Oink Oink: When You Work with Sexist Pigs

Pigs, originally uploaded to Flickr by andjohan.How DO you deal with misogyny in the workplace? Reader J writes about a less than stellar lunch with male coworkers…

My current workplace is relatively gender-balanced, and after a year of working here I haven’t really encountered any overt sexism. However, at a colleague’s small farewell lunch two weeks ago where I was just one of two women, I was unpleasantly surprised. Most of the men (five out of six) started discussing which women in the sales department they’d like to sleep with, joking about planting webcams in the women’s bathroom, responding to advice I suggested about a software problem with “Oh, but you’re a woman, so you don’t know anything about computers, am I right?” (It is a software I use daily and most of them use once or twice every two weeks.) It was a very unpleasant lunch, and I came away with the perception this was par for the course for my co-workers, as they didn’t indicate their conversation was in any way unusual.

I have had similar experiences at a previous workplace where I did an internship.

I am looking to leave my current company for unrelated reasons (there is an iron ceiling into management, and it’s not likely I’ll be able to move up unless someone dies or is fired). As I work in a fairly male-dominated sector I’m worried I will run into this more frequently at my next places of work and as I move up the career ladder.

What is the best way to respond to casual workplace sexism like this? I don’t think running to HR would be very effective, especially when it is so endemic – but I also don’t want to ‘grin and bear it’ and give the impression I approve or think it’s funny.

This is such a great, great question, and I can’t wait to see what the readers say. First, let me just say that this doesn’t sound so “casual” to me — the fact that these men were making these comments knowingly in your presence is shocking, and says a lot about the power dynamics at that lunch and in your sector. I’m also going to assume that everyone at this lunch was, more or less, on the same “level,” and no supervisor was present.  So how DO you handle such sexism in the actual moment? (Pictured above: Pigs, originally uploaded to Flickr by andjohan.)

  • Gently let them know that what they’re saying is sexist, misogynistic, and inappropriate. Look at this as an opportunity to educate these poor, sad men that, in actuality, they’re speaking like pigs.  Then, change the conversation.  I’m sure that they’re all good-hearted saints beneath it all (of course!) and they have no idea that they’re a huge lawsuit waiting to happen.  It could be as simple as “And in non-misogynistic news, how’s Project ___ going?  I heard they were adding two new people to the team.” (or as direct as “Wow, guys, way to be sexist pigs.”)  The key is thus: Don’t get offended or get a chip on your shoulder, but let them know they’re being inappropriate and move on.
  • Get offended. I wouldn’t advise this, but you could get in a huff and really tell these men off.  They will undoubtedly call you overly sensitive, perhaps say that you’re on your period, and ultimately call you a Bitch.  (And, do note: It isn’t a bad thing to be a Bitch — I know a lot of women who pride themselves on being one, sometimes including me — but it does limit the way you’ll be interacting with these gents in the future.)
  • Get away. You don’t have to sit there and listen to it — leave the conversation.  This can be tricky when there’s no one else to talk to.
  • Grin and bear it. Don’t beat yourself up too much if this is ultimately what you end up doing — it can be really hard to summon the courage to say something, even in a joking manner, when you’re being smacked in the face with the fact that you have no power.  But:  don’t forget. These men are not your friends, they are not your allies — they’re pigs.  Maintain a good working relationship with them so you can get what you need from them, and move on at the end of the day.

(If you were the supervisor, don’t hesitate to tell these jerks that they’re being inappropriate.  You’re supervising!  If there was a supervisor present during this lunch, I would have made direct eye contact with him to try to communicate wordlessly my lack of amusement.  Afterwards, I would have spoken to him, and no matter what I would start making a record of exactly what he said at the lunch and in response to your complaint.)  Beyond the actual moment, your options get wider.

a) Talk to HR. I wouldn’t advise this, and you say you’re not inclined to do this, but I thought I’d mention it anyway.

b) Talk to an employment lawyer. You may already have a case for a hostile workplace (I’m just not up on the law enough to know), but I’m not sure I would advise this either, at least at this point — being a plaintiff in a law suit of this kind is unlikely to win you any friends, and will probably affect future job prospects.  But start keeping notes of what was said, and when (including saving any emails or voicemails that are misogynistic).  There may come a time, either when you’ve been passed over for a promotion or just when You Can’t Take It Anymore, that you want to bring suit.

c) Start a networking/support group for women in your niche area. (I’m assuming one doesn’t already exist; if one does, join it!) Whether it’s company-wide or city-wide, this is the perfect kind of impetus to create a networking group for women in your niche area.   All it takes is one or two women at different companies to get the ball rolling; you could even reach out to your alumni groups to see if other women are working locally. This has a few advantages:

- You actually get encouragement and support from your female peers, and perhaps your group can even brainstorm for how to actually change things in the industry (or at least in your area).  At the very least you can educate other women that these kinds of comments are not acceptable, which in and of itself might change things.

- Whether it’s a company-wide or area-wide network, you’ll be better tapped in to new job opportunities (one hopes) than your male colleagues.

- As the founder, you’ll get some exposure and notoriety — everyone in the area will know your name, and it’ll look great on your resume.  People may even start coming to you to say “we have X job open, do you know anyone who might be looking?”

I would send out a few casual emails to see if other women in the area want to get together for drinks.  I’d avoid making the initial email a “call to action” or complaining in any way about your experience — but rather just putting the feeler out to see if people want to get together.  If other people have had similar experiences (and I’m sure they have) then your email will be welcome.

d) Leave the company. Ultimately, I think you’re on the right track by getting out of the company — this misogyny is absolutely something that should be mentioned at your exit interview, and I might even go so far as to write a letter to them so that any woman in the future (who might, say, bring suit) has evidence that the higher ups knew of the problem.

All right, readers, let’s hear it — how would you handle this kind of situation, both in the moment and down the line?

Comments

  1. another anon :

    For sexist (or racist or homophobic) jokes, I find that it is often effective to say that you don’t understand the joke, and will the person who told it please explain? This usually makes the jokester realize that they are being an ass and it is kind of fun to watch them fumble around trying to come up with an explanation.

    But the webcam comment seems super creepy to me, and I might be inclined to call someone out more directly for something like that.

    • SF Bay Associate :

      Upon reading the webcam comment, I gasped loudly enough that my next-door office mate asked if everything was ok.

      I have no particular insights, but sending yourself an email memorializing a sexist incident right after it happened seems like a good idea. At the very least, you can hand over the stack of personal incident reports in your exit interview. Squeezing your hand in solidarity and support, Reader J.

    • Woman of Color :

      I find the “can you please explain” method super effective. I said it to a partner once when he didn’t realize I was standing behind him when he made a “joke” about slavery. The red-faced back pedaling he did when I asked him to explain was priceless.

    • This is excellent advice and appropriate even for the webcam comment, I think. If I were there, I would have put on my most stern expression and asked, very matter-of-fact, “Why would you want to put a webcam in the women’s restroom?” and then stared straight at the guy until he answered. If he evaded the question, I would press it at least once, “No, really, tell us, why exactly you want to install a webcam in the women’s restroom at this office?” There’s no way his answer would come off anything other than immature and crass, no matter what he said, and even if he evaded it the point would be clear: he’s unprofessional.

      Men who act that way are not powerful in any real sense so don’t let them upset you. Hold up a mirror and make them confront their behavior for what it is. Or ignore and focus your energy on what matters. At the end of the day an immature comment is an immature comment.

      • I agree. I have to DEAL with this alot at work and in the subway. So many MEN look at me as a sexuel object, and OBJECTIFY me b/c I am so pretty and smart.

        If I were not smart and a JD, they would NOT care, but b/c I have a law degree and am a WOMAN and am smart, and am pretty, they ALL think they can objectify me.

        The manageing partner at LEAST keeps his hands to himself, and that is a GOOD thing, b/c he is MARRIED.

        But the others, in my building and at the healthclub and on the subway, like to say and do strange things, and it is ONLY b/c of who I am.

        I say FOOEY on those people. FOOEY!

        • YES! She’s back!

        • Renaye Brown :

          Trust me, it’s not just because you’re attractive, smart and have an analytical mind that you are being targeted. It happens to fat, not-so-smart women without degrees all of the time! It’s a preemptive strategy that men deploy against women of all classes, education levels and varying degrees of ugliness to knock-out beauty. These guys don’t care. It is NOT you. It is them.

    • This is great advice. Unfortunately, like many of the other Corporettes, I will get an opportunity to use it sooner than later. I’m with y’all – creeped out by the bathroom comment.

      Reader J, I wish you good luck as you find yourself a new job. And I like the advice about joining or starting a networking group.

    • +1 for this response tactic. I love it. It’s my favorite because it’s empowering without being overbearing – it takes the awkward situation off your shoulders and places it squarely back on theirs (where it belongs) and the “play dumb” aspect will allow you to be friendly later where getting in their face would label you a bitch for sure. It really is like you’re just holding up a mirror for them to see what they’re saying. I wonder if a slight “playing along” would do the same thing. It’d probably read a bit more snarky but since that’s my style I might risk it in a group of peers. Something like “Oh webcams in the women’s bathroom is a great idea! But why stop there. Let’s put them in the men’s bathrooms as well. What fun!” – accomplishes a similar goal of embarrassing them by pointing out how ridiculous and unprofessional they’re being without calling them out aggressively.

      On a serious note, reading this shows me how lucky I am to have never experienced such in-your-face sexism in my short career. Wish I (we) could be there to tackle this with you!

    • Good suggestion. My favorite is to ask “did you really just say that?” It’s a way of calling them on it while not blowing up.

      • girl in the stix :

        I always ask “do you eat with that mouth?” or something similar, to slimy or off-color comments. And, when appropriate, ask if this is how they would like their mothers, daughters, wives or sisters to be treated.

        • Amelia Bedelia :

          I don’t care for the sister/mother comment as well. I don’t want to be seen as a family member. Instead, I want to be a valued peer and have them know this topic of conversation is generally unprofessional no matter who is present.

          Not snarky toward you, just another thought.

          • I find the mother/sister idea problematic because it argues for a woman’s worth based on her relationship to a man, but it does seem to be effective, mainly because these types of guys only value women based on their relationship to men, unfortunately.

    • Word. “I’m sorry, I don’t understand why your comment is funny. Could you please explain?” works every. single. time.

  2. Diana Barry :

    Wow, that is awful! I like another anon’s suggestions above. I think that if this happens more than once, it’s definitely grounds for going to HR and probably looking for a new job. I have to say I haven’t encountered anything this obvious…is this a particular male-dominated field that tends to be more sexist?

    And for laughs, check out Feminist Ryan Gosling:
    http://feministryangosling.tumblr.com/

  3. Anonymous :

    I like another anon’s advice too, though knowing myself, I don’t know that I could pull it off. I’d be much more likely to be the Bitch Kat describes. I just can’t keep my mouth shut when I see misogyny or any kind of oppression really.

    Anyone have advice for this more subtle situation? In my particular niche (not specific to my office), there’s a weekly pick-up basketball game that’s been going on for decades, and of course, it’s only men who play. It would be a great networking opportunity, but it’s one that’s clearly only open to men — and besides, I’m not good at basketball, nor do I enjoy it. I’m junior and not very well connected, so I have no clue about how I’d start something for the women. Thoughts?

    • A lot of wine shops have tastings one night a week. It’s typically a sip or two of four different kinds of wine, so not enough to worry about getting soused on. If there is one near your work, you could invite a work friend or two, and then anyone you saw when leaving. It would probably take a few weeks of regular attendance to build up a crowd though

    • Start a women’s pick up game. I can understand why they might not want women and men playing together (sports are usually separated by gender), but there’s no reason why women and men can’t play separately but on the same night. I’m sure plenty of women would be happy to join.

    • Softball. I don’t play, but from my experience, it’s coed friendly and people really get into it. You have to make sure there’s a league of some kind you could join, but most areas have casual softball leagues. Or kickball! (no skills required ;))

      • volleyball! totally coed appropriate.

        • Stephmeister :

          Soccer works well for Coed teams – AND our local park and rec has several (3) levels (Howard County MD) – I have hung up my cleats for a good while, when I was 44 and had a bunion develop. I’m still not convinced it’s “for good” I played with a group of friends with my partner, and several of the teams we played were affiliated with employment. Lots of fun.

  4. As someone who has worked in a male-dominated industry for a long time, I can tell you that no matter how much ‘anti-harassment training’ and ‘corporate compliance’ training and so on that goes on, this sort of stuff is practically tattooed onto the corporate DNA and guys in these sorts of places basically can’t see or hear what they are doing. And my experiences have shown me that even when women have the same technical backgrounds and certifications, they are never seen as ‘equal’ or ‘as good as’ – every female engineer I ever knew left our company because she was not taken seriously, got all the crappy jobs, never got promoted, and was treated badly by male co-workers. Your choice is to stay (which means that you end up becoming deaf to it because otherwise, you will get the reputation as a trouble maker, believe me), or to leave. You would think that after so many women in the workplace, that things would be better but frankly they are not and there is part of me that feels that men do this as their way of getting back at women who are, in their minds, taking ‘their’ spots in business – it is a way for them to humiliate women and make women feel powerless.

  5. karenpadi :

    I would leave the company. Really. It’s all you can do.

    In the meantime, I’d try to limit my interaction with the misogynists and when you are around them, use body language to make it clear you aren’t going to put up with these behaviors. Sit across a table. Don’t invite them into your office. Don’t go to his office. Use email and telephone calls. When he says something inappropriate, look straight in his eyes and don’t say one word. Let him resume the conversation after an uncomfortable silence.

    If you have a male colleague who is sympathetic to you, ask them to mention to the offenders that they really are being offensive and to explain which behaviors, specifically, are offensive. As stupid as it sounds, some guys don’t realize that they are being offensive. They think ranking the women in the sales department based on looks is a compliment to the women of the sales department.

    When you leave, I’d casually mention the offensive behaviors to HR, the partner you mostly work for, or someone else in a position of authority. Make it clear that you aren’t looking to sue the firm but that it was a factor in your decision to leave. I left a firm as part of a group of about 7 women who left within 3 months. Each of us brought up these behaviors and something was eventually done about it–the worst offenders were asked to leave and then forced to leave. Now they are much less tolerant of “harmless teasing”.

  6. I really appreciate that this letter and Kat’s response both take seriously that sexism and misogyny at work are still an issue. I often feel that a “post-feminist” era basically means that it’s just so uncool to be the woman who calls men out–or even recognizes it–when they are creating a hostile work environment. Or heck, a hostile any kind of environment.

    This is related to my 2 cents as to what to do: I often think that situations like this, with the comments being so incredibly blatant, are the result of a long pre-existing pattern of women abandoning each other. The offenders learn that they will not be held accountable, even subtly, and so the comments escalate. My bitterest memories in this regard are of being very obviously sexually harassed by older men, in work contexts, and having senior women look on and do absolutely nothing about it. Even an unsmiling stare would have been appreciated. But nothing.

    I think whenever any woman is being insulted in sexist terms, whether or not she is in the room, colleagues (male too) should care. Don’t decide that it isn’t your problem. I think the unamused look, failure to laugh, vague comment of incomprehension (“I’m sorry–what?” or “I don’t really get it, but whatever”) are compromises between making a scene and seeming to be going along with it. As for being perceived as a b*tch, well, these are obviously people who hold you in very low esteem already.

    • I can’t tell if you support the “unamused look, failure to laugh, vague comment of comprehension” responses as good / standing up for others or bad / weak compromises that don’t help? (Or maybe OK/better than nothing?)

      I’m personally likely to fall on one of those responses b/c precisely because I would have a hard time going along with something really offensive, but it would also pain me to cause a scene – just not in my nature.

      • I meant to suggest that these are generally helpful responses, and definitely better than nothing. I’m a fairly forthright person, but I have never caused a scene either–it just hasn’t been politically feasible for me in any of the instances that called for it. (When I get to the age/career phase of wearing a raspberry or cobalt pant suit, look out fools.)

        I’m saying this is one practical way to handle it, and I have noticed and appreciated it when others have done things along these lines as well. I had a friend who once responded to someone saying derogatorily “that’s so gay” by acting confused and then saying, as if to clarify, “oh, I see. You’re using ‘gay’ as a pejorative label to indicate something you don’t like.”

        • “Act confused and then say, as if to clarify, ‘oh, I see. You’re using ‘gay’ as a pejorative label to indicate something you don’t like.’”

          I am SO putting this in the memory bank to pull out at the appropriate time. Love.

          Sunday at a friend’s baby shower I got into an argument with a man who was sure that women make $.70 to every man’s $1 because of their “life choices” and that sexism in the workplace doesn’t exist. Oh and that as a white male he gets discriminated against regularly. <>

          • What a terribly inappropriate place to be having that conversation! “So you know this baby you’re having? It’s the reason women make less than men. Just so you know my position on your pregnancy.”

          • I had a boyfriend that once complained to me about how stupid affirmative action was. I want to say “oh, you poor white boy. You went to college on your parents’ money, with their complete support, had lots of fantastic opportunities that you took advantage of in college and didn’t get that one position you tried for. Life must be so hard for you.” He just had no clue about how good he had it, despite the fact that someone else got one of his toys.

          • Anonymous :

            I wholeheartedly agree that the man you encountered was being ridiculous, and I’ve been amazed at how many WOMEN adopt the same attitude — we get paid so much less because we are: a) not assertive in asking for raises, b) too family- or relationship-focused, or c) ___ [fill in the blank]. It’s time for women to support other women and stop making excuses for institutionalized sexism.

    • spacegeek :

      I so agree with this! You can’t decide it isn’t your problem–it is our responsibility and dare I say duty to look out for one another! Even if it means causing the attention to turn towards oneself!! Standing by without saying something–accessory to the crime or something like that? Isn’t that what happened in WWII?

      Remember that there are those to frightened to speak for themselves. Those of us with a voice must take care of those who do not. Would you allow your sister/mother/daughter be talked to that way? If you have to, make it personal. But DO something!

  7. As an employment lawyer (and defense side, not a plaintiff’s attorney), I advise my friends to have a confidential discussion with HR. The key is – ask for it to be confidential. Now, during the course of an investigation, it may become apparent who has complained …. but the fact is that these pigs are probably pigs around everyone. Personally, I think it’s incumbent on more senior women in the office to raise a red flag. If as an attorney or accountant or otherwise in a professional position you’re uncomfortable – imagine how much more uncomfortable a secretary or paralegal would be.

    • That’s a really good point about secretaries and paralegals.

    • I think when you say “ask for it to be confidential” you mean ask for it to be an anonymous complaint. To keep it confidential would mean HR can’t tell anyone about the complaint or investigate it, but they are obligated to investigate once they are on notice. On the other hand, an anonymous complaint can hopefully be investigated without revealing to any witnesses the identity of the person who complained.

    • Anonforthis :

      After MONTHS of listening to racist, homophobic, sexist comments (I am talking the “N word”! daily!!!!), asking a female colleague “when she was going to bear her husband some children”, etc, I finally decided I needed to say something more direct.

      My “confidential” discussion with HR got me pulled into the COO’s office two days later, where he asked ME to resign, saying I wasn’t a “good fit”. I refused to resign, made them fire me, and lawyered up. I had plenty of good performance reviews and they paid me to go away. The COO was fired shortly thereafter for “handling the situation poorly.”

      WORST. TERRIBLE. HEDGE FUND TRADERS EVER (I should have known being the only woman on a small trading floor was a terrible call….

      You can’t change the culture. You can only change whether you work there. Seriously. This is so sad and defeatist, but the best advice is to stay far away until you get a new job.

  8. I’m in my 40s so I’ve seen and heard plenty of this in my career. Let me just say that the men I’ve worked with who have acended to positions of real power are NOT these guys.

    I know it doesn’t feel better in the moment.

    I am senior enough and established enough at this point that I can say, lightly, “you guys are disgusting,” and it will generally move the conversation in another direction. But I am not fooling myself – I know they talk this way when it’s just them, and they certainly think this way all the time. It’s just gross.

    • Houndstooth :

      I think the comment “you guys are disgusting” is appropriate regardless of seniority or position and I’ve seen it (or something akin to it) used successfully by women of all ages/levels.

  9. I realize that not everyone wants to bring a lawsuit or complain, or wants to see themselves as a complainer. So I don’t judge just quietly keeping your head low and focused on getting out. That said, you should start treating this as if you are considering taking action.

    I would document absolutely everything. Start a sexual harassment journal. Write down the dates and times, who was in the room, the purpose of the gathering (informal chatter in the kitchen, banter in the elavator after a meeting, etc) and who said what. Also write down anyone you told about this, even if it’s just a friend who doesn’t work there. Do it as contemporaneously and as detailed as possible. If its in an email or document, print it out or photocopy it and save it.

    You don’t know how long you will be stuck working there, and you don’t know if it could escalate, further target you, or otherwise push you to a point where you need to take more serious action.

    Finally, I wholeheartedly ditto the suggestion to send a letter after leaving the company. Send it to HR and a couple key managers, like the people supervising the jerks. That letter will be discoverable if there’s a lawsuit, and could be a huge help to the next women that work there. Keep a copy for yourself so if you ever hear of a lawsuit against them, you can send it to the plaintiff’s lawyer.

    Also, I would not be so quick to dismiss the sexual innuendo as unrelated to the iron ceiling there. Seems like two sides of the same coin if you ask me.

    I’m very sorry you have to work with jerksl ike this.

  10. One of the worst things I have dealt with since being in the working world for the past eight years, is sexism from men. I have only encountered it really badly in a couple isolated incidents but man is it nasty. I have a coworker at my law firm who is only about 4 or five years older. I have worked here in some form (as a paralegal and then later when i got a couple years into law school, as a law clerk). When i was a paralegal and had a cubicle, he was always so nice and pleasant. One day my boss gave me my first law clerk assignment, which was to help this associate with a motion. That same week, because we have a ton of extra space in this building, my boss said I could move to one of the offices if I wanted to. Maybe it is pure coincidence, but this guy immediately started being a huge jerk to me, being condescending as heck, talking down to me and being extremely disrespectful in general for the subsequent weeks. He also just HAPPENED to have this sudden urge to change to a bigger office from the one he was in, too. After 2 to 3 months of that, I didn’t know what to do, or if as a law clerk I was in a position to say anything to him directly. I told the HR person about it and she spoke to him and it suddenly stopped, although he never apologized or anything. What a coward! I just can’t’ believe a man could be so threatened, and so severely, just over something so small. He much preferred me as a paralegal in the little cubicle down the hall.

  11. benevolent sexism/ageism :

    Regarding the blatant sexism mentioned in the post, I’ve found it helpful to just say, “WOW, too far, way to REALLY cross the line!” As I’m not senior at all, this is usually in a semi-joking tone, but just enough to get the point across that, hey, not everyone wants to hear what you just said.
    On another note, a post on Forbes resonated with me recently, about a store owner not wanting to allow a pregnant woman to buy cheese (since it’s still thought that all cheese is harmful and she clearly couldn’t think for herself, ugh). It’s the mentality that women are too fragile or dumb to help themselves, so people (not just men) feel the need to “help” them. I’ve seen this with young people too, particularly in my office. At a recent convention, a newly-acquainted superior actually covered my ears, LITERALLY, while saying some offensive phrase. Definitely shocked by that, and unsure how to handle these types of things. I’d almost say this “helpful” behavior is more harmful, since no one is really going to call someone else out for being “nice”.
    Anyways, I’m really interested to see these comments from more senior women. As a young female in a male-dominated industry, I’ve got a lot of learning to do!

    • When I was pregnant the manager of a Haagen-Dazs store refused to sell me a scoop of Bailey’s ice cream! He asked if my husband (who was no where in sight) knew I was having that!

      • Holy crap. I would have lost my sh!t at him. Then I would have complained to every source imaginable and damaged his business as much as I could. What an ass.

      • The exact same thing happened to me at Haagen Dazs. Only it was the 16 yr old server. And rum & raisin flavor. I really lost my cool then.

    • I must say I would have resorted to; “touch me like that again and you’ll lose that hand”. More adult might be something along the lines of “if it’s that offensive/private maybe this is the wrong forum”

    • Bursting out :

      Ugh. Yeah, a restaurant server balked at pouring me a half-cup of coffee. “But it’s regular [not decaf],” he insisted several times in the face of my repeated requests for a refill.

    • This I find a little odd. The cheese is over the line, but what about serving a pregnant woman booze? When I waited tables pre-law school, I refused service to a handful of obviously pregnant women. Most of them were fine about it, but I distinctly remember one who got in our manager’s face. He stood by me, as we could obviously refuse service to anyone. I thought (and still do think) that I made the right call. Do you all disagree?

      • Are you a doctor?

        • No, but as someone who served alcohol, I got to decide who I served. I also wouldn’t serve an obviously intoxicated person. The women all had the option of trying to order from a bartender, or drinking in their own homes or a different establishment. It wasn’t out of judgment or trying to patronize these women, it was just something I wasn’t comfortable with.

          • Do you exercise your option to decide who to serve when the customer is NOT someone who is obviously intoxicated or a pregnant woman? Do you realize that by lumping those two groups together you are essentially saying a pregnant is as capable of making a sensible decision for herself as an intoxicated person. Have you ever decided to refuse service to anyone who made a racist or a homophobic remark in your bar? Like it or not, you were being judgmental when you decide not to serve those women just because you were not comfortable with it. If it wasn’t going to cause *you* any harm, you should have just done your job. By the way, when my friend was past her due date by two weeks, her doctor actually suggested that a glass of red wine would be a good thing.

          • another anon :

            If you are not _that woman’s doctor_, then it is none of your business whether she is drinking alcohol. Period. There is basically no evidence that moderate drinking has any negative effects, especially in the later stages of pregnancy, when you would be able to say that someone was “obviously pregnant.” And don’t even get me started on the caffiene, cheese, etc.

            Also, you are incorrect that you are allowed to refuse service to anyone. For example, in the US at least, you could not refuse service to all black people, or to all Jewish people. I am not sure what the law is law re: pregnant women in particular, but I think a pretty strong argument to be made that you refused service based on gender, and that’s not OK.

          • Rawr – You’re not a medical professional, so you shouldn’t be intervening in someone’s personal choices. Do you ask people if they’re a diabetic before you serve them dessert?

            I can see refusing service to any individual clearly out to get hammered. There are liability issues for you and the restaurant. So one or two drinks, mind you business. 2+ use common sense.

            and to another anon In several states you have the right to refuse service to people where alcohol is concerned (and if intoxicated refuse all service).

          • You were out of line. Completely.

          • If we’re having a “yay choices!” discussion (“let pregnant women decide what goes into their bodies,” a sentiment I completely agree with), why not let servers have a choice as well? I was uncomfortable with it and I made a choice: I will not serve them.

          • Rawr, FWIW – I’m totally with you on this one!

          • PittsburghAnon :

            I guess you and the pharmacists who refuse to dispense birth control because they don’t believe they have to do their job if their personal judgements about the customer disagree with what they are supposed to do are good buddies, then.

      • I strongly disagree. And when I worked as a waitress, I did serve at least one visibly pregnant woman.

        It comes down to two words for me: trust women.

        • Is a waitress supposed to trust a intoxicated, non-pregnant woman who requests her 6th glass of wine? No.

          And I’m not trying to lump pregnant women together with intoxicated patrons, but those are the only groups of people that I ever refused service. Obviously, these women are free to make whatever choices they want. What it came down to for me was that these women could do whatever they want with their bodies, just that I was not going to play a part in it. I never lectured anyone, it was just a simple “I’m sorry, but I’m not comfortable serving you, you can try ordering a drink at the bar.”

          There’s a degree of paternalism involved in any choice to serve someone alcohol (are you of age? is your ID fake? have you had too much? are you ordering for someone else who is underage/intoxicated?). And no, I’m not these women’s doctor, so how could I tell the difference between a woman who was recommended a glass of wine versus the negligent mother-to-be who didn’t care? I didn’t want to make that judgment call, so as opposed to serving all pregnant women, I served none of them.

          • Rawr, you asked this community if they thought you made the right call and you got a very clear answer. It’s fine if you want to ignore it and reserve the right to make discriminatory choices ,but please don’t insist on saying you are not being judgmental because that’s exactly what you are doing. If you really believe in this principle, you should start refusing to serve fries or other junk food to any patrons that you decide need to cut down their weight because heaven forbid that you play any part in them putting anything in their body that could hurt their health.

        • I smoked when I was pregnant. The pregnancy was unplanned and I tried really hard to quit. I tried acupuncture and hypnosis and cold turkey. The guilt was terrible. Adding to that were the arrogant boors who actually berated me for smoking. As if I didn’t know any better. I was finally able to stop with medication, thankfully. But, honestly, people need to stop telling other people how to live their lives. Fix yourself, unless you are perfect.

          • Agree. My mother smoked when my brother was a baby (not during the pregnancy). I was about 6. I distinctly remembering being out with her and having women (always women) come over and berate her, or yell at her from across teh street, for smoking near a child. I’m not saying smoking near a new born is optimal behavior, but she was a rock star mom in every possible way, and still is, and those women’s criticism was much more jarring to me, as a 6 year old, than the fact that my mom was smoking.

      • Unpopular :

        I’ll be the one to agree with you and suffer the wrath of some very angry anons. While I didn’t make the same choice personally when I waitressed, I knew it was an option. You can also refuse service to the barely dressed (no shirt, no shoes, no service). How judgmental!
        Doctors aren’t forced to perform abortions, lawyers (not counting those in government) don’t have to take every client that walks into their office. Lots of jobs have an element of professional judgment. While its true that yes, its judgmental, I wouldn’t put it so much as “Pregnant women can’t make good decisions,” as I would say “I don’t want to play a part in what I think probably isn’t a good decision.” Rawr, I don’t necessarily agree with you, but I support your decision.

        The ice cream is ridiculous though, both refusing to serve and the comment. I doubt that stuff even has any real alcohol content, you don’t even have to be 21 to buy it.

        • Unpopular :

          To clarify, if I were concerned I probably would have asked another server to bring them their drinks. That way my conscience is clear and I don’t have to have any discussion with the customer about it. But I can see how even that might make someone uncomfortable, and I don’t think its wrong to direct them to the bar if you’re feeling icky about it. I would send the whole table, though, and not single out the pregnant women.

          • oneoftheangryanons :

            I actually agree with you Unpopular – you suggest a wise and mature option…. and it is in line with the analogy you use about doctors and lawyers. *You* personally don’t have to serve a pregnant woman but asking another server or sending them to the bar seems acceptable. You are making a choice about serving, not a medical call. Just like a doctor or a lawyer may refuse to take on a patient or a case personally but they will usually refer them to someone else who will, not try to prevent the person from getting the medical or legal service they want.

          • TheOtherS :

            I would err on the side of serving, or as a business owner keeping the refusal to serve in line with legal requirements – age, dry counties, Sunday exceptions, people approaching incapacitation.

            What would you do if the person you refused to serve was NOT pregnant? Would you ask if they were pregnant? Why? Would you ask if they were taking prescription medication that is not supposed to interact with alcohol? If you give anyone else – who is not visibly pregnant – the benefit of the doubt

            Really, if her DOCTOR says it’s ok to have a drink…unless you are requiring medical releases from all patrons, you’re setting your employer up for a lawsuit, IMHO. There is paternalism and I’m forgetting the phrase for patronizing chivalry/presuming on behalf of a female. And I’m not talking about serving someone who is intoxicated, to be clear.

        • BTW, I have never been pregnant, but I have a belly if I don’t take a cortisol inhibitor. Some women may look 6 months pregnant, but are not pregnant. It’s always best to keep judgement to oneself. No one like judgmental folk.

      • Refusing to serve pregnant women booze? Are you out of your mind? First, you’re a waitress, far from a doctor. And second it’s her body, her kid, her life, and her right to dispose of all of them. Totally out of line. Next time, concentrate on not serving men who’re getting in a state to do serious harm to others, that’ll be a whole lot more socially productive if that was the aim..

      • Renaye Brown :

        Hmmm, this one’s a little tricky. Making decisions for other adults who are not in an altered state seems risky. A lot of women find it easy to stop drinking altogether when they get pregnant. But many emotionally healthy women like a short glass late in pregnancy every now and then. Making that decision for them seems, at first blush, patronizing or even unfantilizing.

    • I once received a very uncomfortable shoulder massage from a customer representative of all people. It was a very stressful day and he was trying ‘to help me relax’. It was in front of several other people I work with (both senior and junior) so I said, “Excuse me? Please stop the inappropriate touching!”. I was very angry and he did apologize the next day.

      I have a very strict ‘no touching’ rule at work because of situations like that. For the 8 years I’ve been in the industry, creepy men are always trying to find ways to put their hands on me. You just have to say NO!

  12. This depends entirely on context and your relationship with your co-workers, but I have been in similar situations where hearing this kind of talk actually means you’re being treated like “one of the guys” — ironically, it’s the exact opposite of sexism. Men give each other shit. It’s how they relate. If they’re shit-talking you, it means they relate to you.

    If that is the case, your job is to give them shit in a way that still reminds them that they are technically over the line. The bathroom cameras — my response would be, “oooh, good idea, I’ll check with HR about installing them in the men’s bathroom too, since we’re equal-opportunity around here.” The girls-don’t-do-computers comment — “good to know you’re the master on that one. I won’t have to help you next time you boys can’t figure it out.” Which women they’d like to sleep with — “you know HR has a policy about reporting employee relationships, right? Oh, you’ve never had to use it? What, couldn’t get anyone around here to sleep with you?” Big sassy smile on your face — this is key.

    I have used this tactic repeatedly in the past, and I think it’s very effective at reminding the of the rules while not sounding like some nagging feminist harpy. Also keep in mind that your long-term goal is to advance your career, and to get women in general on the same footing as men. We’ve all heard the advice about finding a “sponsor.” Face it, those people will usually be male, and it’s a lot easier to form a relationship with someone like that if you show that you can relate to them on their terms, keep a sense of humor, and feel comfortable challenging your co-workers and superiors with good grace.

    Unfortunately, that’s not bright-line guidance, and it depends on you reading your co-workers. When it counts, do they treat you like equals? Rely on you to get important tasks done? Count on your expertise with the software when it comes to actually doing work? If the answer is yes, then I would learn to shit-talk like the boys and move on. But of course, some people really are creepy and condescending, and then it’s time to go to HR.

    • I disagree. I sounded a lot like you 10 yrs ago in my career. Now I realize how harmful that attitude is. People who say offensive things out loud think offensive things (otherwise they’d never even think to say it). How you handle the situation is individual and depends on whether you intend to stay at your job, your position within the company, etc. But to act like words can be shrugged off b/c the guys don’t really mean them…well, I suspect you’ll find out at some point that they actually do mean them.

      • karenpadi :

        This! Thanks Anon! “Boys will be boys” is not acceptable in the workplace (or anywhere else).

        • Anonymous Poser :

          Agreed. Why do we set the bar so low for boys/guys/men in this way? And by “we” I mean society. Sexism leads us to set the bar low for men in some ways, and for women in others, IMO.

        • Agreed. I think one of the most interesting patterns tends to be women saying that these men “don’t realize they’re being offensive.” I think that’s giving them way too much credit. Many of the realize, they just don’t care.

      • Men need to learn to relate to women as much as women need to relate to men. And if women only adapt to act like men (so the men can relate), then the men won’t learn how to react to a women. We aren’t doing anyone any favors by not setting boundaries.

      • I agree with SR. Male s***talking is nothing more than a dominance display you would see in other social animals.

        I’m lucky I’m in science/tech, just as male-dominated, but much nicer, and not in law/finance/econ. (Socially awkward people tend to be nice on the inside.)

        You have to one-up the jerks. You have to snark back at them so they know you’re not a pushover. It helps if you know what their insecurities are too. Of course it’s not “nice” the way that girls are socialized to be, but when has that ever helped you? Hit back. Not literally, but with witty comebacks. None of the advice in the post will work better than a snarky remark.

        Do this frequently enough, and not only will no one ever call you a b****, you’ll have a reputation that precedes you. (Also, it’s easier to scare people when you’ve been programming since you were ten, and have a reputation for scoffing at ignorance.)

        • LadyEnginerd :

          I don’t think that science & tech, in general, are “better” than law/finance. I really think it’s workplace-by-workplace, but that you need to be more wary in a male-dominated industry.

          Also, in science/tech I’ve seen an additional problem – because engineers from other, less woman-friendly cultures can be slotted in fairly easily, and people skills aren’t really expected, you can end up with some very very uncomfortable discussions with people who don’t *understand* why what they say is wrong. Trying to explain *why* something is unacceptable in the US while you’re seething in rage adds another degree of difficulty that I’ve not yet mastered.

          • Reminds me of a former coworker who quit his job after a fruitless complain to my boss that I as a female supervisor should not be allowed to write him up.

    • SR, I was trying to think of how to say the same thing (I would have included a small penis joke as well, though). This is stupid joking, and that’s pretty much how people relate to each other. (Women do it, too, when they talk about men; subject matter is usually different, but the spirit is the same.) Give it back, and you’ll probably get a lot more respect then coming off as someone’s nagging mom. At least, that’s been my experience.

      • A Regular Lurker :

        I think you have to have the personality to pull off joking around with the boys. The kind of lunch described in the post was typical in my previous position (there were really only two pigs, but they managed to shout down nearly everyone else). One of the women in the office was able to joke around with them and seemed to think they were harmless and hilarious, so they LOVED her. If I tried to joke around with them, though, I usually got the “you’re an oversensitive bitch” reaction. (It’s entirely possible that I’m both oversensitive AND a bitch, but I’m not as inclined to be accommodating as they would like to think).

        In the end, I found it less frustrating just to avoid those two clowns as much as possible and to ignore the comments that I found inappropriate (and by ignore, I mean literally pretend they either didn’t just say that or play dumb and pretend the comment didn’t have sexual/sexist overtones). It wasn’t the best strategy – I was kind of ostracized – but I don’t really know what else I could have done.

        I do wonder if marital/relationship status has something to do with it – I am single, as were the guys, and the girl they made friends with was engaged at the time.

        Okay, vent over.

      • A Regular Lurker :

        Sigh. I wrote a long, probably oversharing comment in response to Lyssa about my experiences with this (the gist is basically what Meara said, firing back only works if you’re really fast on your feet; if you’re not, you need some other coping strategy). My comment is presently awaiting moderation and as far as I’m concerned, it can be lost permanently to the Internet, but apologies if it does end up here.

      • *Women do it, too, when they talk about men; subject matter is usually different, but the spirit is the same.*

        True, but how many women do this when men are present, especially work colleagues? Perhaps they joke about men when it’s just women but the conversation is switched if male colleagues join because otherwise male colleagues will be quick to label them silly or gossipy or not-classy. My issue is with this double standard.

      • anonfromabove :

        I am borrowing from karenpadi in one of the posts below: “The fact that its use made SF Girl uncomfortable convinces me that it was used gratuitously.”

        I think most of us can distinguish when a conversation is just easy banter and can be glossed over and when it crosses a line. The fact that the OP was uncomfortable about this discussion is proof enough that her colleagues had crossed a line and needed to be called out.

      • That may work when you don’t want to be seen as the boss. If you want to be seen as the boss (even if its in the future), you have to project authority. Can you see Hillary Clinton making a small penis joke?

    • I do think this kind of thing is awesome in the right situation…and if you can think fast on your feet! Sadly I’d be much more likely to *want* to say something like that and not be able to think of it in time. I’m much more likely to default to the “Wow. Really? …you want to be able to watch women…pee? Or…?”

      • Firing back a biting reply would definitely work and be awesome but what I am reading in the post above is going along and participating in such talk, not necessarily thinking fast and firing back. If I couldn’t come up with a sharp reply right away, I’d much rather go with your default reply than go along and worse, joke back.

      • I think I would reply that maybe we should put a smell camera in the mens bathroom and that way the office will be let out early today. BOOM roasted.

  13. Sounds yucky! I wish you strength.

    If it is casual and from someone relatively powerless, I’ll just say something like “Let’s move on to a more professional topic, shall we?” In general I find it more effective to focus on their lack of professionality than on your offended feelings. Not that it’s fair, but it works better to let the company feel potential pain. I’d also casually mention to someone who is close to their superiors that they seem to lack focus, are too open to distraction and/or you feel embarrassed going to a client with them because they lack interpersonal skill. This can even work when it is someone a bit higher in rank operating on his own. If it is most of the menegement, it is better to look for another job. The key is to let higher ups come to the conclusion that this guy is a loser that costs them money. Once they feel that potential blow to the wallet, they will also be more concerned with the sexism.
    I actually have a few guys like this on my team, but fortunately the boss is normal and I have a good network and better opportunities than they do.

    Sometimes, when it’s mild, I found it useful to simply act like a lady and do my work well. There are some guys who curse and leer in front of some women but not others, there are some guys whe feel uneasy with women and need time to get used to the idea. Again, no it is not fair to have to work harder on a first impression than men, but after a week or two thay have turned around so I consider it to be a good investment. For example there was one guy who on the first day made jokes about women driving badly and a week later told everyone I was good at giving presentations and leadership and would be great for management/sales.

  14. Something else I will add, is pay attention to which men aren’t laughing or who seem excluded from the boys club. Not all men are sexist pigs. My sister and I were discussing this issue a while ago and in both of our experience, men who have daughters who they appear to be proud of and have good relationships with were among the most pro-active in trying to root out sexism in the workplace, even more so than some of the women who have experienced it.

    I also like asking them to explain offensive jokes. I was once told that in problem solving you should always ask “why” at least five times (Why do we have Problem A? Because of B. Why does B happen? etc). This could be an appropriate time to do that if they try to give a “cute” answer.

    • That’s a great point, that a lot of men really are uncomfortable with this stuff as well. I worked recently with a (male, late 20′s) attorney who mentioned a previous job that he had where the “boy’s club” stuff was a real negative to him.

      • Ditto on the daughters. I got pregnant very shortly after joining a very male law firm and was worried about how I would be treated. The first person I told about the pregnancy was my male mentor, who has four girls. He told me point-blank, “I won’t pretend it isn’t harder for mothers than for fathers to make it work at a law firm. But you tell me if anyone gives you any grief. I have four daughters, and if anyone gave my girls any trouble about their family choices, I would hurt them.” I don’t think he was kidding.

      • Ditto on the daughters. I got pregnant very shortly after joining a very male law firm and was worried about how I would be treated. The first person I told about the pregnancy was my male mentor, who has four girls. He told me point-blank, “I won’t pretend it isn’t harder for mothers than for fathers to make it work at a law firm. But you tell me if anyone gives you any grief. I have four daughters, and if anyone gave my girls any trouble about their family choices, I would hurt them.” I don’t think he was kidding.

    • One study showed that when the CEO has a daughter, he moves to close the pay gap at his company. Google ‘Male CEOs with Daughters Treat Women Better’ to see some articles on the topic. While I guess this is a good result, it also saddens me because (1) striving for equality should be important to all of us regardless of our personal experiences and (2) almost all of us have mothers–so why is it that having daughters make all the difference?

      • I have found that men who have daughters tend to make great mentors and bosses. I always thought that maybe I was just more comfortable with these men, since my first business role model was my dad. It’s interesting to see my feeling supported empirically. Here’s the difference between daughters and, say, mothers, in my opinion: a daughter is a blank slate, and a dad (at least my dad) taught me that I could be anything that I wanted to be, do anything I wanted to do. Parents in general are already formed adults – they have habits, careers (maybe) and personalities. Children are yet to be formed and have infinite promise. As a parent, I would hate to think that my child would be limited in her life options because of her gender.

  15. I am curious as to what industry sector this was, and also what region of the country.

    As a plaintiff’s lawyer in employment discrimination law, I thought I had seen and heard everything, but I thought the sort of thing described at this lunch was passe. Maybe I am naive, but I thought most of what is going on in the white collar workplace is more subtle and less overt.

  16. Anonymous :

    My line is, “You shouldn’t be saying/doing that.”
    If the Stupid is ballsy enough to ask why, I reply, “You really need me to explain this to you you? You and I both know that you should not be saying/doing that.”

    Or, if you’re so inclined, you could say, “As if you’d have a chance with her. Dream on. She’s out of your league. Perv cam is the only chance you’d ever have — or are you the water bottle type?”

    YMMV.
    HTH.

    • another anon :

      I’m kind of afraid to ask, but what does “or are you the water bottle type?” mean?

      • I don’t get it either so thank you for asking.

        • I believe but am not certain that she was referring to date rape drugs. I actually likely would also not have understood the water bottle reference if I had not recently read about a (fictional, but I’m sure there’s also a basis for it in real life) crime in which a serial rapist laced his victims’ water bottles with ketamine. I’m more used to the idea of date rape drugs being used to spike victims’ alcoholic beverages, which is why it took me a while to place the water bottle reference.

          • Anonymous :

            If anyone’s reading, one male employee put s’me’n in his coworker’s water bottle several times.

  17. I’m going on a business trip next week to a with several senior men in my organization, 3 of whom don’t work in my office. I overheard my (male) boss telling his (male) colleague a few months ago that one of those men I’ll be travelling with likes to go wild and crazy out on the town, and tends to try to get younger women to sleep with him. I know of two female coworkers who he’s hit on shamelessly, and it is common knowledge that he likes to take everyone out to strip clubs. This man is a billionaire and basically bankrolls our organization, and “reporting” him would only make my superiors rethink sending me on these highly coveted trips. Right now I’m planning on “getting sick” a day before the conference, meaning that I’ll “need” to turn in early each night (and avoid hitting the clubs with these men). However, good connections with these men could mean future promotions or useful networking. Should I make an effort to go out with them and be “one of the guys”, excusing myself if things get out of control, or stay in and risk looking standoffish and lame? I’ll add that I’m the youngest person in my organization and that looks-wise, I highly doubt that I am this man’s “type,” so he may not try to hit on me.

    • I’d join my coworkers for a drink or two (alcoholic or not, your choice) at the bar/club (club club), but personally I’d draw the line at the strip joint visit. I wouldn’t give anyone a lecture – just a simple “Thanks but I’m not into strip clubs! I’ll see you guys in the morning!” with a smile. No need to be a b*tch, but also no need to do something you aren’t comfortable with.

      That being said, I know several women who have no problem going to strip clubs. To each her own. I’m just not one of them. And though I’ve seen several situations where the girls-who-went experienced no negative fallout, I’ve also seen situations where the fallout was not positive (as in, so-and-so went THERE? Really? Raised eyebrows and gossip ensue). It seems very much damned if you do, damned if you don’t, so you should do what YOU are comfortable with because there is a risk of someone taking your choice personally and negatively no matter what.

    • karenpadi :

      I wouldn’t say I’m “getting sick”. I’d just act like it’s normal for you to return to your hotel room after dinner. When he starts making late night plans, just say something like “I enjoyed dinner and I’ll see you tomorrow morning.” If there are several senior men going out, they won’t miss you.

      I would try everything to avoid giving him the impression that you would even consider sleeping with him. I wouldn’t sit or stand next to him (ugh! spontaneous hugs), I’d avoid most eye contact, and I wouldn’t “take the bait” when he starts talking about strip clubs/dancers/etc.

      • Okay, I take issue with paragraph #2 because it starts to sound as if she’s somehow responsible in any way for his lecherous behavior. If he’s notorious for hitting on young women, I doubt anything she does or doesn’t do will keep him from trying his normal wily tricks. In fact, the lack of eye contact might set her up for more attention because it will make her seem like she lacks confidence and is an easy target. Better I think to simply keep it as professional as possible. Be confident but maintain professional distance.

        • karenpadi :

          I’m sorry if I gave that impression. I don’t think any woman is responsible for men acting like slugs.

          In my experience, men who take advantage of a professional relationship to attempt a sexual relationship take even professional courtesies as “encouraging”. You give him an inch, and he will take a mile.

          Also B is traveling with this man. In business travel, the boundaries of professional behavior blur even further. So I would maintain more than a professional distance/err on the side of caution with a known leech.

    • Always a NYer :

      I would go out with everyone for the social aspect but avoid drinking to excess, or drinking at all, because you need to remain in control at all times. If he gives you sh*t about it, tell him you have an ulcer and would rather put up with his ribbing than a bleeding esophagus (sorry if that’s TMI).

      Wanting to be “one of the guys” is understandable but you need to ask yourself if these guys are what you’d like to be like. Other than that, try not to worry yourself about this man. Just make sure all of your work is at top form and if he does hit on you, brush it off like you think he’s joking.

    • only girl as well :

      I’ve been the only female on the all-male trip, and I would not feign illness, as it might preclude you from activities you actually want to do (ie: you meet a client at the conference and want to take them to dinner or something). I second the suggestion to avoid sitting next to or being overly chatty with the overly-flirty male, and just stick with whichever senior member you know most.
      I will say that there are a lot of professional advantages to getting drinks after dinner. I had an uncomfortable-turned-out-great situation where my direct supervisor thought we were all going for drinks in the hotel bar. He and I showed up, but no one else was there. He’s not skeezy at all, but a lone female having a drink with a lone male is generally awkward in my opinion. So, I put my cell phone on the table, along with a notepad, to signify a “business” relationship, and sat opposite him in my business attire. Turns out the head of the company showed up a little later, and the three of us talked strategy for about an hour, without any interruption from colleagues on my level. I got to showcase my knowledge and give input to my higher-ups, while the “boys” were off drinking somewhere else and missing the career opportunity.
      So, as long as it’s not morally offensive or potentially dangerous to you, I’d definitely find a way to spend at least a little time with your senior colleagues on the trip.

      • karenpadi :

        I like the idea to bring a notepad to the bar in these instances. I’ll remember that for future business trips.

    • Its always tricky, but remember its just a job. How you handle a situation will vary with your personality and your situation, but you have to be comfortable with how you live your life and present yourself. Be authentic.

  18. The writer should not be afraid of filing a lawsuit, which she may very well be able to do, based on what she has written. Filing a suit isn’t about “winning friends,” it’s about women’s protections and safety. And, incidentally, it may win you more friends than you think — it seems as though the women in your sales department could use an ally even more than you could!

    • File a lawsuit? For what, bad jokes? I tell this to potential clients all the time – being a jerk is not illegal. You either need to deal with it or find a new job.

  19. As another female worker in a sometimes male-dominated workplace (a gender-equal subsection of a very male-dominated field, basically) I suspect that unfortunately, changing jobs won’t get you away from guys like that. They go into male dominated fields so they can keep their old boys’ club mentality. These days, they keep a lid on it when there are a lot of women around, but as I was warned when I was still in school “you won’t believe the things they say once they get into the men’s room”. I’ve had an employee of the client ask me to do his laundry, another say “I didn’t know women could do that” when I told him my position, racist jokes galore (I’m white, so I guess they feel comfortable saying those things?), comments about how “pretty” I am, etc.

    Usually, in a scene like that most of the men wouldn’t do that on their own and may be uncomfortable. They don’t get a pass from me for getting “peer pressured” into that, but it’s something. In my experience, the men saying those things around women are doing it to see what your reaction is and if you’ll say something. I wouldn’t recommend ignoring it for that reason. I just usually say something like “Wowww, we are really having this conversation, aren’t we?” or just give an obvious unimpressed look to whoever is starting it. Don’t get huffy, but make it obvious you noticed and are not making excuses for them. I’m sure the conversations go on after I’m out of the room, but I doubt the office manager will insist on organizing a game of “Indian Bingo” next Christmas party after I spent a week calling it “Racism Bingo” so at least it’s a more pleasant working environment for me.

    • I doubt the office manager will insist on organizing a game of “Indian Bingo” next Christmas party after I spent a week calling it “Racism Bingo” so at least it’s a more pleasant working environment for me.

      You go girl!

    • LMAO at “racism bingo”!!!

  20. Someone mentioned they couldn’t believe this stuff still happens in a “white-collar” environment? Oh yeah.

    Scenario:

    Lunchtime presentation to a group of attorneys in my office. I am the only woman in the group. Powerpoint show begins. During the powerpoint, the male attorney giving it chooses to use as one of his examples part of a deposition that discusses female genitalia.

    Yup. Couldn’t possibly have been more uncomfortable in that room. I chose to say nothing, just stare at him. Afterwards I spoke to the coordinator of the presentations (a male) and told them that I would please like to pre-screen every.single.presentation from hereon out. They didn’t “get it.” However, so far, every subsequent presentation has been clean.

    We have a lot of group lunches and meetings and the guys frequently banter about “guy stuff.” Totally fine with that. However, there’s a “line” that is just not acceptable to cross. Everyone may think it’s in a different spot. But for me, it’s joking about female anatomy in a grotesque manner while a female is in the room.

    • Anon for this :

      In your example though, was it actually something that occurred in a deposition? If so then it might be more of a “this actually happened” story to keep the attention of the crowd and make a point more than harassing. If it was in fact joking in a grotesque manner than I guess that’s different.

      The worst thing I overheard is one male colleague talking about a female superior. He said “she is so hot I’d eat the peanuts out of her sh*t.” Not much gets to me but I was just so shocked at that comment for some reason.

      • karenpadi :

        I think we can all distinguish when using a potentially offensive exhibit is necessary in a legal context and when it is merely gratuitous. The fact that its use made SF Girl uncomfortable convinces me that it was used gratuitously.

        I could see a borderline case where the offensive exhibit is not necessary but is simply a good (or recent) case study. Then, the presenter should preface the exhibit with an explanation about why that particular exhibit was chosen. The explanation should set a respectful tone–not just a “I want to make sure y’all are still paying attention.”

      • OMG that comment made me physically recoil. Shudder…

      • This is a double whammy – sexual and copraphilia. Why wouldn’t you be shocked.

        Again I am curious what part of the country. I never hear anything like that.

    • Heh. White collar professionals are the worst. I had a male superior (oh hai! my direct superior) ask me if women prefer length or girth.

      I don’t work for that place anymore.

    • How about graphically describing how a woman had been raped and having to sit there and listen? And the guy speaking wasn’t even joking. He was trying to intimidate the hell out of the only two women present.He never specified who, when or where. He just randomly started ‘discussing’ how she had been held down, and gan-raped during a robbery in a room full of other men who also sat there dumbstruck. He could have been talking about anyone.

    • How about graphically describing how a woman had been raped and having to sit there and listen? And the guy speaking wasn’t even joking. He was trying to intimidate the hell out of the only two women present.He never specified who, when or where. He just randomly started ‘discussing’ how she had been held down, and gang-raped during a robbery in a room full of other men who also sat there dumbstruck. He could have been talking about anyone.

  21. Wow, do I feel lucky not having any experience with this. Closest I’ve come is students in intro classes I’ve taught making sexist comments or using race crap to try to piss me off.
    It really sounds likeDon Draper era stuff. Maybe a reference along those lines could help. Good luck!

  22. The comments have been filled with a lot of good advice. I’m taking some notes (unfortunate that I feel like I have to).

    Don’t mean to side-track the discussion, but this bothered me enough that I want to comment about it — Kat, why are you proud of being a “B!tch”? Do you mean a “B!tch” only in the context of a woman who would speak her mind in the face of sexism and hence be labeled one, or do you mean generally speaking, you’re proud to be very aggressive and in-your-face? Because I feel like there really are too many women out there in the more competitive professional fields (well, ok, I’m talking about law, as that is what I have experience with) who really are proud to be b!tches. I hate hate hate that mentality.

    • karenpadi :

      For women who consider “B!tch” a compliment, I think they are referring to the use originated by Tiny Fey and Any Poehler in the skit “B!tch is the new black” about Hilary Clinton’s bid for President in 2008.

      It’s meant to be empowering. It’s about being assertive–not aggressive–in the face of sexism and misogyny. It’s about doing exactly what men do but being labeled a “B!tch” instead of being applauded. It can be in any context where there is conflict, confrontation, or negotiation where a man would be expected to push back but–due to latent sexism–a woman is expected to just accept it.

      Using “B!tch” as a compliment forces us to check our assumptions about how a woman should act. Is she standing up for herself? Would you label a man a “A$$hole” for the same behavior?

  23. I heart Tina :

    Tina Fey says in her book that if someone treated her differently because she was a woman she took a twofold approach. Is this person between me and what I want? If no, ignore. If yes, figure out a way around that person. I love this and that is what I do.

    I just tried to weed out the racists out of my jury pool a few months ago while representing an African Immigrant in a rural white county. Short of “Does anyone know any good black jokes? AH HA!” it was damn near impossible.

    Between those two things, I’ve decided I just ignore people. They won’t change, they will just ignore me. I would rather monitor them and then get ahead then try to let them know they are wrong.

    • Anon for this :

      Someone once advised me a good voir dire question is “what bumper stickers do you have?” You get answers like “if you can’t feed em, don’t breed ‘em,” “@ss, gas, or grass, nobody rides for free,” political leanings, religious affiliations, etc. All sorts of stuff it would be hard to find out otherwise.

  24. What about “gentlemanly” sexism? My work environment is 90% male, and none of them behave like the men described. They seem to respect me and the women in their lives.

    However, they always hold open doors for me to go first, and they refrain from using offensive language in my presence. One colleague wanted to say “a$$hole,” but stopped himself commented “we’re in mixed company, so I won’t say it.” I told him he didn’t need to refrain from saying anything for my benefit. I should probably clarify that I’m in Texas. It’s definitely nothing near harassment, but it is gender discrimination, and I wonder if that will have an impact on the depth of my professional relationships as compared to the relationships male colleagues have with each other.

    • Liz (Europe) :

      E, my experience is that guys easily step past that once they find out you can swear like a sailor too.

    • Are you me?? Also working in Texas. The guys always hold doors for me, even when it’s awkward for both of us. That part I don’t mind so much (there’s only so much time in the day to get my dander up). I find the swearing thing usually takes care of itself if I say, “Oh, no need to mind me, I’m as salty as the rest of them,” “Please, I’ve heard much worse,” or something similar.

    • Lived in TX for 7 years. I gave up being mildly offended at having the door held open for me. I actually grew to enjoy it, and I kinda miss it now that I live in another part of the country. :) It’s just how their momma’s raised them. ;)

      As for the not swearing in mixed company, well, again, that’s more cultural politeness than overt sexism, IMHO. My old boss was a retired air force colonel, and we (he and my counterpart, another woman) all swore up a storm at the office. I think saying things like, “Hey, I enjoy swearing as much as anyone” may help, but I think some men in the South, particularly of a certain age, just can’t bring themselves to swear in front of women. Really, there is a certain amount of old-fashioned gentility in the South that just doesn’t exist anywhere else.

  25. Liz (Europe) :

    Sometimes offence is the best defense. I tend to find dirty jokes just as funny as guys do, but sometimes guys push to see how far they can go.

    Somehow I’ve got a trick that very few people know about: I quickly figure out what a guy’s fears and insecurities are (can’t do it on women though, for some reason). So, if a guy pushes enough, I’ll push back and I’ll make sure to step on an insecurity of his along the way. I’m not sure what tips me off about what the *exact* insecurities of a guy are, but believe me, – while amongst themselves guy may play macho and say all kinds of ugly things and that’s fairly normal – if they’re being unacceptably offensive in *your presence* – they’re doing that to feel superior. And if they’ve got a need to feel superior, there’s a very big insecurity or fear hidden behind that.
    Also, group dynamics are such that if you single out the (next) weakest link in a group, most of the group will happily “point and laugh” with you (not literally of course, but close) in order to establish each of their individual superiorities above that singled out individual. They do it out of fear of being picked out themselves. It’s just like high school, or a chicken farm. In short, one well-aimed comment or especially plausible suggestion at the loudest foul-mouthed jerk, if sufficiently “close to home” for him, can easily briefly turn the whole group on him, and leave you with a very fuzzy warm feeling of justice being served. Downside is that after that public humiliation, they’ll be out to get you.

    On the other hand, the same hit where it hurts tactic can be deployed one-on-one without that risk. Body language will speak volumes when you’ve hit “just the spot” (my favourite is if they blush or stutter). Guys are surprisingly smart like that, and rarely come back for seconds once they’ve realized that you know exactly how to hurt them, and they’re also surprisingly smart about not pulling anything stupid in front of their friends (after all, guys rarely grow out of that teenage fear of all their friends finding out their secret insecurities).
    A necessity is to hit a nerve on a *secret* (and preferably shameful) insecurity, not a public grief. Stepping on someone’s emotions about a deceased beloved wife for example will backfire.

    It sounds complicated, but stepping on an insecurity like that may be as simple as telling a guy that if he really wants to know THAT badly and he can’t give it a rest, surely you’ll satisfy his curiosity – you were at the gynecologist (to cut short joking and implicitly demeaning speculations of where you may’ve been; especially if that’s really where you were).
    As long as in his mind he’s reduced to his 6 year old boy self caught by his mommy doing something he’s not supposed to be doing, that’s exactly what you aimed for.

    And, if they’re not pushing out of insecurities, as long as the suggestion / answer is funny and out of the ordinarily expected enough, it’ll be taken as a (peculiar) sense of humor and people will laugh and lose attention of what they were previously pursuing anyway.

    It may be that the point where I experience things as pushing, it’s fairly thickly laid on. It took my boss to explain to me *what* a client meant to ask when he asked me, “what’s your view on this as a woman?” It wasn’t offensive to me – it just wasn’t comprehensible. I mean what the heck is “as a woman”? Is sleeping, or taking a dump, “as a woman” any different than “as a man”? My mind doesn’t wrap around that. I’ll just as happily stare at slides of female anatomy as male anatomy.

    Also, “Anon for this”‘s comment about peanuts had me spit out my evening cup of tea, giggling.

    I’m also quite thankful that one of my female (much older) lawyer colleagues is kind of like myself in regards to humor and happily makes sex jokes as well, but also deploys the same offense-tactic. I’ve seen her break a suggestive joke about her teen daughter by saying the genital piercings were all in the air.

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