Political correctness has paralyzed me! Last night we were at a party. I was excited to meet a slew of new and interesting people. It was a family event at someone’s home so kids were happily racing around, playing Wii, watching videos, etc… Someone asked my husband what he did? “I’m a Pediatrician,” Mark responded. Then I piped up and asked the inquiring man what kind of work he did. He answered with a complex I.T./consulting/mathematical response that left me speechless. Then I looked at his wife and wanted desperately to know what she did “for a living.” But something inside me said, “no. That’s not an okay question to ask.” But I wanted to know. The potential to meet a new friend who might have similar interests, might share a common language, might connect to me at a deeper level was impelling me forward.
“Do you work outside the home?” I thought about asking. But her children were older and of course she worked outside the home at this point in her parenting career. Something must be wrong with her if she didn’t work outside the home I surmised. But I couldn’t be sure. “And what kind of work do you do?” I toyed with asking. This way I could leave her the out to say she chose to volunteer or offered aide at her children’s school instead of punching a clock at some corporate warehouse or laboring menially in a cubicle under fluorescents.
She looked at me inquisitively. She’s probably wanting to ask me the same thing, I mused. Finally I came up with, “So do you exercise?” Why I asked that I have no idea. She smiled genuinely and shared that she was training for the Komen three day breast cancer walk. She walked nearly 20 miles a day she told me. Hmmm? I thought to myself. That takes an awful lot of time. Must not work outside the home. Good thing I didn’t embarrass myself by asking. Later I followed up on a clue she let slip about working with children.Turned out she was a preschool teacher. But by the time I realized that, it was too late to delve into the details.
Throughout the night I found myself in similar situations with numerous women. No one asked me what I did. I asked no one what she did. It was as if we had all signed a tacit agreement upon entering. We will not ask about careers, professions, or achievements because somehow the mere asking about these things suggested some type of judgement. But in failing to ask, I failed to find a path inside these women’s souls. I left at the end of the night feeling as if I hadn’t really met anyone, hadn’t really shared any part of myself, hadn’t really explored or revealed anything to anyone.
Sometimes I wonder if we, as women, miss out on genuine connection because we are working so desperately to avoid offending one another. I have met very few women who actually do nothing all day long. But the delicacy required to inquire about a woman’s daily activities seems almost paralyzing. The fear of insulting or sounding judgmental freezes us and renders us completely inept at conversing. It keeps us locked up inside ourselves and isolated.
Does anyone know the right way to forge ahead in these types of situations?
Debra: This piece is a definitive conversation-starter for our era. Inquisitive and for once, not reductive or filtered through apologia. Hal