A reader writes:
I have a weird problem and I don’t know what to do. A group of my coworkers loves discussing murder. Like, they love it. True crime is their favorite form of entertainment. They spend long periods talking about the gruesome details of their “favorite” crimes. (Yes, they have referred to certain rapes, murders, and abductions as their “favorites.”) Recently, they discussed the murder and rape of a six-year-old girl, allegedly by her father. They also love to joke about these crimes and will throw in little one-liners about the killers, the details of the murder, the victims, and the surviving families.
Alison, it makes me sick to my stomach. Not only am I nauseated by the grisly details, but the way they joke so lightly about violence really offends me. The thing is, I have also heard them justify their true crime obsession as a form of feminism, because all of them are women living in a violent and misogynist world. They have also spoken negatively about people who “overreact,” “judge,” and “don’t get it” when they joke about murder.
Would it be prudish of me to ask them to stop? Am I overreacting? Three of them work in the cubicles directly next to and across from me, so I can’t really escape it.
You aren’t overreacting. It’s Ask them to stop.
It’s true that in some cases where you don’t like your coworkers’ topic of conversation, you need to just tune it out and move on (Game of Thrones, juggling, favorite nuts, or whatever). When the topic is relatively innocuous — just not interesting to you — you’ve got to figure that people are allowed to talk to other people about things they find mutually interesting, even if you find them enormous bores.
But some topics are different. At work, sex is one. Violence is another.
Despite true crime podcasts having skyrocketed in popularity, graphic violence is still widely recognized as a topic that many people are uncomfortable with. That means you’re on very solid ground in speaking up. You are not overreacting, and in fact you’ll be pointing out something that really shouldn’t have even needed to be spelled out for them. But since it does…
Try saying something like: “I’ve tried to tune it out, but I really feel sick hearing so much about murder and other violent crimes — especially the grisly details. Can you please hold those conversations for when I’m not around?”
You mentioned that they judge people who don’t “get” their interest. That’s fine. They can judge you! You just need them to stop discussing it around you.
If anyone tries to argue it with you — telling you that you’re overreacting or not being supportive of this as a feminist topic (!?) — you can say, “I don’t want to debate it. You’re welcome to be interested in it yourself! I just don’t want to hear about it while I’m at work.”
And if the conversations drift in a grisly direction after that, you can speak up in the moment and say, “Hey, can you hold this for later? I’d rather not have this in my head.”