Q: My friend, who returned to graduate school last year, was recently in a skiing accident that caused her to miss a week of classes and left her with her leg in a cast.
When she got back, the chairman of her graduate department saw her on crutches and yelled, "So you really did hurt your leg -- I assumed you had a hysterectomy."
How should one deal with buffoons like this man? Please keep in mind that she hopes to get her doctorate from a department headed by this potential Thanksgiving meal.
A: It was a grave mistake for young ladies, in the interests of blending in with such people as you describe, to give up the weapon of being shocked.
Telling someone off for bad behavior is almost equally rude and almost always ineffective, and particularly inadvisable when one's career is at the mercy of the offender. But being shocked is something one cannot help and therefore cannot be categorized as insubordination.
If one takes the trouble to inform this person of the extreme humiliation one feels in hearing a public reference from him to one's sexuality, conceding that one thinks it possible that he is unaware how harassing this is, and suggesting that one consult with his female colleagues to see if one's reaction was out of line, Miss Manners promises you that the complaint will not be considered a sign of weakness.