. The only way to win that game is not to play.

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    5. TinLizi

      I have a couple strategies for the “Dominance Pop Quiz.” I work at a California Gold Rush era museum, so I get a lot of guys who watched Bonanza or Gunsmoke and try to see if I know what a butter churn is. I give them a big, friendly, customer service, and start in, “Yep! That’s a butter churn and the really neat part is…” And then I go on until I see their eyes glaze over and they start looking around the room. Then I go another 30 seconds, and say, “So, anyway, let me know if you have any other questions.” They usually don’t.

      In my sci-fi/fantasy fandoms, I usually give an obviously fake answer. “Oh! I love Star Wars. Especially Han Solo and his ship, Serenity, and their mission to go where no man has gone before! To infinity and beyond!”

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      1. Emma the Strange

        I’ve seen a shirt somewhere with a picture of a Dalek and the caption “OMG, R2D2! I love Star Trek!” aka how to piss off three sci-fi fandoms simultaneously

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    6. Gazebo Slayer

      I think next time some jackass pulls this pop quiz trick on me, I’m going to bluntly and directly explain to him what he’s doing: “Oh, are we doing the thing where men pop-quiz women on any non-stereotypical interests in an attempt at dominance and putting the little lady in her place?” Or words to that effect.

      I might word it slightly more politely at work, but only slightly. But then, I don’t mind being known as a ball-busting feminist b!tch. It hasn’t necessarily done my career any favors – this whole thread is reminding me of a boss I had in an all-male department who was rather like this guy and ended up firing me in part because I objected to his and his best buddy’s sexism – but I just can’t bring myself to shut up in these situations. I love the shocked look these dudes get when you call them out at work.

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      1. OP

        I LOVE this. This was for sure a male dominance pop quiz situation– Bob was very close to retirement (there was a calendar on his wall with days marked off with big red Xs) on a team that was 90% male and mostly older. I’ve moved on from this internship, but there’s always at least one of these guys around. Now that I’ve moved up a bit in the hierarchy, I’m going to be super tempted to steal this line.

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        1. Wannabeanon

          I used to have this at work. I’m a huge music fan, mostly from early rockabilly to newer heavy metal, early punk rock and outlaw country and this guy keeps asking me questions about 80s pop and progressive rock, he even tried quizzing me about pop country and I told him please don’t, I don’t want to get into a debate about how awful tractor rap is, try listening to Margo Price, or Whitey Morgan if you want an introduction to modern country music.
          Sorry I don’t listen to that because I hate it, I don’t care if he likes it I just can’t stand it. He even followed me around singing a Kansas song. I stopped talking to him about any else besides work because he got creepy.
          Then he got pissed and posted a creepy photo of Michael Douglas in that early 90s workplace shooting movie as his profile pic with a gun. that’s when I blocked him. Because a coworker said I don’t want to text you at 11 pm about work. Our job doesn’t require that.
          He’s just so weird. I’ve worked with him for months and I don’t know anything about him. Usually I know if a coworker is single or married or widowed or who they live with.

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    7. Annoyed

      “What is it about these types of guys and their pop quizzes?
      “OH you like (non girly) interest, do you? A LIKELY STORY. Please regurgitate all the dates connected to said topic when I click my fingers: GO”.”

      This jumped right out at me too!!!

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    8. Close Bracket

      What is it about these types of guys and their pop quizzes?

      Yeah, this is akin to the geek guys at cons who need to quiz women on their geek knowledge lest they be entrapped by a Fake Geek Girl out for … well, whatever it this these guys think women at cons are after besides having a good time with like minded people. Somebody (a guy) I was getting to know asked me how much of a geek I was. I told him, not enough of one to give a shit about my cred. I like approach B, it basically says, I don’t give a shit about my cred.

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  3. Typical Lurker

    I think there’s nothing to be gained by pointing out their politics are different. I’d just say I don’t want to discuss politics at work and leave it there. If he persists I’d keep saying the same thing. Eventually he’ll stop.

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  4. Not All Who Wander

    Adding to the chorus of recommending strongly against saying anything about having different politics…it almost always makes things worse with these types of guys IME.

    Just leave it at you don’t think it’s appropriate to discuss politics at work, especially at a government agency that has a duty to be apolitical.

    I hate talking/hearing about politics at work even with people I agree with and work for a federal agency…this has worked best for me. A couple people I have had to push with a statement about mot wanting to even remotely brush against the Hatch Act in the current climate and that has shutdown even the most persistent. (Yes I’m fully aware Hatch Act does not prohibit political discussions at work but in my experience the people who want to do quizzes off conspiracy rabble rousing sites aren’t that educated on actual laws.)

    Reply
  5. Snark

    This guy sounds like….well, That Guy. Every office has That Guy.

    “Oh, y’know, I don’t talk politics at work, That Guy. Too easy to get into contentious territory.” Pleasant smile.

    Reply
    1. Snark

      Also, there are only three outcomes with That Guy:

      a) you agree with him, he busts you down a notch or two with political arcana pop-quizzing anyway, and you become the eager target for him to bloviate cleverly at. He wins.
      b) you disagree with him, he busts you down three or four notches with his pop quizzes on political arcana just to own the lib, and then he coldly ignores you forever while making jokes about millennial snowflakes to his ideological fellow travelers in the office. He wins.
      c) you disengage, he concludes you’re an apathetic, ditzy, disengaged millennial snowflake and probably a liberal to boot. He wins.

      Since any way this breaks results in him claiming at least a thin, smug form of victory for himself, I advocate for option C, because that will at least allow you the most distance from him and his opinions.

      Reply
      1. Jadelyn

        Beautifully put. Do you happen to know my father, by any chance? Because man oh man, does that describe him to a T.

        From experience, OP: do not engage. At all. There is literally no winning with That Guy. If you agree with him, he will take every opportunity to share conspiracy theories and expect you to eagerly hang on every word he says – and even if you agree, he will still expect you to defer to his greater wisdom and just enthusiastically nod and tell him how right he is. If you disagree, he will either stop talking to you or never leave you alone, trying to show you the error of your ways. He will never accept that you have valid reasons for disagreeing with him. He will never respect your opinions. Ever. It’s either that you’re too stupid to understand, too young to know what you’re talking about, or too female/queer/other ethnicity/etc. to be objective like he is.

        Just make a noncommittal noise and change the subject or walk away. If you have to say something, stick with the kinds of “thanks but I’m not up for talking politics at work” scripts that people have suggested, and then immediately either change the subject or walk away. It might take awhile for this to result in him leaving you be – and be prepared for an extinction burst and possible sulking once he realizes you’re serious and he can’t budge you – but eventually he’ll get the message.

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        1. TinLizi

          “It’s either that you’re too stupid to understand, too young to know what you’re talking about, or too female/queer/other ethnicity/etc. to be objective like he is. ”

          This.

          I’m a history major. If I agree with them, they use it as further ammo that they are always right. If I disagree, then I was brainwashed by my commie, liberal arts school.

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      2. Falling Diphthong

        Yup. Do not look for the brilliantly worded comeback that will cause him to re-examine his political beliefs, gaze on you with a newfound respect, or drop the topic hereafter. Unless you happen to be a character in a fan-fiction essay.

        Reply
  6. Bigglesworth

    I would be curious to see if the Hatch Act applies here. The Office of Special Counsel has a FAQ page on what constitutes acceptable politics activity at work (i.e. you cannot engage in politics activity while on duty or in the workplace). This sounds an awful lot like this person is engaging in political activity and you may be able to shut it down by saying, “It seems like these conversations are veering into territory that’s we can’t go into because of the Hatch Act so let’s change the topic. How was your weekend?”

    Reply
    1. Snark

      Hasn’t a thing to do with the Hatch Act – that prohibits things like electioneering, fundraising for poltiical/social causes, or using your official office or status to lend credibility to a campaign or cause. It doesn’t prohibit political chats in the office, because if it did, half the people around here would get canned tomorrow.

      Reply
      1. Snark

        “Generally, all federal employees may discuss current events, policy issues, and matters of public interest at work or on duty. The Hatch Act does not prohibit employees at any time, including when they are at work or on duty, from expressing their personal opinions about events, issues, or matters, such as healthcare reform, gun control, abortion, immigration, federal hiring freeze, etc. For example, while at work employees may express their views about healthcare reform, e.g., “I agree with healthcare reform.”

        However, the Hatch Act prohibits federal employees at work or on duty from engaging in political activity. Political activity is activity that is directed at the success or failure of a political party, partisan political group, or candidate for partisan political office. Thus, employees may not express their personal opinions on such events, issues, and matters if such views also are political activity. For example, while at work employees may not express their views about healthcare reform tied to a candidate for partisan political office, e.g., “If you disagree with healthcare reform you should support candidate X.”

        Finally, even when federal employees are expressing personal opinions that are permissible under the Hatch Act they should be mindful of how such views may be received by their coworkers and whether such comments are consistent with the Hatch Act’s underlying purpose of maintaining a politically neutral workplace.”

        I’d be really surprised if anything he’s done has risen to the level of Hatch Act gray area, let alone a clear and actionable violation.

        Reply
        1. Snark

          And to clarify, I do think he’s toeing an unofficial, unactionable line as far as the politically neutal workplace goes, but unless he’s like, yeah, you should totally vote for Odious Van Asswit IV for Congress, he’s not really doing anything I haven’t had to deflect this morning.

          Reply
          1. Anonymeece

            If he persists, though, he may be breaking just general office rules, at least to the point of bringing it up to a manager if he persists. Just saying, “Hey, Bob and I bonded over our collections, and mine is collecting political pins. It’s not a political thing, just a fun hobby, but lately I’ve been drawn into some conversations about politics that are distracting me from my work. How would you like me to handle this?”. That might be enough for a manager to step in and tell Bob to cool it. I’ve had to do that with a few religious/political conversations that I can’t SAY, “Don’t talk politics or religion at work,” but have been able to say, “These are controversial issues and can cause a lot of upset people. Let’s make sure that we’re providing a welcome atmosphere for ALL students or colleagues.”

            Reply
            1. Snark

              Sure! But I wouldn’t frame it like “I’m concerned that Bob is violating the Hatch Act,” because the response will be “Oh honey.”

              Reply
            2. OP

              Yep, this was clearly not in Hatch Act territory. I DID manage to get off a bunch of political campaign fundraiser robocall lists based on people’s uncertainty about what it actually means. They kept calling me repeatedly (was getting close to the end of a quarter…) so I finally picked up one of them, told them I couldn’t talk because I was at work. Of course they ignore this and continue their spiel, I interrupt, “No, I REALLY can’t talk. I’m at work at a GOVERNMENT AGENCY”

              I’ve never gotten a fundraiser off the phone so fast. And they never called me again.

              Reply
          2. Bigglesworth

            Thanks for clarifying. I fully admit that I do not know a whole lot about the Hatch Act. I do have a question, though. On the FAQ, OSC gives this example:

            For example, while at work employees may not express their views about healthcare reform tied to a candidate for partisan political office, e.g., “If you disagree with healthcare reform you should support candidate X.”

            Additionally, under the “less restricted employees” section, OSC shares that employees: “May express opinions about candidates and issues. If the expression is political activity, however – i.e., activity directed at the success or failure of a political party, candidate for partisan political office, or partisan political group – then the expression is not permitted while the employee is on duty, in any federal room or building, while wearing a uniform or official insignia, or using any federally owned or leased vehicle.”

            Depending on what the supervisor is saying, couldn’t his “snide offhand comments about liberal elected officials” count as expressing his views about candidates for partisan political offices or directed at the (hopeful) failure of liberal politicians? Or even promoting the success of the conservative party? I assume (perhaps incorrectly) that these groups of politicians would fall underneath the political groups mentioned.

            Reply
            1. Snark

              Nope. The Hatch Act specifically exempts the expression of personal opinion. It has to be pretty specific and explicit to cross the bar – Vote for Joe Bleh, Vote No on Proposition B, I’m Commander Blop and I Support the Thing, that kind of thing.

              Reply
  7. sheworkshardforthemoney

    Right now politics seems to be on a whole new level of passion. BUT you are well within your rights to state; “I don’t discuss politics, religion, family planning or my mother in law.” In fact anything that makes you feel uncomfortable. This covers a wide range of topics, someone had written in about feeling uncomfortable when suicide was joked about. LW does not have to engage with this person on any subject.

    Reply
    1. gwal

      Having recently read “The Life-Changing Magic of Not Giving a F***” and found her section on personal policies inspiring, I think you’re absolutely on the right track.

      “I have a personal policy against…” seems like a good way to fight odious workplace or homeplace conversations, as long as you can stick to it.

      Reply
  8. Marlowe

    This is timely; I’m having a similar problem! Except we’re high school teachers.

    Staying apolitical in class is a complicated issue, especially when you’re studying historical events, but I manage. A colleague of mine–who tends towards the far right of the political spectrum–cannot shut up about his own views, though. At first it was mainly break room stuff (rants and exasperated explosions about the latest governmental mess-up, primarily), but before summer vac it started to seep into his class material, according to his students. :/

    The school’s administration is a mess and wouldn’t deal with him last year, and I doubt they will this year. It’s left many of us in a quandary, as we vehemently disagree with him on a number of issues but are unable to get him to shut up without actively engaging with him–and that would give him credibility and power. My first day back is tomorrow, and I already dread having to face this dude and his bigoted beliefs again.

    Reply
    1. EmilyAnn

      I had a HS teacher like that. Her political views were very clear, she taught government so she made sure to insert them into her teaching, even when it could be avoided. She didn’t like students with different political views. She had a few other issues too. I really just remember her as a horrible, unfair teacher. I had her for 1 year. It was a blimp in the course of my education. I’m sure his students will remember him like I remember mine, as a teacher with a stunning lack of professional boundaries.

      Reply
    2. Legal Beagle

      I feel bad for his students! Can you push back indirectly by allowing students to discuss it in your class (in a limited way, obviously)? That has the benefit of letting them air any feelings of discomfort, but also apply their own critical analysis to opposing viewpoints and figure out what they think about the issues.

      Also, perhaps some students could get together and complain to the administration. High schoolers are old enough to do that, IMO.

      Reply
    3. Positive Reframer

      Places of learning shouldn’t have to shy away from contentious topics that should encourage them to press deeper into the material and work harder. You and your fellow teachers should already be addressing issues like fact checking and identifying bias in source material. You don’t have to engage with him or even his opinions directly but you can show your students that not everyone has the same opinion, that you can work in a place where people have a different opinion, and generally that they should look at both sides and decide for themselves.

      Some people are attracted to firm leadership and dogmatic opinions and will gravitate toward that whatever the actual opinion looks like but the majority of people seem at least a little open if you make them think about it and engage their curiosity.

      There is such a thing as disagreeing with people on a fundamental level and still being friends with them. There was a time when I wrote op eds on the dangers of Harry Potter, believing that it was detrimental, a friend enjoyed them and wrote contrasting opinions and through it all we were still friends. And we were 12 and able to negotiate such troubled waters.

      Reply
      1. Marlowe

        Yes, we do teach them critical thinking and source-checking. These kids are pretty smart–they don’t need us to tell them what to think of this teacher. They know he shouldn’t be speaking to them of his political views outside the purview of the curriculum; that’s why some of them have come to the rest of the teaching staff with questions on what to do, as they know that his ideas are fringe, and not representative of the teachers as a group. It seems that most of them tune him out, and considering the demographics of our school, I doubt his rhetoric would appeal to very many of them. Our classes ask the students to think for themselves. They generally can recognize a blow-hard for who he is.

        That being said, I disagree with your last paragraph. As it concerns this guy and his students, there is no question of his being friends with them. As it concerns him and the other teachers, though … no, his views are too extreme; I find it impossible to disagree with him, as you say, on a fundamental level on such issues as gay rights and racism and still be friends with him. Polite and civil, yes–at least insofar as he doesn’t push to force a political conversation. Friends, certainly not. These are issues a little bit greater than Harry Potter.

        Reply
        1. Nacho

          Pretty much the only thing that could get this teacher to stop would be if parents spoke up to the principle about it. Is there any way you could suggest that the kids who speak to you talk to their parents and let them know about the situation?

          Reply
    4. John Rohan

      With my college teachers it was the other way around – they were very left leaning and injected politics into just about every discussion, even when it had nothing to do with the subject at hand. I didn’t like it, but it was such the norm that I got used to it.

      Reply
      1. Marlowe

        I don’t doubt there are people across the political spectrum who try to inject their views into every discussion, even when they don’t belong. I find it easier to listen to those digressions when I don’t find their views abhorrent, though.

        Reply
        1. BenAdminGeek

          I actually find it easier to listen to the digressions when they are on the other side, even if abhorrent (I just tune them out), rather than people rattling on who agree with me on the main topics. Boorish people on my “own side” I find much more frustrating because they’re hurting the ability to effect change.

          Reply
          1. Marlowe

            I get that! In my experience, there can be a great deal of frustration in dealing with those who have their heart in the right place but overstep in the wrong situation. Overall, though, the annoyance of having to talk yet again to someone whose political views I can’t adhere to is a greater one–I guess I can’t really tune them out? It’s worse in a work setting, too, because I know I’ll see them almost everyday. One way or another, it’s an exercise in frustration.

            Reply
      2. Isabel Kunkle

        I had a professor who would take like fifteen minutes of every lecture to go on a political rant. And I agreed with his politics–being liberal myself–but, like, I am here to learn about Shakespeare, dude, not the Iraq War.

        Reply
      1. Specialk9

        This doesn’t work when one is a young woman. Men assume you really are that stupid, and eagerly proceed to explain the errors of your little women brain. Especially if they are either attracted to you or threatened by you.

        Reply
  9. FuzzFrogs

    I work for a public library, and this comes up, well, a lot, especially since we are a polling place. I would agree with other commenters that this type of person is not worth debating; they are the kind of person who KNOWS they are right, and can tell you disagree with their views, and when they do this they’re trying to either change your mind or re-enforce their stereotypes about you. They’re unfortunately hard to stop, unless they cross over into outright hatefulness.

    If they can’t be stopped with “Oh, I don’t talk about politics,” neutral comments are helpful. Lots of “hmmm”s.

    Reply
  10. stitchinthyme

    I think dismissing the “tests” is a bad idea, because it hints at a deeper issue here: a tendency by men to try and force women who are fans of something to prove their worthiness to be in the fandom by asking them endless, obscure questions about the subject — the implication being that no one who doesn’t know every single tiny bit of minutiae is not a “real” fan. This technique is frequently used by men to exclude women from fandom circles and discount their opinions and voices, and the fact that this guy is doing it is an indicator of his real motivation: to put down a female subordinate and keep her in her place.

    Reply
    1. Maya Elena

      Hmm, that hasn’t been my experience with male fans of things I like – and in general it might be a stretch to read Intentional Oppression into a large class of interactions between males and females. It’s easy to find even when it’s not there. I don’t even think it’s there in LW’s case: boorish, yes; but power games – no.

      Reply
      1. Edinbugger

        I’m very glad for you that you have not experienced this. I hope you never do. It’s a very common experience, however, one that every woman I know in fandom has experienced and one that is widely reported, and it’s not at all unreasonable to think it is at play here. The OP has acknowledged this power play aspect in a comment above.

        Reply
      2. Close Bracket

        in general it might be a stretch to read Intentional Oppression into a large class of interactions between males and females.

        Not so much of a stretch. Do a little reading on Fake Geek Girls, and thank your stars that you’ve never encountered it.

        Reply
    2. Deus Cee

      Yep, this is how I’m reading this scenario. I don’t know how women in gaming/comicbook/other fandoms shut it down (tbh, it’s so prevalent I’m guessing that there’s no single way to achieve it), but that’s where I’d be looking for answers on how to shut this guy down.

      Reply
      1. aebhel

        IME, women in fandom mostly shut it down by avoiding these men and forming our own communities, which generally leads this type of man to conclude that there ARE no women in fandom. Which, yeah, sort of exacerbates the issue on the one hand, but on the other hand I hang out in fandom to have fun, not to have random supercilious strangers inflict lectures and weird power games on me.

        Reply
  11. overcaffeinatedandqueer

    Agreed. Just say you don’t discuss these issues at work.

    I find myself (obviously) not on the right because, well, see my username. But, I have stopped discussing politics because I don’t want to have to defend my family and rights to conservatives, nor deal with toxic aspects of dialogue like one-upsmanship, call-out culture, or the feeling that I am reduced to my relative privilege or lack thereof on the left.

    Reply
    1. sfigato

      Yeah, I’m more to the center than many of the progressives I work with, and I’m having to learn to keep my mouth shut when they talk about political issues I don’t agree with. partially to not invalidate their perspective, but there is also a cost for not towing the party line.

      Reply
    2. Specialk9

      You’d be surprised. My gay friend actually ran for office as a Repub. And look at that odious alt-right Milo guy.

      Reply
      1. scorpysuit coryphefuss arterius, also queer

        Gay, lesbian, and bisexual people can certainly be and sometimes are Republicans, for sure, but I bet there’s few of that group who would identify as “queer,” which usually indicates a pretty lefty perspective due to history and all.

        Reply
    3. BenAdminGeek

      I read your name too quickly and was very confused about caffeine and why it made you find yourself not on the right…. reading comprehension FTW!

      Reply
  12. Cringing 24/7

    If anyone at my work ever handed me a political quiz (really ANY quiz), I’d very quizzically ask, “What is this?” and then regardless of their response, hand it back with a “No, thank you.”

    Reply
    1. CM

      I also like pleasantly saying, “No, thank you,” as a response to anybody who’s trying to push me. It throws people off a little bit when it’s a response to an expertise-quiz type question or an unwanted button-pushing statement.

      Reply
    2. Snickerdoodle

      I like it. I wouldn’t even take it. I’d just treat it like I do obnoxious people on the street with fliers and samples; just avoid eye contact and keep walking.

      Reply
  13. Nita

    Not totally clear, but is the other guy a boss? I’d just say that it’s best we don’t discuss this, because I don’t want my political opinions to affect my career. And then just repeat that over and over without specifying what exactly my opinions are. Since the agency is “apolitical” and these opinions are not supposed to be relevant to being employed there, that should work as well as anything else OP can try to deal with an obsessive, know-it-all type.

    Reply
  14. J.B.

    I work with several people with politics opposite to mine, and get along fine and do good work with/for the ones who keep it away from work. The one who traps his subordinates in a meeting for irrelevant political discussions…eeurgh. It is so wrong and such a misuse of time and money. At least I can mostly sidestep it.

    Reply
  15. Falling Diphthong

    Bland smile, “I don’t want to discuss politics at work.” Then stop.

    Because you have been more willing to interact before this, you might need to expand the sentence a little, e.g. “You know Bob, we’ve gone around on this and I don’t think these discussions are really helpful. I’m going to stop discussing politics at work.”

    The key is not to offer up an excuse for why you’re stopping, because the excuse can be argued with. It’s a variation on turning down an invitation–if you have no intention of going you say, “Gosh I’m afraid I can’t” not “I can’t come Friday night because I don’t have a ride.” The latter prompts the person to solve your problem, which you just claimed was the only reason you aren’t taking them up on the offer.

    Reply
  16. Oskiesque

    Completely off topic, so I apologize — but wasn’t this question already posted (and if so, there’s nothing wrong with that!!) or am I just having an amazing case of deja vu? My sanity thanks you.

    Reply
    1. Falling Diphthong

      It’s an old one from the archives–These are a usual midday Friday post.

      “I’m revisiting letters that have been buried in the archives.”

      Reply
  17. Peggy

    Oh god, the quizzing. When I was a 20-something female PhD student in history, I would encounter these guys (and only guys, always and ever) from time to time. “Oh yeah? Well if you’re so smart, what battle involved the 105th Massachusetts artillery and 24th Carolina cavalry? huh? HUH?”

    It was intolerable.

    Reply
    1. Urdnot Bakara

      Right?? This is such a man thing to do, regardless of the politics. They find out a woman is interested in something they know even the slightest bit about, and they have to quiz her to, like, prove she’s not an expert and they know more about it than she does. Even if they don’t.

      Men, if you’re reading this thread, don’t do this. It is very much a Thing and it makes you a jerk.

      Reply
      1. Lora

        Especially if they don’t. Like, what the even heck are they trying to accomplish with the impromptu Spanish Inquisition? Absolute proof that they’re condescending a-holes whose company I don’t wish to tolerate any longer than necessary? Is that how they define success, by driving people away from them in any potential social situation? Is it a personal development goal of theirs, to spend more time alone in a corner while everyone else finds someone more pleasant to be around? Alerting passers-by that they are to be avoided whenever possible?

        I mean, it’s nice that they are basically advertising to humanity, “dear people of the world, I am a condescending jerk who is no fun at all to have a conversation with, please avoid me like the plague kthx” because it’s not always appropriate to wear a tee shirt that says A-HOLE in big letters at work. So I guess there’s that.

        Reply
      2. I Wrote This in the Bathroom

        I had a first date like that. It was not even on any particular subject. I was just getting the third degree about everything. “What do you do for fun?” I said “Hike, read…” He cut me off. “What did you read last weekend?” and, when I could not give him an answer right away, he gave me this “Gotcha” look. Then he started shooting my answers down. He would ask me something about myself, then refuse to accept my answer. The date ended when, after he’d turned down my answer to yet another question, I stared at him and asked “well, what would you LIKE me to say?” He suddenly remembered that he had a community college class in 30 minutes, and left. At that point, I was just glad that he stormed out, so I did not have to. It was a cold, rainy evening, not great for sudden flouncing.

        Reply
        1. Lissa

          Aaargh, what do these guys actually want!? I have encountered it but not on a date, luckily….the “gotcha” look, it’s like, ok, you …. got….me? What is the end goal with that? I suspect often these guys do it because they want to be around women who don’t have opinions or interests and just sit around to be filled up with knowledge…. but then the guys who do this will go on and on about how they WANT smart women and LOVE smart women …

          would love to put them under a truth spell and ask them their actual desired outcome.

          Reply
          1. Indie

            I’ve expressed ‘What a douche!’ to bystander men on witnessing this only to hear ‘Oh he just wants to impress her!’
            I finally pick my jaw up long enough to say ‘I’d like to see how that’s possible’.

            Reply
            1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom

              Impress her how?? And then these guys turn around and complain that men and women speak different languages and they cannot for the life of them understand women, because female logic is so different! “Who can ever understand those fickle skirts?” roughly (c) Bad Advisor

              Reply
          2. I Wrote This in the Bathroom

            Also when dating, I had a conversation that had gone on for several days, end suddenly after he said “I like smart girls” and I responded with “Well, then, you’ve come to the right person”. And I never heard from him again. Took me a year to even realize that what I’d said was a turnoff. We are a family of brainiacs, as are my friends, as are people in the social groups I belong to, (and from what I’d gathered when talking to him, there was no overlap between his and my circles in any way – he sounded close to upper-class, and I am, well, not), so I had no idea that I’d said The Wrong Thing; I was just “hmmm, where did he go? Oh well, next”. By god, you are right! I bet I was supposed to say that I was in awe of that, and that I hoped to someday become a smart girl under his tutelage, and then sit back and have him fill me up with knowledge. That’s my guess though. Will never be able to find out what really happened there.

            Reply
            1. Indie

              I just used to assume they were socially awkward (like the OP does in the letter.)
              Man tells me he likes smart girls just before discovering I actually read and runs away = “Doesn’t he know he has no need to be intimidated!”
              Man negs me in a bar = “Aw, bless ‘im, he has no idea how to talk to women! That was practically an insult!”
              Man bends my ear telling me all about his sad, sad life while the party joy drains out of me = I go to the bathroom to ask my friend if someone else can step in or recommend a therapist while he’s telling my husband he’s just guilted some girl practically into bed.

              It never occurred to me they had a deliberate goal to subdue me, because it’s a stupid and illogical goal.

              Reply
        2. boop the first

          Ugh, so cringy. I’m beginning to hate the term “Involuntary Celibacy” when it sounds voluntary as all hell. Is all this supposed to be charming?

          Reply
            1. Close Bracket

              Google incel. Maybe have a drink or three first.

              The term was actually coined by a queer woman after some guy she didn’t even know used her as his unpaid therapist. Instead of being pissed off at this, she had empathy for the guy and started a website for people with romantic problems. Google “origin of incel queer woman” for some good articles.

              Reply
      3. stitchinthyme

        Yup, this is exactly what I said in a comment above. It’s just another way that men exclude women and discount their voices and opinions.

        The geeky sister group The Doubleclicks have a great song about this; it’s called “Nothing to Prove”. I highly recommend giving it a listen (it’s easy to find via Google). They made a music video using many photos from women who’ve experienced similar reactions from men.

        Reply
    2. Pebbles

      “How many Norwegians have ever played in the NHL? Name them. Well?”

      (At the time that I wrote my short essay for my Norwegian language class there have been 5. Now there’s been 8. Mats Zuccarello, Espen Knutsen, Patrick Thoresen, Andreas Martinsen, Ole-Kristian Tollefsen, Jonas Holøs, Anders Myrvold, Bjørne Skaare)

      Seriously though OP, don’t play this game. It gets old fast.

      Reply
    3. Specialk9

      “Oh hey we’re apparently playing the Pop Quiz of Misogyny. So let’s start with you. Why do you hate smart women so much? It is smart women, right, not all women?”

      Reply
    4. epi

      It’s interesting that there are multiple women here reporting this from history specifically! (I count three of us so far.)

      I get the impression that misperceptions of what it means to study history (“names and dates”!) are so widespread, even many hobbyists believe them. I met many male history buffs who meant by that that they enjoyed reading general audience military history books (often by journalists or other non-historians) and memorizing trivia. There is nothing wrong with that as a hobby but it is very different from what people mean when they say they study history or are a historian. And it really lends itself to quizzing because even if the person isn’t trying to be rude, this is what hobby history is.

      I actually experience that behavior less now in science even though it is less stereotypically feminine. I meet a lot of men in tech and when they realize we really do not do the same type of programming, they either switch to more general discussion of our work or we kind of mutually change the subject. There is no cancer epidemiology hobby so I never meet people who imagine they are in a position to quiz me.

      Reply
    5. Smarty Boots

      Of course, the best is when you actually know more than bozo-the-quizzer and answer his questions with infinite patience tinged with a tone of “why are you asking me such simple and superficial questions?” Always good to put an end to the quizzing with, “whelp, I’ve got to get back to work, but if you’re really interested in this topic there’s a good basic overview I can recommend. “

      Heheheheh

      Reply
      1. Tiara Wearing Princess

        I didn’t realize this was a “thing” until I read this letter. I grew up in Metro Boston. Huge Red Sox fan. While living in NY, while watching a Yankees/Mets World Series game, my son’s little league coach asked me if I could name the starting line up of the ‘67 Red Sox team. I named them all (except for catcher Elston Howard) AND provided their jersey numbers. He looked so disappointed.

        And here I just thought he was a singular jackass.

        Reply
    6. RandomLibrarian

      I’ve been looking for a good occasion to share this story. Recently I was reviewing some material on noted naturalist, photographer, and author Gene Stratton Porter. Mentioned in a biography, “On a few occasions male photographers would come up to advise her that if she wanted to take good pictures she should read the articles by G.S. Porter in Recreation Magazine. She told them that she would read the articles never revealing that she actually wrote the articles on photography.” This would likely be around the turn of the last century. Depressing to realize that some things haven’t changed much in 120 years…

      Reply
  18. Snickerdoodle

    Avoiding political discussions at work is problematic enough, but I think the OP has a sexism problem, not a political-discussion problem, otherwise I don’t think the weird quizzing would be happening. As many others have already observed, men quizzing women (especially women younger than they are) about non-girly-interests is very much a sexist thing that happens.

    For example:

    I’m a female ice hockey player, and many men who don’t know me try to quiz me about it, either in a negging way or at least a jerky skeptical way.

    Last spring, I attended a game (watching, not playing) where two men were standing next to me in line on the way to our respective seats when one of them spoke up and said “We see you here a lot, and you always bring a book or something . . . Are you really a fan?” I snarled “Bitch, please; I PLAY ice hockey.” They were very embarrassed and left. The guy on the other side of me heard the whole thing and died laughing.

    (The book, by the way, is to read during intermission.)

    Reply
    1. Oof

      That’s not so unreasonable – I’d be thinking the same exact thing if I saw someone who always brought a book. It would be different if they saw you all the time, without a book, and asked.

      Reply
      1. Pebbles

        Beer is too expensive at the game. I walk around the concourse and talk hockey with friends who have seats elsewhere or work at the arena. Yeah, I’m the season ticket holder, NOT my husband thank you very much.

        Reply
    2. Umvue

      Love your ice hockey story!

      Do men do this to other men, I wonder? I had a sexist coworker that used to do this kind of thing to me — and looked existentially itchy every time I knew something he didn’t — but I had imagined that in his awkward and terrible way he was perhaps treating me the way he’d treat a male coworker he liked, namely, trying to suss out our relative positions on some scale of merit, and that it landed badly because I’m (a) not a man and (b) not particularly interested in competition. But maybe he wouldn’t have done that to a man. It wasn’t possible to tell in our office environment because the rest of the office was unusually quiet.

      Reply
      1. OP

        I love the phrase “existentially itchy!” I have never observed men doing this to other men, but maybe it happens? Perhaps it’s another brand of “locker room talk” that only happens when there aren’t any women around?

        Reply
      2. Indie

        I teach at an all boys school and it is true that they like to knowledge compete with each other much more than I see the same ting happening amongst girls. They are 12 though and are still learning emotional intelligence, like ‘enjoying an interest together is probably a better conversational skill’ which is something they tend to have mastered by sixth form. Also, they tend to do it slightly differently and in a more good humoured way than when I have seen it directed at women. The differences when it tends to be directed at women are:
        1)”Are you a ‘real’ fan/do you ‘really’ like x” (I’ve never seen this common-for-women-to-hear phrasing used on males and the boys bust each other all day long)
        2) “Oh you’re an expert are you? I know nothing about the subject but will nevertheless use logic to destroy you” (My boys tend to stick to subjects they actually know most about and tend to try to ‘teach’ the other person stuff they actually don’t know but are interested in.)
        3) “I will fail to notice that you aren’t enjoying the banter and exchange of facts” (The boys actually do enjoy this and on the occasion someone doesn’t, it’s respected and dropped)
        4) “You’re not allowed to win, girly” (In the situations Ive seen with very young boys, they good-humouredly back down and accept the other person doesn’t care/knows more – this doesn’t happen in the man-splaining dynamic).
        *caveat in that I’m sure there are guys who use this to be jerks to each other as well.

        Reply
  19. Brownie

    I work for an apolitical government agency/dept and there’s a specific policy written for the dept regarding political activities where posting flyers or doing any activities which might be construed as campaigning for a party, candidate, or anything else on the ballot are expressly forbidden. My personal go to is “I can’t talk about that, I have work to do” followed by briskly walking away. If they pester me I end up saying something like “we have conflicting viewpoints, please respect my decisions in this matter and stop trying to convert me.” And if they push farther the end-all is “I’m not going to violate department policy by discussing this with you.” Invoking a breach of policy is usually the end of it because then they know it’s something that could be taken to HR if they press further.

    Reply
  20. stk

    I think this is the first time I’ve disagreed with Alison’s scripts! Every time I’ve seen people like this before, they’ve WANTED to hear that the person they’re bugging is a liberal: it’s like they then get to claim “gotcha!”. (I’ve heard two guys who sound very similar to this literally say “I knew you were a leftie” like they’ve just proved Fermat’s Last Theorem or whatever.) That’s never then gone well for the liberal person on the receiving end of it. So I’d definitely recommend the non-responsive type scripts in the comments; “that’s really boring now, and anyway, I have work to do” would be my personal suggestion. Make it BORING for this guy to bug you.

    Reply
  21. Heshtok

    Ah politics. The Swedish election is this sunday, and you can tell. Coworkers and customers alike chat about it all freaking day. I usually try to change the subject (asking unrelated questions works well). If that doesn’t stop it, a blunt “bah, my head is overflowing, can we talk about something else” said with a smile does the trick.

    Reply
  22. Frea

    What worked for me in a similar situation (stuck in a small office with three men of a different political bent wanting to discuss a national election), what worked for me was actively groaning and saying, “Can we PLEASE not discuss politics here?”

    So they went back to discussing raising chickens. My eyes glazed over but it saved my blood pressure. And now I know loads more than I ever wanted to about cannibalistic chickens, so…yay?

    Reply
      1. OP

        Alas, my manager wasn’t a great source of support on this front (in case you missed the note in Allison’s post, this was a letter she originally answered 4 years ago). While generally an affable, friendly guy, he had one of those right-wing email forwards printed out and posted on his wall (“12 reasons you might live in a country founded by geniuses but run by idiots!”). Once in the course of small talk with him he mentioned his daughter was getting married to a woman that summer, and joked that he wasn’t sure if he was the father of the bride or the groom. I was not yet fully out as queer at work or to my family, so this was particularly uncomfortable for me. It was one of the more technical teams in the agency, and the staff was overwhelmingly older and male. I learned a lot there, both on the technical side and how to handle those kinds of men (who seem to be inevitable in my field), but was very glad to transition to another agency when the summer ended.

        Reply
          1. OP

            True. I’ve been to enough queer weddings, and have had enough of my own and my partner’s family issues to never take this for granted. And yet, it’s sad how low the bar gets set.

            Reply
  23. Technical_Kitty

    I’m not sure you have to be as nice as AAM puts it. OP could try uncomfortable topic changes, changing the topic to something not political but uncomfortable or exclusionary for politics guy. If he knows nothing about cars, then talk carburetors, if he knows nothing about hang gliding or rope know tying, or old typewriters, or cats, or sneakers, or menstrual products, or whatever obscure or weird thing will get them to go the fuck away.

    As another person commented, the extreme political types like to “gotcha” when they find someone on the opposite end of the spectrum. What’s extra icky is that this person is senior and pressing their advantage to be an ass.

    Reply
      1. Argh!

        … and then the nuclear option: talk about your period and how many stores you had to try to find your favorite brand of tampon.

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  24. Courageous cat

    I wouldn’t even say I’m uncomfortable. The best way is to casually address it in the moment. I would say “Ohhhhh no” while laughing and then continue on with “I definitely do not get into politics at work, too dangerous!”

    Reply
  25. Annoyed

    Power/dominance behavior anyone? This male is talking to a (young) woman about SCTOUS cases about birth control/female reproduction? Really?

    OP talk to the intern supervisor at your university. You are being harassed, not necessarily sexual harassment legally speaking, though the BC talk may veer into that area, but definitely harassed.

    Reply
    1. Snickerdoodle

      Ewwww, yeah, I was so annoyed at the quizzing behavior that I didn’t quite register the birth control part. I like the nuclear option of yammering on about birth control since taking it up to eleven tends to shut people up, but I’d be more worried about him continuing to bring it up and/or it backfiring. The OP also mentioned him talking about racially charged issues, which is also something I would never want to discuss at work. Either way, I think looping in a supervisor is a good idea since this guy is abusing the power dynamic and being sexist and gross. I guarantee that’s not limited to the OP.

      Reply
    2. Maya Elena

      This matter aside, you make it sound as though there is no way a man can debate the left-wing position on anything relating to female reproduction – be it abortion or who pays for birth control pills – without it being oppressive to women.

      Reply
      1. Elspeth

        Well, when it’s used as a power play – much older male in supervisory position repeatedly grilling a young, female intern – it is oppressive.

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  26. Maya Elena

    I can sympathize. I’ve worked in a place full of old fogeys with right-wing views who wanted to share them, and my views tend more to the right than yours probably do. But mine might be more nuanced and more centrist, and I might not agree with the more religious or simplistic platforms printed out from right-wing quiz sites. I’ve also been caught receiving unsolicited opinions from younger left-wing fogeys in other contexts.

    My approach is this: stay neutral and don’t engage, but do signal that you disagree. You don’t need to signal the *degree* of your disagreement – it can be a very conciliatory counter-statement, but one that signals “we are not on the same page”. For example, if he insults a left-wing personality, a conciliatory “maybe, but he did a number of good things, like X and Y”. If he brings up an issue you disagree on (I don’t know, universal healthcare), bring up a small counter-point that everyone can agree on. By doing so you not only signal your disagreement; you signal that you are secure in your own views and comfortable in your own skin; you also drop a small seed of counter-point into someone’s mind, which can sometimes take root (even if rarely).

    When he brings up topics that make you uncomfortable, like mascots and birth control, I think a neutral “it could be offensive or troubling to something; maybe we shouldn’t discuss this here” type of response could be good. I don’t think they’re power games unless you get other evidence of power-games actually affecting your career.

    Good luck!

    Reply

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