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How Do I Handle ‘Idiot’ Coworkers?

Dear Bintel Brief,

Some of my male colleagues make tasteless office jokes about women. They focus on something inappropriately sexual in nature, or say they think women should tend house rather than earn a living. This is hard for me to understand — I grew up valuing gender equity, and those values have yet to be challenged like this. I need (and otherwise, enjoy) my job and can’t afford to go looking in this economy. What should I do?


Ariel Levy responds:

Dear Embarrassed,

It would seem to me that in between suffering in silence and looking for a different job than the one you like and already have there is a clear intermediary step: speak up. If your workplace is so loose that male colleagues can get away with making lame, anachronistic jokes then it’s probably also elastic enough to absorb a thinking person like yourself saying “dudes: your jokes suck.” Or, if you have the time and energy, you might go a step further and actually articulate why you think their comments demonstrate a lack of sophistication and a failure to fully comprehend that women are also people. It’s unfortunate that you have to educate a bunch of idiots, but it’s also an opportunity for you to challenge their values.

New Yorker staff writer Ariel Levy has profiled the intersex South African runner Caster Semenya, the fashion designer Marc Jacobs, the director Nora Ephron, and Cindy McCain, wife of former Republican presidential hopeful Senator John McCain. Previously, Levy wrote for New York magazine for more than decade. Her work has been anthologized in “The Best American Essays” and “The Best American Crime Reporting.” Levy is the author of “Female Chauvinist Pigs: Women and the Rise of Raunch Culture” (Free Press, 2005).

If you have a question for the Bintel Brief, email [email protected] Selected letters will be published anonymously. New installments of the Bintel Brief, featuring Ariel Levy, will be published Mondays at

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