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[flagged] Men at Work Wonder If They Overstepped with Women, Too (nytimes.com)
43 points by sillypuddy 5 days ago | hide | past | web | 165 comments | favorite

I've been an owner of a company for years now and I've always followed a few simple rules with the women who work for our company:

- I never, ever comment on their appearance, including new hairstyles, clothing, etc.

- I refer to them as "women", never as "ladies" or "girls" or other nonsense.

- No touching (hugs, etc.) with the exception of handshakes and high fives.

- I don't engage in, or tolerate, any sexist, sexual or otherwise inappropriate conversations.

I will, however, happily go for lunch, have a drink, etc., as I would any other colleague.

Incidentally I regularly break some of these rules with male employees, such as remarking on haircuts ("looking good", etc.), but it's different. (I maintain the rule about sexist/sexual conversations across the board - talking about women with male colleagues isn't cool either.)

I could probably break some of these rules with some of the women in my office without causing offence too, especially the people I'm closer with - e.g. by remarking on a new outfit or something - but I don't want to be a creep so I just play it super safe with everybody.

It's really not all that difficult: be a professional, don't be a creep, and err on the side of caution. If you have to overcompensate like Pence, it's still a hell of a lot better than the alternative.

>If you have to overcompensate like Pence, it's still a hell of a lot better than the alternative.

I kind of think Pence is being smart. Conservative politicians can't survive that sort of scandal so being really careful can't hurt.

Also I think there is some wisdom in not always trusting yourself not to cross the line, why not just keep your self as far away from the line as you can reasonably maintain. Kinda like ulysses tied to the mast, it's just safer that way.

"Conservative politicians can't survive that sort of scandal"

Alabama is about to elect a senator in the middle of 5 under-aged sexual assault allegations. Times have changed!

I'll reword that "Conservative politicians shouldn't survive that sort of scandal". Representing the conservative voters should mean that you uphold a more conservative personal life, but hypocrites are all too common. I think that adds to the point that I think Pence is being smart, draw the line as far away as you can.

>> [overcompensating]

> I kind of think Pence is being smart.

The problem is that Pence takes it so far as to be creepy. My feeling on him is that in a different time (and not as far back as you'd expect) he'd be in the "Ankle? To the stocks with her!" crowd - and god help you if someone accused you of being a witch.

>Conservative politicians can't survive that sort of scandal so being really careful can't hurt.

Roy Moore would love to talk to you. Or more specifically your daughter if she's around...

*Moore is know for dating underage girls and has been for a long time, yet it didn't hurt his political career. You can downvote, but the fact is conservatives only pay lip service to caring about morality.


> You can downvote

"Please don't comment about the voting on comments. It never does any good" https://news.ycombinator.com/newsguidelines.html

(By the way, I agree with your point, but the guidelines are more important than a single argument.)

> so I just play it super safe with everybody

Yes, except not with everybody, you don't play it super safe with men, as you pointed out. That's the whole problem.

Men don't write articles in newspapers about their male bosses harassing them?

> never, ever comment on their appearance, including new hairstyles, clothing, etc.

That it's come to this is really sad.

Sad? No! It's always been impolite to comment on people's appearance unless you are close with them. When you make comments about the appearance of your coworker there's so much that has the potential to be misunderstood and it's just so totally unnecessary.

This isn't new either, Miss Manners has been advocating it since the 70s.

I can't say "hey nice haircut"? Just because there may be an ounce of sexual undertone? There's a line not to be crossed, but Jesus you're talking about neutering our humanity here.

You can say whatever you want. It's just, as a general rule, impolite to make comments on people's physical appearance even if you mean well and it always has been. Doubly so in the workplace. People are impolite all the time, when you are a married women like I am, intimate details of your uterus suddenly becomes something strangers talk about. Extremely rude, but unfortunately common. Behaving politely in the office is in your best interest.

It's not about "neutering our humanity," it's about etiquette. Defecation is an essential part of humanity and life, yet there's something preventing you from just dropping your pants and taking a shit wherever you happen to be when the urge hits you.


>Martin makes a compelling case that business needs more etiquette, not less. Without some formality in social intercourse, she argues, human interactions end up being governed by laws, which are too blunt to guide people through the nuances of personal—or professional—behavior.

"Nice haircut" is pretty benign but best avoided. Many times people feel the need to make rude comments about others but try to disguise it into a backhanded complement. You don't want to be misunderstood.

To be fair, I think that only applies to if you have something negative to say.

No, its impolite to make comments on other people's appearance, even positive, unless you are close to that person.

Please stop making unsolicited comments about my body, please and thank you.

I've been a company owner of a company with 80 people both for 7 years men and women. I dated my secretary for a while (she came on to me). I never had any problems working with men or women.

I don't subscribe to this androgynous approach to company culture and I don't see why anyone would willingly want to work in such an environment.

You can both be professional and have a fun environment to work in. A place where both men and women want to come and work without having to resort to a complete sterilize the workplace.

I don't see how your position contradicts the one held by the grandparent.

It wasnt meant to, just illustrating that there are other ways to run a company that doesent require you to be that much on guard.

>I refer to them as "women", never as "ladies" or "girls" or other nonsense.

Should we discriminate against people who come from a minority dialect where this is less common?

>I don't engage in, or tolerate, any sexist ... conversations.

Yes you do. Your comment to which I am replying advocates for sexism.

>Incidentally I regularly break some of these rules with male employees, such as remarking on haircuts ("looking good", etc.), but it's different.

Congratulations, you are now excluding women from a class of social interactions that you have with men. This means that it will be harder for them to develop the type of interpersonal relationships with you that help them advance in the workplace. This is the exact same problem as not taking women out to lunch (for fear of accusastion of harrasment), just to a lesser degree.

Maybe the benifits of these policies are worth it, maybe not. However, it is far from simple. Especially if you have truly bought into the notion that any form of sexism is wrong, because the standards of conduct expected of you (or, at least, as you are describing them) are still inherently sexist.

Further, I think this type of comment does another disservice. It makes it sound like the types of harrasment we are talking about are just normal interactions where one side happens to be a women. However, when you look at the actual instances it is almost always the case that the behaviour is unambigously bad, and would still be so regardless of the genders. Seeing comments like yours generates alot of pushback from people who read it and then misunderstand what the original problem that we are talking about is.

> Yes you do. Your comment to which I am replying advocates for sexism.

No matter what you say or do, someone will find a way to call it sexist.

>Incidentally I regularly break some of these rules with male employees, such as remarking on haircuts ("looking good", etc.), but it's different.

Please explain how this is not sexist.

Please explain how it's sexist?

Sexist: relating to, involving, or fostering sexism, or attitudes and behavior toward someone based on the person's gender. [0]

The quote under discussion (bracketed comments added):

>Incidentally I regularly break some of these rules with male employees, such as remarking on haircuts ("looking good", etc.), but it's different.

This quote admits to blatently treating his female employees differently than his male employees. That seems to be a clear example of sexism. We can disagree on what the consequences of this sexism is; and even if this is good sexism or not; but I do not see how there can be disagreement that this is sexism.

[0] http://www.dictionary.com/browse/sexist?s=t

> attitudes and behavior toward someone based on the person's gender

That's only relevant if you hold the unscientific belief that men and women are interchangeable and that the reproductive organ is the only thing that's different.

There are many ways where attitudes towards a person must be adjusted depending on the person's gender.

For example, women are physically weaker than men, so if a man was to hit a woman in public, he would be arrested, where as if a woman was to hit a man in public, no one would blink an eye.

> I do not see how there can be disagreement that this is sexism.

Because you are implying it's a bad thing. You can't just take away the context of the conversation and pretend that we are arguing about semantics.

Many things are true on the level of groups, but it doesn’t mean that it’s a good idea to apply them as general rules on an individual level.

Women maybe weaker than men in general. There are however many women stronger than many men.

Where possible it is therefore better to evaluate individuals based on their individual merits. This is not only more efficient, but creates a fairer and hopefully happier society.

>Because you are implying it's a bad thing.

Where did I imply that? If you go back one clause, I explicitly said that there can be disagreement on if it is a bad thing or not. [0]

I do not know how my opinion came across, but I believe this should make it clear that I am at least open to the possibility that the behavior under discussion is good behavior. [0]

>You can't just take away the context of the conversation and pretend that we are arguing about semantics.

What context? I was replying to a post describing his approach to avoid "overstepping with women" [2] and how "it's really not all that difficult". In doing so, I was pointing out how non obvious the solution was.

If a central tenet of your approach is "don't be sexist", and you proceed to make recommendations that are, on their face, sexist, it is not just a matter of semantics to point this out. It means that the standard of "don't be sexist" is seemingly useless because I cannot determine what types of technically sexist behavior don't count as actually sexist unless I have some independent test of what is acceptable. If I do have an independent test, then why bother saying don't be sexist, when you can just say to use my independent test of acceptability.

>For example, women are physically weaker than men, so if a man was to hit a woman in public, he would be arrested, where as if a woman was to hit a man in public, no one would blink an eye.

At this point, I hope I have made it clear that there exists (in my opinion) good sexism and bad sexism. I feel confident is saying that this is, unambiguously, bad sexism. [1] Women are not so week that they are incapable of committing assault; or that there is no damage done to the victim when they do so.

[0] To clarify my position somewhat, I have no idea if it is good behavior or not. In an ideal world, it would be bad behavior, and it has easy to articulate downsides. However, it has potential upsides of reducing bad sexism. I do not have the tools necessary to make a confident decision on the net effect.

[1] Or rather, the double standard you describe. Your observation itself, while potentially overstated, is simply a non sexist observation of sexist behavior. Or maybe the observation itself is biased by the sexism of the observer; again I do not have the tools to determine that.

[2] Pulled directly from from the submission title to avoid editorializing.

With regards to your last paragraph, OP uses words like "never" and "always" so it doesn't sound like just unsavory situations, it sounds like rules he uses for all interactions with women in his company.

In this case, since OP put it forward, I think the onus is on him for clarifying what he means.

> - I never, ever comment on their appearance, including new hairstyles, clothing, etc.

> - I refer to them as "women", never as "ladies" or "girls" or other nonsense.

> If you have to overcompensate like Pence

News flash, you're overcompensating as well.

Why the downvotes? Debacle is right.

Treating a workplace like a setting requiring professional behavior is "overcompensating?" What the GP described is simply default behavior in a professional setting.

The article actually states how there can be a difference between hugging and harassment, to just point out one example.

There's a double standard in GP's comment.

The default behaviour can be to overcompensate.

Damned no matter what you do?

Just treat people nice. There's a way to compliment a woman's dress or hair without sounding like a creep. In fact, women who are friends do it all the time. It's part of how women form platonic relationships. One of the nicest compliments you can pay someone is noticing a conscious change that they've made in themselves!

Right? I'm one of the most socially awkward people I know but even I can pull off a "hey, nice new frames!", "cool T-shirt!", or "nice new haircut!" to a female co-worker without sounding like a creep. Claiming that's impossible to do "safely" – especially from someone in a managerial role, who should know how to talk to people – is just lazy CYA behavior.

EDIT: Side note – one of the clearest (subconscious) dividing lines between "creepy" and "normal" compliments is – how much time am I spending enjoying the thing I'm complimenting? If either your comment implies "I (may) have spent time staring at you to come to this conclusion", or if your focus (eyes/body position) lingers on the person you're complimenting, it will be perceived as creepy. If neither of these is true, it won't.


"Nice new frames!" -- noncreepy. Not specific enough to have required more than a second's glance to formulate. Speaker may not even have actually formed an opinion.

"Those pants fit you well." -- creepy. You must have been looking at my butt and thighs for at least several seconds to come to this conclusion. Better: "That's such a cheery yellow blouse!" You could see and judge the color across the office in a second's time.

"I like your haircut", followed by several seconds of silence while you continue to look at me or my haircut -- creepy. You are enjoying this aspect of my body too much. Better: "I like your haircut", followed by topic change or end of conversation.

"You look good today / I like how you look" -- creepy. It's so nonspecific that I don't know what's going through your mind. Better: "I like the new look" (if the "new look" is something obvious), or be otherwise specific.

Note that all the above applies equally across or within genders. I (male) would indeed be creeped out if a male co-worker said one of the "creepy" examples above (with the possible exception of "you look good today", only because I might have more insight into what's in his head, assuming he is heterosexual). And I cannot think of one time a male co-worker has done so.

Thanks for all the tips about how to walk over eggshells without breaking them. I'll just take the path that has no eggshells on it.

I mean, if that's how you look at putting a modicum of effort into social interaction, you've got to question whether you really value relationships with co-workers of the opposite sex at all.

I do, that's why I don't bother making any compliments. I just keep it polite and formal.

Here's a set of way better alternatives:

"You did an awesome job today!"

"Thank you for helping out today - it means a lot that I can always rely on you."

"I really appreciate the energy and positivity you bring to the office - you make this a way better place to work."

You get the idea.

Last comment: it's easy to assess your own comments as non-creepy, either out of bias or because you're genuinely non-creepy. Unfortunately, that assessment is worthless, because it's how others assess your comments that matters. Nor would I ever, as the "boss", want to have try and explain to anyone working for me, especially male employees, the elaborate and highly subjective set of "rules" you've laid out here. Far easier to just not go there.

Perhaps you could reply to https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=15692577 and explain how this is done?

Yea, that's what you say. Someone else will have different standards of what counts as a compliment or unwelcome advances, etc.

I personally just never engage with work colleagues in those terms. Keep everything formal and polite.

If you think I'm cold, well, too bad. But you can't accuse me of any kind of harassment.

> In fact, women who are friends do it all the time.

Part of the reason they don't come across as creepy is because they're, y'know, women.

> There's a way to compliment a woman's dress or hair without sounding like a creep.

This is entirely dependent on context, so as you've stated it it's false.

I am not sure why men go to happy hours with alcohol or go to social events where the chances of stepping over the line explode exponentially. Going out and hanging with your co-workers over a beer might have been a good idea six months ago but is no longer a good idea.


Any of those things you said or did, could be construed a million different ways. Was that one thing you said flirting? Did you say that one thing that offended someone who went thru this particular experience as a child you were unaware of? Did you talk about that actor you really liked that turned out to be a child molester today and now makes you look less than acceptable?

Your past behavior carries weight today. What was once acceptable might not be today and there are consequences today. You will lose your career and job over even the faintest claim. Here is the money paragraph:

> Still, some workers said they were starting to follow “the Pence rule,” which was formerly known as the Billy Graham rule, after the evangelical preacher, but is now named for Vice President Mike Pence. Mr. Pence has said he does not eat alone with women who are not his wife or attend an event without her if alcohol will be served.

I would even arguing going to those "game zones" is all potentially risky behavior. I know I am not being politically correct, however just doing your job and leaving is a better solution. It is better than losing everything over it.

> You will lose your career and job over even the faintest claim.

We'll see.

Unfortunately, the 'track record' is not promising to those people that have accused their abusers. What has actually happened? Yes, Harv is in some deep stuff, but Kevin may slip out just fine. Donny pretty much got away scot-free. Give it time to mature, we may be disappointed to find that effectively nothing will occur.

Also, going out drinking with co-workers/bosses has always been an 'eyebrow raising' idea, right? Even a beer or two has always been a point of caution. Was anyone (not in a SV-frat-house-turned-startup) under any other impression?

Almost everyone in NYC goes out at 5 for drinks and they get shit faced. While this is great for team building, it is now not a great idea for reasons that are obvious. It is not a SV thing by any measure.

Seems like you can easily correlate the 'drinking culture' of a work place/field with these accusations then, yeah?

Re-read my initial post. It is just one such example. Even the game zones I feel are areas where you increase your risk surface area.

This has become almost cartoonish. The people being accused of sexual harassment did overtly and obviously abusive things. That doesn’t call for a referendum on the entire scope of male-female interactions. If you have to wonder whether you’re a sexual harasser and aren’t stupid or deliberately oblivious, then the answer is you are not one.

You may still be somewhere on the misogyny spectrum. You may even make women feel uncomfortable with some of the things you say and do. But the term sexual harassment should be reserved for obviously inappropriate conduct, and not be cheapened into some thin-gray-line class of transgression.

Also if our society starts treating flirting with or attempting to date coworkers as problematic behavior, people will lose the opportunity to potentially find mates in an environment to which they’re devoting increasingly larger shares of their lives. The only people who will win in that scenario are the therapists.

> The people being accused of sexual harassment did overtly and obviously abusive things.

They were accused of doing those things, the accusations alone were enough to be career ending, that's the problem. As long as society is fine with vilifying people on accusations alone then the only defense is to not put yourself into a situation where such an accusation can be made.

Please read the Scalzi blog post linked above:

"Aside from the actual fact that a woman accusing a man of harassment has her life turned into such a shitshow that the bar for her choosing to tell her story is almost unspeakably high (and therefore not fertile ground for lying), I want you to consider a singular and depressing fact, which is that nearly every woman you know has actual dudes who’ve harassed them. They will go after them, rather than outright lying about you."

Yes, thank you.

You pretty much echoed something John Scalzi said on his blog:


It's a bit long but worth reading. At the end:

"Dudes, don’t be a harassing piece of shit, don’t accept other dudes being harassing pieces of shit, and when women (and others) tell you that someone has harassed or assaulted them, believe them."

20 years ago I walked into a server room where the walls sported naked/semi-naked women and the inhabiting men looked at me like I was there to take away their wall candy. I chose to leave and made another career for myself, because I was too young and afraid to stand my ground. I don't regret this, because I went on to have an amazing life, but I never again stepped foot in a room like that and I do regret never working with a massive Oracle installation or learning how to get the most out of a PERL app running on metal. I lost out, and I hate that I never had the opportunity to experience working at corporate scale.

I am willing to bet those rooms still exist, but almost all of the rest of my career I've found men welcoming and courteous, the same as the women I now work with. Things have changed and they are changing for the better - this is all just part of the discussion we gotta have.

It's getting better folks - the fact that women can now speak out in public means we are less scared, and we'll be able to interact more and you'll have a lot more women as company down the road.

Here's an exacting analysis by the ever-helpful Dan Savage on the Louis CK incident which covers similar ground (work-related harassment and power relations):


20 years ago walking out was the right choice - not necessarily because of the blatant sexism but because of the massive glaringly obvious and uncorrected mismanagement in that particular environment. The problem was not just that there were a bunch of jerks with pinups on the walls, it's that any competent management in the late 90s should have eliminated that within the first 5 minutes of walking into that room.

so now you are a jerk if you have pinups on the wall?

Would you feel comfortable if you walked into an office and the walls were covered with semi-tumescent centerfolds from Playgirl (is that still a thing?) or the like?

Heck, maybe the women in the office have a gay erotica reading group that gets together at lunchtime. How would you feel if it was pictures of gay male couples "in flagrante" and more than semi-tumescent?

Might that make you uncomfortable?

What is with women in your example constantly reading about gay men? I've never seen heterosexual women so fascinated with gay men.

not at all. i dont care about such things.

If by "pinups" you mean centrefolds from mens magazines, it's not appropriate in any work environment without the permission of all involved. When I was 20 years old I simply did not have the courage or understanding that I might have asked them to take the posters down or find something less confronting.

thats the problem right there though. does the newcommer dictate the culture or adapt to it. if a place is all men and a woman comes in do they need to change their act suddenly? i dont considder that a black and white question.

We're talking about the presence of sexualised content. It's not OK in the workplace without consent (I'm not from the U.S. so I really don't care if there is nudity around as long as it's respectful and not contributing to systemic repression). If a new person comes into a workplace and has an issue, then yes - it needs to be discussed. Let's say there are male firemen calendars everywhere - you'd have, as a man, every right to challenge the presence of objectifying material. Feminism goes both ways.

we arent discussing the law here we are discussing ethics/morals and they arent so obious in my world. all guy place isnt jerks jsut becuase they have pinups of women. once they hire a woman it starts to be more relevant but imo depends on the context, industry etc.

If the company expects to hire any women in the coming years, then it is inappropriate to have pinups on the wall.

Such things probably wouldn't help with investors or potential acquisitions either.

If the office is all brogrammers and they hire a man who objects (for religious, moral, or simply having a little class reasons) does that person have to adapt?

thats the question and i dont think there are any right answers. i would personally never change anything in my company for anyones religious belief.

Hey, your comment and link are really good. Those tweets were good too. Best commentary I've seen on this subject by a lot.

I honestly don't know what all the fuss is about? Is it that difficult to just treat women -- not nicely -- but equally? This is kindergarten level stuff, people. Keep your hands to yourself, be nice, don't ask overly personal questions about people unless they share first, etc.

I guarantee anyone reading this that if they just reflect behavior they'll be fine. This means if someone shares something moderately personal, do the same. If someone laughs, laugh back. To mimic behavior is to be human.

Be human.

The point is it can be difficult to treat women exactly the same as men, and that's in itself not fair really to anybody.

One "solution" is to keep the workplace as sterile as possible. Get close to no-one, keep to yourself, all relationships remain starched & supremely professional. But ultimately that's not really a win either. Who wants to work with robots?

why is it difficult to treat women the same as men?

as has been said many times by now in this thread-

there are many things a man can say to another man that he can't say to a woman, and things he can't do.

or even if there is something he can say, he might not be totally confident he can say it. who among us has never said something that came out wrong?

"so just never say or do any of those things ever" is a poor solution.

That's not entirely true, and a bit of a fallacy of masculinity. I assure you, there are many men who don't care for much of the things other men say, and just because I'm a man doesn't give you permission to talk to me particularly differently.

i'm not really talking about "locker room talk". read my other comment for some basic examples.

no, it hasn't been clarified.

what are these mysterious things a man can say to other men he does not know that he couldn't say to a woman he doesn't know?

mostly involving extracurricular activity and people you know somewhat rather than total strangers. asking a woman if she wants to come over to your house tonight to taste whiskey with you and another male coworker, just not quite the same. invite on a group ski trip with a reservation for only one hotel room. join me for dinner to talk about project/feature. a packed car trip to somewhere in a very small vehicle. let's go visit the hot springs (which, it's common knowledge, are clothing-optional at night).

taking that last one further, i was once told it was ok that i had forgot my swimsuit, for that reason. man to man, i thought nothing of it, but by god could you imagine saying that to your female coworker?

none of these things are crimes, but there's zero chance anyone would ever read anything into it or that anything would happen if it's a bunch of guys, while there's clear places a woman might hear a different meaning or have reservations, hence the newfound question marks.

anyway, i'm not the canonical source on this, just attempting to think of my own experiences working in a boy's club.

and of course if a man is truly close & open friends, not just work acquaintances, with a woman, pretty much everything said here may go out the window.

> asking a woman if she wants to come over to your house tonight to taste whiskey with you

Does she like whiskey? Have you talked about this before? If a co-worker invited me (who never talks about alcohol) to his house to come "taste whiskey" I'd be confused and try to figure out the pretext. Were I a woman, the obvious pretext is "sexual advance".

> group ski trip with a reservation for only one hotel room

That's weird man, regardless of whether it's co-ed.

> join me for dinner to talk about project/feature.

Again, weird; I'm looking for the pretext. Unless we're already good friends, in which case this is a non-issue even if I'm female.

> let's go visit the hot springs

Where the hell do you work?? These are not things you do with co-workers, these are things you do with close friends.

were do you work? i have gone on ski trips, summer trips, saunas and strip clubs with my male and female colleagues. nothing weird about the examples mentioned

Inviting co-workers with whom you are not already on very good terms to a sauna or strip club is very weird and anti-social.

(Why? Because you force those who would be uncomfortable attending to either self-exclude from the work social group, or give in to peer pressure. Or you don't invite them in the first place, which ensures they feel excluded.)

And if you are on very good terms with them, well, they're not going to complain to HR because they're your friends.

Why wouldnt i be on good terms with my co-workers?

This is a pretty disingenuous framing. "Be human", really?

The point is that you can't actually literally treat people equally because there are plenty of things that are acceptable to say or do with another man but not with a woman.

what are some of the things, in your opinion, that are acceptable to say to a man you do not know, that are not acceptable to say to a women you do not know?

The issue is not with complete strangers, but with people who you have some level of a relationship with.

For example, if I will invite a male co-worker out to lunch without a second thought, but I would not do so with a female co-worker unless someone else was coming along. This very clearly hurts my female co-workers, but I care more about covering my own ass then gender equality.

I also would not think twice about asking a male co-worker about his personal life, but am much more cautious when doing so with a female co-worker.

your example is bizarre. of course you have to use complete strangers as an example, because we're attempting to determine if the gender is the variable of concern, not your relationship.

if you were friends with this female co-worker 4 times as long as the male co-worker I'm sure you wouldn't have any qualms.

why wouldn't you invite your female colleague to lunch? what do you think is going to happen? good lord.

>What do you think is going to happen?

Most likely, nothing. Less likely, it would be received as some level of "creepy", either at the moment or at some future HR review. It simply does not feel worth it to take the chance. I suspect that most of the feeling is the result of anti sexual harassment propaganda rather than actual consequences, but that is not a minefield I feel like dealing with on a daily basis.

>of course you have to use complete strangers as an example, because we're attempting to determine if the gender is the variable of concern, not your relationship.

Gender could be a variable of concern in established relationships. For example, if it takes women on average 4 times as long to reach a given level of interaction with me compare to men, then gender is clearly a variable. Empirically, I can tell you that the gender of my co-workers is highly predictive of how personal I get with them.

No it's not but it's hard for the hysteria to settle and thus a lot of men will be wrongfully accused.

Wrongfully accused of what? OP literally described how not to be accused of anything 101. Treat women like your fellow man, treat women like humans.

I know what OP is describing and I am saying that that's not enough as there are difference of opinion with regards to what that means. For some saying sweetie is sexual abuse.

I'm curious: would you call a man sweetie?

No just like I wouldn't call a girl bro or dude or m8.

I see no issue in saying that to someone and have never had any problems saying it to the women I have been working with or know. I am well aware of when to do that and when to not.

Yet now it's suddenly become an issue because some consider it sexual abuse.

The word you're looking for is "harassment", not "abuse".

Married couples call each other "sweetie", as do parents their children. It's not an appropriate term to use with co-workers (either male→female or female→male, both of which I've heard).

no thats not the word i am looking for. some considder sweeite to be sexual abuse exactly the issue with metoo.

OK, I'll bite, who calls it "abuse"? Because without an example, it looks to me like you're presenting a straw man to trivialize legitimate complaints.

some of the metoo participant in fb and twitter threads.

You don't think it's condescending to call someone sweetie at work?

No. What's condescending about it? It's all about context. That's completely missed in this discussion.

Allow the following thought experiment: would you call a co-worker who is non-white "brownie"? "Sweetie" has that connotation nowadays.

I can try to sympathetic to what seem like onerous rules, but refraining from "sweetie" seems like the least of problems.

Sweetie has no such connotation amongst the people I have worked with. This is exactly the problem. It's all about context which the metoo campaing completely destroys by equalizing everything.

Alright, I'll give you the benefit of the doubt and assume that's just how it is for you. It does depends on the context, but when you interact with others outside your circle (or hire outside your circle), you have to be somewhat sensitive to their perceptions. I think that is just "human interaction 101."

of course but the problem obviously arises when someone new come on board. do they adapt to the culture or walk away or do the culture respect the subjective opinions of the newcommer. in my world that should be up to the culture as long as nothing illegal is going on.

It's a difficult situation, I think. I think a linear combination is best, but which axis the vector points along, it might be hard to say.

I think the only thing I'd want is to not have a newcomer feel shut out because they can't adapt.

You've actually given me something to think about. Cheers.

it is indeed. i dont think there are any right answers. all i know is that i want the right to have the right kind of people in my company and that i am to decide who they are, not a small group of feminist who think they know human psychology and social dynamics and want to enforce their view on others. thanks for at least listening.

All the fuss is about the fact that unfortunately many men have still not acclimated to the basic tenants of a modern inclusive society.

A woman at work constantly speaks in tones of sexual innuendo, when she comes over to someone asking for help or whatever, she leans over you and places her hand on your shoulder or thigh. As a man in today’s climate the double standard is painfully obvious. Follow her example and you’d be on your ass fast.

What double standard? If a female co-worker did that to me I'd bring it up with HR.

And – I'm making the assumption that you are probably in tech and therefore probably in a male-dominated workplace – unlike a woman in your situation, you can almost certainly call out the individual in question with zero fear of consequences to your career. Without knowing specifics, my prejudice is that you are in no position to complain. (My assumptions could be wrong.)

The double standard is that she still has her job but a man wouldn’t.

Bullshit. Tens of thousands of men who sexually harass women get away scot-free day in day out.

The men you mention lost their jobs because the women they harassed spoke out (and almost always, they did so under fear of reprisal). It didn't just "happen". Have you spoken to HR or your boss?

Guess whose job it is to bring it with HR and make sure they understand the double standard you see? You and everyone else you can round up that agrees with you. Make it happen like women have always had to do.

Bring it up with HR. See what happens.

Yes, it happens. In my view what your describing is also unacceptable behavior. In the past I would have overlooked it, at this point I wouldn’t accept it and I’d ask her to stop and mention it to her manager/ my manager (or HR).

I have no doubt that women suffer from harassment more in the workplace. But this behavior is also not ok.

I've overstepped with women. Women have overstepped with me. There is definitely a graciously wide gray area of "That came out differently than I meant it."

The key is to:

1. Understand your own intent when saying/doing something.

2. Consider the potential negative ways something you may say could be perceived.

3. Understand the additional social responsibility that comes with being someone's superior, explicit or implicit.

I can see risk of that gray area: as long as everybody is on good terms, misunderstandings and unintentional wrongdoings are quickly righted, but when either party is antagonistic, that no longer works, and things can get ugly in both directions: unintended harm as well as false accusations both have real consequences.

But, human interaction will never be without ambiguity, and we cannot eliminate the risk of being misunderstood or deliberately misconstrued without (especially) marginalizing those who are at a disadvantage in the first place.

I feel like this is the right way to approach things: treat everyone respectfully and responsibly, even if there's a slight risk to it. (As a strawman: "Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety")

> 2. Consider the potential negative ways something you may say could be perceived.

Number 2 is the problem, there are just so many ways that something innocent could be perceived as negative. Rather than expend that mental energy it's easier to just avoid saying anything at all.

4. Hope no one takes further something that is a misunderstanding?

I dunno where we are going here, and I'm not sure all this stuff isn't confirming the exact opposite of everything people are hoping for.

I'm not sure why the next Harvey Weinstein won't act the exact same way ("You mean, I get to sleep with beautiful women for 30 years and then get outed worth 100s of millions? That's seems like a great deal")

I don't think anyone has any idea how this will shake out, but I won't be shocked if it is a bad outcome all around - from reduced funding for female startups to less mentoring to more gender apartheid in workplaces, to China's inevitable rise to world's largest economy and most influential country.

I had an edit where I added:

4. Treat people like individuals.

But I didn't want to needlessly extend the list, even though that's the most important advice you could give anyone about interacting with anyone else.

Most people who commit sexual harassment aren't Harvey Weinstein. Most flirting is innocent, and in my experience either slightly awkward, ignored, or well received, but rarely uncomfortable. Most male/female relationships (or any relationships for that matter) in the workplace are healthy, friendly, and beneficial.

There is a vast difference between inappropriate social interaction due to ignorance, and predatory social interaction due to malice.

The amount of hysteria on display by men in this article and elsewhere is ridiculous. What happened to the skeptical "treat each person as an individual" attitude that created "Not All Men"?

Are you saying "hysteria" ironically?

But seriously, things are getting hugely chaotic. The only safe bet is keeping sexuality totally out of the workplace. But that doesn't mean isolation. As you say, you treat everyone the same. Because you really have no clue about their sexual orientation or status, issues, vulnerability, and so on.

Why wouldn't you treat everyone the same?

On certain things, you cannot treat people the same without considering their needs. A person in a wheelchair cannot climb a stair case.

You definitely want to treat people the same as much as possible.

sure, but we're not talking about someone with a disability. we're talking about men and women. why would you even make that comparison, given the context?

by the way, people with disabilities generally want to be treated equally, once accessibility has been reached.

Women are different due to cultural norms and have also different needs; for just one example, while both parents of new born kids might need paternity or maternity leave, women who give birth face a much more physiologically taxing experience than men who do not. You cannot merely treat everyone the same with a "for all" universal quantifier next to it because you'll end up discriminating against someone.

This isn't even a group or women or whatever issue, this is human interaction 101. Some people don't drink, some people don't smoke, some people don't like sex, some do. You can't accommodate everyone, but you should do what you can and are comfortable with and be sensitive for those you can't. Then you can treat people the same after that. So I don't think you disagree, it's just we might be defining the word "equally" differently.

> women who give birth face a much more physiologically taxing experience than men who do not.

Which is an excellent reason to give the men the same amount of paternity leave so they can look after the newborn while the mother recuperates!

I get your point in general, but that example is a case where giving men more time off is likely to lead better results for women, and a more egalitarian society in general. The argument: https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2014/01/the-dad...

Because half the population (or at least a considerable portion of that half) get's offended if I treat them the same as I would men.

I am skeptical that there is anything you could do that would never offend any men but would offend a significant percentage of women. Even more skeptical if we're restricting the scene to professional interactions.

I didn't say it would never offend men, but take a dirty joke as an example, it might offend men, but I'm drastically less likely to be written up by HR if a man is offended. Another one is the level of profanity that the different sexes are comfortable with. Another one would be making fun of someone's clothing, perfectly acceptable amongst friends.

> Even more skeptical if we're restricting the scene to professional interactions.

Not everything in the workplace is a professional interaction, or at least it never used to be. I don't know what it's supposed to be now, you have corporate wanting to do team building exercises and everyone to be one big family, we're still supposed to sign birthday cards and that sort of rubbish, yet you can't talk to people as you would friends and family.

For sure. My wife swears like a sailor now, but she still gets offended sometimes by my repertoire ;) And we've been married for decades. But there's a certain blend of formality and good cheer that's part of professional behavior.

Edit: My point is that I'd never talk that way in a professional context. Or even on HN.

Edit: Also that my wife has picked up bad habits from me.

Because you're attracted to some more than to others, maybe?

Yes, I couldn't resist.

Ridiculous until you wake up one day and discover you no longer have a career.

The occasional occurrence of an unlikely event does not make it reasonable to arrange your life around avoiding it. See: kidnapping by a stranger, plane crashes, suddenly having a photo of yourself go viral on the internet.

> occasional occurrence

My reading of the newspaper suggests otherwise.

I don't think it is helpful to pretend there is no gray area. Talking about how to avoid grey areas is good. Pretending they don't exist is potentially dangerous and strikes me as toxic and blamey.

I think there might be a gray area, but it's probably less broad than people make it out to be.

I have found that it is possible to entirely avoid gray areas by abiding by very strict standards that avoid any possible misinterpretation.

I have also found this makes me seem cold, rejecting and unapproachable.

Establishing trust is a kind of bonding process. It involves taking risks. If you put nothing on the line, you don't bond. If you are never warm, trust is unlikely. If you are ever warm, confusion about intent remains possible.

I don't think I can agree with you.

I mean, a lot of it can just be people are different and will find they need to do different things in order to interact with others successfully without problems, so if you need rules, I suppose that's just you.

An aside, but regarding your "coldness." I don't think that's a problem. Most people I think even when they are "warm" aren't necessarily naive and too willing to trust although society stereotypes them that way.

I think the second order effects here are under appreciated. Ponder, which of these is overstepping?

* Telling someone they look good today

* Telling someone a very funny, yet lewd joke that you just thought up

* Inviting someone for a drink after work

* Telling someone they should dress better

* Telling someone they are too uptight

* Telling someone that, if they were nicer, they might get ahead more

* Inviting a co-worker to a party with lots of alcohol (example given in article)

You might think, "This is easy, clearly XYZ above are fine whereas ABC are not or could be questionable." But here's the problem: For a man talking to a man, all of the above are just plain fine.

Some may think that even in very low risk interactions, "why take the risk, if it could be misconstrued?" In a very tiny way even asking these questions opens me up to the risk of someone suggesting I'm some kind of sexist/bigot/etc, even though I'm only trying to be descriptive and not normative here, because someone may misinterpret a position here. In fact I'm sure there are plenty of people who would never comment on an article like this. But I bet they'll talk to their male co-workers about it, in private.

Which is kind of the rub. The net result of this round of men-wondering-of-they-are-overstepping may be even more boys club behavior than before.

How is it possible for men to treat women equally with other men, if it introduces such risk? I've seen all sorts of people advocating positions that boil down to "Don't make any friends at work, work is a place for work and nothing else." This seems like a losing strategy.

Not all difficult problems have broad solutions. Sometimes, spraying a pesticide increases the level of pests.

> Still, some workers said they were starting to follow “the Pence rule,” which was formerly known as the Billy Graham rule, after the evangelical preacher, but is now named for Vice President Mike Pence. Mr. Pence has said he does not eat alone with women who are not his wife or attend an event without her if alcohol will be served.

Maybe it is worth noting that Women are more likely than men to endorse Mike-Pence-style inter-gender workplace norms. From the NYT: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/07/01/upshot/members-of-the-opp...

I don’t consider these things just plain fine. I’d consider many of them somewhat offensive even if they came from a friend, regardless of gender:

* Telling someone a very funny, yet lewd joke that you just thought up

* Telling someone they should dress better

* Telling someone they are too uptight

* Telling someone that, if they were nicer, they might get ahead more

I guess people are different...

I'm trying to leave "personally" out of this on purpose. Don't you see the problem, regardless of your personal feelings?

People differ about what's fine in the list. But when a male doesn't think its fine, its still more-or-less fine by comparison.

The negative reactions of men to other men receiving those comments would not at all resemble [some of] the negative reactions of women receiving them. The downside is fairly bounded with men (guy thinks commentor is a jerk or weird) and unbounded with women (commentor loses their job because HR themselves is also playing it ultra safe).

Males can take more social risks with males, which may increase bonding (or it may not), which may leave women behind. That's a problem that's not easy to solve.

Males allowing males more leeway means males will have more opportunities to bond with males. "Boys club effect" grows stronger.

I think it’s absolutely conceivable that a male manager might fire a male employee for making a lewd joke.

The other things? From both men and women I would guess the appropriate response is to inform the commenter that their remark is no ok. If it keeps happening you might want to get rid of them, sounds like a bad workplace environment.

> For a man talking to a man, all of the above are just plain fine.

Really? I wouldn't do most of your examples, personally. I'm curious if I'm the weird one here.

I'de have no problem saying any of those things to another man.

You have no problem telling another man you don't know that they should dress better?

At work?

I think the issue with your line of thinking is that we aren't at an "equality for all, everyone treated the same" stage yet, we are still very much at the stage of having to strongly promote women in the workforce and champion their cause specifically - as the wave of celebrity assault reports has demonstrated. There is a much bigger problem of women being treated improperly in the workplace by some people, rather than finding that perfect balance just yet.

I also disagree with a few of your bullet points, if I didn't know one of my male co-workers particular well, I definitely wouldn't say 6 of those bullet points you mentioned out of the 7.

> But here's the problem: For a man talking to a man, all of the above are just plain fine.

I strongly disagree. Some of those should be just fine for anyone (telling someone they look good, advising someone they should dress better ("Dress for the job you want to have"), telling someone to stop being such an asshole (phrased more nicely perhaps)). For most of the others the distinction is not male/female, it's friend/buddy or co-worker.

I've worked with very straight-laced folks in the teetotaler and conservative religious categories, and drinks and lewd jokes would be completely inappropriate for them as well, male or female.

For a lot of these, it's not the individual events that's the problem - it's the volume of it. A lot of your examples are things that I don't think you should want to do for anyone, if you value fairness.

- Telling someone they look good would be fine, except that person hears it repeatedly every day, everywhere from walking down the street to when they go to a restaurant to the extent that it greatly exceeds comments on the quality of your work. So it leads to a lot of doubt - "I get few comments on the quality of my work, but a ton of comments on my appearance. How does society value me?"

- Often lewd jokes objectify minority groups, and while they can be funny in the right context, when the minority member is the only one, or there is a power relationship, it's not appropriate. Imagine you were the only man on a team of women, and your boss kept telling day in and day out (really funny) jokes about how men are useless, only sit around and watch sports, get fat, etc. At first, sure, you might laugh but when you heard this day in and day out, it'd get old pretty fast - especially when you were going for a raise, or asking for a project. "How are husbands like lawn mowers? They're hard to get started, they emit noxious odors, and half the time they don't work." Ha. Ha. Ha.

- Inviting someone for a drink is fine. If it's work, make it a group thing, there are easy ways to make this comfortable for everyone. And apply this to every outing - it makes it more comfortable for everyone.

- If you want people to dress better, make a dress code and refer to that.

- And don't tell people they are too uptight, it's not actionable. Address specific behavior.

- Telling someone to be nicer also isn't actionable - assume good intent in people. Address specific behavior.

- Parties, again just invite a few people. And invite their partner, if they have one.

Following this model, I have great friends from work - men and women. But it starts with treating people fairly.

> For a man talking to a man, all of the above are just plain fine.

I think i could make at least 3 of those really awkward. I don't think it would be difficult to find someone to really nail all seven, hard. I don't think you've had that kind of uncomfortable attention rammed down your throat. Sometimes those penetrating insights are hard to face. You just haven't been under someone with so much power.

My partner is a software engineer, and she has experienced an enormous amount of inappropriate behavior - everything from "was that inappropriate, am I being too sensitive?" to a person getting fired and walked out by security for their behavior toward her (extremely justifiably). None of this has ever happened to me, though.

Even in the more innocuous cases, it leads to a ton of self-doubt. Part of the problem is the volume of it - these aren't one-off instances, but repeated questioning of one's worth as a human being and member of the team.

I like unconscious bias as a model for addressing this because it lets you flip the equation around on these cases. Imagine someone who tells women at work to smile. By accusing them of being sexist, the argument becomes about whether they're being sexist - and they'll inevitably argue that they're not, they're just being nice, people are being too sensitive/PC and in the end nothing happens. And it's really not the individual instance of it that's the problem, but the volume of it - and not just from that person, but from everyone. And this really serves to diffuse responsibility.

Unconscious bias would say to recognize your own biases, and rather than have the argument about whether or not you're sexist/racist/whatever, to think about how you can treat people equally, and correct for your biases. And then, rather than trying to apply labels to people, we can have a real conversation about behavior - and correct ones behavior and build systems to accommodate for these biases.

For example, if someone repeatedly interrupts someone in a meeting, they might not even know it (hence, _unconscious_ bias). If you accuse that person of being sexist, the conversation stops there. But if people subscribe to unconscious bias, it can be a learning experience "hey, I noticed you interrupted X a few times in that meeting" it can be a chance to understand ones biases - "oh, I didn't mean to. I'll be mindful of that in the future." And you can even go a step further, and create systems to compensate - have a rule that one person can talk at a time (say by holding a ball), or a culture where you explicitly acknowledge any ideas you're building on before you suggest something.

Obviously there's no silver bullet to solving this, and there are bigger issues than people being interrupted in meetings, but I've found when people subscribe to this philosophy of self-reflection and mindfulness, it goes a long way in creating a positive environment where people are treated like people.

This situation is completely blown out of proportion and ridiculous.

When you have members of the opposite sex sharing space every day, sex is a factor, and there really needs to be some amount of reality brought back into this discussion.

The prevailing attitude reminds me of religious parents acting as if their teenage children are not going to have sexual relations, and refusing to educate them on sex as a result.

The majority of jobs I've had exposed me to sexual harassment and assault in various forms.

I've had female office managers hanging their arm around me and petting my hand while I try to eat lunch after weeks of my ignoring their verbal advances.

I've had female sales women grinding their breasts against me while rinding to a company offsite team-builder in a shuttle bus.

As far as I'm concerned this is par for the course when you stick women and men in the same space. I don't feel like these women crossed a line worth making a big deal about, it's not as if I was raped. They were mildly annoying, but we're adults, and I'm not deluding myself into believing we're going to be robots in a coed office without ever letting our sex enter the picture.

In all my experiences, the women gave up pretty quickly. It's as if they were just going out of their way to make it blatantly obvious they were interested, because my acting aloof and ignoring their more subtle advances weren't convincing enough. They probably assumed I was being shy (quiet, introverted, software engineer).

I personally feel people need to calm down a bit on this topic, and yes I'd like to see the double standard go away. Attraction happens, if people are civil about it and not too persistent, I'd rather there be a reasonable threshold of tolerance on both sides of this.

Those sound like somewhat mild examples of the sort of sexual harassment many women suffer.

But the behavior you describe, I would not consider acceptable. I personally would not want to work somewhere that was considered “ok” and would probably at this point mention it to the person involved, HR or their manager.

> After-work events are “the front line” when it comes to harassment, and companies want “more safety precautions” now, she said.

This makes me sad. I feel like letting your guard down and getting a little wild can lead to some pretty good camaraderie and friendship.

I'm not sure why this is hard... why is any amount of flirting, or innuendo etc. at work OK?

I do realize that people spend much of their time at work, and it's a place people meet.

Personally, now that we have dating sites and such I would not risk my career by trying to initiate a relationship with someone I am working with...

I'd rather avoid even just the mild awkwardness of someone being uncomfortable at me asking them for coffee or dinner, and having to then work with them after that.

Absolutely. But in some places I've worked, friendships built at work split heavily, though not exclusively, along gender lines. Men can reach out to befriend other men, and women women, but across that line has too much risk of being misunderstood.

It's not that simple. This isn't just some trend which can be fixed with a little logic. This is something that is changing the discussion fundamentally turning men guilty by default.

The metoo campaign IM basically allowed anything from actual abuse to catcalling be called sexual abuse. It expanded the definition of sexual abuse to basically align with only the most extreme feminists.

Men are now by definition guilty and any attempt at bringing nuance to the discussion will mark you as a possible perpetrator yourself.

> The metoo campaign IM basically allowed anything from actual abuse to catcalling be called sexual abuse. It expanded the definition of sexual abuse to basically align with only the most extreme feminists.

Are you implying that catcalling someone, in or out of the workplace, should not be considered sexual abuse?

I am saying that there is a context to these kind of social dynamics which can't just be considered binary. It depends on the situation.

All that get's lost in the panic.

Catcalling just seems like a bad example... I can't think of a situation where that seems appropriate?

I'm really not seeing why any of this belongs in the workplace. Why not bars, or if you're not the nightlife type, dating sites?

I can think of plenty where it's appropriate. Again it's about context.

Well the context in this case (per the article) is the workplace, and the article appears to focus on the US, to disambiguate the laws and norms expected.

no the context is the specific workplace and the specific people involved from what i am discussing.

Wait a minute. Actual abuse and catcalling are both abuse. The metoo campaign had flaws—I think it badly hurt some men who’d been sexually abused or harassed—but the line of what’s appropriate didn’t seem to move there.

I don't see the nuance.

You're giving me your conclusion ("men are now by definition guilty") without supporting evidence.

Could you give more concrete examples?

I treat all interactions with coworkers (male or female or otherwise) as if I were under surveillance by the KGB or Stasi, and any sort of misstep would mean imprisonment or death. I also refuse to ever drink with coworkers. It's worked out so far.

All these incidents will end up causing segregation and unwillingness to hire/work with women.

I'm guessing it's going to create power differences, where those willing to deal with social complexity will end up on top. The more people you can talk to, the better your career will do.

Much like any game of Settlers of Catan.

These incidents have been pushed against for a while, and while the same rhetoric was used in the 70's, nonetheless here we are without gendered want ads.

  > where those willing to deal with social complexity will
  > end up on top
You could also draw the opposite conclusion: bullies and predators like Harvey Weinstein are more successful on average preciously because they're less risk averse and less inhibited when leveraging their power. The #MeToo campaign doesn't change that dynamic much, especially at the extreme where you find abusers. The consequences come, if at all, long after the reward.

This doesn't just apply to sexual harassment. Sexual harassers are adept at wielding their power, which is an incredibly useful skill in any field. Very often that translates into socially aggressive behavior, even if it doesn't escalate to anything technically improper.[1] If the consequences aren't swift and transparent, theoretically we just end up evolving more skillful harassers and/or culling the aggressive non-harassers.

Just another way of looking at things. I wouldn't premise any real decisions on such a theory, but it's something I wonder about, at least in the business context. I mean, there's a reason success in business and politics correlates so strongly with so-called psychopathic character traits.

[1] What immediately comes to mind is that hilarious scene in Along Came Polly where Alec Baldwin violates almost every imaginable aspect of bathroom etiquette as part of a not-so-subtle dominance display: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SHApjKcZAgI

Because powerful people cross these boundaries so much, you can literally signify power by exaggerating this sort of behavior. See, e.g., the above hilarious clip (because comedy is funnier when it's rooted in shared experience) and Donald Trump (from the truth is stranger than fiction department). In fact, I suspect that it's precisely because we (both men and women) are so used to powerful people crossing these boundaries that women find themselves in difficult situations where the nominal boundary had long been crossed yet they were nonetheless dazed by the turn to more sexually aggressive behavior.

I thought this was talking about the band, singers of the timeless "Land Down Under."

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