DEAR MISS MANNERS: I am in a book club and a happy marriage. Book clubbers often spend a good part of the evening complaining about the men in their lives and the men in the books we've read. They often generalize about how horribly men behave toward them now, and how badly men have treated women in the historical past.
I am uncomfortable with these discussions. Does this mean my consciousness needs to be raised about my own situation, or that I should speak up about their sexism? Or, as common sense dictates, does it mean that I should just quit this club?
GENTLE READER: So, you are happy with your marriage and unhappy with your book club. And your problem is -- which one should you change?
Miss Manners is occasionally asked whether she has ever come across a problem that stumped her. Hitherto, she has not responded, because she wants to be truthful but does not want to appear immodest.
Would you be kind enough to consent to her citing yours?
DEAR MISS MANNERS: I've just found out I am pregnant. Of course, I'm keeping my job, and I'm insulted by people who would presume to ask the question. Men don't get asked that question. In fact, my husband's salary is roughly half of mine, so if anyone were going to stay home, it would be him, not me. How can I answer this very intrusive question?
I'd like people not to make the assumption that I would be the one staying home. Even people who know me and our financial situation quite well (like my sister) have asked this question. What can I say?
GENTLE READER: You can say, "Yes, I'm taking a short maternity leave, and then I'll be back at work."
Miss Manners considers herself alert to nosy questions and to patronizing questions, but neither of these sounds an alarm. What would be both nosy and patronizing would be if people assumed, as you seem to, that spouses rate each other by earning power, and the loser has to stay home with the child.
DEAR MISS MANNERS: While standing in a line for a food special in the cafeteria at lunch (my food was cooking at this point, and I was about a minute from receiving it), I was approached by a young woman in her early 30s who asked what the special was. When I told her, she wrinkled up her nose and said very loudly, "EW!"
I was taught that it is extremely impolite to make unpleasant comments about someone else's food -- even in a purchasing situation. Has the code of manners changed with regard to this issue?
I suspect I'm being overly sensitive, but this kind of behavior drives me wild, and even more so when the perpetrator is an adult. My response was to turn my back on her, but I found the whole thing quite disconcerting. Is there some verbal response that would have been appropriate, or would I simply have been adding to her rudeness?
GENTLE READER: For goodness' sake, of course the code of manners hasn't changed to allow people to spit in other people's food, figuratively or otherwise. But neither has it changed to allow you to snarl back.
What it does allow you to do is exactly what you did do: to turn your back wordlessly on someone who has demonstrated that she does not deserve your attention. Miss Manners assures you that this is a more effective, as well as a more dignified way of registering your displeasure.