• Wed, Sep 12 2012

He Said What? 3 Ways To Deal With Off-Putting Remarks In The Office

I was hanging out with a few friends this weekend, and this commercial for men’s deodorant (or something) came on, and we immediately stopped chattering as we stared in amazement at what we were seeing.

I’ll let you check it out for yourself, but the gist of the ad is that dudes should make sure their hair situation is handled, because the ladies always notice the hair first. And, just to make sure you don’t forget, the male character in the ad is a big lump of brown hair (ew).

O.K. the new guy has a full head of hair, check. And what about the lady that’s noticing this well-coifed mop? Her hair must be every bit as fabulous, right? Because if ladies look at the hair first, then the guys must…oh, wait. My bad. The female character in this ad is just a pair of perky tits. No head, no legs even, just cleavage.

My friends and I gaped at the screen in amazement, then all laughed a little uncomfortably when one friend announced cheerfully, “that must be a throwback to the 70’s or something! Shit like that doesn’t happen anymore!”

Sigh. Yes, I know it’s the 21st century and all, and we have robots on Mars and computers in our pockets, and women are taking over in all sorts of awesome ways, but guess what. Sexism is, sadly alive and kicking.

No really, I’m not making this up. I myself had the pleasure of encountering a few unbelievably retro-sexist situations myself in the not-so-distant past. Here’s what happened and here is how I dealt with them.

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  • Lastango

    How about retitling this post “Three ways to NOT deal with off-putting remarks — if you want to build a career”.
    ======
    Situation 1:
    You write, “Strangely, I was never asked to attend another pitch meeting again after that.” I don’t blame you for being upset, but did you put an extra flourish into showing your boss up? If so, that’s part of how you screwed yourself. There are clues throughout this writeup that you enjoy showing up men when you get the chance — starting with that crack on the first page about “women are taking over in all sorts of awesome ways”.
    Let’s notice that he received no support from the other men present, and that the others are aware of his limitations (the idea that they ought to have told the head of the company to “go to hell” or anything amounting to that is ridiculous).
    Even if it was necessary and “quickly jump in” to save the presentation, there are graceful ways to do this. Further, him having a personal fiasco like this offers a chance to tell him later, “I’m pleased I was able to support you and our team today, and I’m delighted we were successful. Helping the company find the best ways to present our strengths and build the relationship with the client was a valuable experience for me.” Everyone will get the message, including him, and you’re showing you know how deal with challenging situations while keeping everyone on side.
    Snappy comebacks are not the answer, because the larger goal isn’t to put him in his place. The goal is to get him to recognize your worth to him and his own goals, and to get him working on your behalf to further your career. A boss who has fears about their own competence can become your biggest supporter if you show you forgive and accept them, and want to help them. As Abraham Lincoln put it, “Do I not destroy my enemies when I make friends of them?”
    One other thing: on the web we encounter a lot of snotty, wet-behind-the-ears high-fiving when a woman triumphs over a man. A woman who wants to succeed — especially someone who wants to lead in an organization — needs to drop that unworthy urge like a hot potato, and go read Dale Carnegie’s “How to Win Friends and Influence People”.
    ==========
    Situation 2:
    You deliberately used your clothing to bait remarks, and now think you can complain when you get remarks? You were messing with them like they’re props in your personal drama. Your sense of entitlement is showing there, and underscored by “My performance has nothing to do with how much leg I’m showing. Right?”. Fascinating… you can do whatever you want, but everyone else has to be exquisitely careful what they say to you or they’re sexist dinosaurs.
    That said, you’re right that most comments about someone else’s clothing have no place in the office. One way to discourage repeat remarks is to say something like, “Thanks, but my focus here is on the job.” The problem with making remarks back like “that’s a great color on you” is that undercuts removes your own ability to take a strong stand if someone else won’t back off.
    One difficult problem is what to do about women discussing their clothing when there are men around. That’s part of how women socialize, but it’s hard to have one’s cake and eat it. Either the topic is legit, or it isn’t. If it isn’t then we have to gently say something that amounts to, “I’d love to talk about that with you later.”
    ==========
    Situation 3:
    “I had a dog named Honey once” is another snappy comback, and ought to be avoided. Instead, cultivate a climate of mutual respect with a smiling, “Call me Jennifer, please.” Sometimes it can help to add, “I’ve been calling you Bob, as I see most people do… would you prefer Robert?”
    If you help him rediscover his inner Robert he will be your friend forever!

    • Maggie

      I couldn’t agree more, Lastango. None of the “advice” offered in this article actually deals with the root problem, that being sexism. By deflecting sexist remarks and not standing up for yourself, you’re making it seem like they are acceptable and don’t bother you. I had a problem with a make co-worker calling me “sweetie”, so after the third time I said “You know, I’m sure this isn’t your intention, but when you call me that it makes me uncomfortable, so I’d really rather you just use my name.” No problems after that. Sure, snappy comebacks might seem fun, but by not addressing the blatant sexism in all of the situations presented, you’re allowing it to continue.

  • Lastango

    How about retitling this post “Three ways to NOT deal with off-putting remarks — if you want to build a career”.
    ======
    Situation 1:
    You write, “Strangely, I was never asked to attend another pitch meeting again after that.” I don’t blame you for being upset, but did you put an extra flourish into showing your boss up? If so, that’s part of how you screwed yourself. There are clues throughout this writeup that you enjoy showing up men when you get the chance — starting with that crack on the first page about “women are taking over in all sorts of awesome ways”.
    Let’s notice that he received no support from the other men present, and that the others are aware of his limitations (the idea that they ought to have told the head of the company to “go to hell” or anything amounting to that is ridiculous).
    Even if it was necessary and “quickly jump in” to save the presentation, there are graceful ways to do this. Further, him having a personal fiasco like this offers a chance to tell him later, “I’m pleased I was able to support you and our team today, and I’m delighted we were successful. Helping the company find the best ways to present our strengths and build the relationship with the client was a valuable experience for me.” Everyone will get the message, including him, and you’re showing you know how deal with challenging situations while keeping everyone on side.
    Snappy comebacks are not the answer, because the larger goal isn’t to put him in his place. The goal is to get him to recognize your worth to him and his own goals, and to get him working on your behalf to further your career. A boss who has fears about their own competence can become your biggest supporter if you show you forgive and accept them, and want to help them. As Abraham Lincoln put it, “Do I not destroy my enemies when I make friends of them?”
    One other thing: on the web we encounter a lot of snotty, wet-behind-the-ears high-fiving when a woman triumphs over a man. A woman who wants to succeed — especially someone who wants to lead in an organization — needs to drop that unworthy urge like a hot potato, and go read Dale Carnegie’s “How to Win Friends and Influence People”.
    ==========
    Situation 2:
    You deliberately used your clothing to bait remarks, and now think you can complain when you get remarks? You were messing with them like they’re props in your personal drama. Your sense of entitlement is showing there, and underscored by “My performance has nothing to do with how much leg I’m showing. Right?”. Fascinating… you can do whatever you want, but everyone else has to be exquisitely careful what they say to you or they’re sexist dinosaurs.
    That said, you’re right that most comments about someone else’s clothing have no place in the office. One way to discourage repeat remarks is to say something like, “Thanks, but my focus here is on the job.” The problem with making remarks back like “that’s a great color on you” is that undercuts removes your own ability to take a strong stand if someone else won’t back off.
    One difficult problem is what to do about women discussing their clothing when there are men around. That’s part of how women socialize, but it’s hard to have one’s cake and eat it. Either the topic is legit, or it isn’t. If it isn’t then we have to gently say something that amounts to, “I’d love to talk about that with you later.”
    ==========
    Situation 3:
    “I had a dog named Honey once” is another snappy comback, and ought to be avoided. Instead, cultivate a climate of mutual respect with a smiling, “Call me Jennifer, please.” Sometimes it can help to add, “I’ve been calling you Bob, as I see most people do… would you prefer Robert?”
    If you help him rediscover his inner Robert he will be your friend forever!

    • Maggie

      I couldn’t agree more, Lastango. None of the “advice” offered in this article actually deals with the root problem, that being sexism. By deflecting sexist remarks and not standing up for yourself, you’re making it seem like they are acceptable and don’t bother you. I had a problem with a make co-worker calling me “sweetie”, so after the third time I said “You know, I’m sure this isn’t your intention, but when you call me that it makes me uncomfortable, so I’d really rather you just use my name.” No problems after that. Sure, snappy comebacks might seem fun, but by not addressing the blatant sexism in all of the situations presented, you’re allowing it to continue.

  • Jen

    The advice in this article sounds like what my grandmother was told when she first entered the workforce. The more modern approach is to be clear and consistent in how you treat others and how you respond to inappropriate comments. Pull the offending person aside and calmly let them know that comments about your clothing and/or pet names aren’t appropriate and make you uncomfortable. This isn’t rocket science- you are treated exactly the way you allow people to treat you.

  • Jen

    The advice in this article sounds like what my grandmother was told when she first entered the workforce. The more modern approach is to be clear and consistent in how you treat others and how you respond to inappropriate comments. Pull the offending person aside and calmly let them know that comments about your clothing and/or pet names aren’t appropriate and make you uncomfortable. This isn’t rocket science- you are treated exactly the way you allow people to treat you.