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"Lighten up" (therealkatie.net)
1371 points by jnoller on Mar 21, 2012 | hide | past | web | favorite | 794 comments

You see, I have problem with posts like this.

First I'm like - "Woah, I can't imagine someone would be so insensitive to make joke like this!" and get all fed up and upset.

But then... then I freeze, because next example is something that I can imagine myself saying.

    "Oop, Katie's got the low cut dress on today! I know where I'm sitting!"
I... I'm at loss of words. I was trained during my teenage years, that it's cool to say things like that. As I'm getting older, I see how sexist and demeaning this is. But it's really hard to break this habit, and this "Hey, it's just meaningless joke, right?!" line of thought. I try, I really try, but sometimes I forget myself.

On a similar note - I have exact same problem with how I perceive woman and man having multiple sexual partners. "Good key opens many locks, but good lock is opened by only one key" and all that bullshit - I know that it's ridiculous to hold woman and men to different standard in this regard, and I mostly learned to don't do that, but my... instinct that was ingrained in me by society tells me otherwise.

I find myself struggling to suppress my subconscious mind in this regard, and frankly, I don't know how I can help it.

Edit for clarity: I don't have problem with such posts being written and upvoted, quite opposite actually, I'm glad they are written and read. I have problem with how posts like this make me feel.

The core problem here is that interpersonal relationships are not government by simple context free objective rules.

Person A in Situation X can say and do things that are perfectly acceptable that would be deplorable and disgusting if Person B in Situation Y did precisely, exactly, identically the same thing. You can grab your lover's ass, but try that on a random stranger.

Which makes telling people what they can and can't do supremely difficult. There are no objective rules for acceptable human behavior, nor can there be. Which is why feedback is so important.

I don't think this is the core problem. Feedback is occurring, and the response isn't "Oh, I'm sorry. I'll avoid doing that in the future."

It's "lighten up!" That translates roughly to: "what I was doing that bothered you is so important to me that I refuse to stop, so get over it." I think that is the core problem.

I think it's even more than that. It's not "It's so important to me" it's "this shouldn't be important to you, because it doesn't seem important to me."

Well, our pronouns refer to two different things, but, yes. It's two sides of the same coin.

I disagree. Lighten up means "I don't understand why that is bothering you because it wouldn't bother me."

It is a lack of communication issue. In that article, many of the "lighten up's" are assumed based on past experiences. For example, she did not even address the guy for fear of interrupting the meeting.

That can't be what "lighten up" means because "lighten up" is a command, and your definition is not.

Woudl it be less offensive if instead of saying "lighten up" they said "it's no big deal. Why are you always so up tight anyway?"

Certainly the latter is not a demand and is even a question, but I would argue that even barring that, it's far more of a problem.

Of course that's offensive. But you're still doing what knightenvy was not, and going beyond "I don't understand." It's perfectly fine to say you don't understand something. But from there, you should try to gain an understanding, and your quote (like the 2 previous definitions of "lighten up") don't do that. And yours adds victim blaming, which antiterra's doesn't really.

But the point is that both of these are really ways of just shutting down conversation, right? "Lighten up" isn't a demand. It's just a way of cutting off the conversation through a retort.

Yes, that too. Man, it's almost as if 'lighten up' is a complex phrase with many different aspects of meaning :) I like the way you do think through all of these different meanings, though

Thank you for your honesty and self reflection. I really appreciate it.

> frankly, I don't know how I can help it.

Two things you can do are practice and self-education. Subscribe to http://geekfeminism.org and http://feministing.com. Reading those posts will give you the stories and information you need to understand the effects of your actions.

Then practice. You won't immediately be able to catch everything, so just focus on the things that make you hesitate. Those moments when I think "maybe I shouldn't say this", I almost always learn later that I was right. Use at hesitation to do a little analysis of what the effect of your words might be.

You can also practice in your head, or in conversation. When you're on the bus, think about things you said recently, and analyze them. Look for things that might've hurt people. When you're having conversations with people, think about what you would've said in that situation. Practice the analysis, and practice saying the right things.

You'll never be perfect, but you can TOTALLY get to the point where you're mostly not harming people. Which is an awesome place to get from the default for men, which is harming people over all day without having any clue.

"Katie's got the low cut dress on today! I know where I'm sitting!"...As I'm getting older, I see how sexist and demeaning this is.

At the risk of revealing myself to be a chauvinistic jerk, is this kind of response sexist and demeaning, or just inappropriate for the workplace? Why do women wear low-cut dresses if not to attract male attention (in the majority of cases)? Would it be sexist and demeaning for me to notice and comment on a low-cut dress in another context (like a bar)? What about with my wife? Is it sexist and demeaning to find her sexually attractive?

I'm not disagreeing that the statement is offensive and inappropriate, but I'm not sure it's sexist.

> Why do women wear low-cut dresses if not to attract male attention (in the majority of cases)?

Yes, Virginia, this is sexist. Holy hell, is it sexist.

You are characterizing a woman's behavior in terms of how it makes you, as a man, feel. There are many reasons that a human might dress a particular way, but by characterizing it as a gender-based, "she wore that to make me do this" kind of transaction you have incorrectly emphasized a single way. This woman wore it for no other reason than to attract male attention? Really? Are you sure? Her decision is entirely based on how it would make a man feel?

I'm a heterosexual man and I wear certain jeans because I like to show off my butt. That's fine. But am I doing it because I want to attract "female attention"? Not exactly. This turns on a subtle point, but it's very important: I wore them for me, not for anyone else. Feeling attractive is not the same as receiving attention. I don't want to be honked at, felt up, leered at, or even commented on. But I do want to look good. Does that make sense?

This situation is only exacerbated when you bring in gender dynamics: men and women are equal, yes, but women are the ones who've been oppressed for centuries and are struggling up the slope to reach equality. What a man says to a woman exists within this context, so simply reversing the roles and pointing out that it's okay HERE but not THERE is not sufficient.

Check out: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gaze The section about feminism and the male gaze applies here, too.

Are you sure?

Of course I'm not sure. But when you hear hoofbeats, think horses, not zebras. Why do all the waitresses in Hooters wear low-cut tops? Is it for comfort? Is it because they couldn't afford the other 30% of the shirt? Or is it because that's proven to be very effective at gaining male attention?

I wore them for me, not for anyone else.

This makes no sense. In a post-apocolyptic world where you're the only person on earth, would you dress the same way you do now? Would the last woman on earth wear low-cut dresses and mini-skirts? I doubt it. Being "attractive" specifically refers to other peoples' attention and emotions towards you.

I'm not saying that it's ok to leer at women, to verbally or physically harass them, etc. But it's incredibly ludicrous to me to think that someone dressed in a manner usually considered "provocative" probably did so without any intention, or that anyone responding to that mode of dress is automatically sexist.

Would it be appropriate for a woman to start coming into the office topless? Would it be sexist of me to find that sexually arousing? If so, I guess I'm a sexist. My only consolation is knowing that I'm not alone and that you (if you're a heterosexual male) are almost certainly right there with me :)

> Why do all the waitresses in Hooters wear low-cut tops?

Seriously, stop right there. Read what you just wrote. You're comparing a professional developer who chose to dress comfortably to women chosen for sex appeal by a restaurant which is only a step away from a strip club.

There is something seriously wrong with the way you are approaching this issue.

To answer your last question-- I'm a straight guy, and no, I wouldn't find it sexually arousing if a co-worker came in to work topless. Probably because I'm not fifteen, and I've seen boobs before.

Okay, I would be surprised at first, probably a little more so than if it was a male co-worker, but if it's what either of them wanted to be comfortable in their office I would get over it. And if a male co-worker couldn't restrain himself from making sexually suggestive comments, I would be pretty disgusted by his behavior.

(Don't forget, by the way, it's perfectly legal for women to be topless in public in both NYC and San Francisco, so this is certainly a possibility.)

You're comparing a professional developer who chose to dress comfortably to women chosen for sex appeal by a restaurant which is only a step away from a strip club.

You're arguing a straw man. I didn't say anything remotely close to that; my point was just that wearing low-cut tops and dressing for sex appeal are usually correlated.

I'm a straight guy, and no, I wouldn't find it sexually arousing if a co-worker came in to work topless.

Can you expand on this a little? It makes sense if the person was someone you didn't find attractive at all, but what if you did find that person attractive in normal work dress? Would you seriously not be aroused if they came into work topless? Or do you magically turn off your sense of attraction at work? I'm not sure I believe you, but even if that's true, it's clearly not for the vast majority of male society. Hence the plethora of advertising and marketing aimed at men that features scantily-clad attractive women.

Finally, it's obviously completely inappropriate to make those comments at work. But I don't think it's sexist.

> You're arguing a straw man. I didn't say anything remotely close to that; my point was just that wearing low-cut tops and dressing for sex appeal are usually correlated.

Oh, did I get that quote wrong? Let's play the tape:

> Why do all the waitresses in Hooters wear low-cut tops?

Huh. It sounds like you're saying there that, because women selected for their sex appeal by a restaurant which is only a step away from a strip club wear low-cut tops as part of their required work uniform, it is reasonable to assume that a professional developer who chooses to wear a low-cut top is doing so to attract male attention.

Which part did I get wrong?

> Can you expand on this a little?

Here is a picture of an infant eating: http://www.breastfeedingchild.com/images/lying%20down.jpg

Here is a picture of a procedure which detects cancer: http://www.sciencephoto.com/image/271974/530wm/M4150542-Mamm...

Here is a picture of some people who aren't wearing shirts: http://gothamist.com/upload/2011/08/toplessdaya0811.jpg?882

Which of these pictures (if not all) causes you sexual arousal? Am I really so bizarre in my ability to look at these images, think "That is an uncovered female breast," and have my next thought not be "I would like to have sex with that person"? Because, you know, breasts (like the women who own them) don't exist for my sexual pleasure? Because context matters?

(For the record, my next thoughts, in order: "Awww!", "Oh man, that looks like it sucks," and "Wait, do I know that guy?")

Lastly, if you make inappropriate sexual comments about women, and not men, you are being sexist full stop. You are treating people differently, in a damaging way, solely on the basis of their sex. That is the definition of sexism. The justification is not relevant; in fact a lot of sexist behavior stems ultimately from insufficiently mediated sexual desire. (If you make inappropriate comments about both men and women equally, you are excused from the charge of sexism, though not from that of being a creep.)

> Here is a picture of....

Alright, look...those are pictures of people who are topless and are taken in non-sexual environments. Biologically speaking, there is nothing more sexual about those photographs than photographs of the same people wearing shirts.

Physiologically speaking, though, there is a difference. For most of us, chemicals in our brain respond instantaneously to those pictures, virtually shouting, "this is a naked woman". And its not just a male response, either (http://list.msu.edu/cgi-bin/wa?A3=ind9710B&L=AEJMC&E...). Nudity sells, and not because naked people look different. It's because our brains are tuned into paying attention to them, both by nature and by nurture.

The point of what I'm saying is that anyone wearing things that make you look good will ALSO make those who would otherwise be attracted to you pay more attention. It's not a choice, it is literally hard wired into our brains. Our brains respond chemically (http://jn.physiology.org/content/98/3/1374.abstract) to the pleasant, attractive things that we see. You have to understand that although you wear your jeans for yourself, anyone who is chemically predispositioned to do so will ALSO have their brains respond chemically.

This is no excuse for anyone who acts improperly in response to something that they see. We're all fully capable of controlling ourselves. Some of us have more practice in it than others, but society couldn't function if we couldn't control these reactions. The chemical response doesn't go away, though, it's just mitigated by other chemical responses.

We can (and most of us do) control our responses, but it doesn't get us anywhere to pretend that it doesn't happen. .

Sorry, that's just factually inaccurate. Cf. Male nudists do not walk around all day with uncontrollable erections. I'm sure many do at first, but you get used to it rapidly and discover what anthropologists have known for some time, that nudity is not the same thing as sex appeal.

I'm sure there was a time in my adolescence when the mere appearance of a square inch of uncovered skin would have provoked a sudden involuntary orgasm like some Victorian gentleman, but I have seen enough breasts in enough contexts to realize that very rarely do they imply anything sexual.

For what it's worth, your sources do not support your point. They refer to sexual, erotic and romantic images, which I hope you would agree none of those pictures would be considered.

Sexism is one of those topics that invokes a lot of disingenuous statements. If the article being discussed was about human sexuality, people here would discuss in great detail how evolution has hard wired our brains for certain reactions, behaviors, etc, discuss documentaries they've seen, post links to articles, etc.

But if the article being posted is about the sexist treatment of a woman in the workplace, eventually the discussion will get to the absurd point where many of the men essentially claim that these biological sexual impulses literally don't even exist.

If treating people differently because of their gender is wrong, does it apply to both positive and negative treatment? Because judging by the comment count whenever this subject comes up, nothing seems to fire up the HN crowd more than sexual discrimination. Other more serious injustices in life never invoke this much passioned discussion.

>Other more serious injustices in life never invoke this much passioned discussion

I don't know if it's the case, but I imagine the more serious injustices are more black and white, where as sexism is almost all gray. One person's "I can't believe he said that" is another person's "You should have heard my daddy talk to my momma".

Pedantic. There is such a thing as sex appeal and dressing sexily. The entire fashion industry is built on it. I bet some of the people in those last pictures have been called "sexy" and liked it.

As a man I dress well because I want to be attractive. No, it doesn't mean women should feel free to whistle at me at work, but it's not outrageous to explore the boundaries and decision making process on this forum.

There is also such a thing as dressing well because it is comfortable, or makes one feel better about oneself, without the intention of attracting sexual attention, and the distinction between the two is not pedantic. It is at the core of the disagreement here.

Look at the original quote: "Oop, Katie's got the low cut dress on today! I know where I'm sitting!" A clear statement of sexual interest, which Katie clearly did not wish to receive.

The hypothesis we are being asked to entertain is that she probably was wearing the low-cut dress because she wanted to attract male attention, but that this comment was in some other way offensive. That is, she wanted this guy to think that, just not say it. Because women are touchy, or something. What an absurdly insulting proposal!

Is it really so hard to imagine that she might want to dress in a way which is gratifying to her, without intending to be the object of men's sexual fantasies?

I have a question, and this is a real question, I'm not trying to be a dick here.

Suppose that Katie is a very large, very unattractive woman, and the meaning behind the statement isn't, "I'm going to sit where I can take advantage of the low cut dress", but "I'm going to sit as far away from her as possible", is it still sexist?

Same statement applies: if you say that sort of thing only to women, yes, it is sexist. If you treat both men and women that way equally, you aren't sexist, just an asshole.

Sorry about the downvotes, it's a legitimate question to me.

What about the statement, "I think I'll take a seat next to the beautiful lady in the room."

Is it clearly not treating her the same as everyone else? Yes. But is it sexism?

There's worse out there (well, that's just about always true), but sure: that's sexism.

It's pretty obvious if you take it apart a little.

You're singling out the one woman in the room, commenting on her physical characteristics, and saying that (presumably because of those physical attributes) you're going to sit next to her.

Now, why would you want to do that? Sit next to this person purely based on her gender and physical attractiveness?

Well, obviously you're not singling her out as the most expert person in the room, or anything else remotely related to your actual purpose for being there (I'm imagining this in a work environment).

Nope, you're sitting there to hit on her. You've already started, with the compliment. Possibly only very politely, but will she trust you to stop there? And will she now have to assume you're casting sidelong glances at her breasts when she points up at the whiteboard during the discussion?

And since this is a work situation (not a social one), she doesn't even have the option to excuse herself and go talk with other people if your advances are unwelcome.

Hope this helps make it a bit more clear.

It would make me uncomfortable. I wouldn't say anything, because I'd be told to 'lighten up'.

Why would it make me uncomfortable? It would subtly remind everyone in the room, including me, that I'm different. And it would place an (unintended, I'm sure) emphasis on my physical attributes, which have nothing to do with my ability to design or program software.

It's bullying and harassment and would be covered in UK employment laws.

One can imagine such comments causing Katie distress or stress. Employers have a legal duty (which has been tested in courts many times) to protect their employees from harm (and that includes stress) in the workplace.

It is quite possibly sexist; there's not enough information to say.

Boohoo. If I come into work with a big pink sombrero on my head people would probably give me some unfavorable remarks. My reasons for wearing it are irrelevant. It wouldn't excuse violence or career repercussions, but it would be childish to expect that you can present yourself in any way you like without others reacting to it. That is a key purpose of presentation.

All I can say is you need to read this all over again -- starting with the original blog post -- because you have missed the point in a big, big way.

>my point was just that wearing low-cut tops and dressing for sex appeal are usually correlated.

I didn't start wearing low-cut tops and dresses until I started breast-feeding because they make it easier to pull out your boobs.

> I wouldn't find it sexually arousing if a co-worker came in to work topless.

Which is why I sometimes wish for a nudist society, exposing clothes can be much more distracting than none at all.

> Probably because I'm not fifteen, and I've seen boobs before.

I'm neither fifteen nor in dire need of breasts, and a mini skirt in summer can still be enough to keep me from thinking straight (I won't comment on it though). Some of us can't be fixed, looking down on me won't help.

I actually agree with both of you, you simply sound as if you had different women in mind all the time. There are girls in all environments that dress up with intentions. It sucks, they cause prejudice, but the OP really doesn't sound like it.

Re: women being topless in public.

This has always sort of baffled me. That is, the fact that there has to be a specific law/rule allowing women to appear in public without some form of upper-body garment.

Obviously, regardless of gender, it's all about context. I wouldn't consider it appropriate for someone to get around without a shirt on while at work (I suppose there could be exceptions, eg. certain manual labour jobs where employees are comfortable shedding clothing in an effort to stay cool etc.).

But in a situation where its natural to take ones shirt off, such as swimming, I don't see why women shouldn't be allowed the same 'privilege' just because they may have visible deposits of fat and muscle on their chest.

I know there are all sorts of longstanding social preconceptions that a lot of people would hold on this sort of issue, but isn't that something most people would expect to change over time?

Companies often have specific dress code regarding clothing choices because of issues like this. So I believe his point is valid at least in a generalization point of view.

> This makes no sense.

From the post:

> ... Start wearing sweaters, even though my breasts feel like they're boiling in there (yup, that's one reason women like low tops, guys)? ...

Comfort is her reason for wearing low cut tops. No need to speculate further than that.

To flip this around to me, I know that at times, I've done the bare minimum in the clothing department. Sometimes this means getting into my clubbing attire when I'm low on laundry. Do I own this shirt for a certain kind of attention? Yes. Am I looking for that attention at work? No, it's just getting close to laundry day

Do you see it as unreasonable that people in both situations pay you more attention?

Unreasonable? No.

Intended on my part? No. (That was my point)

Your response echoes the problems nearly every rights-movement runs up against. The issue is that such things are societally OK (or borderline), which does not imply that they're right.

In a post-apocalyptic world where there aren't enough men, would you allow women to vote? They aren't as educated, surely doing this would bring about yet another apocalypse. Imagine who they'd vote for!

What would happen if a woman were voted into congress? Surely her sexual appeal would distract the entire group of men there, lowering the overall quality of work.

The problem is that this is a problem, and that people don't yet see it. Say, in time, it becomes OK for a woman to come into an office topless. Imagine the reaction of people then who hear of our behavior now. Now think of your reaction when you think of the historical debates about whether or not black people had souls, which made it OK to use them as slaves because they weren't really human.

> Why do all the waitresses in Hooters wear low-cut tops?

Because they work in an industry that is primarily based on looks. Just like it's "okay" to stare at fashion models, it's "okay" to stare at waitresses at Hooters. Seeing as you don't work at Hooters (I'm guessing, ( ; ) then this doesn't apply here.

> In a post-apocolyptic world where you're the only person on earth, would you dress the same way you do now?

I'm not sure this hypothetical adds to the conversation. I also wouldn't dress the way I do now if the gender dynamics in Western culture were different. What's your point?

> Being "attractive" specifically refers to other peoples' attention and emotions towards you.

I would argue that being "attractive" is more a question of self-esteem than perception by others; see any interview with Megan Fox where she admits to not feeling attractive. It's not about how others feel about you, but about how you feel about yourself. How you feel about yourself is, partly, a product of the culture that contextualizes you, but that's more about the cultural aggregate than specific individuals (the hypothetical woman who is commenting about my great butt).

> I'm not saying that it's ok to leer at women, to verbally or physically harass them, etc. But it's incredibly ludicrous to me to think that someone dressed in a manner usually considered "provocative" probably did so without any intention, or that anyone responding to that mode of dress is automatically sexist.

Totally. I know you're not advocating horrible behavior, but sexism is not a flipped bit; it's a complex spectrum with multiple dimensions that is hard to quantify as "on" or "off". I tend to think that most people (me included) are sexist, and it's not categorically Bad and Evil, just something that I consider in my responses to certain situations and issues. It's okay to be sexist; it's not okay to make unwelcome remarks about a woman's appearance.

But you're asking the wrong question here: why is someone wearing a low-cut dress "provocative" at all? Provocative to whom? Why does how I dress necessarily have anything to do with anyone else? Every woman who wants to wear tight clothing wants to be looked at, otherwise they would wear burqas? It's incredibly ludicrous to me that you seem to be putting forth that supposition. It seems to lead to, "I'm sorry she was offended, but if she didn't want to be offended then she should've dressed differently." Which is a form of victim blaming: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Victim_blaming

As to coming to work topless: no one is questioning whether or not being attracted to women is sexist. Of course not. But commenting about a female colleague's cleavage at work is sexist and demeaning. Be attracted all you want, fine. But don't cross the line.

This might be a ludicrous way to approach it, but would we be having this same conversation if a lesbian had made the comment, or better yet, a gay man to another man? I think it's still obviously inappropriate sexual harassment but it doesn't feel immediately "sexist" to me in the same way. Sexism is about discrimination or prejudice based on gender, and I think we too quickly view anything inappropriate from one gender to the other as being "sexist".

Good point; I think we would be having this conversation.

We would not call it sexism, as that's reserved for unwanted attention between the sexes, usually male-to-female, but sometimes reversed... but it would still be just as wrong.

I think we don't have more cases like that because LGTM people are in a minority, but that doesn't mean that an LGTM person can't make unwelcome advances upon another person; why would it? Of course they can.

Can you name something inappropriate from one gender to another that isn't sexist? Consensual sex with your wife is appropriate. Getting slapped on the ass by your SO is appropriate. Getting fondled at a concert by a member of the opposite sex..? Did you want that to happen? You did? Great! Appropriate. You didn't? Inappropriate. Clean and simple.

What else do you feel is sexual harassment but not sexist? Where is your line?

sexism, as that's reserved for unwanted attention between the sexes

That's harassment. Sexism is believing or acting as though one sex is intrinsically better than the other, as racism is the same with race. Sexism is not directly related to sexuality in the "having sex" sense, any more than racism has to do with sprinting.

That's not what sexism or racism is. Racism is not statements like "black people dance better," it is only when a negative statement is made about a race in a perceived inferior statement (e.g. vis-a-vis white people).

Racism and sexism are, respectively, stereotyping someone based on their perceived race or sex. Yes, even positive stereotyping ("pracism") like "black people dance better", "asians are great at math", or "girls are better note-takes".

The negative effects of this form of racism & sexism are fairly well documented.

Maybe the downmodders are right in a "by the books" sense, but try to accuse someone of sexism when they say "men don't make good homekeepers" and see how far you get. Practically speaking, it doesn't work. Also I'll add that this weird feature seems only to exist for white people in Western countries.

I know several male "homekeepers" who would be very offended by that extremely sexist remark.

And yet, the US Census regards fathers as child care, not designated parents.


I don't think you'll find any arguments that the US government doesn't have insane double standards and sexist laws. But I doubt you can make that kind of claim for any government, really, since they're constructed by people - to get rid of it, you'd have to get rid of it in people, and I'm not aware of that ever having happened.

The definition on sexism has already been addressed, so I will leave that alone.

Do you not think there are grey areas? Areas where a comment might seem harmless but end up insulting someone?

To me the only way addressing this is to speak up when it happens. If you don't then the grey area remains grey and it is likely a behavior to be repeated.

Mmm, I guess this doesn't have to make sense to you, but there are people who enjoy being fashionable. I don't understand them either, but it seems to be a form of self-expression, not an invitation to flirt.

  I'm a heterosexual man and I wear certain jeans because I 
  like to show off my butt. That's fine. But am I doing it 
  because I want to attract "female attention"? Not exactly. 
  This turns on a subtle point, but it's very important: I 
  wore them for me, not for anyone else. Feeling attractive 
  is not the same as receiving attention. I don't want to be 
  honked at, felt up, leered at, or even commented on. But I 
  do want to look good. Does that make sense?
No, it doesn't make any sense. It completely disingenuous and you don't even realize it. The question you need to address is: why do you want your butt to look good? And the answer is: for the women. Because you want to attract 'female attention'. There is no other reason to care about whether your butt looks good. You could wear any decent pair of trousers that does not show off your butt and the only thing that would change is how much attention you would get from women.

And as for 'being commented on': the only reason you even know it looks good, is because people have commented on it, in whatever way.

Everything we do, everything, is infused with a desire to mate. You can try to deny that, but that doesn't make it go away. That is exactly what leads to the "lighten up" attitude: trying to defend you acting out on your desire to mate. The only way to reduce the influence of that desire is by acknowledging it and actively attempting to diminish its influence.

Yah, well. He could also be doing it for attention from men. For a uber-politically correct thread, there's an awful lot of heterosexism going on here. #JustSaying

You're mentioning behaviour that is inappropriate overall (i.e. with strangers/acquaintances), but this post was more about the behaviour that is inappropriate only at the workplace (at least I read it this way). Unless you're saying that the sets of inappropriate behaviours are equal, in which case I wholeheartedly agree.

Personally, I would enjoy getting compliments about my ass. Being grabbed/honked at, not so much. But plain compliments, sure! Even at the workplace. At least, I believe that getting compliments beats not getting compliments, and I tend to believe that most people, men and women, would agree.

It totally depends on the compliment. If someone complimented me on my crotch ("Nice package, man! You're really filling it out nicely there!")... then, no. ( =

Otherwise, though, yeah, I like getting compliments about my hair, eyes, whatever, sure. But commenting about sexual characteristics, specifically, is a line that one shouldn't cross. Just like complimenting someone every single day for weeks on end is another line.

If the other person indicates that the compliments are welcome, then you're probably good. If they give no indication in any way, then they're probably not welcome.

Besides, a single compliment isn't the issue: a whole system of behaviors taken across a wide sample size of more than just one man, is.

And I'm not sure what your first paragraph means. 'Splain? ( =

I can respect a woman by not "gazing" at her. A woman can respect me by not wearing slutty clothing. Elementary, Dr. Watson.

This is always where geeks run off the rails in discussions like this. We want to come up with rules for things: either this statement is "sexist" or it is not, and here is the objective reason for that decision.

But it misses the point. Context matters. In a utopian environment where women felt equally respected, sure, a sideways/slightly-inappropriate comment would be fine. In some workplaces today that might even be true. But it's not the norm, and in the real world people feel disrespected by this kind of treatment. Not everyone (but some, sure, as I'm sure someone will point out needlessly) likes the fact that their perfectly "normal" clothing choice can make them "attractive" in one context but the butt of a joke in another. Men, on the whole, don't deal with that.

The rule is: some girls like it, some girls don't. You have to know what they will like before you open your mouth.

Oh bullshit. If I'm hanging out with my boss at a barbegue and does something stupid and I say "you're such a dumbass", it's a fun jab. If my boss says incorrect or misinformed in front of customers, and I say the exact same thing, in the exact same tones with the exact same stupid grin, it could be a lost sale, and a reprimand. Context does matter, and it's not some whimsical flight of fancy by fickle and capricious women.

The rule is: don't assert your situational power. A woman alone or outnumbered among men is going to feel pressured. Comments you make won't be well received even if she is worried enough by the pressure to smile and hide her discomfort. She'll just curse your name to her friends after work.

Contrast: if you're the only man in a room of women, and the boss is a woman, would you dare speak up with your "nice dress" type comment? That's what it feels like to be on the downside of a power gap.

Believe it or not, I would dare speak up, even to my boss, if I thought she would appreciate the comment.

Yeah, why not? In a room full of men, the comment would be made to the other men, but for the benefit of that woman. It would be flippant and funny. In a room full of women, the comment would be more personal, and I would have to keep the tone extremely light because the more serious I am, the more vulnerable I am.

Seriously? You're saying that standing alone in a room full of women of uniformly equal or higher social standing (suggestion: if you have kids, take a day off and bring them to any local parent/child activity -- it's likely to be 100% mothers) you'd feel comfortable blurting out "You're wearing a low cut dress! I know where I'm sitting!".

Please (please!) try this. And bring a camera. I suspect you'll be very surprised at the results.

Of course I've done it. I was at an all-mothers event mostly by accident. She glared at me and kind of laughed. My mother gave me a dirty look lol. Pretty much expected. Did you expect something bad to happen? Maybe it would be different if she were single and available?

So I guess the lesson is that because sp332 feels no shame in deeply embarrassing situations that no one else would. Yikes. I'd be bright red and backing slowly toward the door if that came out of my mouth. You, sir, are weird.

Well I felt pretty bad about it at the time, and left the room after a minute. But later she told me (when I asked her about it) that it wasn't a big deal and I shouldn't have taken it so hard. My mom doesn't remember the incident but she tells me that no one would have cared much.

OK, but that's a really telling detail: she was gracious about it, because she could be (she was in a position of social power), and because you were visibly embarrassed. In the anecdote above, the guy wasn't apparently embarrassed, and Katie didn't have the social power to tell him "it's OK" even if he was (and why should she have to, if she was the one who was embarassed?).

See the point? These are critical details, and they change the moral calculus. You can't wave away an incident like this just because you can imagine something similar which wasn't a problem.

Like I said way up-thread: someone (you) is going to point out that not all women would react like Katie did. So what? Context matters!

I totally agree with you. I think JulianMorrison missed that point. Being on the "downside of a power gap" doesn't always mean that speaking up will have bad consequences. It's up to the person who has power. The men in the original scenario need to explicitly give the woman room to speak up if she's feeling uncomfortable.

Missing the point still. Everything done by the person on the downside of a power gap is done in the context of the predicted consequences for doing otherwise. This is a sexist society, full of such concepts as "humourless ice bitch". Actually showing a discomfort which is felt inside might be dangerous. A room entirely full of women is enough to counterbalance this and allow communal frowns to speak loudly. Merely "explicitly giv[ing] the woman room to speak up" is liable to get a response that means "don't hate me" more than it means "here is what I honestly feel". Power has to work harder to blunt its bad effects than just saying "so please ignore the power gap".

My rule is Simple, Girls or Boys. Black or white, no matter what race, religion, ethnicity or even personal preferences people have.

Deal with them professionally. Judge them with only on performance, nothing else.

"girls"?! Do you know many female children that wear low cut tops?

Or do you mean adult women?

Via google: Girl:

A young or relatively young woman

A young woman of a specified kind or having a specified job - a career girl

Women who mix socially or belong to a particular group, team, or profession - I look forward to having lunch with the girls

Perhaps this is a language issue, but it's just as common for me to call my male friends 'boys' as my female friends 'girls', even though all are adults. Not sure what the issue here is.

If you're calling any female co-workers "girls" in conversations at or about the workplace, you're doing it wrong.

There is a long history of society downplaying women's contributions in the workforce by using cutesy terms like "girls", and some of the definitions you've cited here reflect that. But just because a term like "career girl" was once in wide use doesn't mean that it's still appropriate today. (Or for that matter that it ever was: can you imagine anyone ever having used the term "career boy"?) Much like the ridiculous term "co-ed" for "woman who we decided to allow into college", its time has thankfully come and gone.

I guess the words I use are closer to guys/gals then boys/girls then, except that it's used commonly the language (as opposed to gal in english, which is fairly rare - at least from my experience).

There can be a lot of hang overs in languages that aim to demean and diminish people. Calling a black man "boy", or a woman "girl" is a way to belittle them.

"Boy" vs "Girl" is an interesting one. It's not uncommon, as you pointed out, to call adult women "girl". However you rarely in the straight male world do people refer to adult men as "boy". However in the gay male world, sometimes "boy" is used (e.g. this collection of gay short films 'Boys on Film': http://www.amazon.co.uk/Boys-Film-Hard-Love-DVD/dp/B001L5JMQ... ). This shows that "boy" (and hence "girl") is a slightly sexualised way to talk about someone. Should you be using sexualised terms in a professional environment? No, so say "women".

(BTW: Just because your google search found some results that back up what you say, but might be a bit misogynistic doesn't mean google is right. "Jew Watch" still shows up above the fold if I search for "Jew", but it would be wrong of me to excuse anti-Semitism based on that reasoning)

For men: I'm hanging with the "guys" or "bros." For women: I'm hanging with the "girls." (you can't say "ladies" in this context, you can't use "sisters," you could use "gals" but it would sound like you were from Texas).

We want to come up with rules for things: either this statement is "sexist" or it is not, and here is the objective reason for that decision.

Um, yes - geeks want objective rules which allow us to figure out that an activity is either legitimate or not. This principle is called the "rule of law".

Are you advocating that we should abandon the rule of law in cases of sexism?

Laws are the bare minimum set of rules for your moral behaviour - the stuff that's so bad we have to punish you if you do it. If you can't do better than the bare minimum, then you're doing very poorly at morality.

Not all good behaviour can be written down as clear-cut rules. I sure wish you could, but you can't. It's a bit like the story of what happens if you try to measure programmer productivity: whatever measurement you use (eg. lines of code), someone will find a way to game the system. Yet people can still be "obviously" more productive even if we don't have a numerical way to prove it.

What apenwarr said. Also the "rule of law" is nowhere near as objective in the geek sense as you seem to think. It's filled with concepts like "the reasonable person" and "mens rea" which are heavily contextual and subjective.

Attempting to find nature's law governing complex social interactions sounds like a fool's errand.

Sexism is endemic to the society and to the relationships which generate that comment.

So, right. Imagine that you're a woman. You're told from a very young age that you have to watch what you wear, and where you wear it, and how you walk in it, how well-lit it is -- you don't want that sort of Attention. And wear high heels, they make you more attractive -- but don't wear high heels because they might be clumsy if you have to flee from Unwanted Attention.

The problem isn't the clothes. The problem is the Unwanted Attention. As a man, your defenses against sexual assault -- at least the ones that you're taught by the culture -- are chiefly, "don't go to jail." That's because that's the only major place you have to worry about Unwanted Attention. There are maybe some Bad Neighborhoods which you're asked to memorize and route around in addition.

"I know where I'm sitting!" paints women as the objects of your sexual indulgence, and commits to undressing them with your eyes. That's probably Unwanted Attention, but it is not the Problem.

The Problem is "Why do women wear low-cut dresses if not to attract male attention?" -- where you imply that the woman is ultimately responsible for the sad state of affairs culminating in the Unwanted Attention, rather than the males thus attendant and the culture thus pervasive.

A female friend who worked in an office setting described it this way to me:

"I can't wear anything too revealing, because I'm perceived as easy or slutty. I can't wear anything too modest, because it makes me seem prudish or not fun. I have to find that perfect middle ground -- between professional and cute. Every single day."

There's a kernel of truth to this, but it's also somewhat disingenuous.

At work, as a male, I can't wear anything too casual because it's unprofessional or might mark me as a hipster, but I also can't suit up every day unless I want to be seen as a corporate drone. I have to find that perfect middle ground -- between professional and hip. Every single day.

Woah, not the same at all. If you wear a low cut top in a room full of guys and are seen by some as a sexual object, it's taken on a new dimension. I appreciate the subtleties of male dress (I deal with the same issues you raised), but the pressure isn't the same.

But who's putting all this pressure on women? As a professional geek, I couldn't care less what my colleagues are wearing -- male or female alike. At my previous job, most managers (including mine) were women; do you think they were judging their "badly-dressed" female subordinates more harshly than their male subordinates? If yes, why would they do that, knowing all too well how hard it is to strike that "perfect middle ground"?

Most of this pressure is self-inflicted. These problems won't go away until women stop listening to the idiotic fashion industry; if they don't, it's because their issues are less rational than they make them out to be.

Of course, my point was mainly that "having to go through something every single day" can be a huge burden or a slight inconvenience, and I'd be much more interested to hear from women where on that spectrum picking work attire falls for them rather than assuming it reduces their quality of life to zero based on a dramatized quote. Again, not trying to discount your friend's experience and I sure as hell don't think men have exactly the same issue, it's just low on context.

I completely agree. This thread is full of guys like me hypothesizing about what it's like to be a woman in the workplace. I'd love to hear more examples. I could be completely wrong.

Yeah stdbrouw, I think you missed the mark on this one. These things aren't even in the same ballpark.

I imagine that being marked as 'hipster' has very different consequences for you than being marked as a 'slut' would have.

That does sound like a pain in the ass, but surely the problem is that the range is too narrow, not that there is a range in the first place. If a female coworker showed up at work one day in lingerie, is that really not supposed to mean anything and we're all supposed to go around like little asexual robots and completely ignore it? Ditto for the other end of the spectrum and for the male gender.

Why do we have dress standards in the first place? Why not just wear a speedo to work if that's what you find comfortable?

I agree that there is such a thing as dressing inappropriately. Let's further assume that they are doing so for the express purpose of attracting your attention. (In my experience, men are usually deluding themselves about how much women dress to seduce them, but whatever).

The question is, how are you going to react to it?

Because one person dresses inappropriately, do you have to react to it like a 14-year-old boy? Are you going to comment on it in a way that implies that women are there for your personal entertainment? Are you, by opening your mouth, going to encourage others to get even cruder? And what about all the other women you work with, or will potentially work with (who probably resent the woman who overdoes the cleavage too)?

I understand that you feel that it's unrealistic to ban sexuality from the workplace. But it's not prudishness that is called for, but judgment. Consider that your actions take place in an existing context. In 2012, it doesn't take too many comments like that before your workplace or your open source project or whatever turns into a hostile space for women.

Now, I've worked on volunteer projects with people who knew each other really well, and things are considerably looser with regards to sexual humor.

The point is, you have to create an environment where women have a secure status. In the typical workplace, people barely know each other, and women are just barely holding onto whatever status they've earned. This probably means refraining from the more puerile jokes and observations.

P.S. In the interests of full disclosure, I've failed at this sometimes myself. I had a colleague who was a great programmer, but I was distracted by her body. She wore shapeless t-shirts covered in shapeless hoodies most of the time, in part, I'm sure, to hide this. But more's the pity that she basically has to dress in a tent in order to have her colleagues look her in the eye.

So, what is the solution? Work uniforms for everyone?

But more to the point, doesn't this suggest a desire on one hand to seem cute, feminine, and romantically attractive, but not to get too much attention? If this is the case, then are there bright lines at all in this area?

Sexual assault is no joke. But so what if someone gives you "unwanted attention"? We have become a culture of whiners and rationalisers. It would be like me, as a man, going on and on about how unfair it is that I'm expected to hide fear and put the safety of females before my own. Of course, we're well along the way to destroying that tradition. People ignore the myriad of subtle advantages to this "sexist" approach, starting with the fact that in an emergency no thought needs to be exercised - men know reflexively that they are to put themselves between danger and other people. Maybe we can weaken this a bit and use some different criteria like "the best and bravest should protect others". But if we let the more fantatical egalitarians run the show it will end up with unworkable madness like demanding equal representation in self-sacrifice between men and women.

Well, the "so what" is everything: Unwanted Attention is Unwanted because it embraces some sort of threat or menace or unreasonable expectation or social tension or unease. To say that we should stop giving women this sort of unwanted attention is not whining or rationalizing, nor is it fanatical egalitarianism. It's just demanding a culture where we men know that it's dangerous to control, frightening to objectify, and despicable to rape. The problem is that we accidentally think of these things as "you know, just a thing we do." We just casually say "I totally owned you at TF2" or "he used to be my boss but then I was promoted and I made him my bitch" -- and if you were asked about the slavery and rape metaphors there you just say "Lighten up, I wasn't being literal about it."

Power doesn't have to pervade the society, and it's a bit bizarre how it does. Only last year I joined up with an Ultimate club in Delft, after a childhood in the US. I hated sports in the US because it was cutthroat and antisocial. In the Netherlands there is a big difference, "what sport do you play?" is actually, like, an everyday question. You're expected to have one. And I liked Ultimate here, at least, because people were immediately giving me tips on how to throw cleaner, how to run better, how to stop faster, how to jump higher. It isn't about someone being Team Captain and you wondering whether you'll get Picked Last. I don't know where we learned that as children, but it was part of this bizarre Culture of Power.

And it's the same Power Culture which Joel Spolsky warns entrepreneurs about: don't try to dictate what your artists do; instead try to facilitate, let them express themselves as artists.

Power Culture might have "subtle advantages" as you say. It probably means that we can hire fewer teachers for larger classrooms, because kids are scared that they might be sent to The Principal's Office. But the social repercussions are pretty amazing. In a couple centuries I wonder whether this sort of culture will seem as foreign to them as owning slaves seems to us.

Today I learned: "I owned you at <x>" is a slavery metaphor. It was always just something I said. Now I know, and therefore probably can't say it anymore...

If no one in the context of the discussion finds it offensive, I would say it is fine to say it. If the original meaning of a word has become archaic, then I cannot see a rational reason why one cannot say it. If someone becomes offended by usage of the word, then maybe your position should be re-evaluated, but most insults have their history in bigotry, and trying to cleanse yourself that way is not productive. The word "git" comes from the word "beget", insinuating that they are a forgotten offspring: a bastard. Some people would be offended by being called a bastard, because of it's meaning of being born out of wedlock. But I cannot see anyone being offended by being called a git for it's original meaning. The term no longer means what it does, and censuring it as such does not make sense to me. The same might apply to "I owned you", though I don't know the term so well, so I can't really comment.

Though it is my example, I would add that I don't think that it started out as a slavery-of-others metaphor.

So, before there was "pwned" there was "ownership." You "owned at the game" rather than "owning the other players." The ownership was to entitle that your mastery of the game was so complete that you transcended mere "participation" in the game and instead cultivated "belonging."

Unfortunately, etymology is something of a footnote in real life.

Sorry, I can't talk to someone who says that rape is "accepted" as something that we just do. There are some idiots trying to justify it for sure. Not once did I try to justify rape. You talk nonsense about "power culture" that I never even brought up. I believe in small, resilient entities. This is the opposite of a "power culture". Centuries ago it would have been inconceivable that we would eliminate smallpox. The fact that we might eliminate the flu and other small-harm diseases in the future is not a reason to laud the idea as a good one.

That's pretty much exactly the conversation the military is having about letting women serve in front line combat roles.

I'm sure all of your coworkers are very thankful to have a super-hero like you around to protect them from all the mortal dangers that pop up in the office on a daily basis.

If I heard you going on and on about how it's unfair that your expected to hid fear and put the safety of all the women-folk before your own, I wouldn't think you were a whiner, I'd think you have a damned screw loose.

Read what you wrote, man. We're not talking about the wilderness of Afghanistan, we're talking about a cube farm. Your macho baggage has no place in that setting. If you can't get rid of it, at least suppress it long enough to not burden your co-workers with it.

What is your problem? I don't ever talk about this in that setting. I'm illustrating an idea, and you try to bully me with things I never did. I don't have "macho" baggage. Where did you get this information from? How would you even know if it was true? I'm pointing out that society imposes some limitations on people and that it's pointless to complain over every single little thing. Your admission that these impositions on men are no big deal just serves to illustrate my point: that there's nothing serious going on here. Just first-worlders complaining over every little perceived disadvantage. And yes I would say something if I witnessed someone bullying a coworker as the OP describes. That doesn't mean I'd be sympathetic to whining about it.

Public perception (as judged by art, which usually represents a slightly caricatured version of reality) seems to imply that your attractiveness and the appropriateness of your comments are inversely correlated.

That is to say, if you tell a woman she looks good, it will be a compliment if she likes you, a sexist remark if she doesn't.

There's some truth in this, I have observed women who will happily let some strange guy basically feel them up in a club if he is good looking and call him "cheeky".

Whereas an ugly looking guy who makes eye contact or smiles at them is regarded as a creep or potential rapist.

In fact I remember reading somewhere that a persons physical attractiveness had a fairly significant affect on the likely verdict where they to be the defendant in a trial.

They're all creeps. Some just get away with it.

There's a running joke on Reddit that the best way to avoid being labeled creepy when hitting on a woman is to:

   1. Be attractive.
   2. Don't be unattractive.
And there is definitely truth to this.

...which is lifted from an SNL skit, with Tom Brady:


Then it's a good thing this isn't Reddit.

Yeah, the conversation here has been so much more enlightened.

I've generally found that when it comes to matters of gender and sexuality, the more "enlightened" one claims to be, the far less actual experience in life, with real people, one actually has. The college/twenty-something years in particular are wonderful for many things, and universities are wonderful for many things, but one thing they're bad at is giving you a realistic view of the world as it actually is, and people as they actually are, rather than as how one ideally might like them to be. A view less based on reality than based on theory or political agenda.

The next time I have to sit through an HR-and-Legal mandated harassment course for work, and I catch myself thinking "Is anyone actually this clueless to think saying such things is okay?" I'll make sure to remind myself, yes, some people are.

Yeah, the number of "this is how things should be" type comments here is silly. As if we can wish away the neurological aspects of human beings we don't like or that don't fit with whatever utopian ideology they espouse.

It's naive but I did expect at least a little pragmatism from this group.

There's much more to this... A totally attractive guy (model-like) that emanates low self-confidence (shyness, bad posture, ...) could still have his comments perceived in a negative way (i.e. as being sexist, not compliments). So, I believe that we tend to judge this from the perspective of the perceived intent of the person making the comments. A self confident gut -> he's probably just being sincere -> cure. A not-self-confident guy -> he's trying to get something from her -> looser. (Probably applies with the sex roles reversed, but I have no actual experience to lean on).

At the workplace, the label looser is just switched for the label creepy/sexist.

I have always believed that confidence has a huge effect on what a person looks like. The most beautiful person can look like a mess if they do not believe in themselves.

Perhaps but attractive looking people rarely emenate low confidence if at all, confident but ugly guys are more common but still relatively rare.

I guess because of a positive or negative feedback cycle.

...because there are no examples of overconfident sexist assholes?

There's a world of difference between a compliment (such as "nice dress!" and "Katie's got the low cut dress on today! I know where I'm sitting!"

You could look like a literal Ryan Gosling clone and I'd still be offended if you told me the second statement at work.

If it's in an wildly inappropriate context, her perception of you can switch from "like" to "dislike" quickly.

It's a factor, but lots of women have stories about attractive creeps.

Do you mean directly correlated? If you are more attractive, your comments will be more appropriate. If you are less attractive, your comments will be less appropriate.

> That is to say, if you tell a woman she looks good, it will be a compliment if she likes you, a sexist remark if she doesn't.

this. nailed it. it depends way more on how she feels and what she thinks of you, than on whether the words/act itself is somehow inherently wrong or sexist. that doesn't mean it's wise to say things or do things like that in the workplace: it isn't. but based on decades of actual experience on this planet this, your observation, rings true to me.

Depending on your proportions, some necklines might work better for movement or fit. Like, high necklines on a rectangular t-shirt, if you're well-endowed, have a tendency to creep up and get all chokey. Scoop necks do a better job of this.

Some people might consider scoop neck to be "low cut" (because the collar bones are visible--something generally not accepted/expected of men) while others might not call something "low cut" til cleavage is visible.

Now, a button-up shirt does a nice job of leaving space for your throat so you don't feel like you're choking, but in case you haven't noticed, it can be difficult these days to find button-up shirts for women that have all the buttons. It has become extremely common to manufacture women's blouses without the second button, or rather, with the second button roughly 6 inches below the first one. I suspect this is due to rules in schools and workplaces allowing for the top button to be left unbuttoned. That way, you're following the rule and showing some decolletage. I once went through every button-up blouse I could find at Target. I came away with having found one rack that had shirts with an upper-chest button. (Oh, and if you button all the buttons on one that's missing that upper-chest one, it just gapes open)

If the shirt itself is not quite wide enough to accommodate being well-endowed, a lower neckline can allow the fabric to move horizontally to better fit around the girth involved by opening up a bit wider. On the one hand, you could get a bigger size (if that's even available--there are limits), but if you've got a small waist, there's a tailoring problem for you. And if you've got shoulders that are narrow but a chest that isn't, that's a much more difficult tailoring problem.


Re: bar. I'd rather be asked "read any good books lately?" than told "that dress makes your boobs look good." But then I'm someone commenting on Hacker News, so that might be to be expected.


Re: your wife. I suspect there's a standing agreement with her regarding how you interact in terms of expressing your sexuality. I doubt you'd comment to a male coworker on how his trousers make his lower half look, but if you were married to a man, you might to him.

Thank you for pointing out the nuances of female tops commonly available today and how they look on different body shapes.

With regard to button-up shirts, tailoring is a much bigger problem for women's shirt than men's shirt. Ready-made men's shirts are measured in collar size in 1/2" increments and sleeve length in 2" increments. This allow for much better fit, as men's shoulder and chest measurements tend to correlate with these two numbers.

For women's shirts, you're at the whim of the mythical "sizes" running usually in increments of 2 from 0 to 14 (larger if you're at the "plus" section). Each size up is usually scaled up at all measurements: chest, shoulder, waist, collar, shirt length and sleeve length.

In other words, even though there's a much wider variety in women's body shapes than in men's, men's shirts' come in much finer increments in terms of sizing.

In addition to the problems you've describe, I have a few more gripes regarding button-up shirts:

There's the problem of large gaps opening up in between buttons for the well-endowed, thus offering others glimpses of your undergarment (read: bra). Opting for a larger size would make the shirt too loose ("not fit") at the shoulders.

Another common problem with button-up shirts for women is, they tend to run much shorter than men's shirts, as they are intended to be worn not tugged in. Depending on body shape and the cut of the bottom garment, certain movements (such as raising the entire arm) may expose skin along and possible above the waistline.

Unfortunately, button-up shirts are part of the de facto business casual attire. Depending on the physical environment, adding a vest, cardigan, or jacket for cover-up may not be suitable or desirable. (Female jackets tend to hang above the hip bones anyway, so they're not offering much help in the regard of protecting skin from being exposed.)

In other words, no, I don't want to expose my skin or cleavage in the office, but sometimes it's unavoidable.

"Start wearing sweaters, even though my breasts feel like they're boiling in there (yup, that's one reason women like low tops, guys)?"

Mens' clothes are completely different from womens', though, particularly in what constitutes "sexually attractive" clothing (which the term "low-cut dress" seems to imply). Do women have a higher body temperature that they have to wear less clothing to account for?

So, do guys wear shorts to draw attention to their legs or because it's more comfortable?

Because it's more comfortable.

So, maybe it's possible that a woman might wear a low cut dress because it's more comfortable?

Well, it's more subtle than that. A male may wear shorts to be comfortable, but he's wearing a sleeveless top because he wants to show off his biceps. Sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander.

At work, I wear polo shirts because it's hot, not because I want comments on my arms.

And no, I'm not presenting an absurd example as contrast. My hobbies are strength training and jiu jitsu. I have large arms. I also know what women with large breasts must feel like, because the first few times I wore short-sleeved polo shirts to work, I could literally watch people's eyes track my arms. I understood why - I had only previously worn long sleeve shirts, and my arms are larger than most, so they stand out. And I got no comments, but I would have felt uncomfortable if I had.

> A male may wear shorts to be comfortable, but he's wearing a sleeveless top because he wants to show off his biceps.

Or to air out his armpits !

Sure it's possible, but I don't get to wear my pyjama at work. In fact in most places I would feel awkward with shorts, too. (Now we could argue if it is the work place or the pyjama wearer who is at fault, fair point).

Actually, men are better at cooling themselves http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-11492897

Breasts, we are accounting for having two lumps of flesh directly on our rib cage. They get sweaty and they need to breathe sometimes--particularly because they require extra layers of clothing (ie. a bra and sometimes a camisole on top for instance).

I find it hard to believe that low cut dresses are the only possible solution here.

I find it hard to believe that you think women should have to dress differently so as not to attract a running commentary.

I didn't say any such thing. What you wear projects a message, though. I didn't say that it gives people the right to treat you in whatever way, but it might be worth thinking about.

Some companies choose to introduce uniforms...

Maybe not should, but could?

I'm not saying that it's their fault, but there certainly are ways to prevent what they're experiencing. We men have to deal with another type of assault, physical assault. Most of my male friends were assaulted in one way or another (in clubs, on the street, ...) before the age of 20, in Slovenia. Yes, we could blame other people, but a matter of fact is that we are more likely targets than women, and it pays off to avoid situations that could result in physical violence.

You're not just saying could.

Because there are a lot of things she could do. She could flap her arms and make chicken noises. She could read a newspaper. She could tazer somebody. She could fold everybody paper hats. There are pretty much an infinite number of things she could do, and we all know that. So when you focus on some small set of those, you're not just saying "could".

When you say, "Oh gosh, if only those women could learn from my youth and just avoid situations where people might be sexist (say, by staying home and making babies)," then you're shifting the burden of action from the culprit to the victim. It's bullshit. Everybody has the right to go to work without having to deal with sexual, sexist crap like this.

But suppose she followed your advice and wore only turtlenecks. Golly, then we've eliminated one symptom. But as she remarks in the article, she's just gone from "slut" to "ice queen". What do you recommend she wear to fix that? And what outfit keeps people from seeing her as the person to organize a potluck or take notes?

Does it matter? It can still be the complete account of someone's reasoning for wearing particular clothing.

This is about to get massively downvoted... but oh well.

Of course it matters!

Would you say it's "complete account of my reasoning" if I wore t-shirts to work because they are comfortable?

But I wear a dress shirt and tie because my company is trying to project just that type of stuffy image. The tie is uncomfortable... but that's life.

The breast-comment in this story wasn't the appropriate way to tell her if she was dressing unprofessionally... but most of us sacrifice comfort to dress professionally every day we go to work.

Are you suggesting that she is an exception, and she should wear whatever is most comfortable?

You're the one that chose to work in an environment where a coat and tie are de rigueur, and the comment about a low-cut dress had fuck-all to do with whether she was dressed professionally or not. It was verbal leering, pure and simple.

She chose to work in an environment where wearing such a dress elicits leery comments. I guess her impression is that there are only such environments, but I seriously doubt that.

Erm.. Why does it have to be a low cut dress. I see plenty of light dresses that would be suitable for professional situations that wouldnt bring out these comments. Men should be allowed o have there shirts unbuttoned down to their chest because their chests are hot from all the hair?

> I see plenty of light dresses that would be suitable for professional situations that wouldnt bring out these comments.

Am I seeing this?

Are you saying that if she didn't want to hear inappropriate comments, she shouldn't have dressed that way?

I think most people in most modern societies would agree a line should be drawn somewhere.

If she wore a bikini to work, is it really fair to expect every guy to not say something? Now, that "something" should be closer to "you should change your outfit" than "I'd hit that", but still, the responsibility for the dress and generally accepted code of conduct falls on the woman in that case.

I don't see this stance as sexist because, as others have noted, we expect similar conduct from men.

But isn't saying "You're not dressed in line with our code for dress and appearance" the complaint here? I thought that with respect to low-cut/suggestive tops, the problem was never that they weren't professional clothing (with respect to the workplace in question) - which of course is an entirely independent and asexual issue - but that some people made inappropriate comments and thought it acceptable.

I think that a dress low-cut enough to be considered unprofessional is a sexual issue by default. Professional standards and decorum exist, in part, to prevent a sexualized environment.

How is it judged that a man's pants are too tight to be professional, or a woman's dress is too short, and what are the reasons? The reasons are sexual, and I might be wrong in this, but I would guess the line exists where people of either gender would begin commenting.

I see plenty of light dresses that would be suitable for professional situations that wouldnt bring out these comments

I think you might not be fully aware of the extent of body-related comments that women get. I know women with breasts of such a size that they ALWAYS get comments, regardless of what they're wearing.

I can tell you have absolutely no idea how hard it is to find flattering clothes for larger breasts.

I think you meant unflattering clothes?


>Men should be allowed o have there shirts unbuttoned down to their chest because their chests are hot from all the hair?

We can, and I do. There are very different showing-chest expectations from us, we can even show our nipples in non-work public.

> Men should be allowed o have there shirts unbuttoned down to their chest


is this kind of response sexist and demeaning


Why do women wear low-cut dresses if not to attract male attention (in the majority of cases)?

Because they think it looks good or is comfortable or is fashionable or they didn't have anything clean or their sister bought it for them and they are seeing them for lunch.

Have you heard of the Bechdel Test[1]? It's a simple way of seeing gender bias in a movie: It has to have at least two women in it, Who talk to each other, About something other than a man.

By thinking the way a woman dresses is about men your comment shows the same bias.

Turn it around: why do men buy Ferraris if not attract female attention?

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dykes_to_Watch_Out_For#Bechdel_...

Bad example: we buy them for the thrill of driving fast. The #1 thing on my list when I was car shopping was how it felt on twisty roads and freeway entrance ramps - and I got a new Focus, not a 458.

Shirts don't cause adrenaline responses like that by wearing them.

It doesn't matter if the response to an attractive outfit is different from the response to a fast car. In both cases, it is possible that one is motivated by something other than gaining the attention of the desired sex. By providing your reason, you proved GP's point.

Yeah, reading that again this AM, I totally missed that point. Somehow read it as the inverse. I agree with it 100%

That's exactly my point.

Many people think men choose a Ferrari to impress women. That just isn't the case.

Nor can one generalize why women wear anything.

Ah, my mistake. It was late, and looking at it again, I mis-read it.

So, great example!

This is almost along the lines of the "if you don't want to get raped, don't dress like a whore" argument.

Low cut dress can be functional (as described by Katie). Or maybe she's out for a date after work (in which case there's feminism is appropriate, encouraged, and even sometimes needed for the benefit of the relationship). Or she just like that dress or the way the dress looks on her (in much the same way some really rip guys love to wear tight tops).

Most women do realize when they wear low cut dresses, she will attract attention, both positive and negative. At the same time, it doesn't give her coworkers free rein to make comments like that -- the comment was made to other male in the room but was directed at and objectified her.

It is offensive and inappropriate because it's sexist in this context.

I've never understood this question. "Why do women wear low-cut dresses if not to attract male attention?"

Women wear low cut dresses because they feel good in them, because they feel they look good in them. Showing off your breasts, if you consider them an attractive part of you, is like showing off your face, or arms, or legs. This question is like asking, "Why do women brush their hair, if not to attract male attention?" Feeling good gives you confidence, and that confidence occurs internally, not because a man can give you external validation of sexual appeal. (My cleavage may turn you on, but it doesn't turn me on, or make me feel sexual just because it's there.)

Women rarely get dressed with men in mind, and it's fascinating to me that men think otherwise.

And similarly, feeling good about oneself is not equivalent to feeling sexually attractive. And having someone point out my sexuality all day long, when it's not even on my mind, is extremely uncomfortable, invasive, and (for lack of a less cliched term, apologies in advance) objectifying.

Actually, women always get dressed with men in mind; it's just that it's so ingrained, they don't really think about it.

Their concept of "looking good" is shaped by magazines and tv shows (still much more so that men, on average); and if you look at your average magazine, you'll see oozes of sex emanating from advertising and content. The concept of "looking good" in western society is equivalent to "looking sexy/desiderable to the opposite sex". Why would women's skirts emphasize one's ass otherwise? When in a suit/tailleur (pardon me, I'm not a tailor), it's among the most professional attires a woman can wear, and it's been sexualized to high heaven. Why? Because it makes women feel powerful. And why do they feel powerful? Because they can attract men, and that's what society tells them their power should be.

So whoever tells herself that she wants to look good "to feel better" is, unconsciously, accepting sexism in society almost as much as one who'd crack a joke about it; she's just doing at a much deeper level, one which women still refuse to deal with (it would mean dropping the whole "fashion" industry like a hot potato).

"Why would women's skirts emphasize one's ass otherwise?"

See, that's the problem. You're sexualizing a woman's ass. A woman doesn't automatically consider her ass to be something sexual. Straight men do. An ass is an ass, and the fact that a man finds my ass sexual is not my concern. Nor do I want to be told about it. But I do like how that skirt looks on my ass. For me. My comfort is the focus, not somebody else's hard-on.

I clearly don't deny there's sexism ingrained in most aspects of society, but fashion was not the greatest one to cite on your part. Most high fashion is where risks are taken to challenge what "sexy" (heterosexual man's version of sexy) is, and has less to do with being "attractive" and more about being "artistically beautiful." Does this turn you on? http://2.bp.blogspot.com/_YPLSyaja5vU/R7Xqwvpw1YI/AAAAAAAAAh...

And lastly, to say that caring about your appearance for self-confidence's sake is really just latent sexism, and that women are unthinking enough to not know they do everything for men anyway is... well, first silly, second, offensive, and third, incorrect. We really need to get away from men telling women that their behavior is "ingrained."

When I say fashion, I include all the press and showbiz world that live on selling beauty products, clothes and the like. "High" fashion is a tiny niche: Conde'-Nast is the mainstream; advertising companies are the mainstream; Hollywood is the mainstream. And they sell primarily sex; they sell it to me as a male but they sell it even more to you as a woman. Compare the ads you find on men-oriented magazines: they sell big cars, big watches, gizmos and

Not true. We get dressed with other women in mind. We also shop off each other's bodies and generally take fashion cues from each other. This is why women in the Loop are wearing short skirts and strappy sandals and women in the far west suburbs wear print turtlenecks from Land's End.

Of course, because other women are competition. Or would you be so happy to meet three friends with the same exact dress, at some social occasion with other people in formal wear? Most males would love nothing better than to wear exactly what everybody else is.

Or it's just fun to buy all the shiny, colorful, sparkly stuff and flounce about in it.

A friend of mine has large breasts. A difficulty she has is that any top that is open at all shows a lot of cleavage.

And, yes, if you make a sexually charged comment on a co-worker, it is sexist. Context matters.

- Why do women wear low-cut dresses if not to attract male attention (in the majority of cases)?

It's none of your concern why a woman dresses the way she does. As long as she isn't violating company policy, she is under no obligation to justify her wardrobe to anyone else. And if she is violating company policy, that's between her and HR, not you.

>> "Katie's got the low cut dress on today! I know where I'm sitting!"...As I'm getting older, I see how sexist and demeaning this is. > At the risk of revealing myself to be a chauvinistic jerk, is this kind of response sexist and demeaning, or just inappropriate for the workplace?

Well since the quote essentially boils down to "damn look at dem titties" then yes it is very demeaning & disrespectful!

It's also sexist. Why? Because it's self-absorbed. Whoever spoke that quote wasn't thinking about how their words might make Katie feel in a room-full of people. "I'm a man I like titties and anyone else's thoughts and feelings don't matter." That's sexism in a nutshell: that the default and correct perspective is the male perspective. That anyone who doesn't hold this perspective just needs to "chill out".

>Why do women wear low-cut dresses if not to attract male attention (in the majority of cases)?

I would say for the most part it's not all that conscious. We buy the dress if we like it. In some cases we might not buy it if it looks too revealing, or buy it because it's especially sexy, but for the most part dresses are cut to the style of the day and it has little to do with the intentions of the woman wearing them.

Personally I've started consciously looking for low-cut tops and dresses for the first time in my life, because they're easier to breastfeed in. Most of my dresses and tops are cut too high to do that easily so I need to expand my wardrobe. So sorry, all that cleavage is not for you, it's for my baby :).

I think if you are Brad Pitt or George Clooney (or some other desirable man), that comment is fun and flirtatious, otherwise it is creepy. If you are not Brad Pitt or George Clooney, you should make yourself invisible in the presence of women. Or maybe you could offer foot massages.

Why do women wear low-cut dresses if not to attract male attention (in the majority of cases)?

So, I'm not going to agree or disagree with you, since I don't really know exactly what you're saying.

I will say this, though: there is professional attire for women. Generally speaking, this doesn't involve form-hugging clothing. A fitted women's dress shirt is not form-hugging, by the way.

Personally, I recognize that I have an unfortunate automatic physiological response to breasts. I've discussed this with female friends whom I've respected and liked strictly as friends. If exposed to low-cut tops, I find my eyes darting to them, particularly when I'm distracted or concentrating on some thought. If I were in a position where a well-endowed female coworker were wearing very snug or revealing clothing, I'm honestly not sure how I would handle the situation.

> Personally, I recognize that I have an unfortunate automatic physiological response to breasts. I've discussed this with female friends whom I've respected and liked strictly as friends. If exposed to low-cut tops, I find my eyes darting to them, particularly when I'm distracted or concentrating on some thought. If I were in a position where a well-endowed female coworker were wearing very snug or revealing clothing, I'm honestly not sure how I would handle the situation.

I have been in that situation years ago, and I remember it to this day. It didn't help that I was much younger then.

Anyway, I found it incredibly hard to concentrate on what she was saying, because I was concentrating on keeping my eyes away. It didn't help that she was absolutely gorgeous, well-endowed and was wearing a dress with a cleavage probably modeled after the Grand Canyon. Thankfully, she was not a coworker. But even worse, she was a potential client.

I don't want to be too quick to blame it on instinct, but it is there. I wonder if I were (proportionally) as well-endowed as she was, and wore tight shorts. Some female friends told me that they do look - but women seem to be more discreet, on average.

Is this sexism? Or just normal human behavior?

Your attraction is normal. How you choose to act, what conclusions you draw about the other person, are the important things in this context.

Sexism would be if your attraction influenced your professional behavior towards your prospective client in any way, negatively or positively.

As you hinted, being able to be less distracted by an attractive figure is a matter of self-mastery, which often comes more easily with maturity, and to some degree familiarity. But a modern gentleman knows to treat others as persons first, not as sexual beings, especially in a professional context.

> Personally, I recognize that I have an unfortunate automatic physiological response to breasts.

You've been programmed to think this is bad, unhealthy or unnatural by people with an agenda. There's another school of thought that says it's ok, normal, natural, and healthy. Humans are hard-wired for sex and we've been having sex like rabbits for millions of years otherwise we wouldn't be here. There are many situations and places and modes where we pretend it doesn't exist, but it's a lie, at best a convenient intellectual abstraction in order to focus on productive matters. But it's always there, lurking. Again, for most healthy people it is anyway.

Absolutely. But as ReneHurse above said, this type of automatic response can be controlled with age and practice. God knows it took me a long time to figure it out.

Now, if anything, I over-correct when I'm talking to someone who I find attractive and is wearing a very low cut shirt. Eyes. glued. to. eyes.

You've been programmed to think this is bad, unhealthy or unnatural by people with an agenda

No I haven't. I don't think it's the least bit bad or unhealthy. I simply want to engage my friend as a friend, not glance at her tits every ten seconds. Performing physical actions that imply attraction would introduce a power balance that I don't want in a friendship.

Yes you have. Jedi hand wave. :-)

To give an opposing opinion, I'm appalled that anyone said that to her, and am appalled at you for thinking it's a reasonable thing to say.

Why would you make sexual comments at work? Making jokes is fine, commenting on clothes is fine, telling a joke involving sex is probably fine (depending on the joke...). Having a conversation (two-way) about sex is fine.

Making a specific comment about a colleague's sex appeal is inappropriate. I don't see how you can't see that someone might be offended by it.

I don't think we should be censuring someone who is brave enough to acknowledge their sexism. I also think you're misreading the post, which didn't say that it was "reasonable"...it said it was "cool". Crucial difference.

I hope that my criticism helps.

I think "I can imagine myself saying" implies he thought it was "reasonable".

I'm sorry, my English is failing me during this conversation, but I'll try to be more precise.

I certainly don't think that's reasonable think to say. That part was more like "Fuck, I could actually say something like this, and this is BAD.". It comes from teenage-and-trying-to-get-group-approval-me saying things before slightly-more-adult-and-trying-to-not-be-an-asshole-me has chance to suppress those thoughts or words.

I don't mean to imply in any way that was "reasonable", just something I could at first glance recognize as harmless and say, whereas when you just think about it for a second, it totally isn't and you shouldn't.

Fwiw, I thought your original post was quite clear on the topic. Even pre-edit, I saw the post for the internal turmoil it represents. It's an important post, too, because behaviors like these are hard to change. The problems don't come from people like you, who recognize it as a problem. They come from those who shrug it off as "that's the way it is".

Hmm, I can see the difference between that and "reasonable". Thanks for the clarification.

In that case the point I made is fairly moot, as it basically agrees with you in that it's a "BAD" thing to say.

Sensitivity needs to be used with common sense. If a small fire has started in the kitchen, do you wait hoping it will go out on its own because using a fire extinguisher will make a mess?

Before I continue, how often have you said a line or phrase to a friend or someone you have had a long term relationship with (without defining that relationship) that could be viewed as "bad" out of context? I have seen blacks call each other the N word, people call each other homosexuals, all in their comfort zones of understanding that the other person was not saying anything to be offensive. It is called understanding each other.

She rants on about how "guys" think and how the "guys" push roles upon her. It has nothing to do with roles. Pot luck? There is a very good chance that no one wanted that job regardless of gender. I'm a programmer. I don't have time to do a pot luck. It doesn't matter if I am a man or woman, I am going to try to get out of it. You didn't and you got stuck with it.

I have said comments not unlike the one in the article to a woman before. I didn't do it because I felt beneath her, or that she was weaker, or didn't belong there. I knew her for a long time, and felt comfortable that she would not be offended, and that she would get a laugh about it. If she didn't like something I said, she would likely jab me in the gut or tell me to clean up my mouth, and I would oblige.

The problem is she never addressed the issue, and instead let it go even though it was eating her up inside to the point where it did serious damage to her career. Why? Because she caved in to her own assumptions and did not address it. The guy could be a complete douche, or he could have believed that he was giving her a compliment (albeit a lame one) about her dress and the effect it had on him. No one knows from what place his comment came from except for him and she didn't try to find out.

True to tell someone to "lighten up" is a remark that disallows someones point of view. That is horribly wrong. But it is wrong to force everyone to make assumptions about everyone else without discussing it with them. If someone steps over the line, it is your responsibility to address it to them. She did not do that. Instead she went on a blog and lambasted every male coder in the business. Strange. I find that horribly inappropriate.

I try not to respond to the same person twice in a thread, but please, don't blame the victim, or make assumptions about situations that you have scant details of.

I can totally see how you read him as justifying himself; I read him as being conflicted about being brought up to believe that it was OK to do things he now thinks aren't OK, so I wanted to speak up in appreciation that someone would put himself in a position to be criticized like that--I think "masculinity" (whatever that is) benefits from having people say that.

Absolutely, I agree - I appreciate him expressing his opinion, as it's provoked a good discussion. However, I still disapprove of that opinion.

Also, I misread that as "censor", my mistake.

You're still misunderstanding what he said. He is not expressing his opinion that its acceptable to say such things. He realizes it's wrong to say such things - but he is disturbed because he realizes that it's something he may say.

I think "I can imagine myself saying" implies he thought it was "reasonable".

No, it doesn't.

I can imagine myself saying all kinds patently disturbing and offensive things — things which, to a certainty, are not remotely "reasonable" — but I would never actually say, let alone mean, them.

By analogy, I can imagine pulling my Leatherman out of its sheath and sticking the blade between someone's ribs. Doesn't mean it's reasonable, or that I'd ever do it, especially not in jest.

I don't disagree with anything you have to say, but a thought did enter my mind:

At what point did we become okay with excluding sexuality from human lives, or a large portion of them -- the time we spend working? Sexuality is every bit as much a "human" endeavor as, say, eating -- and we don't (currently) say: never eat at work, work is for work only (despite the fact that food does separate people from each other, and accentuates differences).

Anyway, a random rambling, but I thought I'd share anyway...

I agree it's regrettable. But it does seem necessary.

I think the point where it happened was when we, collectively, noticed that people were exploiting professional power asymmetry for their own sexual gain. Often at the cost of another human's dignity and self-respect – not to mention career prospects.

The problem with sexuality in the workplace / people's daily lives today is that a lot of the content (commentary, ideas, beliefs, etc.) revolves around objectifying, marginalizing and degrading women—not as individuals, but as women across the board. Now, a lot of sexually empowered women have no problem with discussing sex openly, or being objectified in the bedroom, or even talking about being objectified in the bedroom while at work.

However, the difference is that in those cases, it is always the woman's choice to participate in it. Since they are the marginalized demographic in this matter, the choice should be theirs to indicate what is and isn't acceptable commentary, discussion or behavior in the workplace.

Today's environment is one where it’s _men_ who overwhelmingly decide, by way of majority-reinforcement, what other people should consider to be acceptable or not.

It all comes down to marginalization: we don't marginalize or trivialize people—or their accomplishments—based on the fact that they eat. However, our society does tend to do those things to people based on their gender; specifically, to women based on their gender.

Once we eradicate the culture in which that happens, people can express themselves sexually more freely and without hesitation, in the safe and sound knowledge that doing so won't instantly label them in a certain way that would dramatically (in a negative way) impact their professional and/or social lives—or worse.

It is called "The Civilizing Process". It started in the middle ages, right at the time when belching and passing gas became unacceptable in social gatherings.

More here: http://www.amazon.com/Civilizing-Process-Sociogenetic-Psycho...

Defecation is human too, but we don't do that in public. Violence is human, but we do that in dojos and sports arenas and shooting ranges, instead of at work or in the streets. Religious conversion is a human experience, but it is considered rude to witness at work. Some parts of humanity are best participated in in spaces set aside for those purposes, rather than imposed on everyone at any moment.

Eating doesn't affect anyone around you (though tuna sandwiches are definitely an issue to get HR involved in...) Sexuality, violence, religious conversion and the stench/filth of defecation affect people around you whether they want to deal with them or not. Ergo, it is rude to make "working" contingent on dealing with your literal or metaphorical shit.

Yeah, one day it might be OK, but I think today we need to be a bit careful..

Why not? If a man (fellow coworker) has nice biceps, I say it (I'm not gay, not trying to seduce him, but being fit is very high on my values list). If a woman (fellow coworker) is cute, I say it (I'm not trying to seduce her, I just think it's nice to give compliments).

Asking her to take notes (as in, not asking anyone else), though, is a completely different story. However, I believe that some women handle it in a not very effective way. I might be a sexist too! If you tell me in a nice way (simply saying that you think what is going on is wrong/unfair) I will reflect, and most likely change my behaviour in the future. However, if you attack me, or even worse, say nothing but rant on the internet, I will take it personally, as an attack on my identity, and I might refuse to change, out of principle.

What we're trying to do here is enlighten a certain aspect of our society that is wrong/unjust, and I believe that should be done by teaching people, not attacking them.

(I'm not saying that the OP definitely took the wrong path. She might have told her boss, and they did nothing different, they didn't learn. In that case, I see no better option but to attack, shame them...)

Physical appraisals of another person's attractiveness do not belong in the work place. It puts people in awkward positions, and introduces power asymmetries.

And yes, I do not want people at work to say such things about me, regardless of gender.

Well, I differ there. If someone gives me a compliment, I appreciate it. Usually it is about a hair cut, or a choice piece of clothing. I never took it as a sexual advance. However your post bring up an important subject.

There are differing opinions here. Why is one opinion more justified than the other in the work place? For example: Why should I not be able to give a genuine complement about let say a woman's shoes? The work place is so filled with terror to the point where some companies policies are that a member of the same sex must be present to do simple coaching tasks. Is this not absolutely ridiculous?

There's quite a difference between complimenting someone's shoes vs. saying she looks cute.

Would you feel the same if someone said, "nice haircut" vs. "you look cute with your new haircut"? I highly doubt it. And further, try imagining it coming from differing genders, and differing sexualities.

One of the compliments objectifies, and that is why it doesn't belong in the workplace.

"Attractiveness" implies compliments that are suggestive. But, personally, I veer away from anything along those lines because I do not know what my colleagues are comfortable with. It is not my place to assume.

Out of curiosity, what do you think about appraisals of a person's other qualities? Maybe it's because I'm bad at the whole compliment business anyway, but I'd rather have a female coworker notice that I've started going to the gym (harmless, fun) than to be called smart or a good organizer (ohmygod this actually matters at work, power games!!).

You have to consider the power imbalance due to gender norms. In our culture, men typically pursue women romantically. This is not always the case, but it is the norm. Hence, in a social setting where it is acceptable to pursue someone romantically, a woman complimenting a man's appearance has the implied meaning "I would be receptive to your romantic advances." [1]

However, in the same social setting, when a man compliments a woman's appearance, the implied meaning is "I am pursuing you romantically." And this is fine in social settings, otherwise our species would die off.

But it's not fine in the work place. You feel that a woman at work giving you such a compliment is "harmless fun" because if it was a normal social situation, you would have the power: it's up to you to pursue. But for many women it is not "harmless fun" because it's similar to the social situation, and they feel romantically pursued, which is not okay at work.

[1] Please note I do not consider this a promise, so let's not confuse this with "asking for it." Human communication is subtle, and such implications are how consensual "courtship" happen. Of course, once there is a rejection, whatever implications one thought were there don't matter.

"I say it (I'm not gay, not trying to seduce him, but being fit is very high on my values list)."

Why is it that straight guys have to state the obvious whenever they talk about other men? I tell ya, being a gay nerd, in a company full of "straight" nerds, is like being in the gym; watching the bodybuilders do cartwheels, trying to convince their "buds" they aren't gay for checking out that guy who walked by.

I hear borderline homophobic remarks all day. Like the ever popular, "Gay" or "That's gay". Which applies to practically anything that doesn't go their way ("Gay" has replaced the 80's term "weak").

I was in the Army for 10 years (Ranger for 6 of those years). I have a picture of me sitting on a tank, eating MRE's. Sometimes I turn it facing out. A gentle reminder to anyone walking into my office, who the "real" man is. ;)

>Why not? If a man (fellow coworker) has nice biceps, I say it (I'm not gay, not trying to seduce him, but being fit is very high on my values list). If a woman (fellow coworker) is cute, I say it (I'm not trying to seduce her, I just think it's nice to give compliments).

What about if a man has a nice bulge in his pants? Will you compliment him on that too? Because a reference to a low cut top is a reference to what lies under the top, and I'm not talking biceps. The male equivalent would be a not so subtle compliment on his penis.

Incorrect. Cleavage is socially acceptable. Having a bit of my penis sticking out of my pants is not.

I'm not talking about sticking out of your pants. I'm talking about a nice tight pair that shows off your 'assets'.

If a man (fellow coworker) has nice biceps, I say it

As a man who values fitness, I would be really freaked out if you, as a coworker, complimented my biceps.

If you merely asked about fitness, it would be fine. Commenting on my appearance (beyond, "hey, you have a piece of toilet paper stuck to your face") isn't what I consider appropriate to the workplace.

As a person with (perhaps incorrect) assumptions about the normal locations for toilet paper to end up, I have to ask: has someone ever had to tell you you had toilet paper stuck to your face? If so...


Toilet paper is a classic technique for treating nicks from razors.

It was merely an example. I have, at various times, had a variety of substances accidentally adhered to my face, head, or clothing. Pointing out something which is obviously unintentionally out of place is much appreciated. Making value judgments on appearance is not.

> Making a specific comment about a colleague's sex appeal is inappropriate. I don't see how you can't see that someone might be offended by it.


One of the first jobs I worked was doing admin & tech support in a small office - full of women. Worst 6 months of my life, and my experience was much the same as this bloggers.

Which has really helped me avoid this sort of problematic behaviour now I am working in a mostly-male industry/workplace.

Did you at any time ask them to not make those comments?

As a 17 year old lad, in an office full of women, average age ~30?

That's a very difficult sort of scenario to cope with. You're fresh from school where you adapt, rather than complain, to the environment. You have no experience of work, office politics or whether this is actually how it happens in the real world! You have no peers who understand your perspective.

And if you make a major scene? Everyone starts tiptoeing round you for fear of causing offence.

That, more than the comments themselves, is what is upsetting. The knowledge you can't actually get them to treat you as they treat each other.

I imagine if the consequences of making comments like these were dire enough, you'd find a way. It would only take one or two times getting fired for sexual harassment for you to clean up your act. Being conscious of the issue is a start, but it doesn't absolve you of your responsibility to behave like a mature adult in an equal society.

BTW, you don't have a problem with posts like this, or if you do, you didn't state it clearly. From what I can tell, posts like this have a problem with you.

Every time you're ready to make a comment like that (which is WAY beyond inappropriate) imagine saying it to your sister, imagine saying it when you are the only many in the room, imagine a situation where you are not the dominant one with the power.

This is a great comment. Imagining these alternative situations uses your intuitive knowledge of how things work instead of trying to apply abstract principles.

As a supplement to those posts, I would like a set of instructions about how to talk to women properly (and women with low cut dresses especially). I mean it seems possible that the "I know where I'm sitting" guy was simply crap at giving compliments, rather than a sexist jerk. Attraction between men and women exists, and it is even vital for the survival of the human race for the time being. So it has to be dealt with somehow.

How to talk to women in the workplace: Treat them first and foremost as persons, not as sexual beings, attractive or otherwise. Imagine she's your sister, your mom, a CEO or Secretary of State, and proceed normally. Be a gentleman.

And I'd say the "person-first" rule goes for how to treat other men, too.

I am not attracted to my sister or my mom, though. Sure you could say, just don't be attracted to co-workers, but it just isn't realistic (see other comments, 18% of committed couples met at work).

The best rule is to just keep it to yourself (at least until you're certain the attraction is reciprocated). Don't act on it, don't let it color your interactions or conclusions about her competence, good or bad. Its important to not objectify your co-workers, as that is the starting point of all sexism and sexual harrassment. And incidentally, since attractive women receive questionable attention all the time, your gentlemanly behavior will make you stand out, possibly allowing you to become friends or more, if thats what is mutually wanted. You will also grow as a human being.

i'd write more but it's too tortuous on my iphone. if you you've got other questions or need advice, feel free to shoot me an email.

Thanks, I was asking more in general - I think many people could need that advice. Sadly, I rarely ever have female colleagues. But I am also not in the dating scene anymore, so it is not really a problem for me to ignore attractive colleagues atm.

>Attraction between men and women exists, and it is even vital for the survival of the human race for the time being. So it has to be dealt with somehow.

Not at work.

You have to deal with it by not taking action based on the things you think. That's why you're a professional writing software and not an animal out hunting for scraps of food.

(Humanity is defined by emotions, particularly physical attraction. But it's also defined by rational thought; not doing whatever you think your emotions want you to do. So if you're in a meeting with some attractive coworkers, use your rational mind to keep your comments to yourself. There are lots of people on Earth and there will be other opportunities for reproduction.)

As I said in my other comment: in theory I agree, don't date at work is good advice. The reality is that 18% of committed couples met at their work place, though (that is the first number Google found, at least).

Also, who says that I want to work as a "programming drone" - why do you get to tell me what a professional has to be like? What if I don't like it? I am not arguing for the right to leer at breasts at work, but I don't like the other extreme of being a completely rational machine that you describe either. I am not a robot. (OK, I am a robot, but a very advanced biological one).

Well it is common advice to not date in the work place. The reality is that a lot of couples meet in the work place, though. II just googled and found http://www.savvysugar.com/More-Couples-Meet-Work-Than-Colleg... which claims 18% of committed couples met at their work place, va 14% who met at college (which is actually a kind of work place, too).

So while it sounds like good advice on the surface to not date colleagues, it just isn't realistic.

How many of those relationships do you think were sparked by public sexist comments during a meeting? You're veering dangerously into "beep boop" territory.

What is "beep boop" territory?

I am aware that many people will choose to misunderstand me. I am not saying sexism at work should be tolerated so that couples can form. I am saying that attraction at the workplace is real and people need help learning how to deal with it. The "leary guy" might have been sexist, or simply socially inept.

If the definition of sexism includes "acknowledging the existence of boobs" then there is no hope, though.

"beep boop" territory is what happens when you try to reduce human interactions to evolutionary psychology or "if..then..else" statements.

>If the definition of sexism includes "acknowledging the existence of boobs" then there is no hope, though.

"Hey, look at the boobs on our sole female co-worker!" is sexism. So I guess there's no hope.

I would like a set of instructions about how to talk to women properly

Like you would talk to men. Simple.

No way in hell. HR would slaughter me.

They may consider torturing you first.

"Oh come on, my grandma/dog/goldfish would write better code!!!"

This would be a totally acceptable jab among guys, yet saying this to a female coworker would immediately be misinterpreted as "woman are bad at coding" promptly followed by the full wrath of the HR gender equality team.

Well, my advice stands, though if you're actively working to undermine your male colleague's confidence in their ability you might consider changing that. But if you insist on treating male and female colleagues differently then you spend your entire day saying to women, "you don't belong here and you never will". If you're comfortable with that and your manager's comfortable with that, please give me the name of your company so I can avoid it.

"if you're actively working to undermine your male colleague's confidence in their ability"

You don't have a solid grasp on male-to-male communication in the US workplace. Please keep in mind that perhaps your culture is different.

This reads to me like "you clearly don't have a solid grasp of how women live in Saudi--of course it's necessary for their dignity to prevent them to drive". Do you see it differently? I definitely don't see that hypothesizing about my inexperience of working in the US (where I worked for 3 months in 2006) answers my point.

If you think how men treat other men in the US workplace is at all comparable to how men treat women in Saudi, then you are fucking insane. Men poking fun of other men is NOT a human rights issue.

Cheeky insults, (which "my goldfish codes better than you" OBVIOUSLY is) are not attempts to "undermine your male colleague's confidence in their ability". If you think that is not the case, then you are obviously completely out of touch with male to male interaction in the US.

Somebody has to make a move eventually, though, or else no sex, no kids and mankind would die out. I agree the work place does not seem the best starting point, but in the real world it turns out to be (see other posts, 18% of committed couples met at work).

Do you really ask women out by walking up to them with bulging eyes and saying "wow, that top makes your tits look great"? There are sexist and non-sexist ways to ask a woman at work out. The non-sexist ways give her the ability to easily decline and not feel bad--much like you'd treat a man, in fact. "Would you like to go for a drink on Friday" is something you might say to someone of either gender, no?

I wouldn't say it, but to be honest, I would definitely think it. And if you say you wouldn't, I call you a liar. Also, I am lucky because I am in a steady relationship and don't have to worry about dating anymore.

What I am going on about is that the "I want to stare at your tits guy" might not be sexist so much as simply inept at dealing with attraction and dating. Calling him a sexist jerk is not going to resolve the issue.

It is not excusing the behavior, but seeking understanding and solutions.

Of course sexist jerks also do exists and have to be dealt with in another way. Also, believe it or not, but if such things go on at a work place, it might make men feel uncomfortable, too. Personally I don't enjoy sexist jokes.

Sorry, that's lame.

I grew up in a small, all-white community where jokes about blacks were common and accepted.

when I grew up and moved away, I learned how bad that was. so I stopped.

I don't ever, ever slip up, because I don't think that way any more.

"I try, I really try, but sometimes I forget myself."? No, you just THINK you are really trying.

I think there's a distinction which needs to be acknowledged here. Skirt-chasing is something which is appropriate in some situations, but not others, while being racist is wrong in all situations.

If someone grew up in a racist environment, the goal is for them to stop thinking that way, period.

If someone grew up in an environment where they mistakenly believed it was always appropriate to verbally acknowledge your sexual attraction to someone, the goal is simply for them to get better at recognizing situations in which they need to self-censor.

There is no shame in being sexually attracted to women, but verbally acknowledging it is inappropriate in some situations.

I have a lot of relatives that grew up in a apartheid South Africa. And a few of them have a similar explanation for their attitude towards black people - "oh, well that's how I grew up/everyone was doing it!"

But it's a load of BS. I have close relatives who grew up in that environment who are not racist at all. If you think for yourself, there is little chance of social pressures influencing your behavior - at the risk of ostracism, of course (hello High School!).

Regardless of past influences, I believe that we, as rational beings, can overcome any behavior w/ practice and effort. To not do so is a character flaw that should be worked on.

Just being sincerely aware of it, imho, puts you in the right place. No-one expects you to be able to discard your upbringing, just to be able to critique it. The concept of noblesse oblige, I think, somewhat applies; if you're lucky enough to be born with privilege, use it for good (i.e. to eradicate that privilege).

I don't really understand why you have a problem with these kinds of posts, then. You seem to be keenly aware of the fact that you are the problem and that you have to work to better yourself.

Being faced with that kind of struggle is good. Everyone who's lived long enough can recall some time when they were, in hindsight, a horrible person. And if you're aware of it, you're winning.

No pain, no gain.

Admittedly I did the exact same thing as you, right down to the same quote.

Most male dominated fields of work behave like this - it's a reflection of subtle rules society that we're taught at a young age. We can try to patch it over but it might cut deeper than just culture, it maybe simply inherently biological the behavior of men around a single female.

Well, first off, this is definitely not an inherent biological thing. There is a large population of (straight, sexually active) men who have no difficulty treating women in social and professional settings as peers rather than sexual objects.

If you find that you have difficulty doing this, then you are literally a part of the problem with our community that we are discussing, and you should be spending a non-trivial amount of your time learning to manage your disability.

And I mean that-- it's something that you grew up with, it's a problem, we're all here together to help you through it. But first you need to admit that it's something you have to fix.

We've just had an identical (100%) feeling. I was telling myself "Come on, stop crying like a baby" until I read those words. I feel extremely sorry for her and anyone who has to go through this.

I feel as you do, though she did not help her situation but not doing anything about it.

I have problem with how posts like this make me feel.

That's because there is nothing wrong with you, and yet everyone around you is telling you you're a problem. Kinda like the OP feels at work.

Well I'm glad you admitted it, because the number of men in your boat is all too obvious to me. Again not to further aggravate your guilt response, but all you have to do is read some of the responses to this (http://blog.sqoot.com/we-can-do-better-an-apology-from-sqoot) to see how many are the male apologists. All out in force trying to assuage their guilt by defending the guilty.

Unfortunately those who can't get over the guilt you feel via this association, are far more likely to defend the same behaviour in others in order to make that feeling go away. This is only going to stop when we stop feeling guilty and choose to act differently.

If you comment on a woman's neckline at work, you definitely have a problem and should go out of your way to change your behavior and thinking.

I think it's really brave of you to own up to this. So often people develop a sort of bunker mentality and can't see other perspectives.

If there's hope for you, there's hope for all of us.

>I have exact same problem with how I perceive woman and man having multiple sexual partners. "Good key opens many locks, but good lock is opened by only one key" and all that bullshit - I know that it's ridiculous to hold woman and men to different standard in this regard

Without endorsing any specific views on female vs male promiscuity, I don't see what's so bad about seeing a distinction between them. The fact is, men and women are different from each other, and male and female promiscuity are different phenomena.

"Without endorsing any specific views on intelligence of tall vs short people, I don't see what's so bad about seeing a distinction between them. The fact is, tall and short people are different from each other, and their intelligence are different phenomena."

You can substitute many other things in there, and it will make equally bad argument. 80 years ago one could similarly argue about black vs white people, and it wouldn't be considered wrong or racist back then.

It's just less obvious after years of cultural conditioning.

Your analogy completely misses the point. Studies show promiscuous men tend to have better than average accuracy in their assessments of their own attractiveness. This makes sense; having had more experience flirting with women, they have a better sense of how women respond to them. Promiscuous women, on the other hand, tend to greatly overestimate their own attractiveness. They assume they must be especially attractive if men are showing so much sexual interest in them, not realizing that most men have very low standards when it comes to casual sex -- men's standards only come into play when it comes to longer-term relationships.

You might say things like this aren't a big deal, but it still serves as a concrete example of how male and female promiscuity are different from one another and affect people's lives differently -- and frankly it's far from the only one. It's silly to deny the subtleties of human sexuality in the name of some egalitarian ideal. By insisting on viewing women exactly the same as you would view men, you are discarding useful information about the world.

A lot of people can't handle jokes. And a lot of people can't handle sexuality and playfulness, or confuse sexual jokes with sexism. Of course, sometimes somebody goes too far. But also sometimes somebody is too sensitive. It's probably better to err on the safe side and not risk offending somebody unless you're already pretty sure it would be okay with them.

I'm having flashbacks now to the video on Reddit yesterday where the black female college student went psycho apeshit in class when the professor was lecturing about evolution. She seemed to think there was some kind of persecution going on involving evolution and black people, and became violently angry at both the professor and the other students, interpreting things seemingly 180 degrees opposite, almost hallucination-like, compared to everybody else. Compared to the sane, healthy, objective people. They recorded it on many cellphones too. The point I'm making, in relation to the OA, is that yes there is sexism and sometimes inappropriate things are said. But yes it is also true that sometimes some people are wacked in the mind and/or misinterpret things. And without really knowing the specific person directly or seeing the events directly with our own eyes, we can't really know which it is.

I'll just close with the observation that there are probably at least 10's of millions of Americans, if not 100 million plus, that believe the Christian God exists, lightning bolts and all, angry man in the clouds, all the miracles, etc. Some of those folks also work in offices and post on the web. Some program. Some are "scientists" even. So take everything you read with a dose of skepticism.

I'm also having flashbacks to all the times I've been asked to take notes in meetings. I'm pretty sure I'm male too.

Wow a person of privilege (male) feels uncomfortable when being asked not to do something that harms a person of less privilege (female). How difficult that must be for you. I really feel your plight. Asshole.

It's a big deal. Not "lightening up" is a service to the company (and, I guess, the whole industry). I'm married to a woman who has put up with a lot of shit in this field (for instance: job interviews in which she was shown pictures of her interviewer's bare ass; I was, fortunately for all involved, in a different state when that happened) and am the father of an absurdly intelligent 10 year old girl who will, with enough not- taking- one- iota- of- shit for the next 10 years, not have to suffer any of this.

So I guess what I'm saying is thanks.

job interviews in which she was shown pictures of her interviewer's bare ass;

Holly horror story!

Sadly I am not surprised to hear this, because I've heard many similar stories. And yet out of the very large number of male friends in the industry I have, including myself, none of us have ever or would ever do anything like that. The paradox here is answered by the fact that a tiny share of creeps will always be found in any sufficiently large set of humans. And the larger the set, the bigger the number of creeps.

Thus I think the only way to guarantee this kind of thing becomes part of the past is to radically increase the share of women in the industry.

Now, that doesn't prevent creeps from being creepy, but it does guarantee that the small number that they must be, can never be creepy to a large number of women.

This is kind of depressing as it basically assumes we can never completely get rid of creeps. But does anyone believe 100% proper behavior, from 100% of the people, 100% of the time is possible?

I think you're correct that the best solution is to increase the number of women in technology.

However, as members of that community today, you and I and our male friends can call out the creepy dudes making inappropriate remarks 100% of the time we hear them. Creating an environment where people feel comfortable doesn't have to mean getting rid of all bad actors; it can be enough to make it clear that bad actors are found universally unacceptable.

Creeps are a part of every industry; they are more aptly described as "Bullies" - and can be both male and female (though I admit the male, sexist, bully is very prevalent in our industry).

These people tend not to just be sexist; they bully their male workers as well - crude remarks for example, put downs, superior attitudes.

I once had a female (client) lean over the desk to me, with a low cut blouse, and say "My cleavage intimidates you doesn't it".

I suggest that, as this blogger noted, the minority of creeps & bullies aren't really the problem. You can deal with them a lot more easily by moving on, firing them, refusing their custom - etc.

The issue is the sort of subtle remarks that the people making them don't realise are upsetting. They are not unlike-able, unlike bullies, just a bit clueless.

And fixing this is not easy, because you might really get on with the guys in your office, just wish they'd stop commenting on your ass!

I completely agree, such behavior is not gender related. But males are trending higher, usually because the percentage of male bosses is higher. Social status and power tend to release some inner devils.

Also agree about side comments - it is not easy to stop those. That's why it is important to understand each of those individuals and find a way to deal with each one. No need to be a hardass to the person, just need to punish specific actions.

While you are correct in this instance, the original article is complaining about subtle inequalities that go unnoticed or tolerated by a much larger portion of the industry than just the "creeps".

And the existence of that behavior is an obstacle to increasing the share of women in the industry.

Certainly not. But I can certainly empathize with a complaint raised in the article. Essentially, if you know "Lighten up" seems equivalent to acknowledging the lack of respect being shown, but refusing to own up to it. While it's easy for you to say "Oh, I only said one thing! Why is she so mad?" thats, sort of the entire point of the article - everyone just saying one thing adds up to a lot.

job interviews in which she was shown pictures of her interviewer's bare ass;

What the hell? How on earth did that happen, I really can't imagine why anyone would think that doing this could possibly have a positive income without having drunk a minimum of 5 beers.

You know here's the thing. I have had female co-workers complain about being asked in interviews at other companies as to whether they'd quit their jobs (rather than taking paid/unpaid leave) if they had kids. I would quietly listen, take notes in my heads as to which companies to avoid working at.

There are two things that come to mind.

These companies are ones where shit floats so to speak and nothing good will come out of those for anybody.

They are also usually ones who feel unusually entitled to way too much of their workers' personal lives generally.

In the Netherlands this is illegal to ask during a job interview (or perhaps in general, as a boss, I'm not sure). What country was this in?

It was in the US. The company can get in trouble for that here. But even if it were legal, there is no way anyone should want to work for a company where such is asked.

But then I wouldn't work for a company that insisted they wanted to read my personal email either and that's been happening more and more lately :-P

Wow, in the European Union that would be illegal. I'd presume the USA has similar laws banning discrimination based on family status (that might fall under gender aswell). In which case the reply to that question should be "Isn't it against the law for you to ask that?"

job interviews in which she was shown pictures of her interviewer's bare ass;

I'm intrigued. How the heck did that scene play out? How exactly do one produce an image of his ass in an interview. How come he had one taken in the first place. So many questions ..

As a woman, a woman in tech AND a mother to a little girl: thank YOU.

Thank you for supporting your wife, thank you for teaching your daughter that she doesn't have to take this crap, and thank you for not being part of the problem in the first place.

Well, I guess I ought to weigh in on this one, since I am the interviewee in question. First, the story.

During the interview, I was interrupted while answering a question with, "I think I have a tick." My brain immediately thinks, "He's on eBay and has just won a copy of The Tick." But then he swivels the monitor around to show me a flesh-colored rectangle with a round, red area in the middle of it. I'm pretty sure that while we were talking, he stuck the camera into the back of his trousers and took the picture, as I recall seeing a flash and him fiddling with connecting the camera. However, it was my first interview in a long time, and I was very nervous about returning to paid employment after 6 years as a stay-at-home-mom.

What did I do? I gave him instructions for how to remove it. After all, I am a mom.

So... I've been "in technology" for a long time. In middle school, I picked the locks to let myself into the computer lab. In high school, I was the only female student in CS (also trigonometry and pre-calc). In college, I was the only female ever in the computer lab. I studied audio engineering -- which is a great deal less friendly to women (or was) than IT. I have dealt with a lot of weird situations that would not have occurred if I were male. On the plus side, I've never had to wait in line for the toilet.

This is my opinion: shit is going to happen and you have to roll with it. Given your life experience and temperament, this may be challenging for you. But if you want something bad enough, you'll find a way to get it, no matter how much shit you have to step in on the way.

My observations: men harass each other with equal or greater tendency than their female peers. Myself, I have said things to my male co-workers that have caused them to make the "that was inappropriate" flinch. Also, we can't squelch biology, no matter how smart we are -- if there are boobs in view, his lizard brain is going to notice them.

My hypothesis: men are socialized to shrug it off or suck it up, and may even become desensitized to it after a while. Women are socialized differently. To be frank, I don't completely "get women," even though I am one. Two events in my life have forced me to interact with large and varied groups of women, first being motherhood and second being roller derby training. I somehow managed to offend some of these women, and I'm never quite sure how I do it. But once it happens... they pretty much avoid me like I'm diseased. Anyone, male or female, who reacts to something unsavory in this way is simply going to have a harder time getting by in business. Or anything else, for that matter. Curiously, women seem to be much, much better than men at ignoring their lizard brain. Might be nature, might be nurture, but it is a definite advantage.

If I had a dollar for every time someone has told me to lighten up (or, in the case of my mom, Erliechda!), I'd be driving a Veyron around my private island. And sometimes it does weigh pretty heavily on me that, no matter how hard I bust my ass, there is always going to be some person who wants to write me off for attributes I cannot control. But that's where you learn who your friends are, right? There is a long list of people in my life who have plenty of respect for me, ask me for advice on stuff and things, and treat me like a regular human being. I prefer to be thankful for those people than let the rest drag me down.

Katie, you get nothing but empathy from me for how you feel, despite how critical this post may sound. I have a son and a daughter. The world does treat them differently. Nobody has ever "taken me aside" to tell me I am "going to have trouble" with my son when he gets older. It's flat out offensive to have a teacher deride my baby girl for being outspoken and spunky. It is painful to see what criticism does to her self-esteem. When someone IWASJUSTs you, they are being twice rude. So this is what I told both my kids, "If you had a $20, would you give it to $BULLY_NAME?"

"No," they responded.

Well, if you wouldn't give someone a $20, then don't give them the power to hurt your feelings.

Here's me and my wife disagreeing.

Which is fine. Our daughter will learn how to toughen up and roll with the punches from Erin, and to not take any of this shit from me, and hopefully synthesize that into the CEOship of some galactically huge company from which she will fund our retirement.

Crazy interview story. Way inappropriate and at the very least shows he wasn't even paying attention. I'm a stay-at-home dad to my 18 month old son and also get nervous about what the job hunt will be like once I return to work. I guess when the time comes at least I can console myself with the knowledge that I probably won't have to deal with the interviewer showing me pictures of a tick on their ass. :-)

men harass each other with equal or greater tendency than their female peers...men are socialized to shrug it off or suck it up, and may even become desensitized to it after a while

I'd say that's pretty accurate - maybe shrugging off a little harassment is how we guys try to prove we're confident to each other.

What would have been the appropriate response to the picture? Can someone give me a pattern to work with here?

edit: I haven't run into sexism yet (still a student, but a female in a male-dominated field) and I don't want to be the deer in the headlights when it happens for the first time. And it seems that it will happen, the way everyone talks about it.

She sat through the rest of the interview like a professional and then came home to unload it. The thought of her continuing to sit through an interview after having that happens is unbelievably infuriating to me even today. If there's ever anything I can do to harm the interests of someone who I know did that, I will (my wife, who often has a cooler head than I, is past this and would disapprove of me providing details about who did this).

Your legitimate options in this case are, as I understand it:

(a) Instantly acknowledge that you will never in a million years work for a team where this could happen and then passively coast through the rest of the interview and get out as fast as you can, and/or

(b) Document everything that happened and provide it to the manager of whoever interviewed you (in Erin's case: no such manager!) --- incidentally, having stuff like this happen in an interview creates a radioactive statutory liability which any employer with a general counsel will probably fire the interviewer over. or

(c) Out them publicly to take a stand. Be sure you're right.

Option (c) has a lot of benefits to the community; option (b) is the direct response that will have the most immediate impact to the situation; option (a) is (unfortunately) usually the most coldly rational.

>(for instance: job interviews in which she was shown pictures of her interviewer's bare ass; I was, fortunately for all involved, in a different state when that happened)

Why? Because you would have beat his ass? Cause you would have shown him what happens when he comes on to your woman? You would have had an unkind word with him? Do you not believe your wife can handle herself?

Trying to bash down a gender role by reinforcing another is pretty silly.

What about "Because he would have been angry about it, and sometimes we don't make the best decisions when we're angry?" Why go fishing for the least charitable reading?

That is what I meant, and why I said it was best for all involved. Thanks.

Ridiculous. Coming to your partner's defense is not a matter of gender, but one of loyalty. Reverse the genders in this case and the threat still applies.

Only thing is, this would not be coming to partners defense, but pointless chest-thumping. Now, I think I know what he meant by writing that, and I doubt he'd actually do anything other than being nice to her and supporting her in whatever she chooses to do with it, but the expression still matters.

The brainwashing gets us all. It's sad when it gets us while we're trying to be supportive. The proper expression is "I was horrified and angered by it," not "I will respond to this by aggressive behavior not that much unlike what the other dude did". And proper response to someone noticing it is, probably, "oh... um, I didn't think about it like that, thanks, sorry", not "but I had good intentions!!!"

> "I will respond to this by aggressive behavior not that much unlike what the other dude did"

He showed a naked picture of himself to her in a situation where the default balance of power was firmly in his favor. An interviewer blotting himself (if only using a photograph) in front of a potential peer or subordinate is an act of sexual aggression if I ever saw one, and you are claiming some sort of moral equivalence with reacting aggressively to it? You cannot be serious.

Or perhaps simply expressing anger is something he doesn't like to do near his family. It could be a rage issue, but more likely it would have interferred in smaller ways with his ability to be properly supportive. Perhaps he would have suggested a confrontational route (get lawyers involved e.g.) that would have made his wife uncomfortable. Perhaps done something like suggest ways to "fix" the problem, rather than just be there as a supportive spouse. Many people would be uncomfortable with those reactions in themselves, and therefore would not want to expose their family to it.

Amusingly, your statement "the brainwashing gets us all" was most appropriately applied to your own presumption that he would fit some male role when being uncomfortable with proximity and anger.

Comments like these are nauseatingly pompous. He never says anything about getting violent. You are projecting your own views on the matter.

Maybe his response would be to call the interviewer's boss and describe the actions. Maybe his response would be to write a blog post and do all the SEO in the world to make sure it shows up #1 every time someone Googles the company in question. You are assuming that the reaction he wants to contain is punching the interviewer in the face - when he never says anything to that effect at all. There are plenty of possible actions that are not violent and are not morally equivalent to the interviewer but are still plenty regrettable.

> The proper expression is "I was horrified and angered by it,"

I was horrified and angered by it, and I know very well that assholes who show their bare butt pictures in interviews are incorrigible bastards, and if I happen to meet one, I am afraid I won't be able to contain myself(not too sure I would want to), so it was for the best I wasn't around.

That's what I mean: he apparently had issues with containing own instincts. And by saying "I am afraid I won't be able to contain myself" you actually state more-or-less the same — that you're aggressive and prone to act aggressively against your own better judgement.

Yeah, sure, people like him that should be shunned, and preferably prosecuted. But, actually, one of the reasons they feel free to do things like that is the culture of domination that's not really hurt in any way by people making violent remarks about them.

As the woman, I've been the only person in the group asked to put together a pot luck (presumably, this work is beneath the males). I've been the only one asked to take notes in a meeting... even if I'm the one who's presenting (because my title really should be 'secretary who we let on the servers').

This, more than the jokes and comments, is the meat of the problem. Inappropriate jokes can be much more easily addressed as soon as they happen - if you're in a meeting and your boss asks you to 'please pull up your blouse because your wonderful breasts are distracting everyone' you can much more easily address it right then and there.

But if your boss asks you to take notes, the first couple of times it happens, it could just as well be random (though it isn't, really). It is much harder to say 'no, not taking notes, you only want me to do that because I'm a woman' even when it's true. What's worse is that even when you do notice a pattern, it's harder to address than a rude remark. It's (a) hard to prove it was because of your sex as opposed to some other aspect of your personality ('maybe he thinks you're just good at organizing potlucks, sheesh' - 'you took notes that first time so well!') and (b) behavior is much harder to correct when you have to point out things that happened in the past. 'I take notes 50% of the time, in a group of 5' just doesn't seem to have the same effect on humans, especially in a society where intent is often judged above effect.

I'm not a woman, but this is what it seems to me, from what I've observed.

edit: I can't find the study I was looking for, but they had a group of people evaluate two sets of identical resumes, with female and male names, for 'competence' and 'likeability'. For males, competence was correlated with likeability, but for females it was anticorrelated, even though the resumes were identical. Less people will think you an 'ice queen' if you call out an inappropriate remark, but countering the above form of sexism seems far more difficult to do while preserving 'likeability' -- 'what's the big deal, I just asked her to take notes!' If anyone else knows where the study is, I would be grateful.

It seems to me that this is where the men on the team can help: As a man, I'd volunteer to take notes.

Of course, this may not be tempting, because you may be on the kind of team where you just know that, if you volunteer to do some thankless task, you'll be stuck with it forever. And that is an entirely different kind of problem. But it's a problem that should not be covered up by deploying sexism.

I don't understand the "as a man" part. That's further propagating the problem.

I'd rather we point out "sexist behavior" to help make it stop vs introduce an even more subtler sexist behavior

In your senario: You, as a man, aware that she as a women, can get treated differently, so you will then treat her differently based on that.

You see, you are still treating her differently, where ultimately, no one treats her differently.

Reminds me of this quote from Morgan Freeman in an interview

Wallace: Black History Month you find...

Freeman: Ridiculous.

Wallace: Why?

Freeman: You're going to relegate my history to a month?

Wallace: Oh, come on...

Freeman: What do you do with yours? Which month is White History Month?

Wallace: Well...

Freeman: Come on, tell me.

Wallace: I'm Jewish.

Freeman: OK. Which month is Jewish History Month?

Wallace: There isn't one.

Freeman: Oh. Oh. Why not? Do you want one?

Wallace: No. No.

Freeman: Alright. I don't either. I don't want a Black History Month. Black history is American history.

Wallace: How are we going to get rid of racism...?

Freeman: Stop talking about it. I'm going to stop calling you a white man. And I'm going to ask you to stop calling me a black man. I know you as Mike Wallace. You know me as Morgan Freeman.

> I don't understand the "as a man" part. That's further propagating the problem.


> You see, you are still treating her differently, where ultimately, no one treats her differently.

Actually, everyone is treating her differently. The problem isn't just that people see men and women differently. That's almost impossible to change in the short term. In the short term, all you can do is try to get people to treat each other fairly.

I've no opinion on whether or not "Black History Month" is a good idea or not. Maybe it's a piss-poor token effort. Maybe Freeman doesn't care, because people treat him fairly, as he's outrageously successful, but other African Americans don't get treated fairly unless people make a big deal about doing so (which they usually do, thanks to a huge amount of anti-black-discrimination sentiment ... Latinos aren't so lucky). I'm not an American. I don't even know what "Black History Month" is.

There's three things that should happen - everyone should try to treat everyone else fairly, people should stick up for groups of people who are treated unfairly (whether they are a member of that group or not), and people should try not to think of people as belonging to any particular group. But when a group is treated unfairly, if you don't think of them as a group (on occasion), you can't stick up for them.

What I'm saying is that your shouldn't primarily consider someone to be defined by their (race / gender / height / whatever), but should occasionally stop to think about whether people might be getting treated unfairly, and do something about it if they are.

I'd consider saying "maybe I should take notes, because it's not fair that the girl always seems to do it, and (name) is busy with her presentation right now".

in the long run, for the survival of the race, we'd better continue to treat them differently. Get over it already!! Women are different! All this pc stuff is drivel.

Please elaborate. Firstly, why is it necessary to treat them differently for "the survival of the race"? Secondly, yes, Women are different, but that doesn't mean that

a: It's appropriate to comment on a woman's cleavage at work

or b: that women can't be equally good software developers

I agree. I think though that you have to be more clear. I believe when you say "for the survival of the race" what you mean is that woman want to be with men whom they respect. I feel like that is true. Certainly woman are also different. However, when it comes to being in the workplace, I think what the OP and most of the people here are trying to get at is using better judgement. We are not animals here. We treat woman with the same respect that we treat men, while simultaneously recognizing that we ought not act the same around them as we do around men, or maybe specifically of men we are friends with.

PC is drivel. agreed. being respectful: definitely not.

Where did I "treat her differently"? I'd like to think that if there was any other member of my team that was consistently getting stuck making tea and taking notes, I'd do the same for him. Indeed, I have done that in the past.

It's true that people, observing just this one incident in isolation, might conclude that I was "treating her differently" because she was female. I can't help that. I, too, am stuck in the society we have, the one where people make assumptions like you have just made, and as you point out it's not productive to tell people not to assume such things, no more than if I asked them not to think of an elephant. If anyone asks why I "treated her differently" I'll say what I just said: Team members are team members, none of them should be stuck with the boring stuff all the time unless they really enjoy making tea.

Meanwhile, I used the rather clumsy phrase "as a man" not because I enjoy writing clumsily, nor as some sort of political statement, but just to get the mental picture clear: I'm a guy, who looks like a nerdy guy, and when I make tea I look like a nerdy guy making tea. I suppose I could have left that ambiguous, as I usually do online - hey, on the internet nobody needs to know that you're really a beagle who can cite SICP and make tea - but in a conversation that's essentially about the optics of an in-person social interaction I felt it was kind of important that we all try to envision an actual room, with an actual team, one member of which is a middle-aged guy who is stepping out to make some tea.

If I could upvote this twice, I would. The labels we use for each other are an elephant in the room. A lot of people came to this country and worked very hard to build it. Some by choice, others by duress. The ones who came by choice made mad bank and their descendants received all the benefits of a raised standard of living. Meanwhile, a great percentage of the descendants who came in shackles are still struggling to raise the standard of living for themselves and their families.

This has nothing to do with skin tone and everything to do with perception. Your feet follow your eyes.

Exactly. The moment we stop looking at "men" and "women" or "black" and "white" and start looking at "people" is when these things are truly sorted out.

This is never going to happen, and IMHO should not. Equality is not equivalency and none of us are colour blind. The key is accepting differences when they ARE there. That said, class is a way bigger difference than race. :P

EDIT: I'm definitely not saying that the subjective perceived differences in gender and race are real, or that bigotry and ignorance are cool.

Where I disagree with you on "colour blindness" is that your statement assumes that gender and race are reasonable and obvious ways of categorizing people. How often do you group people by whether or not their earlobes are attached? Or by the curliness of their hair? We have made gender, race, etc important constructs. It would be difficult, but not impossible, to make them unimportant.

Accepting differences is a good thing. However the magnitude of the perceived difference can make accepting it either easier or harder

We are all different, but that doesn't mean we must be treated different at all times.

At work we are all workers. We may be treated differently depending on our position within the company, because that is relevant to our job and duties. But how is it relevant and useful to treat employees or colleagues differently because they are this or that? Does it bring any more profit, productivity or anything positive at all?

We can't be looking at these differences all the time, because most of the time they do not matter at all within the context. This is what people don't get.

Let me add some more. People here being called "african-american", "asian-american", "japanese-american", "indian-american" (different from the "Indians" who are the original (native) Americans) and so on. This shows the inherent racist bigotry prevalent and the sense of entitlement felt by the WASPy americans. Why not call all Americans (whether by birth or naturalized) as Americans instead of differentiating? On the same lines, I'd suggest calling white americans from Europe as "white caucasian americans", "italian-americans", "irish-americans", "british-americans" etc. Oh, and one more, China != Asia. Asia consists of a LOT many countries, not just China. A very relevant editorial cartoon last year by Steve Kelly of the Times-Picayune on the immigrant issue, too.

As a man, I've handled this by being the one to turn it into an obvious sexist thing by making a joke aloud "yeah, Sarah, boss says it's your turn to take notes again because, you know, you're the only girl at the table :P. Ha ha ha ha."

Everyone laughs, boss realizes what he's doing, Sarah is off the hook.

Yes, your comment may get Sarah off the hook, but I'd probably feel even more offended by that comment than by the boss' request.

If she has the courage to display any disdain over your overtly sexism comment though, perhaps the boss would take (mental) note.

At the same time, the boss may not even be aware of the sexism in the initial request--he/she may rationalize the request/decision after-the-fact, even if it were made in a sexist light at a subconscious level. In that case, that comment may end up offending both the boss and Sarah.

(And yes, women in management sometimes are more sexist against female subordinates than male counterparts.)

If you follow up your comment with an apology and an offer to take notes, however, everyone will feel better.

His turn of phrase suggested to me that said overtly sexist common would me delivered with sufficiently dripping sarcasm to make it clear he wasn't in favour of the idea.

I think I might say "yes, boss, because the possession of a penis renders one incapable of note taking, obviously" instead but that's more about the turn of phrase of my sense of humour than anything else.

How is that remotely offensive? I think you need to re-read his post.

If you worked in a "traditional" corporate environment, you would know why it's offensive. General rule of thumb is, don't say it if you wouldn't say it to your mother. I certainly wouldn't say that to my mother.

Edit: to elaborate, corporations aren't concerned with being labeled as sexist. They are worried about being sued because of sexism, because it's one of the toughest kinds of corporate lawsuits to defend against, and one of the most lucrative kinds of lawsuits for the plaintiff. (IANAL though)

And I, in turn, would blurt out, "yeah, Sarah's a girl because she doesn't menstruate. Hahaha" and everyone would grow more uncomfortable.

Edit: it's really sad that HN has such a devotion to using the word "girl" to describe women. It's flat-out demeaning, whether you want to admit it or not.

I found an article about racism in the antebellum South and the cultural norm of referring to an adult black man as a "boy".

I never really considered that calling a woman a 'girl' was a way to demean or lower them in status (I do use the word on occasion). I think the key difference is that I would never address a woman as a girl ("Come here, girl") but I may refer to someone as a girl if she in her 20's or younger ("Hey, that girl dropped her college id, can you give it to her?) Or I might say "Do you want to see if any of the girls in accounting want to go to lunch?"

Is this really the bar for modern-day sexism?

In modern feminist circles they have apparently settled on "lady" as a dignified compromise between the infantilising "girl" and the sometimes undesirably serious "woman."

How is it not demeaning and condescending to call an adult woman by the word used to describe the immature state of her sex?

Why can't you simply say "women"? What's the impediment? Why do you so cling to "girl"?

I agree that there are contexts where calling a woman a "girl" is demeaning and condescending. This is clear. And I think labeling a word as "demeaning" requires one of two things: a subjective component (the response of the person at whom the word was directed believing the word was demeaning) or an objective component (the intent of the speaker of the word intending it to be demeaning). I think if we agree with this, it isn't hard to fabricate examples where calling an adult female a "girl" is, in fact, demeaning.

Now if we agree on that, then to make any absolute claim that calling a woman a "girl" is demeaning then we must either make some universal claim about the intent of all those who use the word or a universal claim about the reaction of all those that hear it. I think either of those claims might be overreaching. Or maybe I'm just setting the bar too high.

We obviously live in different parts of the world with different social expectations for language use. Beyond a certain point, arguing about when it is ok to say woman or girl is just pointless bickering over divergent cultural expectations and nothing more.

I respect your viewpoint, you have definitely made me think. I now consider myself a Level 3 misogynist (up from 1).

I've yet to hear my girlfriend (or any of her friends) use the word "man" or "men." Exclusively "boys" or "boy."

I find that demeaning as well. I also take it as a signal of the speaker's maturity level.

> Of course, this may not be tempting, because you may be on the kind of team where you just know that, if you volunteer to do some thankless task, you'll be stuck with it forever.

That is only the second thing that came to my mind.

The other "danger" is being the only guy to act like that, then looking like a desperate "white knight" to the brogrammer crowd. Which sucks, because these exist and can be terribly creepy, and that gets you onto the women's side of the sexism.

Not that it is a valid reason, of course.

You have to be careful how you do it as well. Because I offered to do a task like that (it wasn't note taking, I think it was making tea) saying something like [names changed] "Chris, I'm not sure why Amy is always asked to make the tea! I'll happily do it".

Which I thought was politely volunteering whilst also publicly raising my bosses problematic behaviour - an educational experience.

I got glowering dagger stares from "Amy", and afterwards she told me she felt humiliated because I'd exposed her as a target of sexism, which made her feel like a failure.

Which is awful that it had come to that (and in retrospect I was an idiot...).

So; use this approach with caution!

Edit: though in my defence "Chris" did improve no end after that; giving"Amy" only her fair share of mundane tasks, etc.

There's some research showing that people associate "bullying" with childhood. After that they think that being bullied makes them weak; or that they couldn't be bullies because that's something that kids do and adults are rational.

This NewYorker article (which I found via Longform) about the trial of Dharun Ravi (over the completed suicide of Tyler Clementi) has a tiny snippet about that.


Your experience shows just how serious the problem is - people don't know or think they're being sexist; the target of that behaviour don't want to speak out because they're told to "just lighten up" or they don't want to appear "weak" and other people don't speak out because it feels awkward or not the right time or whatever.

And it's not just sexism; there's 'hetero normative' and racist and anti-disabled stuff going on all the time. And this anti-disability stuff is important for programmers - people on the Autistic spectrum (which covers Asperger's Syndrome) are covered by English Equalities laws, yet we see open mocking of people with Asperger's.

Thanks for the story. This is why, though my approach has been gently and justly accused of being "passive" downthread, the passivity is the key in this case.

Don't overtly "defend" Amy. (Or Chuck, or any teamaker of any gender, for that matter.) Don't use the word "sexism", don't start doing math on how often each team member has been asked to make tea in the last two years, and don't otherwise call attention to your noble sacrifice (which, as you've seen, in an otherwise-mostly-male crowd serves to throw an uncomfortable spotlight on Amy). Say as little as possible. Just make tea. Try to win the initiative: If you start the job first, it can pre-empt argument over who is going to do it. Or if you lose the initiative, but Amy has interrupted her typing to start making the tea, say something like "hey, if you'd like to keep writing I'll make the tea today". (If she says no, don't press.)

If you inadvertently attract too much attention, you can make a joke about how much you enjoy tea. Quote some Hitchhiker's Guide or something. It's amazing how useful random whimsy can be.

Now, of course if you're always missing from the start of every key meeting because you're making tea the folks in the meeting may be liable to demote you in their minds. This is a sad but true fact of politics: Act like the doormat, and you'll become the doormat. There is a reason why badly-gelled teams tend to try and assign lousy jobs to the person with the weakest political position. So this might not be your final move in this game. But you may be in a better strategic position than Amy to negotiate the necessary change (which could be: rotating the tea-making role through the team, getting catered tea, moving an electric kettle into the corner of the conference room, or just "forgetting" to make the tea and seeing what happens: Maybe the team will settle on one of the above alternatives, or maybe it'll turn out that tea just isn't important enough after all to be worth the risk of introducing hierarchy into an otherwise egalitarian team.)

I've been thinking about this, and to be honest that could equally be seen as sexist, and also backfire.

Things like But you may be in a better strategic position than Amy to negotiate the necessary change could certainly be considered sexist if voiced. What you are suggesting is much the same as what I did do - simply missing out the overt portion.

It has advantages; it probably saves people being put in awkward positions, on the spot. But it could take longer, and backfire on you personally. And theoretically (I suppose) it could solidify ones own even-more-subtle sexism.

This is why I struggle with situations of equality in general. I think the whole issue is a minefield where you are damned if you do, and damned if you don't. And any thought process will end up offending someone.

Ultimately the key is to do whatever you do for the right reasons. The wrong reasons are probably "because she cant stand up for herself" and the right reason is probably "because that doesn't seem right". With empathy and common sense applied in spades.

As you say; this is a lot easier to address in a cohesive environment. By my observation - if people are playing office politics the sexism is probably just one part of an overall game.

Things like But you may be in a better strategic position than Amy to negotiate the necessary change* could certainly be considered sexist if voiced.*

Trying to teach manners through the Internet is like trying to teach bicycling by correspondence course.

Yes, of course I wouldn't say that out loud, ever, except in a high-level meta-conversation about an imaginary office populated by imaginary people drinking imaginary tea. In the real world, I would ideally say nothing at all, except perhaps "I'm going to make some tea; would anyone like some?" And then there would be tea. Delicious tea.

Heh :) I was playing devils advocate, mostly to highlight how even that thought process could be construed in the same way as my overt actions.

I agree, with the action you mention in the last paragraph - that is the action I should have taken.

What I was questioning was the thought process behind that action, and arguing it was little different to my own, could also be seen as sexist, and is only "OK" by virtue of being not-overt :)

Mostly I was thinking aloud.

Now, coffee break.

Day 1: "My turn to make the tea" Day 2: let $amy make the tea Day 3: "You did it yesterday, I'll do it again - I guess the rest of these fucks are too lazy or incompetent to use a fucking teapot."

(adjust word choice for the day 3 variant to an appropriate level for your team's social context)

Amy shouldn’t be blaming herself for being the victim of sexist behavior. You could have tried to convince her of that. Even though you didn’t, you weren’t an idiot here. Aside from her internal negative reaction, the situation was actually improved.

From the sound of it, she's not. She's blaming ErrantX. What I gather is, she didn't feel offended, and rather, by him doing what he did, make her feel as if others saw her as being "offended."

I think that is much more likely the case.

The question is, should ErrantX be offended for other people? If he's offended, he should speak up. But being offended for other people implies they are also offended. And, if they aren't, sends the wrong signals.

We discussed it in depth after, because we are close friends (which helped).

It wasn't so much exposing her as being offended; she was put out by the treatment, but had gotten used to it over time. To the extent it didn't bother her any more (the more I tell this anecdote, the more awful it seems really!). When I raised it as an issue, publicly, it brought all of that back.

In addition it made her feel that everyone saw her as being targeted, and unable to cope with it (partly because we were so close, she imagined they saw her getting me to stand up for her where she could not). Whereas before she could think of it as a private upset between her and "Chris".

I never even thought of it in that context; "Chris" was doing something inappropriate, I felt that calling him on it would be a good way to resolve it for everyone.

What I missed is that it could affect "Amy" in unexpected ways. A private conversation with "Chris" would probably have been better...

So, yes, she blamed me. And herself. But only really in the heat of the moment - after the fact she was grateful, just wished I'd done it another way.

One thing she did say was that her initial reaction was that I was just as bad (sexist) because it looked like I saw her as unable to stand up for herself (which wasn't what my thought process was, I should add!). But after she realised that actually she hadn't stood up for herself on this issue. That blurs the line so much on terms like sexism.

So I learned; human social interaction is blooming complicated!

Thanks for the followup! Very informative. Unfortunately, it only leads to more questions, as you seem to clearly understand (Clearly understanding your confusion seems an odd thing to say).

Luckily, you were close friends. This makes things much easier. This lends weight to my worry about sticking up for other people when they show no signs of bother. Should I have been offended for Amy? I don't know her. As you pointed out, if I did, that would be just as sexist.

Let's be clear here, I'd probably feel uncomfortable for the person being denigrated in such a manner. But what is my responsibility?

I mention this because all to often people are quick to say "Hey, I'd jump in to defend a person," and while well meaning, it's just not that easy. Even women can't agree on this (not that they should). On one hand, Amy was perfectly content and these things didn't bother her. On the other hand, in some manner of speaking, they are still wrong. The move Shallow Hal comes to mind here (to some extent, as ignorance isn't the key part here).

This leads me to my way of thinking. Unless it's out right obvious and offends me, I'm not going to rush to the defense of someone because I think they should be offended. However, I will support people who do come out and clearly state they are offended, and support them. If they accept the treatment (for example, always taking notes at the meeting) without a word, who am I to treat them like a defenseless child incapable of defending themselves.

Supporting the person after they've made it clear they aren't happy with the mistreatment, on the other hand, I think is fair and proper.

Some people might feel awkward raising an alarm that something bothers them. This is understandable. In some manner, we must encourage them without outright saying "Hey, doesn't it bother you that you are always asked to take notes? (Maybe that's acceptable if the relationship is more than a co-worker type)."

In the end, it's the best I can offer.

I agree that the least harmful approach is to let the victim initiate the defense, but like you said, people might feel awkward raising the alarm.

The underlying problem here is that we are taught (by our culture) that: 1. It is okay to be subtly sexist but even worst, 2. We're being bitchy (uncool) if we defend ourselves (I'd argue that it's part of our intense worship of "being cool" but that's another topic)

I think we would be in a better position to tackle these problems of subtle sexism if it was more socially accepted (and encouraged) to stand up for yourselves (especially for females to stand up for themselves).

A side note: I read once that when asked, females would attack a rapist who is raping their friend or sibling but would not attack when they are themselves being raped by the rapist.

I think this stems from the theory 2 above: that we are viewed as bitchy if defend ourselves, but we are praised if we defend someone else.

So if this tea thing happened at (nearly) every meeting, you'd have been able to discuss the issue in private, between meetings, and offer to raise it next time--or probably better, discuss it, let her know that if she'd bring it up you'd have her back?

I don't know actually--apparently she had an idea of something she would be comfortable with to address it? I have some ideas for different approaches which I wrote down but then deleted because in the end it comes down to what she feels comfortable with. <-- this is actually not a male/female thing, but applicable in any social situation where you intend to stand up for someone getting the shitty end of a stick.

Anyway my point is, I'd almost always first discuss this with the person in question rather than speaking up in the heat of the moment. It's usually not appropriate, puts the person in a tight spot or a spot light and sometimes these things are better resolved at a different, quieter moment anyway. The exception to this (for me) would be when a remark is really offensive or not subtle at all (like the low-cut blouse remark in the article[1]), simply because at that point it offends me as well, even if the person isn't even around because I shall not tolerate such toxic remarks in a place where I have to work.

[1] "Hey Jim, your fly is open! I KNOW WHERE I'M SITTING! :D wink"

the more I think about this problem, and the solutions being offered, the more I think everyone is missing the point. I think riding in and saving the day is just as "sexist."

What the OP wants here is to be respected for who she is and her accomplishments as an individual, so that is the best solution. My guess is that most women accept this sexism as a part of life and have a way to handle it, but evey once in a while it just crushes them.

The healthiest and most productive solution is to "give them the tools" to feel better about themselves and ignore the sexists of the world, by letting them see that there are good people out there who will treat them with respect and appreciate not only their efforts and accomplishments, but also their sacrifice and struggle. It is obviously very easy for a a woman to fall into the "traditional secretary" role, if someone put the effort to overcome and rise above, that effort should be appreciated.

If the boss asking her to take notes is demeaning, why not ask her to help you overcome some difficult coding problem.

In most situations, it really just boil down to being a mensch.

And letting her know that if she wanted to say something about it, you'd have her back.

Is this not less about appearing to be a desperate white knight and more about appearing to put a woman before the guys and, in doing so, betraying your male friends.

That's true, and an even more powerful response of a man in this position is to deal with the problem less passively by (a) pointing out the trend without making a big deal, (b) suggesting that the team rotate more often, (c) proceeding to lead by example by taking notes.

This may be even too subtle a message for a problem as severe as this one, but it at least signals that not everyone within the team will tolerate this behavior, without claims of sexism backed by little evidence.

In my mind, an important point here is that NO ONE should be asked to put together a pot luck. Why does anyone think this kind of thing is appropriate in the workplace? It makes me want to vomit when workplace boss becomes social boss. If anyone ever told me to put together a pot luck my immediate response would be "go fuck yourself."

You're getting quite a bit of flak for this. You got a sucky boss? I rather like my co-workers, and potlucks are just one method of team-building/friendship making that can be had at work. No, work buddies should never be your only friends, but to have a pleasant time around co-workers, and to have team-building events such as those? There's nothing wrong with that; and, I would argue it helps to create a condusive and lower-friction environment.

There's a difference between friends and forced friends. There are lots of FreeBSD developers I'd be happy to invite over for dinner if they were in town, but that doesn't mean I'd be happy if someone told me that I had to invite them over for dinner.

My social life is just fine, thanks. I don't need a boss telling me who my friends should be.

My employer does this sort of thing, but it isn't mandatory. A sign-up sheet goes up in the kitchen, and there's never a lack of participation. From what I've seen, folks seem to genuinely enjoy doing this sort of thing, so more power to them. Sometimes I take part, sometimes I don't.

Now, if we were forced to participate, that'd be another matter.

Nothing wrong with a less frition-filled work environment. But it should not be mandatory. Also real friction caused by workplace politics rarely reduces due to such events.

Are there statistics on if its less likely to happen in the first place?

I'm not a professional chef, I'm a sysadmin. Cooking isn't part of my job description.

I don't want to be forced to eat food prepared by people who don't have food handlers' cards, and I don't want my coworkers to feel hurt because I don't want to eat what they cooked and left in their car.

Want to improve morale and do teambuilding? Get a cater, or go somewhere for lunch.

Lighten up

Yea, seriously. WTF is a food handler's card? It's not like a medical license.

For anyone else who had no idea what a "pot luck" was - it's basically a "bring-a-plate" event ("Odds on savoury, evens on dessert" at a residential street party).

In the context of work, the event is probably at the work itself, like in one of the open meeting rooms.

I agree. The "asked to put together" is the offensive part. I consider myself lucky to work with people that I do want to hang out with, and sometimes we collectively decide to plan a social event together, but having it come top-down really riles me up.

I wondered about the pot luck thing, isn't the point of a pot luck that everyone brings something to eat for everyone? If she'd be the only one that had to bring something, it wouldn't be a pot luck any more, right?

At least, that's what I understand pot luck to mean? I like them a lot btw, very American thing, so we don't do it often enough here, but my hummus is always appreciated ;-)

Stupid question, but what is a "pot luck"?

Edit: Question answered! The ability to read actually is an advantage! ;-)

Though my response won't be as forward as yours, I couldn't agree more.

If you worked with me, I would tell the entire office that everyone is welcome to the 24-pack of beer I brought from home ... except you.

I believe that would make you a petty asshole. There's a huge difference between offering to organize something social and being told to do so.

I wouldn't have hired either of you.

I'm really glad I don't work with you, then?

Why point out you brought it from home?

I'd be inclined to give the author the benefit of the doubt, and take serious the problem she's chosen to flag. She's saying that the attitude of "lighten up" is a problem in and of itself. To say that the "meat of the problem" is something else is really kind of like saying "lighten up."

This. Why must we re-analyze her problem and say it is something else when she has already clearly stated what it is and how she feels.

Seeing the grandparent as the top voted comment is like HN saying 'hey, we know better, your problem is actually this'.

Which isn't much different from saying 'lighten up' - both amount to dismissing her feelings.

Then why discuss her article at all? She has made up her mind and quit, and that is all there is to it?

One thing would be to discuss, as a startup owner, how would one prevent this kind of thing happening in their startup. How to create a culture where women aren't treated like that so that highly talented women are more likely to join and stay. Or is this something that we shouldn't hope to achieve because nerds will always be like that?

Judging by other comments here (and recent sexism issues in tech), it seems like her treatment isn't an isolated case.

You simply assume that she is right, but you have only heard her part of the story. Obviously I don't want to defend the right to leer at work, but it seems impossible to accommodate everybody's preferences for a workplace. Therefore just raising one persons preferences above the preferences of all other people seems questionable to me.

For example in other sexism threads the ubiquitous Star Wars posters and stuff like that came up. Should Star Wars posters really be banned in programmers offices, just so that some more women programmers might feel more at home. I don't know...

>I don't want to defend the right to leer at work, //

This sort of thing is often in the eye of the offended though. Fat slob with a beer-belly and greasy hair glances at you - bleurgh, X is leering at you. Six-packed, chisel-chinned near-divine human that drives a Ferrari checks you out - phwoar.

>Should Star Wars posters really be banned //

Can anyone give a cogent argument as to how a film poster bearing fantasy sci-fi imagery is sexist aside from specific content like an image of a man with their top off that is intended to objectify them?

Your theory here is that being treated fairly and equally is some sort of quirky personal preference? How is that different than just telling her to lighten up?

> As the woman, I've been the only person in the group asked to put together a pot luck (presumably, this work is beneath the males). I've been the only one asked to take notes in a meeting... even if I'm the one who's presenting (because my title really should be 'secretary who we let on the servers').

Had a new project manager/analyst join a few months ago, and he bakes a different cake for us each week. it's awesome. :)

Not sure, but this might be the study you were referring to: http://advance.cornell.edu/documents/ImpactofGender.pdf

The notetaking situation as you describe it (not necessarily the way Katie was treated) can probably be averted by politely declining, such as, "Can someone else take notes this time? I like to put more focus on this particular discussion." If it's happening even more frequently than, say, 50%, then perhaps something along the line of suggesting everyone taking turns (if it's a regular meeting).

At my previous workplace, it's usually the host who sends out meeting notes or action items if needed. Otherwise, the task falls into the hands of the project manager, if one is present in the meeting.

Yes, that might keep you from having to take notes, but most fools don't respond to subtlety.

The problem is being viewed as nothing more than a note-taker, not the actual note-taking work.

I find posts like this extremely frustrating.

Yes, I feel sorry for this woman.

However, I also feel sorry for all male programmers. A lot of male programmers I've met have extremely pent-up sexual drives. A lot of them do not feel comfortable with women or society.

The prototypical male programmer was extremely nerdy in adolescence, had minimal interaction with women, and sex life - forget it. Now they are working in a job where they can just do what they like - program - and a woman comes along with all those pheremones and everything. And yes he acts awkward and crazy because holy shit there is a WOMAN who does what he does.

I fucking hate all of this talk about "manchildren" and "brogrammers" and whatever else. Stop essentializing the problem. Stop the man hate. Fucking hell.

Do you really think the man who said:

"Oop, Katie's got the low cut dress on today! I know where I'm sitting!"

is a happy, mentally-healthy, well-adjusted human being? Hmmm? Where's the compassion for him?

Why is our reaction to superficial wrongdoing so fucking immediate and moralistic? As if he's not a person with his own problems?

I'm at a loss for words, this whole clusterfuck makes me so angry.

I fucking hate all of this talk about "manchildren" and "brogrammers" and whatever else. Stop essentializing the problem. Stop the man hate. Fucking hell.

If you're experiencing this pushback from women in the profession as 'man hate' that's certainly your right. I view it more as listening to a professional colleague telling a story from her perspective. I'm not experiencing it as hate, more as hearing from a woman 'this is my perspective'.

Do you really think the man who said: "Oop, Katie's got the low cut dress on today! I know where I'm sitting!" is a happy, mentally-healthy, well-adjusted human being? Hmmm? Where's the compassion for him?

Perhaps he's a victim too - none of us know the full story and we can speculate until we're blue in the face. But wouldn't you agree that his actions are highly unprofessional, creepy, and personally discouraging to one particular woman, and part of a broader pattern of discouragement toward women in technology overall?

I'm at a loss for words, this whole clusterfuck makes me so angry.

So what do you recommend to fix the problem? Where will you direct all that energy that your anger has activated?

Maybe the problem can't be fixed. As long as techies remain predominately male, this problem will persist.

And why are they predominately male? Either- A: Men, for some unknown reason, like programming better. B: The sexist environment drives women away.

Whichever one it is, the problem will not resolve itself. For A, as long as men like it better, and there are more of them, women will be seen as outsiders. For B, as long there are more men, some of whom are sexist, the women will be driven away and the ratio of m/f will stay the same.

A or B?

Consider this thought experiment: if it is the case that there is a ton of interest by women in programming, but that interest is frustrated by the "star wars" factor, that would imply that there's a huge pool of untapped female programming power. Why hasn't an enterprising business person realized this and created the next facebook-killer or google-killer by assembling a team of all-female ninjas?

My first reaction to this experiment would be "Because they were frustrated before they had the chance to graduate with a CS degree".

And the response to that would be to examine what the rate of CS enrollment is at all-female universities, if such things (still) exist. (I don't know that data looks like yet. lazyweb, can you answer this for me?)

> My first reaction to this experiment would be "Because they were frustrated before they had the chance to graduate with a CS degree".

Well, there's more to it than that. Female participation was fairly high in the 70s, dropped precipitously through the 80s, 90s, and early 00s, and is only now kinda-sorta-maybe starting to recover.

The hidden factor in there is the Personal Computer revolution. Prior to it, men and women entered college on roughly even footing w.r.t. computer exposure in their life-to-date. Once the personal computer took off, though, a big gender (and race) disparity cropped up.

Boys who had their very own computer to play with in their formative pre-college years received it, on average, around the age of 14 (IIRC, I'll try to hunt the exact stats down later).

Girls and minorities didn't receive a computer of their own to use until much later (19 as recently as the early 00s, which is, critically, after most people decide what to major in).

Intro CS classes turned into highly intimidating environments where the males had significant computer experience and may well have spent several years programming already; girls were at a significant disadvantage and enrolment fell off fast as they switched to majors where they weren't starting off at a several year disadvantage versus their peers.

Intro CS classes turned into highly intimidating environments where the males had significant computer experience and may well have spent several years programming already

When I started my first year of CS at uni, I had almost no experience programming and I definitely felt intimidated by the (many) fellow students who already had 5+ years of experience.

During one of my first labs, I was told to write a toString method for a Java class. I could not understand why the signature had to say "String" twice. A TA spent half an hour trying to explain it to me and eventually gave up in desperation.

ah, that's very interesting.

actually, my personal experience corroborates with that data. I'm a bit of an outlier, having switched to CS in my second year and never having written a line of code before then (my (male) classmates and coworkers are always shocked to learn of this, because they had all started programming at a much younger age).

Good questions!

Sure, the guy's actions are unprofessional (though I hate the term), and discouraging. I wouldn't say creepy. I really hate the term "creepy" because probably (and yeah, here I'm speculating) the guy has been called a creep his whole life. Probably he's even creepy. But shouldn't we feel sorry for such a person?

(United States) society has a really bad habit of locating blame on male citizens and not looking further for causes of their behavior. There are lots of examples of this, but a really blatant one is the current incarceration rate. We like to say "this person acted badly and they suck - I'm sure they have reasons - but they suck!" and stop the conversation there.

Like I said, I'm really sad that one of the effects of this big pile of sad men is that women are discouraged. But I'm also sad that they're sad - and that they engage in behaviors which make them more sad. For instance: unhealthy eating patterns, drug/alcohol abuse, gaming addictions, porn addictions, etc. I'm also sad that they're mean to other men - e.g. flamewars. I'm sad about a whole big bucket of things.


You're asking whether I'd classify his actions in a particular way (unprofessional, creepy, discouraging) and, for the most part, I would. The question (as you point out) is where to go from here? What do I do with all this anger?

One thing I'd like to do is fight back against the conditions that make the world shit for nerdy teenage boys. I'll take myself as a prototype here, but as a nerdy teenage boy:

1. Other teenage boys are mean to you 2. Other teenage girls are mean to you 3. Your teachers more or less hate you for being better than them at the subjects they teach 4. Your parents think of you as a failure because you're not dating/doing normal things 5. Society at large is disgusted with you (media portrays you as a creepy pervert, etc.)

I mean, let's keep things in perspective, here. This woman had a shitty run of things, but was she suffering? Really? I (and a lot of people I know) had to put up with 100x more intolerance and aggression on a daily basis from the time I was 10 until I was 18. From both genders. I was bullied. I was laughed at. I was scorned by family and teachers. Sorry if we came out a little malformed.

Hell, I'm not even bad at interacting with women, since my skin normalized and I had the luck of working at a big retail store where I had to interact with them a lot. I had girlfriends and such and now I'm married. Shit has more or less fixed itself, but it's not really my fault as such.

Yeah, so what to do? Let's create art which actively portrays the sex-starved teenage nerd boy as heroic, in his own way? Let's give him some love, as a society? Let's extol his virtues, maybe once? What support is given to these people, really?

The sick thing is that for every such nerdy guy I know who became successful (mostly the smart ones, and mostly as programmers) I know 5 who were pretty much crushed by the stress of all this and have never really recovered.

I hear that. I think it's a positive step to have compassion for both sides in this workplace disagreement. And I sure don't mean to paint low-cut-shirt-comment-guy (LCSCG) as irredeemably evil.

The reality is, in the situation under immediate discussion he's in the role of the victimizer and he's crossed the lines in the workplace. Is what he did illegal or even fireable? No to the first, and probably not to the second. Does it mean he should never be allowed to work in his field again? Hardly.

But is it reasonable for him to be required have a talk with HR about what's 'OK' and what's 'not OK' when dealing with colleagues? I think so. Gaining a better understanding of the way your communication lands on people is a very important step in maturity and growth. Better he should learn such a thing later, in the workplace, rather than not at all.

And you're right - maybe he has a past history that drives him to behave the way he did / does. Perhaps earlier in his life LCSCG was victimized too. Perhaps he has anger or resentment against the popular girls who laughed at him or the football players who dropped his books in the mud and pushed his face in it. I don't know. None of us do.

Maybe LCSCG, and others in similar situation, can get some kind of help - coaching or therapy or socialization - that helps him interact with others in a way that's more resourceful. I think that's a result that almost anyone would support.

I started to reply to the grandparent, then came across this and realized you've summed up my thoughts nicely. The key here is that living in a society, there is some level of civility (respect, really) that you should try to attain. I'm fairly certain that many of us here have been put down (or worse) at some point in our lives. And I'm sure, at some point in my life, I made some poor choices because of those experiences. But, the point is, you absolutely do have to learn that acting out in kind to someone else isn't a solution. The solution is to treat others as you wish to be treated.

I agree that the guy is probably suffering from his own insecurities, but the bottom line is that he allowed his issues to place him in a situation of antagonizing a co-worker, probably without any repercussions, which speaks to a general climate of discrimination against women in the workplace. Still, some of your other points are interesting and I feel are valid in a larger context. Zen monasteries in Japan were segregated - women were a minority anyway, probably to a very large extent, but there were women monks, and they were generally not allowed much interaction with the male monks. All discipline among the males fell apart when a woman was in their presence, as the culture really gave them no background for normal interactions between the sexes. The head monks chose to sidestep the problem -- what could they possibly do to address the ills of the society at large?

My point is that there is no "bottom line."

Your analogy to a Zen monastery is a good one. For a lot of men (myself included), programming/chess/mathematics/etc. is an ESCAPE from women. I feel like what has happened in the past 10 years (note I'm not saying this is "wrong" - just that it's what happened) is that these monasteries have been invaded by women and that men have been acting very awkwardly.

Here's the real issue, I think - these men are acting AWKWARDLY. They are dealing with their emotions poorly. They are not good at dealing with their emotions, especially towards women. But when did they ever say that they were? Did we stop to think whether this is the reason that they went into a profession which (for a long time) was almost 100% male? To not have to deal with women and their emotions towards women? Do you think that a man who has trouble interacting with women in a relaxed social setting will be able to deal with them well in a professional setting?

The real pain for me is that this awkwardness is being recast as evil, sexism, etc. There's a lot of hate directed towards it, whereas what it needs (paradoxically) is love.

There are many problems with your post. First of all, women used to be far more represented in programming than they are today, with nearly 40% of CS degrees going to women in the early to mid 80's. These rates have been declining ever since and are continuing to decline. This is not a case of "women invading the man's space" as you seem to think, this is a case of women fleeing it. See: http://www.nytimes.com/2008/11/16/business/16digi.html?_r=2

Secondly, you pass off these crass remarks by male programmers as mere awkwardness from poor social outcasts. How then do you classify the same type of remarks when made by, say, construction workers to attractive passers-by? Are they merely sad social outcasts, or are they brutes for taking advantage of their social setting to harass and demean women?

Women are harassed regularly both in and out of the workplace, and the responsibility needs to be on the harasser to change their behavior, not on the harassed to "find compassion".

Yeah, I guess I was factually wrong about rates of women/men employment in tech. I'm not sure this is crucial to my original point, though...


Construction workers are basically social outcasts. They have low social and economic status. I am very sad for them and I don't think of them as "brutes" (which term is part of their oppression).

Don't get me wrong - I think of capitalism as more or less fundamentally oppressive. Pretty much everyone is being shat on by the system and we need to keep this in mind when we talk about justice and ethics. People are under stress. These problems are not easy to fix.


I'm really not saying that the harassed has to find compassion - I'm saying that we all do.

The issue here is that you can treat a single harasser as a problem to be fixed, but when "harassment" becomes a systematic/structural phenomenon you can't think about things in terms of changing individuals anymore. You have to start thinking about policy decisions and social movements. I'm merely saying that when the social movement takes place which tries to fix this problem, I hope it takes into account the idea that the people doing the 'wrong' are not brutes, evil, etc. but mostly sad and awkward.

If you seriously feel a need to ESCAPE from women, I think you should consider seeing a therapist of some sort. A lot of the things you're asking people to feel sorry for do deserve sympathy, because they are signs of mental illness.

It is not that simple to equate a (perceived) need to escape from women to a mental illness. Female groups do behave differently than male groups in that they assert dominance and rank by psychological means whereas in male groups this happens more via physical means. It can be very hard for both women and men to enter a 'different-gender group', let alone to get accepted and feel comfortable. Especially in fields dominated by one gender, like, for example, construction, programming, education and child care, or health care this lead to problems and strengthens the trend of one-gender dominance.

In the last decade or two primary education has become a primarily female field even to that extend that male teachers (and teacher students) have chosen to leave the profession because they didn't feel at home in that environment any more. If you talk to them you'll hear stories about, basically, psychological war-fare among their female colleagues that they didn't want to get involved in but were forced into nonetheless. In these instances feeling the need to escape from women is quite natural.

So women who are demonstrably and statistically still suffering under male oppression now need to treat you softly and with love while you are accidentally crappy back to them? Nurture you back to health?

What was that you were saying about men not being puppies?

I do not feed trolls.

Sure, he has problems. We all have problems. But when you make your problems somebody else's problems, you're still an asshole.

It would be great if one of his colleagues would pull him aside, explain some things to him with a LART, and suggest that he get a therapist and an Ok Cupid account. But that's not obligatory, and is definitely not the problem of the person to whom he's being an ass.

Thanks for perpetuating stereotypes in the name of excusing unacceptable behavior. Many of these same comments could probably also be applied to stock traders and construction workers as well.

While it's unfortunate that some people fail to develop appropriately and learn to interact in an appropriately professional manner in the workplace, I don't know if that means folks have to feel sorry for them any more than if they failed to learn the appropriate technical skills to do their job. Interacting appropriately with the opposite sex and other ethnicities, etc., is a reasonable expectation of someone who wants to work in a modern workplace (and I don't limit that to the office or technology jobs.)

I think of stock brokers/financial workers as particularly miserable people - you can be rich AND miserable! I don't know any construction workers, but it really doesn't seem like a happy job.

It's not about excusing behavior, it's about talking about the reasons behind that behavior so that those reasons can be addressed properly. The proper way to address issues whose source is pain and suffering is compassion. Not "feeling sorry for" a person, but understanding that they too are suffering and including that understanding in your analysis of the situation. The point that I find very frustrating in all of this is that the suffering which causes "inexcusable behavior" is not being talked about. We're not talking about -why- men act in this way, except in flippant ways - calling them "manchildren," etc.

Having worked in both finance and software, I don't think either group is particularly happier or more miserable than the other. Both jobs have tradeoffs. Neither is truly stressful in comparison to say, being a soldier, EMT or policeman. (I can't speak to construction - but it does have a high injury rate.)

We're not talking about grossly inappropriate behavior here. We're really talking about behavior that's sufficiently in the margins that an otherwise "okay guy" might do it because they just don't understand why it's problematic, or they don't realize they're doing it. (As opposed to really blatant sexual harassment or misogyny, which is still common in lots of other industries.) It seems to me that the issue with most of what the OP relates is simply rooted in ignorance and/or insensitivity, rather than any kind of suppressed suffering.

Too bad.

Programing or any place in the world isn't some special place for poorly socialized men to hang out and ... what... hide? You know what would be good? Learning social rules and improving. Them maybe his life wouldn't suck and he could get a date. And you know what would help that? Being forced into social situations with women and being slapped when he steps out of line.

If you have a puppy and it pees on the floor, you don't feel sorry for it and lock it in the house so it can pee on the floor forever, you train it not to.

If we "just give up" on these men and leave them alone they will be miserable forever. If they are forced to learn (at a later age, you know what, all the rest of us learned this a long time ago) they maybe they can get on with their lives and not be miserable.

Yeah, wouldn't it be great if everyone was just totally psychologically normal? I bet everyone can just fix everything that's wrong with themselves. Everyone has a surplus of love in their life available to help them overcome their problems.

Men are not puppies, asshole.

Most of the time, there are many shades of gray on an issue. To my mind, this is not one. At my employer, our (not small) engineering department is probably around 10% female. I'm trying to think of anyone in the engineering department that would be so catastrophically unaware as to think comments like that to a female co-worker would be even remotely acceptable. I literally-literally can't fathom it, and I can't even conceive of working with such a person.

You're right: men are not puppies. They're human beings who are capable of owning their actions and changing their behavior if it is unacceptable. I would also say that someone so fundamentally damaged as to be unable to restrain sexist or racist behaviors is not a valuable employee regardless of technical skill or contribution--but unable is not the same thing as unwilling, and I have a hunch that those who are actually "unable" are few.

So you're saying that anyone who makes misogynist remarks at work has some sort of "mental issue", and that because of this we should just let it slide, or at least be sympathetic?

Give me a fucking break.

Calling out negative behavior tends to be very effective.

If you want to treat the symptoms, then by all means villianize the perpetrators.

If however you are interested in treating the cause, then I suggest you listen to what yelsgib has to say.

No. I am not saying that.

I'm saying that in this particular case a lot of the "negative behavior" stems from extreme internal pressures.

It's not the author's job to serve as a target for those negative behaviors. The responsibility lies with those whose behavior is unacceptable to find a way to operate, for lack of a better phrase, within expected parameters.

And it isn't even difficult to do so, most of the time! Everyone has some personality traits they could stand to work on; those that don't will look for any excuse they can find to justify their continued poor behavior.

Being a victim is no excuse to victimize others.

There is no "nexus" of victimhood. I'm saying that we're hyper-focusing on one particular form of suffering.

What. Are you... are you serious? I hope to god there's a rational point that you're trying to make, you're just making it very, very badly because you're so angry at the "man hate."

What makes you think Jeffrey Dahmer was a happy, mentally-healthy, well-adjusted human being? Where's the compassion for him?

I have great compassion for Jeffrey Dahmer.

And do you realize that you just compared making an awkward joke to killing loads of people?

I made no such comparison. It's called Reductio ad absurdum: http://www.iep.utm.edu/reductio/

My point was that if we accept your argument, we must also accept the patently absurd (at least to me) argument that one must have compassion for Jeffrey Dahmer, and it doesn't sound as though you disagree.

Why is it abdurd to have compassion for jeffrey dahmer?

I have a lot of compassion for him.

A serial killer

I have sympathy for the outcast with poor social skills because of mistreatment by society.

But such an outcast ceases to be sympathetic the instant s/he makes someone else's life unpleasant. This isn't about "man hate"; this is about someone who made an offensive comment that made someone else uncomfortable. That's not OK, and we reasonably expect better socialization in our peers than this. If the person who made this remark is not a "happy, mentally-healthy, well-adjusted human being", then no matter how much compassion his condition might reasonably engender, he should get help.

Furthermore, by equating a lack of compassion for a man who is "not healthy" with "man hate", you implicitly claim that "men are naturally unhealthy". To me, this comes across as a greater denigration of men than any harsh reaction leveled at the oppressor.

This just makes me sad for the industry as a whole. Unbelievable that in today's world women have to put up with this.

Guys, want to know how you can help change these kinds of attitudes? When you see/hear another guy make these kinds of comments, pull them aside and have a talk. Maybe it's a gentle reminder of how hurtful and counterproductive these kinds of attitudes are, or maybe it's a forceful "I never want to hear that shit again" - depends on the type of personality you're dealing with. Regardless, you need to have the difficult conversations with friends or colleagues who act this way, because turning a blind eye and ignoring the problem doesn't help anyone.

I think it has to be immediate and public. That doesn't mean severe or disrespectful. Everyone has to do it, but it certainly should be set up from the top down that this is unacceptable and will stop.

I take a page from the Results Only Work Environment: http://www.rowe.iambestbuy.com/sludge_busting.html

Maukdaddy says that "it depends on the type of personality you're dealing with," and I think that's very true with regards to immediate-and-public versus later-and-in-private. With many people, an embarrassing confrontation in front of the whole team will cause them to dig deeper, because their pride is on the line. The same person might respond more thoughtfully to a private expression of disapproval.

An advantage of doing it in public is that others can see that it's been done. This could include victims of the oppressive joke who will now see justice previal and might stand a smidge taller, and possible future (or past) 'offendors' who will see that that they should be more professional and not make the same mistake as the other person.

It's appropriate to take someone to task privately, while still making public statements of principles and expectations, even alluding to "the tenor of conversational has been unprofessional a few times recently, and it's not healthy, it's not productive, and it's not acceptable. If you hear something that's not right, talk to the speaker, or your manager, or HR, or the CEO. If someone tells you that you've crossed a line, make an adjustment and let's keep working as a team. ".

Immediate and public is certainly the best approach, although it might depend on the environment, who is present, etc. Sometimes a conversation in private might be better.

You are exactly correct in regards to top down. A leader, manager, boss, etc. should immediately send the message that inappropriate behavior is not tolerated.

I broadly agree with you; this reply isn't for you inasmuch as it's to just continue the chain - my only caution about the "in private" is that it makes it an issue between the manager and the employee. The mgr can't be around for everything; it's up to the team to self police.

Sirens and other things cause public shaming when someone breaks the build; there needs to be a public and team-based shaming for inappropriate behavior.

I applaud the author for sharing her feelings. I also note that she does not speak for all women. All we can do is share our own experiences.

I've been through many of these discussions: sexism, racism, ageism, and so on. After receiving many a rhetorical punch in the nose, I have a simple rule: I don't do it, I don't approve of it being done, if I am in management I stop it. I also don't let people yank me around by the emotional heartstrings. I reserve moral outrage for things like millions of people starving around the world, or slavery, or hundreds of millions dying of disease. Others are certainly capable of being moved by whatever they desire, but I find more harm being done by actual people dying than by the compound personality flaws of millions of my fellow citizens.

I don't mean that to be insensitive. Like I said, I am in complete agreement that this goes on and it must stop. Immediately. I'm just saying from prior experience I find that discussions like this never tend to go anywhere productive.

I'm one of the women who don't share her feelings. Maybe it's the word sexism that I have a problem with.

I'm not a programmer and I don't know the specific environment that she described, but I'm a female motorcyclist and I've worked in lots of kitchens and a couple in molecular biology labs. I know the behavior and I've dealt with it. Men behave in curious ways when there's a low female/male ratio, but in my experience, half of it comes out of awkwardness or plain old stupidity on the other side. Some of the more honest comments on this thread testify to that.

The other half is intended to belittle. But seriously, this isn't just at work. This is walking down the street in the city. This is buying something in the store. This is sitting on the bus. And as much as it sucks, getting offended doesn't help.

If this sounds like a long winded "lighten up," please think of it more as a friendly "toughen up." It's the only way to signal the change that you want.

As an armchair behavorial therapist, I think this is the only attitude that will end up having a positive benefit (the author also does the right thing by speaking up). There is no use in playing victim; when someone does something to you that you don't want, you have to push back.

For reasons cultural or otherwise, men have a tendency to attempt to subtly dominate people they perceive as weaker. To some people, this seems almost like an instinct, and it's really fascinating how just subtly pushing back or ignoring it seems to stop people from doing it with you.

I don't know a lot about how this manifests itself towards women, but if you are a guy, the best solution is to just push back and perhaps actively study and notice the tricks guys use to achieve social dominance. As a formerly shy guy who was often at the receiving end of this kind of behavior, I think that a lot of these gender problems would even out if all women managed to subtly assert themselves a bit more. It would surprise me greatly if women were exempt from this stereotypical male behavior.

And when the female/male ratio is too high, there are issues too, and not just at work. It can be uncomfortable/awkward for many.

I don't want to generalize, but in my country/city/region/circle of friends/etc, I've found that, for instance, girls tend to talk about their sexual experiences in every detail imaginable, down to comments about their partners. Any attempt to do something to that level of detail among guys would likely be met with a "Whoa dude! Too much information!"

And that's just an example. Not sure if you can relate. In any case, the point is that I think that there will be issues unless the environment is balanced or 100% of the same sex.

I think these kinds of discussions are immensely productive even when they don't appear to go anywhere.

For a lot of people, these things are subtle and hard to process. It takes time and repetition for them to understand and acknowledge the problem, let alone become part of the solution.

Sexism is taking generations to sort out, so it's unsurprising that we can't see a difference in the course of a single discussion. But I believe that without discussion, we'll see no progress at all.

They may not go anywhere productive in your eyes, which I would imagine means they do not reach a definitive and world-changing conclusion in the course of the thread, but they do increase awareness, particularly in male-dominated arenas like this. Increasing awareness is probably the most important thing that can be done. See klausa's post.

It's also the case that fighting injustice and increasing awareness of societal boulders that need to be broken down might very well lead to larger change that results in less actual dying in the world. For instance: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Missing_women_of_Asia http://www.economist.com/node/15636231

I respectfully disagree.

It was precisely from countless discussions like this that I began to see my sexism. Through patient, non-judgmental, and intelligent discourse, I started to see how I was trained by our society to see women differently, and how my often well-intentioned choices were hurting the people I care about.

I am really really grateful for discussions like this. Messy? Yes. Useless? Hell on.

I hate those "lighten up" comments. Bullies just love that phrase. Put someone down and when they push back, "ah gee, lighten up, it was just a joke". It's extremely cowardly and disgusting and reminiscent of prepubescent school yard antics. Many women have to put up with such shit on a regular basis.

As an employee of the University of California, I'm compelled to take annual sexual harassment training, that is, how to identify situations and behaviors that constitute sexual harassment as it has been legally defined. A lot of what was mentioned in the post and in the comments here would be regarded as reportable offenses, if not prosecutable offenses. People should know the law - this stuff can get you in real trouble. If you're in California, this might apply [pdf]:


If you're not in California, but you're running a business you may find it quite interesting, eg:

Sexual harassment is unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature, when submission to or rejection of this conduct explicitly or implicitly affects a person’s employment or education, unreasonably interferes with a person’s work or educational performance, or creates an intimidating, hostile or offensive working or learning environment. ... This policy covers unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature.

All the above is true.

Incidentally, according to interpretations of US and CA law, it is OK to do things like (politely) ask a co-worker out on a date. But, if they say no, you are supposed to get the hint, and if you continue to ask, you're opening yourself up to charges of harassment.

From the training I took, my understanding is that if the low-cut dress comment or comments like it was repeated in the presence of a manager, the manager would have to act in some way. (A manager has a duty to not allow a "hostile work environment".)

Depending on the specifics of who was at the meeting, it does not matter that the person in the dress didn't mind, because it's not just about conduct a specific person finds unwelcome, it's about a hostile work environment.

Some people up-thread are more in the wrong about this than they seem to realize.

This is true but pretty unhelpful. The problem is that involving official proceedings or the law almost always looks like overkill. In the aggregate, these events amount to a very serious problem, but individually each one doesn't feel like enough to be worth making it official. Nobody wants to be known as "the person who got someone fired for a comment about a dress", even if they were totally justified. Even normal, decent people are going to be wary of you if you end up with that reputation, deserved or undeserved.

That's the essence of the problem I think. It's a big problem, but it's hard to do anything about it without being seen to be overreacting.

"What do you say to the guy who sits across from you when you dress up and makes a comment to everyone about it? "Oop, Katie's got the low cut dress on today! I know where I'm sitting!"

Yikes! What sort of a place was this, what sort of people was she working with? I've never seen/heard anything remotely like this.

It is sort of hard to generalize from such morons to the whole tech field.

Yeah, this shocks me because I've never worked in an organization where that would be tolerated, and I don't tolerate it in my team either. But then again, I'd never really hire people that would think that's OK, so...

Since managers tend to hire folks like themselves, it's really a symptom of dysfunctional management and an organization.

Thankfully there are absolutely places where this insanity doesn't occur. I don't know how to find that out prior to working there, however. :(


The point is not the one moron who does it; the point is having herself to escalate the issue to HR. She's the victim, but she has to play the role of the "problem".

Try to think about what you'd do if you were in the room with a team member who made a comment like that. I know what I'd do, and I don't think it is an industry norm yet. We need to get there.

If it helps you to see it: think about what you'd do if a team member made a lighthearted racist joke in front of an African American team member. See how we actually do have the norm there? Let's just get it applied to the whole half of humanity having to deal with this stuff.

"Try to think about what you'd do if you were in the room with a team member who made a comment like that. I know what I'd do, and I don't think it is an industry norm yet."

I don't think things like this are clear cut like you are saying. What if you were unemployed for 2 years and then got a new job?

And for an entrepreneur? Say for some reason your company isn't doing well. You go and pitch a big account that could be "the big break" (that digs you out of a hole). The decision maker says something offensive. How willing will you be to stand up at that time when you have something big to loose?

Of course this is all a matter of degree obviously. Some people will definitely shy away from doing the right thing in almost all cases while others will go to their death defending what they believe. Even if it makes them homeless.

I remember being in a situation years ago at a company in Silicon Valley where the head of marketing (who is very well known and respected and teaches now believe me you've heard of him) was very offensive, parental, basically a dick. And of course nobody said anything at the time to challenge him. He was a primadonna and even his superiors didn't challenge him.

"Fire the guy instantly" is not what I would do; not, at least, for the "low cut dress" remark.

Expecting women to bring him coffee, or demanding that they also serve as PAs? That I'd have to think about.

I'd like to think I'd refuse business from (or resign from a team that failed to refuse business from) anyone who exposed themselves to a job candidate. It's fair to point out that the question has never seriously been posed to me. I've drawn lines in other business situations, but haven't had to for sexism.

First, you're discussing edge cases. If people step to the easy stuff a great deal of the problem goes away.

Second, these responses needn't be binary, you can signal a lot of antipathy with body language and conversational subtext. When the commenter is just clueless -- and a lot of these people are just that -- the hint that they're out of line is often all it takes.

I'm not saying settle for subtle when confrontational is called for. But subtle and quiet are frequently all that's needed.

I doubt that "conversational subtext" was the "industry norm" that tptacek intended to advocate, though I do believe that it's not always appropriate to lay the smack down the second you think you hear something offensive.

Maybe... but she indicates that she's dealing with this issue constantly when she said, "It's probably not even the first thing I've had to deal with that day, unless you've gotten to me pretty early. "

So if she works a 9-5 schedule and pretty early means, say, before 10 -- does that mean that she's dealing with maybe 4 sexually inappropriate comments on average per day?

Or one sexually inappropriate comment, one "fetch me coffee," one "apparently I'm a secretary now..." and one "we're all dudes here right?" type comment.

I can't seem to find a study which showed that while only %3 of men ever make such comments, women involved in our community experience this a steady stream of subtle harassment. And the sad fact is that this is due to the lopsided share of men to women.

If we had a 50/50 split some women would never hear such comments, some would hear then extremely rarely, while the percentage of men making them would stay the same.

And can we ever hope to get 100% of any large group anywhere, to never make occasionally offensive remarks? The crux here really is that this type of offensive remarks have only one target - women, and that combined with the lop-sided sex ratio results in harassment.

I can't seem to find a study which showed that while only %3 of men ever make such comments, women involved in our community experience this a steady stream of subtle harassment. And the sad fact is that this is due to the lopsided share of men to women.

This reminds me of growing up Asian in rural northern Appalachia. It also reminds me of discussions I've heard on local African American radio talk shows. There's this constant subtle pressure one feels, and it is the result of knowing one is subject to arbitrary disrespect coming from out of the woodwork. The fact that it's often "plausibly" deniable doesn't make it better.

Knowing that you have a target on you does have an effect. That it's fairly uncommon doesn't make it better, if it happens often enough that the possibility is always lurking in the background. It's easy to see how this could impact someone involved in creative activities.

Thank you for your comments. What you said about subtle, constant pressure made a lot of sense to me and put things into perspective. I have a better understanding now.

Sorry, but if one person in 30 is being a jerk, that is a steady stream of subtle harassment. Most professionals deal with what, 60 people on a weekly basis? That's two jerks every week.

And your math is off. Even if there was only one woman in tech anywhere, reducing 100% male interaction to 50% male interaction would only decrease the jerk count by a factor of two.

I don't know about you, but I deal with jerks all of the damn time. But luckily no more or less than all of my peers. This would be very different if I was a woman.

And we wouldn't reduce male interaction by 50%, we would increase female participation by hundreds of percents.

That way if someone is being a jerk, many people can all confirm he's being a jerk.

...I deal with jerks all of the damn time. But luckily no more or less than all of my peers. This would be very different if I was a woman.

Indeed. Jerks like this often associate in groups. As a result, women sometimes find themselves in a bizarro social context where their inferiority is just a good joke and the resulting humiliation is considered something like a blow for truth and "good clean fun."

That way if someone is being a jerk, many people can all confirm he's being a jerk.

Since women are such a minority in tech, they are sometimes subject to this sort of mob scene. Unless you've been in those shoes, it would be difficult to understand.

I like the bizarro social context expression. It's a great way to describe how I work with female programmers and both my project managers are female and nothing like the described behavior would ever be tolerated for a second, and yet each female programmer I know has such horror stories.

I guess the best advice is when you find yourself in a situation like that, get the hell out. But even I as a top notch experienced white male coder can't change jobs at the drop of a hat.

I would expect most professionals deal with fewer than 30 people on a weekly basis. Thinking back on my last four jobs, I don't know if I ever dealt with more than fifteen, and I was a project manager in two of those roles.

Dunno. I'm a woman, and I think that blog poster needs to lighten up.

I've worked in IT for years - usually as the only woman on the team - and I've never felt degraded or discriminated against for being female. Maybe slight prejudices in the beginning when the guys think I'm not as good as them, but I enjoy proving them wrong. There is banter, and sometimes it's not 100% HR approved, but I've never felt that it was mean spirited or intended to put me down. I've found that by and large, computer engineers are super-nice, funny, and respectful towards women.

The comment about the guy noticing her low-cut dress and wanting to sit near her... not entirely appropriate, but is this really bad enough to run to HR and complain? That said, I wouldn't feel comfortable drawing attention with my clothes, so I would never wear something low-cut. I find that a lightweight cotton dress shirt is more comfortable than a tight, low-cut top anyway. If someone asked me to arrange a pot-luck or bring them coffee, it would simply not be happening.

I'm on the East Coast though. Maybe all the disrespectful frat boy "brogrammers" are working on the West Coast?

I'd love to wear lightweight cotton dress shirts. Unfortunately, trying to get a pair of 36G breasts into a shirt cut for my size is an exercise in futility. The results border on pornographic - gaping buttons, bulges etc. I have a few choices:

a) buy a shirt 3 sizes bigger and look like a clown

b) spend a fortune on clothing designed specifically for the 'well endowed' woman OR

c) wear something I own that makes me comfortable - which may or may not be low cut but is bugger all to do with anyone else (and really, most of the time is not designed to be low cut but ends up being so because the material shifts)

Do any of these situations warrant me being commented on, criticised or jeered at? Should I suffer these comments for something that isn't my fault?

(And don't even get me started on how being a breastfeeding mum impacts on both the choices above AND the range and depth of comments I receive.)

I'm glad that you've never felt degraded or discriminated against for being female. That doesn't mean it should be ignored when it does happen. That doesn't mean it is somehow this woman's fault and that she needs to "lighten up".

You think she needs to lighten up because you haven't had the same experiences and you have different ideas of comfortable clothing?

I mean "lighten up" as in, she perceives "a million little barbs" around her and sees herself as the victim of sexism lurking everywhere. She didn't just criticize one company or co-worker, but the whole industry. Her post is a torrent of rhetorical questions, exclamation points, hyperbole, and quotes she ascribes to her co-workers that likely never happened. Do you really think someone responded to her concerns with "if you are not in the middle of being raped or beaten or threatened or fired, lighten up"?

To make such sweeping statements about the industry, I presume she was not happy at her job, changed jobs, and the same thing happened again, and again, to the point where she left the industry altogether, discouraged. Which is weird, given that I changed jobs often myself and never had such experiences.

Two sentences gave me the most pause. One being, "Which label do I want to be stuck with today? Ice Queen or Slut?" It makes me think this is more about herself than the people around her.

The other weird comment was that she loves coding and "spent thousands of dollars to go to conferences so I can learn more about it." All excellent IT people I know learn stuff hands-on by playing around with technologies and studying on their own. Maybe there are other reasons why she felt stuck doing inferior tasks. If you are crucial to the team's success, nobody treats you like the "secretary who we let on the server" or a personal assistant, regardless of your gender.

I hope that the discussion of this topic doesn't make men paranoid about saying anything around women, because the fun and banter is one of the things that makes working in IT so enjoyable.


I work on a small team - just over 20 people - with only four women.

Every single one is a hilarious, self-possessed, confident individual. All the men, myself included, treat them with respect... meaning, we tease the shit out of them.

To do otherwise would exclude them from the team. Have you ever seen a cohesive group that didn't joke around? A tiny fraction of the jabs traded by men are HR-approved... if we filtered that for the women who work with us, we would be treating them as if they're too weak or too sensitive to be a part of the group.

So instead, we treat them no differently than any other team member. If one of the other coders were to arrive unusually dressed up, I would absolutely comment on it, regardless of whether it's a suit or a dress, but one of the ladies would probably beat me to it. Frankly, the women push the HR line harder than any of us guys, and we love them for it.

If you find that people are constantly telling you to "lighten up," whether you're male or female, you shouldn't assume that the world is conspiring to put you down. You're probably just no fun to work with.

I hope that the discussion of this topic doesn't make men paranoid about saying anything around women, because the fun and banter is one of the things that makes working in IT so enjoyable.

This is what most people do when things come with thousand strings attached.

I never talk to women unless and until it becomes completely unavoidable. And if it is needed, I just restrict to whatever minimal it would take to 'get the job done' for the moment.

I know about guys, you can tell anything to them. In fact in my team guys joking guys is so common, its considered abnormal if they don't joke.

But with women, you can never be sure, you don't even what offends and what not. So keep interactions to bare minimum.

My wife puts up with this all the time. She is an assertive and decisive businessperson, but is labelled "abrasive" and "a bitch" because she isn't meek, submissive and soft-spoken. The same behavior in males is encouraged and rewarded.

My parent's generation moved us past overt sexism; our generation needs to move us past subtle sexism. Otherwise, we are still wasting a large part of our human potential.

My wife deals with this too. I think, if I were ever a woman, I'd have to go with "being a bitch" because it is often the only way not to get walked over and keep your self respect.

Honest question: Why is it so bad when guys treat gals like they're just one of the guys?

Guys give each other small disparaging jabs all the time, be it the workplace or a party between friends, it's what we do to fit in; it's how our social groups work and what keeps them together.

I've never been female, so I don't know what it looks like from their perspective, but to me telling a lass to go back to the kitchen is on the same level as telling a guy he should stick to computers because he sure as hell sucks at talking to girls.

It's not the same level at all. Telling a guy to stick to computers because he sucks at talking to girls in a technical industry is like telling a woman to go back to the kitchen when she's a chef.

Telling a guy to stick to computers because he sucks at talking to girls when his job is to run and promote a female-targeted wedding convention is a little closer to the mark.

As a female, getting told "stick to computers, you suck at flirting" when you're technically-inclined is a lot less offensive than "go back to the kitchen" -- not to mention that the first is a jab related to observation of an individual (presumably there isn't a stereotype that all men suck at talking to women) rather than a jab related to your chromosomes. It's exacerbated by the fact it's highlighting "something here doesn't belong with the others~...".

I think it's a fine thing - I have close personal friends (of both sexes - whom I jab verbally all the time. We make aggressive jokes with each other, insult each other mercilessly, and it's all in fun. Is this OK? Sure - because we are all friends, we all love each other, we know each other well, and we know beyond any shadow of a doubt that no harm is meant by anything that we say.

What's the difference between this and the situation in the OP? The workplace factor is one thing, but the friends factor is a much bigger deal.

Clearly, the people slinging the barbs simply aren't close enough friends to have that kind of rapport with her (if they were, she'd be laughing about her friends being hilariously inappropriate, rather than citing examples of workplace harassment). The guys at work from these examples also seem to be socially clued-out enough that they may not even be aware that what they are doing is unwanted.

I answered this on the blog comment you made too, hopefully it will get readership in both places:

This is not a bad question. I would like to make several points here, and hope a woman commenter chimes in with first-hand perspective too.

First of all, the "guys joking and jabbing each other" thing is true. But it really isn't that simple of a social interaction. At the early "getting to know each other" stages, the punches are pulled a LOT, and the pairwise bits of acceptable jokes are slowly teased out. Each member of the group must be felt out for OK and Bad joke topics etc. Think about every male bonding comedy (or drama with comic relief) you've ever seen. The new guy is paling around with the group, and suddenly he makes fun of the dog, or the tattoo or someone's mom, suddenly the whole group is quiet and serious, and "oh you just don't go there, never make fun of gary's poodle". There are rules and boundaries to it, even in "everything goes" atmospheres. (exceptions being douche-fests like Jersey Shore... and look how those turn out)

Second, there is a lot of difference commonly found between the jokes towards majority "one of the guys" and women or minority "one of the guys". Sure, its funny for a core group member to yet again make a joke about how Isaac can't be trusted because he's a mexican thief, if a new person said that, s/he would be reamed for making that comment -- the trust of "just a joke" is an earned one. Same goes for "katie is just looking for a guy with that top" jokes. And sometimes, they would never ever be allowed, because the person joking is NOT cool with it, and that is OK. addition from original comment: And the only way the jokes are ever ok, is if the target owns that joke as a funny, not hurtful statement. Some people see humor in situations where they are fitting some mockable stereotype, or where they are see themselves in such contrast with the stereotype (and know the mocker also sees this and doesn't buy the stereotype anyway). If the target doesn't see it as humorous, it stops being a bonding jab, and starts being hurtful

Third, the contents of the jokes should mostly be neutral. I'm pretty sure Katie would be ok if you poked about the time she brought the server down. But, if you follow it with "thats why girls should stay off servers" it changes it, because you would never poke al with "thats why boys should not code". Again, it is the subtlety of bringing the extra factor into play that wouldn't otherwise be noted in "one of the guys" (e.g. gender, race, sexuality etc). I don't know katie, but my workplace jokes follow this pattern

    its funny for a core group member to yet again make a
    joke about how Isaac can't be trusted because he's a
    mexican thief
Over the line, dude. Not cool.

It started because Isaac would always say this stuff like "you know i can't do that, im a lazy mexican" or "you sure you want to leave me alone with your stuff, im a mexican" and so on. At first it was just awkward and kind of "wtf", but after a while it became a thing with that group, we would say that stuff too. But that sort of illustrates the point -- the things that are funny with a core group that knows the back story and the actual intent and meaning of a running gag is different than with strangers.

> go back to the kitchen is on the same level as telling a guy he should stick to computers because he sure as hell sucks at talking to girls

Why is "go back to the kitchen" on the same level? My girlfriend can't cook and wants nothing to do with it, let alone the fact that the phrase has been a stereotype actively used to demean the gender for a very long time.

Ribbing someone by telling them to stick with something they're actually active in and good at is really on the same level as a gender-wide stereotype?

Treating them like one of the guys can be fine. But if you're calling attention to their tits (as in the "low-cut dress" comment in the article), then you're definitely not treating them like one of the guys.

... it's what we do to fit in...

If you quite obviously don't share some obvious and dominant characteristic of a group, repeated reminders that You. Don't. Fit. In. are frustrating and demotivating, at best.

> Guys give each other small disparaging jabs all the time

You do that enough times to someone who isn't your friend and that's bullying.

Thanks for this. I’m going to be more aware of these kind of things and more watchful to make sure I don’t contribute to this myself and more observant of those around me.

Now, I have a question for the women here — sometimes I’ll hear a woman make the joke about belonging in the kitchen. Do you have insight into why that might happen sometimes and what the best sort of response would be?

Some women are secure enough that it bounces off when stupid people act stupid. Some are making meta-jokes about sexism and how backward comments like that are. Some are comfortable with the prototypical 50s-style gender roles that you abhor.

To know "what the best sort of the response would be," you'd have to know a lot about the person you're talking to and how they'll respond to your unsolicited advice, and no one on HN is going to be able to grant you that.

But then, I'm not too sympathetic to what strikes me as an arrogant desire to transform the primitive worldview of a thinking adult with your wet blanket nostrums. By all means intervene if someone's being demeaning to another person, but in the case of a woman making a kitchen joke, I doubt you're dealing with a neanderthal waiting to be shaken into the 21st century by sobering thoughts about how retrograde it is to even joke about such things.

Emotional fragility has got to be at an all-time high these days.

Heh. I have a blog post about that as well! Basically, some women do really believe in 'traditional' roles for women. Maybe they've benefited from the current situation. Maybe it's part of their upbringing. If that's why they're making the comment, feel free to call them out on it.

If they're doing it to be ironic (I know I have), then you can probably shrug it off. Many of us have learned to be subversively snarky to put off the ones above.

I like to non-verbally snark, by breaking people's brains.

I wear long skirts all the time, and sometimes I cover my hair. So I must be traditionalist/conservative, right? No, I just don't like how jeans are all about objectifying my butt and also never fit right. Some of my coverings keep my hair nicely off the back of my neck in the summer, others let me have pretty flowy fabric (I like textiles). I'm pretty clearly not a booth babe with that skirt though, so maybe I'm a girlfriend? Oh wait, the shirt I'm wearing is from an Ubuntu Developer Summit. Hmm... Wait, but I'm knitting, back to the girlfriend idea, maybe? Oh nevermind, this is too confusing, how about talking instead of trying to guess?

I have noticed, btw, that a large portion of female developers knit or crochet. Maybe it's because knitting & crochet patterns look a lot like code, complete with for-loops and while-loops. Also, ya know, make a scarf, make a website, make a pie...make stuff!

a lot of female sf fandom is into knitting, crochet and the like too. i wouldn't even blink if i saw you at an sf con, and by extension i probably wouldn't be surprised at a dev event either (rightly or wrongly i tend to assume a fair amount of overlap among the two groups)

Feel free to link up that post!

And thanks for replying. I think I have mostly seen the subversive-snark variety and just kind of laughed and moved on, so that’s good to hear.

I'm not a woman, but my response in the past has always been: "Jeez, I wouldn't even joke about that."

You can be friendly and still express disapproval.

Context does matter, women do have more latitude in making that kind of joke, but it still isn't something I like having reinforced (lots of people suck at context).

Why would they do it on-purpose/non-ironically/non-sarcastically?

I've also known women to do it thinking that it will help them fit in. To be one of the guys. It really sucks to be excluded.

Women can also behave badly just like men do. If you work in a sexist environment, you can pick up those attitudes and become tone-deaf. Maybe they don't realize how much it can hurt other women to reinforce that sort of idea.

While I sympathize for the person, I can't help but wonder if it was the right decision. She's going to be facing the same problems in every male-dominated industry; is it worth giving up the thing you love? I can't answer, obviously, because I'm male, and in a different position besides that.

Thankfully, I've never run into this in real life. I've always worked with coworkers respectful of each other, and I can't imagine tolerating that kind of sexism without any confrontation. One would think people would learn to interact—or rather, which interactions are harmful—with people of different genders at a younger age.

I think I left that a little vague (the original title was clearer about me staying in IT). I'm still a developer.

It may exist in every industry, but this is the one I've chosen, and this is where I can start to make a change.

> It may exist in every industry, but this is the one I've chosen, and this is where I can start to make a change.

Good! I think that's the right decision. I can't imagine what would cause the world to get better about this aside from women, on a global scale, making it very clear that it's not OK.

How about men, on a global scale, making it very clear that it's not OK?

In your opinion, what is a potential solution to this problem?

1. Awareness.

2. You'd be shocked how much better my environment would be if, when I expressed concern about something, I was not told to 'lighten up', but if my concern was treated as valid.

I'm surprised by that response, 'lighten up' to be clear. We always joked around and if anybody, whether it be female or male, got offended then it was certainly not OK. I have never worked with anybody that intentionally tried to offend somebody and was nothing but apologetic if it occurred. Though I am sure there are plenty that exist.

I feel that awareness will be difficult.

I think the people who pay attention to things like your blog post are the people who are already sympathetic.

It's like if you wrote a guide about "How To Not Be An Asshole", assholes would probably not read it.

It's not about changing the asshole's behavior, per se, it's about changing the response of Jim, random third party in the meeting where Bob says he's sitting across from Katie so he can ogle her tits from:

"Katie, lighten up"


"Bob, stop being such a creepy fuck. It's unacceptable".

Perhaps, but if we can continue to make it known that inappropriate behavior is unacceptable, it will be impossible for them to miss the signs.

Women shouldn't have be the only ones calling out their peers for making othering comments - everyone can do that.

While I agree that leaving the industry might not be the best choice (luckily she did not), we do need to realize that even though this happens in many other industries, IT is one with relatively few women in the first place so think of how lonely it could feel to be singled out and feel like nobody is on your side.

Until you feel that, you might empathize, but you can't relate. The easiest way to deal is to think about how you'd want your mother, sister, or spouse to be treated. If you wouldn't like it for them, don't ever stand by and do nothing when this stuff happens. Also, about losing a job or business...if you put a job or a client ahead of your ethics, it's time to do some self refactoring.

Kind of meta, but I've noticed two things from this thread

1) I think I always imagine everyone here as a man, unless they identify themselves otherwise or I notice their username suggests they're female, and

2) reading the female voices here really gave me the sense of HN as a much richer, more interesting community

I do #1 backwards because LinuxChix was my introduction to the world of online tech communities.

Being an ex-queer (bi ;) I've had to put up with my fair share of subtle jabs and general discomfort with my presence. After a long time I figured out that the only thing that worked for me was to be more dominant than 'them.'

The thing is, women (and queers) are fucking powerful, they're just powerful in a different way. Ironically, but not unsurprisingly, women are taught not to use this power as it's 'inappropriate.'

You see, men don't have a clue as to how group dynamics work. Women do and have been trained in this from childhood on as it is their 'arena' just as much as the sports field is ours.

When we enter the workforce however, suddenly 'fair' means fighting like it happens on the sports field, 'fair' means fighting the boys' fight.

In the workplace, open competitiveness and overt displays of hierarchical dominance (boy's game) are perfectly acceptable, but figuring out the motives of your enemy's friends, observing when he breaks them and subtly informing those friends about that in order to weaken his support base (girl's game) is considered 'nasty.'

When I finally accepted that this was bullshit, everything turned around for me.

Whenever someone did something like this to me, over the next few days several of his allies would get a quick visit from me with some nice small-talk and a little one-liner thrown in about how X hurt me by doing Y. Within days X would find himself somewhat more alienated, perhaps reprimanded slightly by one of his peers about Y, left to wonder what he did wrong.

Over time it was as if a subconscious message spread across the workfloor: "You'd better respect me. If you don't your life will become a lot harder and you'll have no idea how the fuck it happened."

Now for everyone who reads this and thinks my description of this is disgusting, please understand that I'm merely able to describe it this way as I've had the fairly unique perspective of having been a part of both 'worlds.' From a woman's perspective an in-depth analysis of mens' quest for dominance would sound equally messed up.

Just like very few men understand a woman's world, very few women understand a man's world.

TL;DR; Men and women establish hierarchies in different ways. Women have been taught their way is inappropriate in business. They should do it anyhow.

P.S. Funnily enough, after I started dating a girl and 'became straight,' the women on the floor suddenly started calling me out on this behavior and nudged me back into the 'male hierarchy.'

"In the workplace, open competitiveness and overt displays of hierarchical dominance (boy's game) are perfectly acceptable, but figuring out the motives of your enemy's friends, observing when he breaks them and subtly informing those friends about that in order to weaken his support base (girl's game) is considered 'nasty.'"

It is nasty. It's called passive-aggressiveness and it undermines honest communication in the workplace. It will make people unwilling to treat with you honestly. The fact that you think this form of behavior is more natural to women than men is actually quite sexist.

No, it's very much active aggression, only covert. See also "politics".

I iPad-downvoted you, sorry-- I actually agree 100%. It's important to keep in mind in general that even members of oppressed classes can be discriminatory, and it's no less of a problem.

Argh, I knew I shouldn't have used a broad description of male behavior and narrow one of the female.

The male equivalent of what I described here would be when two managers shouting against each other in ever stronger terms that they are more important and have more authority than the other until one backs down.

Equally destructive I believe, but something you'd never see a woman engage in.

I think you're writing these comments with the best intentions but also that you should probably stop digging.

You're probably right. I tried to get a positive message across (i.e. 'Embrace your femininity to your advantage.')

I ended up sounding vindictive though, probably because I am at some level.

It's hard to publicly talk about this and even harder to find the right constructive tone between the indignation, anger and resentment that (for me) have accompanied my non-standard gender identity.

And even though I don't know what to make of the large number of downvotes, I'm still glad I tried. :)

> The fact that you think this form of behavior is more natural to women than men is actually quite sexist.

All gender generalizations are sexist? That doesn't make sense; there are generalizations that are true even if that population doesn't like those generalizations (ie: women are physically less capable than men) and in some situations it may be important to have them in mind.

What could be sexist is to speak out those generalizations in an environment where it could blur the qualities that are actually needed for the context (in this case her performance as a programmer) but not in places such as an open forum like this comment section.

For the most part, yes. Gender generalizations more or less define the concept "sexist". And his "boy's game" "girl's game" thing is a good example of that.

Thanks for the backup. People around here tend not to realize that sharing something like this leaves you feeling pretty darn vulnerable.

Not to put too fine a point on it but, forthrightness always makes one vulnerable. I'd say that's part of the reason it's valuable and part of the reason people are sometimes afraid to be so. When you openly (and kindly) share your grievances with someone, you give them a chance to respond, either with understanding or retaliation. It's entirely reasonable to fear retaliation because people often feel attacked as well when accused of something, but if we don't give people the chance to behave rightly, how can we blame them when they behave wrongly? People deserve the chance to be good and if they don't know they've wronged you, they haven't had that chance.

Let me give you an example of what I mean. When Charles Dickens originally wrote Oliver Twist he included the character of Fagin, who a stereotypical 'evil Jew.' Many Jewish people were rightly offended and later when Dickens made some Jewish friends they explained to him why they found the character so offensive. Dickens took what they said to heart and removed direct reference to the character's Jewishness in later reprints. Imagine if Dicken's friends, instead of reasoning with him, spread rumors about him and turned the world against him. Instead of making him less of an anti-Semite it would have merely made him more paranoid, and more afraid of Jews than ever.

People who are forthright and reasonable gain respect, people who aggressive, either sneakily or openly, gain fear, but not respect. I respect you for being honest here and I hope you continue to be so, but understand that I could not possibly trust someone who behaved in the manner you describe.

Yes; you probably also wouldn't trust the asshole-quarterback that's at the top of the 'male hierarchy' so that you don't trust the description of a bitch-queen at the top of the 'female hierarchy' is not that surprising ;)

I never consciously did something like the former although I knew I would have been able to do so and come out victorious in the same way some people know they can win a fist fight.

I did do the second example though and what's important to realize is that I can only say it in this way when looking back on it.

In the moment I just felt the need to share how Y hurt me with the people who for some inexplicable reason still supported X.

I agree with what you said and respect the vulnerable position you have put yourself in. No matter where you say what you just said it may be construed as sexist by some people.

There is some axis of reactionary behaviours, with "passive-aggressiveness / indirectness" on the left, and "meanness / directness" on the right, and in general women are further to the left and men are further to the right.

Anyway, I wrote a post based partly off the things you have written and hope that you do not disagree with anything I have wrote. I'd love to hear your feedback? You can read it here:


Absolutely spot on and I really love that you took this and ran with it. I couldn't have thought of a greater compliment!

The only minor quip is that it feels slightly odd to be called a beta when I felt closer to being the alpha-female, but I agree that it works for the purpose of the story. Probably just my pride talking ;)

> men don't have a clue as to how group dynamics work

Do you think that those thousands upon thousands of (male) political leaders who climbed to the very tops of their social hierarchies -- from Crassus to Clinton, over thousands of years -- got there by pure luck without understanding how group dynamics work? How to make and break alliances? How to inform on their competitors?

Open competitiveness and overt dominance won out in our culture because they worked, not because alternatives were unavailable to men. Those traits allow to create stable organizations which went on and conquered the world, often literally. There's nothing stopping men from mastering intrigue, it's just very destructive, much more so than competitiveness and dominance, even fistfights will damage the group less than constant shifting and mind games.

I'm not just talking about intrigue; I'm trying to describe a different model of the world which operates on a different kind of duality.

In that model intrigue is indeed the punishment, but care and support is the reward.

This might be constrained to just my experience in the gay community and my extrapolation to the female population might be incorrect.

All I know is that I eventually became strongly aware of a delicate and ever changing network of social ties every non-straight-male I knew was participating in and acutely aware of.

And yes, it's probably a very essential component of the skillset political leaders need to master to rise to the top. I'd argue however that it only becomes a necessity to master at the top, whereas for most queers I know it's present regardless of political ambitions.


I think there was another guy, first name Bill I think.

To whatever extent the "girl's game" is such, it's largely because for centuries, female social hierarchies consisted of social groups of gossiping housewives and male social hierarchies consisted of business and politics--though the two certainly intersected when the wives of businessmen and politicians talked. (One notable intersection happened during the Andrew Jackson administration and ultimately led to the end of John Calhoun's vice presidency: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Petticoat_affair)

Analogously speaking--just because whites held social power over blacks by virtue of better education doesn't somehow mean education itself is an artifact of white supremacy, it means that lack of education is an artifact of oppression. Likewise, having to passive-aggressively gossip in the background isn't some kind of feminine power, it's an artifact of oppression against women preventing them from speaking and acting more openly. If women are going to be peers and equals to men in a professional workplace, they should act like it.

As if male businessmen and politicians were not skilled at the game of intrigue and gossip. Give me a break.

Thanks for your very well thought out reply. To a certain degree what you are saying is very much true.

What you are forgetting however is that if you go further back in time men were hunters and women were gatherers. Women stayed around the camp and were free to chat and men went off to hunt and had to be silent.

I'm trying to make the point that part of this is probably genetically/hormonally engrained into the female psyche (it's probably what you have tweak to 'fix' people like me) and that part of what is holding women back in the workplace, especially in tech as compared to e.g. fashion, is that they are asked to leave this part of them behind.

'If women are going to be peers and equals to men in a professional workplace, they should act like it.'

Equals in what way?

Nah, I'd have to see some serious cross-cultural research to believe that the "girl's game" is a universal, as would anyone who's had a whiff of anthropology at any point in their education.

Also, speaking as a bisexual myself, I'm kind of offended by your characterization of bisexuals, unless by "bisexual" you mean "intersexed" or "transgender" or something, which in itself is actually just as offensive. Being queer doesn't mean engaging in stereotypical, effeminate behaviors like the ones you're describing.

I know I can only offer anecdotal evidence; I had no intentions of positing this as a well-researched fact.

And you're right on the second part as well. Although I am bisexual, the term for what I'm referring to would be 'genderqueer' if I'm correct.

I have to disagree. I've had to manage a team of around 40 people who compete nationally (not tech per se, but I believe the same applies in a work place), and it only takes one person with the behaviour you describe to completely wreck how everyone operates and gets along.

We went from a tight knit, supportive group to being watchful of what we say, wondering who's out to get us and generally having to "watch our backs". Loyalties were split, motives were changed and within a matter of weeks it was an incredibly poisonous atmosphere.

If you want to get ahead - be better than those you're competing against. Don't try to undermine them, it does get noticed and unfortunately - for a small personal gain you're causing a hell lot more damage without even realising.

I disagree that the methods you describe are confined to women. I've seen enough men do similar things.

I'd say the reason people find it "dirty" is the same reason dirty players get angry when they're fouled - they can't take what they dish out.

My non-programmer friends and family are always bewildered when I tell them that I hope my daughter doesn't grow up to be a programmer. The reason why is because I'm afraid her life would be like the OP's. There is indeed a subtle sexism in our industry. That's why things like yesterday's Sqoot screwup happen so frequently.

Of course, every workplace is different and I'm sure there are plenty of places where women don't have to deal with the bullshit described in this article. However, they are far from the norm. I can see why the OP would want to leave the industry rather than be the person constantly reporting people to HR and lecturing them about proper behavior. It may be the right thing to do, but it's also extremely uncomfortable and just as likely to create an even more hostile working environment than before.

Would you enjoy working with this author, regardless of gender?

I work on a small team - just over 20 people - with only four women.

Every single one is a hilarious, self-possessed, confident individual. All the men, myself included, treat them with respect... meaning, we tease the shit out of them.

To do otherwise would exclude them from the team. Have you ever seen a cohesive group that didn't joke around? A tiny fraction of the jabs traded by men are HR-approved... if we filtered that for the women who work with us, we would be treating them as if they're too weak or too sensitive to be a part of the group.

So instead, we treat them no differently than any other team member. If one of the other coders were to arrive unusually dressed up, I would absolutely comment on it, regardless of whether it's a suit or a dress, but one of the ladies would probably beat me to it. Frankly, the women push the HR line harder than any of us guys, and we love them for it.

If you find that people are consistently telling you to "lighten up," whether you're male or female, you shouldn't assume that the world is conspiring to put you down. You're probably just no fun to work with.

Sounds like another argument for more people to read "How to Win Friends and Influence People"[1]:

For the people making sexist comments, there are lots of interesting stories and points in there. But obviously you can't force people to read the book, and expect any difference!

However, it is very applicable for the OP also. Take for example this overview of one chapter:

    How to Change People Without Giving Offense or Arousing Resentment:

    Begin with praise and honest appreciation.
    Call attention to people's mistakes indirectly.
    Talk about your own mistakes before criticizing the other person.
    Ask questions instead of giving direct orders.
    Let the other person save face.
    Praise every improvement.
    Give the other person a fine reputation to live up to.
    Use encouragement. Make the fault seem easy to correct.
    Make the other person happy about doing what you suggest.
[1] - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/How_to_Win_Friends_and_Influenc...

Silicon Valley investors (PG included) prefer to invest in young rockstarish startups, so why are we surprised when we see these high profile startups do immature and sexist things?

If maturity and manners were important to investors, they would be screening for it. As far as I know, they are not.

Because being young does not mean you have to be immature, and sexism should have nothing do with either immaturity and youth.

And indeed - by declaring yourself mature enough to handle a startup at a young age, you're also declaring yourself mature enough to act like a human being. Young people in prominent settings shouldn't get a free pass - if you want to be in the "big leagues", you've got to act like you belong there.

OK, but millionaire CEOs and invented the Old Boys Club, so what does success in business have to do with egalitarian respectful behavior toward all?

That's an unsubstantiated claim. I don't think it's true. From what I've heard about the YC interview and decision-making process I think they place a high value on maturity. The ones I've met have fun but don't have rockstar attitudes.

Also the awkwardness she's talking about doesn't come only from having a big ego. It's from constantly saying a single asinine statement. The person saying it often doesn't mean for it to have the effect it does.

"Rockstar" is a meaningless word. Real rock stars, like famous musicians, work their butts off with large teams, and then celebrate, sometimes too hard.

Her bio says where she works, and it's not a startup, let alone a YC startup.

This post raises two issues which everyone keeps conflating. I don't think we can have a productive discussion unless they're kept separate.

The first issue is the "you should take notes" mindset. This one is unequivocally wrong. The second issue is the "low cut blouse" remark, which I feel is wrong only by social convention.

Here's why the first issue is wrong: It implies that women don't belong in this line of work, that they can't do it effectively, and that they should get out. Factually wrong.

The second issue is wrong largely by social convention, I think. It's natural for men and women to be attracted to others in the work place. It's hard to avoid. That said, by social convention we're not supposed to talk about it. Talking about it makes you seem creepy since you're flouting social convention and if you're willing to do that, what else are you willing to do....?

However, if the underlying physiological response is not inappropriate (and I don't think it's fair to suggest that it's inappropriate -- it's how we're wired), then how could it be logically inappropriate to mention your feelings? I think our society has found that business proceeds best if we don't mention them and pretend we're not feeling them, but I could envision a culture along the lines of Radical Honesty where just bringing up how you feel isn't wrong.

So, keep the issues separate and treat each appropriately. Implying women aren't able to do tech work? Absolutely wrong. Stop it. Indicating that a woman is attractive? Realize it's inappropriate because of how our society determined we should interact at work, not because it's inherently immoral, but still don't do it because it might make her feel uncomfortable.

I’m a bit loath to add to the already long discussion, and most of what I might address has already been thoroughly hashed out. However, as a bisexual male, perhaps I have a different perspective than most people here.

Fact is, I’ve experienced sexual harassment just as much from women as from men. Who does it, in a given situation, depends only on who’s in power. In the male-dominated tech industry, that means men. But most people like to make sexual comments and advances sometimes, when we feel we can. And, unfortunately, that often make others feel rightly uncomfortable.

It’s a sad paradox—one of the best ways to make the industry less hostile to women is to attract more women, to even the power balance. But women aren’t attracted to the industry because it’s so hostile in the first place.

Outside of IT, nobody ever comments on low cut dresses?

I am glad I don't have to deal with things like the ones mentioned in the article, just wanted to chime in and say that most programming jobs suck anyway. So it seems possible to me that the expression of the suckiness apparently took on some sexist form, that is not to say that the male colleagues don't suffer through crap in the same job. It is definitely possible for male people to be in crappy jobs and having to look for something better.

So is the corollary of the article that all possible jobs for female programmers suck?

Are you OK with being on a team where one of your teammates feels stressed out, defensive, and alienated because of comments being made by another member of your team? Would you be OK with it if the comments were about their personal appearance? Their hair? The quality of their clothing? Their accent? Lots of funny jokes to be had about accents! Are you OK with any of this?

No? I didn't think so. Me neither. So what are you really arguing about here?

She pointed out a lot of sexist bullshit she had to deal with. The low-cut-dress thing was just one of them. Are you now a little more alert to the fact that what you might have thought was an innocuous joke actually made a teammate feel like they have a target on their back? I am! I thought to myself, "wow, I can imagine people I've worked with in the past who would say something like that; holy shit, I might have even laughed!". Maybe you too? Then she did you a favor by speaking up.

It'd be good if people would stop expecting the Magna Carta from posts like this.

What I meant is this: she quit programming because she was in sucking programming jobs. She should have looked for a non-sucking programming job. This is not so much different from what most men in programming jobs experience - being in a job that sucks, and actively having to look for a better one.

Edit: maybe I can't relate because my tendency is to quit if I find myself in a job that I don't like. This has happened to me a lot of times already. Perhaps others are more in a "heck, I'll change this place to suit me" frame of mind. I never understood that notion, or perhaps I am just too pessimistic about the ability of "places" to change. I reckon if you don't like how company x operates, find a better job or start your own company so that YOU can define the rules.

That's not so different from what most men in programming jobs experience

Tell me, when was the last time someone sat next to you because "you were wearing tight trousers and they hoped they could see your junk"? How many men do you think experience that at work? Would you be OK with them telling you to lighten up if you took exception to it?

I am sorry that she has to be a woman (which is not even true strictly speaking, sex changes are possible). What I meant is that these problems are probably independent from the job. By ascribing the problems to "being a woman", she misses the thought that she could switch to a job where people don't treat her like that.

Nobody wants to see men's junk, but there are enough other ways that jobs can suck for men and women alike.

Your comment assumes there is a ready supply of programming jobs that do not suck in this way. I think the point people are trying to make is that there isn't.

No I don't assume that, I actually said most programming jobs suck. But the point is: either there are programming jobs that don't suck, then she could switch, or there aren't programming jobs that don't suck, then leaving programming might be the right idea.

> Outside of IT, nobody ever comments on low cut dresses?

In the workplace? Not if they want to keep their job.

Seriously, in most industries nobody would blink twice if someone was fired on the spot for saying that they were going to sit across from a woman wearing a low-cut dress so that they could ogle her breasts.

IT has, comparatively, incredibly low standards of professional behaviour.

I have to disagree. This shit happens everywhere. My mother was a kindergarten teacher, this was normal stuff when dealing with school officials. Same thing with my gf who works in advertisement. Or many of my friends who work in the fashion industry. It also happens in restaurants, kitchens, normal office environments, lawyer partnerships (!) and so on.

I don't know the US, so I can't comment on that. I just suspect that getting comments about their cleavage is something women experience in all aspects of life, not only in IT jobs (and I don't want to excuse it or anything, I just assume it is what happens - not sure what to think about the "boiling breasts" issue, though). I just wonder, before taking those anecdotes about sexism in the industry at face value, if she mixed up her problems as a woman in general with the problems of annoying programming jobs.

@kcunning - How do you contrast your desire to have a perfectly professional relationship with everyone you work with vs a desire to enjoy an office environment where you can joke around and have fun?

While I understand your answer may well be, "Leave the jokes at home, Mr. Colbert. I'm here to code and make a paycheck." I would be sad if my relationship with my coworkers couldn't handle, let alone thrive upon, humorous interactions.

While there are always those who don't know how to avoid crossing the lines of appropriateness; do you feel that most of your coworkers are doing so?

I'm actually a fairly baudy person. I've made sailors blush. I don't mind joking around at all.

What irks me is when someone does something sexist, and I do speak up about it... and I'm told to 'lighten up'. If it was important enough for me to say something, then at least acknowledge that.

Most of my co-workers are awesome. They'd never dream of making the dress comment, or tell me to go get their coffee. But it doesn't have to be everyone. Even a few jerks can make an environment go from awesome to horrible.

Fair enough. Is the place large enough to have a separate HR department? It's one thing to joke around, but another to make unwanted sexist comments. I've never known any HR folks who put up with the smallest bit of it. It's their job to get righteously pissed off at that kind of behavior.

It's very rare for someone to be so overtly sexist that the HR department can intervene. Usually, there's some doubt for the harasser to receive the benefit of. And besides that, how would that affect her reputation if she turns into "the complainer who got Joe fired"?

It's one thing to joke around, but another to make unwanted sexist comments

A lot of confusion and conflict can happen when 1 person things a thing is a joke, and another person thinks the same thing is a sexist comment. This can be where the "lighten up" response can come from.

HR should also be on your side there too because, at least in my company, HR is almost entirely staffed by women. So they quite possibly have their own experiences with sexism in the workplace and won't simply dismiss the problem.

I love seeing a diversified HR department. Generally this means everyone gets a fair shake.

Learn to troll. You, as a woman, can bite a man ten times worse than any male colleague. Just respond. The effect would be amazing.

Do you think there's a conflict between sexism and fun? As in, "Well, I'd like to stop making sexist jokes, but then it would be so boring here."

I would rather work in an office where the jokes are of the funny sort, rather than the makes-one-person-feel-miserable sort. I really don't think there's any overlap between funny jokes and sexist jokes.

Well, male coworkers pick on each other all the time. Even when they have absolutely no incentive to hurt, once there's an awkward situation and they can say something smart - they'll fire.

Most if nor all of humor revolves around something bad happening to someone. That's what funny.

(In normal workplace setting women are actually shielded from that friendly fire because men don't feel as comfortable/can't predict what's OK and what's not)

You want jokes, you have to acquire certain skin thickness. If you don't, then I don't want to work with you. Fun is fun.

Your notion of what's funny is sadly impoverished.

But even within that context, there's a line between saying something funnily negative that the person can take and saying something that hurts them. If you've attempted a joke that fell flat because it was hurtful, then the problem isn't the target being too thin-skinned; the problem is you having poor judgment (or a taste for cruelty).

I agree with your description of how humor typically happens, and because of that, I don't enjoy working in most places. While it seems "fun is fun" for you, the same fun sucks for me.

But I'd suggest that an alternative exists-- you can actually be hilarious without knocking other people down. I think that's a worthy goal.

Well, neither am I comfortable working with people as fragile as Ming vases.

Received autism is not a virtue. Some people seem to be honing their internal conflict and blaming it on people whose jokes (or anything, really) touched it accidentally.

A person without serious internal conflict would not be hurt by a mild nerd humor. Hate there isn't, just some reflection on the awkwardness of human existence.

Agreed that we should strive to be less fragile. I think Jon Postel put it well in RFC 793:

"TCP implementations will follow a general principle of robustness: be conservative in what you do, be liberal in what you accept from others."


(In normal workplace setting women are actually shielded from that friendly fire because men don't feel as comfortable/can't predict what's OK and what's not)

They didn't used to be shielded like this, because men didn't used to think "what women thought was OK and what's not" mattered. In the same way, "white" men used to feel universally entitled to make off-color comments about the silliness and inferiority of "non-whites". Now the power relationship has changed, and now there is some thought given to what's appropriate and what's not.

You want jokes, you have to acquire certain skin thickness. If you don't, then I don't want to work with you. Fun is fun.

"Skin thinness" has to do with a certain degree of wounding and the remnants of institutionalized injustice. Both the wounding and the echoes of the injustice in the culture might take some generations to completely fade away. That said, all people have fun. All people want to relax and be genuinely themselves with someone, sometime. Are you entitled to have fun with absolutely everyone in the particular way that you know? I'm sorry, but it might not even go as far as the small subset of your workplace.

"Fun is fun" is pretty naive. If one studies humor, one finds that it's mostly highly contextual and cultural. This is particularly true for what's acceptable between men and women. That's not some conspiracy to rain on your parade, it's just how things are in the world. Just get to know people first.

"Most if nor all of humor revolves around something bad happening to someone. That's what funny."

Hardly. That describes only the most ignoble, uninspired level of humor.

> Do you think there's a conflict between sexism and fun? As in, "Well, I'd like to stop making sexist jokes, but then it would be so boring here."

I would phrase it, "If everyone's humor had to be bland Disney G-rated fare, then a lot of fun would have been sucked out of our work environment."

I think you should revise your perception of what is being gained by sexist humor. It seems that you get some good laughs out of it-- no problem for you.

For the people on the other side of the joke, it's not fun. From what Katie Cunningham writes, it's so unbearable that she's on the verge of leaving the profession she loves.

With that understanding of the situation, sexist jokes lose their humor, at least for me.

>I think you should revise your perception of what is being gained by sexist humor. It seems that you get some good laughs out of it-- no problem for you.

Where did I defend sexist humor?

I think that Katie Cunningham is putting up with some nonsense and she should take direct action.

My question to Katie was just regarding the line between humor and offense and how she drew a distinction?

She apparently didn't get offended and answered me quite frankly. There's really no need for you to jump in and mischaracterize my position.

Lots of white knights in this thread that she doesn't really seem to need to take care of her.

I agree that there's no need for mischaracterization, but there is a need for people to jump in and say what they think. I'll try to explain why I thought you were defending sexist humor.

This is the line that made me think you were defending sexist humor: "I would be sad if my relationship with my coworkers couldn't handle, let alone thrive upon, humorous interactions."

Maybe you meant non-sexist humor that erroneously came across as sexist?

There is a lot of humor to be had that is both appropriate and not G-rated. Humorous personal stories about awkward situations or odd situations, jokes about things that happened to people on the team (like the time susan brought the server down, or bob's ridiculous obsession with 80s pop), movie references, sexual innuendo (thats what s/he said is usually not sexist), political jokes, topical news jokes, and on and on.

I'm so sure you are going to come back with some "blah blah politically correct blah blah" disingenuity, I will adress it now: No, it's not all about PC and rules and whatnot, it's about genuine respect. Making comments and jokes centered on a person which aren't about that person, but about their membership in a class is generally not cool. It's called othering (and sometimes objectification). Othering is exclusionary, and a good joke for the target (but sometimes a good joke to the in-crowd, it solidifies their superiority!). Basically most jokes are OK, if they don't hinge on "and that's why that group is inferior and different from us".

There's plenty of R-rated humor that's not degrading to women.


Completely agree. As a man witnessing the slightly sexist crap, and watching women have to sort of jokingly deflect it, is just incredibly uncomfortable. And the "joking" is never funny.

I'm going to be better at calling that shit out from now on.

There's definitely an overlap between funny jokes and 'sexual' jokes. The OP seems to have a hair trigger for 'sexist,' to the point where I suspect her co-workers weren't sad to see her leave.

I don't think that the examples given in the blog post are examples of a "hair trigger." For one, it's repeated behavior; even a small annoyance is worse when repeated for years.

If I were one of her male coworkers, and I had to watch that kind of behavior continually, I would quit. I want my coworkers to be able to do their jobs without being tormented.

Also, I think you're missing the distinction between sexual jokes and sexist jokes. There are plenty of funny sexual jokes. There are even plenty of sexist jokes that the joke-teller finds funny. That opinion is not shared by the butt of the joke, and that makes them crappy jokes.

I would be sad if my relationship with my coworkers couldn't handle, let alone thrive upon, humorous interactions.

There is a big difference underneath the surface, though on the surface, many such incidents look like just "joking around." The difference has to do with social distance. If you feel an off-color remark is appropriate for someone you barely know, then I hate to tell you, but you're on one end of an asymmetric power relationship, and the other party has the short end of it.

It used to be, back in the 50's, men in the US felt entitled to join conversations with and sit at the same table with a pair of young women they didn't know and had just met. That sort of thing is a clear indication of the uneven power relationship. To really understand, you need to be on the "short" end, and more, you need to understand what it's like growing up with that constantly in the environment.

Yes, often one doesn't have bad intentions. But I'm explaining it to you now. Just be honest with yourself about social distance and "kidding." If you're really self aware, you may start to realize there's been a difference in social distance between off-color remarks to women vs. others. (African Americans, perhaps?)

men in the US felt entitled to join conversations with and sit at the same table with a pair of young women they didn't know and had just met

Unrelated to the thread, but isn't this how you get know people you've just met?

The key is entitled. Men used to be able to assume they'd be welcomed. No need to ask.

Sorry but I don't see how your example of a guy initiating a dialogue with women he just met is an example of a power imbalance. Partly because you're guessing at how he feels - maybe he feels entitled or maybe he feels nervous at hell, because he knows there's a chance of rejection/getting rebuffed/etc.

Of course, maybe I'm biased since I met my wife by simply going up and talking to her while she was waiting in line to purchase a ticket for a boat ride :-)

Sorry but I don't see how your example of a guy initiating a dialogue with women he just met is an example of a power imbalance.

Sorry, but I must be expressing myself incorrectly. My understanding is that guys used to be entitled to just go up and sit with unaccompanied females in public. If there was asking, it was pretty perfunctory. (This is from a woman's commentary from a documentary about the 60's, about how consciousness changed from the 50's.) In some countries, it was customary for a guy to ask the already present male for permission, leaving the female out of the decision. (This is from my own knowledge of Irish traditional culture.)

Of course, maybe I'm biased since I met my wife by simply going up and talking to her while she was waiting in line to purchase a ticket for a boat ride

The question is, how much right of refusal did she have? How much presumption was involved on your part? I'm going to guess that she had a lot of latitude on the first part and there was little presumption. I'm going to hazard a guess that you would've been embarrassed, but taken her polite refusal, had things gone differently, but not been offended or felt the loss of something you were entitled to.

The tricky thing in all this, is that it looks fairly harmless on the surface, but it's still pretty corrosive in aggregate. Please don't fall into the trap of being offended because what you've done has a surface resemblance to subtle racism or sexism. No one is saying that you were being sexist because you met your wife in a line. When one gets rid of the overt forms of [X] one is generally left with [X] that resembles something else. (But if you are observant of the power relationships beneath the surface, there is a clear difference.)

> But I'm explaining it to you now. Just be honest with yourself about social distance and "kidding."

I really wonder at the need to mischaracterize what I said above. Nowhere did I mention picking on anyone or engaging in humor at the expense of my coworkers.

Maybe you didn't realize you were battling a straw man. But I'm explaining it to you now. You're bringing a lot of your own preconceptions and baggage to the sub-thread off my post here that didn't say what you imply it said. It's right up there, go re-read it.

This ain't rocket science, it's trivial.

It's called having boundaries. You may reach into the pants of your lover but you damned sure aren't going to do that to a stranger or a coworker, right? Do most people have trouble keeping track of what things are appropriate in which contexts?

Around coworkers you act professionally. If you develop a friendship with your coworkers then you can change the way you act around those coworkers. If you become friends with a female coworker and she is ok with you making casually sexist jokes, then that's fine. But until you've crossed that friendship boundary then you should rightly feel inhibited to "make jokes" like that to a female coworker.

If you don't know how to avoid crossing the line you shouldn't be joking around. The onus is on you, the joke maker, to have a basic understanding of your audience as well as your privileges in society.

Did you see the story yesterday about a teacher being suspended (possibly permanently) for reading Ender's Game to his students because a parent accused the book of being "pornographic"?

While I agree that you should be careful about knowing your audience and where the lines are, there are some people who are going to have all kinds of lines in unexpected places. Sometimes, those lines move. Last week, a wry "yo mamma" might have been an appropriate come-back to Jim. Today, you might really upset him with the same comment because his mother died the day before.

The only real solution with some folks is to never so much as crack a smile at them. They may take it the wrong way.

there were other books he also read, one of which mentioned ejaculating on a prostitutes face. I think Enders Game just happened to be the most notable of the books that the teacher read to the class.

Obviously the safe bet is to not crack jokes that may hurt people around you. If you don't know how to joke around without hurting people, don't joke around with your co-workers.

This is bullshit. There is a big wide area between joking around and sexism and unwanted flirting etc.

Guys like you are all like "it's just fun and we tease all the time" right up until another dude in the work force hits on you or makes a sex related comment about you, and then you freeze up, get awkward and generally hate it.

How would you feel if one of your male coworkers tried this stuff with you?

And do not even try to say its different because women are supposed to like men or something like that, it's 10 kinds of wrong. just don't.

Banter should be mutual. This extends to males as well. If your "witty remarks" aren't reciprocated, stop.

This is the key, and the most valuable comment in this entire thread. Just like making moves on people, the smartest tactic is to go as far as you feel like going, carefully, until it's not symmetrical.

The women I work with in IT have had incredibly adult jokes made about them and vice-versa, because it's known and comfortable. If it wasn't mutual, you should know to back off, because they aren't going to lighten up.

This applies regardless of gender or situation.

I haven't shared the OP's experience of software developers being oblivious to asymmetrical interactions. Most nerds I know are very good at this.

does your office environment where you can joke around and have fun include racist humor?

Not at this company. I was told "white people are crazy" by an african american coworker at a different company a few years back.

I guess that was racist humor. I just LOL'd, though. Maybe because I'm "crazy".

Do you think I should have brought it up with HR instead?

Mine does. We have people from a lot of different parts of the world, so there's plenty of opportunities for good fun.

The line between tasteless and tasteful humor is blurry.

By saying 'racist' humor, rather than 'humor about race,' you turned your question rhetorical.

However, humor about race, gender, age, etc can all be hilarious, even in an office.

"Oop, Katie's got the low cut dress on today! I know where I'm sitting!" ... Go to HR and get stuck with his work when they move or can him?

The thing is, we live in a legal environment where she probably could go to HR and get him moved or fired for saying this. And yet, some men are still sexist jerks to women in the workplace. This suggests that all the blog-posting and HN-comment-hand-wringing in the world won't make a bit of difference.

Don't lighten up—accept. When being able to fire a guy for commenting on a woman's dress doesn't even do the job, no amount of complaining will stop the behavior you deplore.

N.B. I expect this comment to be unpopular, which underscores my point. We (a) live in an environment where an essay like the OP gets upvoted and elicits sympathy from a bunch of mostly technical guys, (b) where women endure sexist comments from a bunch of mostly technical guys, and (c) a comment noting the contradiction inherent in (a) and (b) gets downvoted by a bunch of mostly technical guys. The problem is basically unfixable, at least by the suggested means; shooting the messenger won't help.

No. A thousand times no.

Guys make these comments either a) because they are irredeemable assholes, or b) they don't understand the harm they cause.

If they are permanent jerks, firing them can and will help. For everybody else, then discussion is useful.

There is no reason to accept this kind of bullshit, and I refuse to.

I think you misunderstand. Acceptance is the only rational response when you lack sufficient power to effect change. When crude behavior persists even in the face of a draconian legal environment, complaining about it or writing frustrated blog posts certainly won't fix it.

Your situation is slightly different. As a CTO, you have the power to prevent this behavior in your sphere of influence. But fixing the tech industry in general is beyond your reach.

You should also be aware that you face the other end of the cannon here. If a woman feels maltreated on your watch, you could be held liable even if you are not culpable. In a small startup, this could be enough to sink the ship. Perversely, this gives you an incentive not to hire women. Indeed, posts such as the OP also provide an incentive not to hire women. There's no defending boorish jerks, but beware of unintended consequences when you propose ways to punish them.

Your notion of "rational" is weak. It's the small-minded, self-interested, narcissistic version of the term.

Fixing this problem in the tech industry may or may not be beyond my reach. We'll see. But I will try as long as I'm involved in software. Hopefully I will have made a difference. But if I don't, that's still ok, because then I won't have been one of those assholes who stands around ignoring (or profiting from) injustice. If that's "irrational", then fine, I'm happy to be "irrational".

And personally, I think that blog posts like this are absolutely a part of fixing the problem. Women's suffrage didn't happen because a bunch of old white men suddenly noticed the issue one day. It happened through an immense amount of communication, activism, and education. The original post is a fine contribution to that sort of activity.

I think that blog posts like this are absolutely a part of fixing the problem.

I hope you're right. You're far more optimistic than I am. In particular, I've seen an awful lot of hand-wringing about this subject in the Ruby community over the past five years—most of it similar in content and tone to the OP—and it doesn't seem to be having any effect.

This is one tiny facet of a society-wide problem that goes back millennia. How much progress can you expect in a few years? In the broader scope of things, I'd say we're making great progress.

But that progress has come through continuous effort, not from people saying, "Oh, honey, you should just accept that you can't vote. You'll never change it, so it's not rational to try."

I differ with that line of thought in that I don't think it's inevitable. Which is why I think it's so important to push for it. As the US Republican primary shows, there are plenty of people who'd like to roll back things from decades to centuries.

It used to be acceptable to use the N-word in the workplace. Casually. With seriousness.

Things change.

Fuck acceptance.

Acceptance is the only rational response when you lack sufficient power to effect change.

How do you know you lack sufficient power to effect change if you don't try?

Who said nobody tried?

Just out of curiosity, if you went back in time to early America, would you rally some slaves together and tell them all not to put up with the shit from their owners? Would you call them cowards for not all trying to run away? Or would you tell them to "hang in there, things will get better"?

Uhhh, I'd smuggle them somewhere else where they could live free, duh. This isn't exactly the best example.

Also, are you seriously saying that you'd tell folks who will live their entire lives and die as slaves to just "hang in there"?

> Uhhh, I'd smuggle them somewhere else where they could live free, duh. This isn't exactly the best example.

Sure you would, buddy. Just like you're out there beating up the people who are oppressing the original poster, like fucking batman.

> Also, are you seriously saying that you'd tell folks who will live their entire lives and die as slaves to just "hang in there"?

Yeah, I would. Because if you have any foresight, you can see that its a transitional period, and is unsustainable, and is in the process of changing. I can help more people alive than I can dead for smuggling a few slaves out.

"Schindler's List" would have made a lousy movie if he just told people to "Hang in There".

And who says he never did do that? You think he never came across people who were too risky to try to save? Why wasn't he able to save all the jews?

My point was that it's pretty far fetched for anyone to believe InclinedPlane would risk his life saving slaves when he won't even risk his career trying to legally torpedo the original poster's workplace. It's posturing, nothing more.

"Why wasn't he able to save all the jews?"

Because all of the other Germans who didn't agree with what was happening just accepted it and went along.

Are we done here?

> Because all of the other Germans who didn't agree with what was happening just accepted it and went along.

That's not why Schindler didn't save all the jews. The point was risk analysis.

> Are we done here?

Unless you want to inject yourself between my reply to another poster again, yes. Feel free to see yourself out.

Schindler saved a bunch of Jews. More than zero, which is what would have happened if all he said was "hang in there." It's not like your choice is between learning how to cope and trying to assassinate Hitler. There are many options in the middle, with varying levels of commitment required. Calling out bad behavior when you see it is one of them.

Hey man, lighten up.

Not to mention the Allies not giving a shit.

I think threatening to fire men for commenting on women's dresses counts as trying.

"Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man."

And yet you have two people in this thread saying "I see myself in what you complain about and I don't like it". It's interesting that you draw from that "nothing can ever change" (my phrasing).

You put quotes around the phrase "nothing can ever change", and yet that phrase doesn't appear in the parent comment. I suggest restricting yourself to rebutting arguments I actually made.

How would you characterize the difference between "the problem is unfixable" and "nothing can ever change"? They are substansively the same position.

I thought it was clear from context, but I've added a clarifying clause. The point is that, if firing people for commenting on low-cut dresses doesn't work, complaining about it in a blog post certainly isn't going to do the trick. The problem is unfixable using the means at the disposal of the OP. In this case, although the outcome is lamentable, leaving the industry may be a rational response.

Firing people is clearly an extreme option; it might be worth asking kcunning if she felt that was an appropriate reaction (I'd guess not). Writing a blog post, on the other hand, has generated half a dozen people changing their minds about how much sexism they're prepared to put up with (ranging from "I am confronting my own active sexism and resolving to change it" to "I am more inclined to speak up to challenge active sexism when I see it"). Speaking for myself, it was a series of posts like this that gave me the confidence to start calling other men out when I saw active sexism take place. I suppose you could argue that everyone in this thread who is appearing to change their mind is lying, but that seems to be begging the question--purely on the responses I'd suggest that the preponderance of evidence is that writing blog posts does produce incremental change.

I don't think they're lying. I think they're a drop in the ocean.

Don't lighten up—accept

You're asking someone to learn to live with being bullied and to accept discrimination. And through this endorsement of their behaviour you contribute to the problem.

You are a horrible person.

Just out of curiosity, if you went back in time to early America, would you rally some slaves together and tell them all not to put up with the shit from their owners? Would you call them cowards for not all trying to run away? Or would you tell them to "hang in there, things will get better"?

Slaves were in imminent danger of being killed for minor offences. The situation isn't really comparable.

Also, I'm not accusing Katie of cowardice.

Slaves were in imminent danger of being killed for minor offences.

Were they? I'd bet that everything you've ever read or seen about slavery was produced by abolitionists and their intellectual descendants. Perhaps this might slightly color your views on the subject.

By the way, before you call me a horrible person again, please read carefully. Nothing in the above paragraph implies an endorsement of slavery.

Well, it's not my area of expertise...

If you'd like to direct me to where I can read a more balanced view of the history of slavery I would be pleased to read it.

Sure thing.

The West Indies As They Are (1824) by Rev. Richard Bickell. It was written about slavery in Jamaica, where conditions were almost certainly worse than in the American South. http://books.google.com/books?id=Y4QZYM7MOUcC&printsec=t...

South-Side View of Slavery (1854) by Nehemiah Adams, a Unitarian minister and abolitionist. http://books.google.com/books?id=sCg7P2c3W5MC&printsec=t...

American Negro Slavery (1918) by Ulrich Phillips. http://books.google.com/books?id=7E1_n7O9KvIC&printsec=t...

Counseling someone to accept a situation is not the same as endorsing it. And acceptance is the only rational response when you lack sufficient power to effect change. Indeed, the OP's decision to leave the tech industry is an implicit acknowledgment of her acceptance. That's a rational decision. Posting a whiny (albeit well-written) essay about it isn't—at least, it's irrational if she wrote it to help solve the problem. If she was simply venting, and attempting to garner attention and sympathy, then the post served its purpose well.

That's all well and good but we're a far cry away from concluding there's a lack of sufficient power to effect change. We're not counseling someone who's just become paraplegic about their hopes of running a triathlon, this is a situation with room to improve. And just because we may not be able to improve it 100% doesn't mean we don't try. Criminal behavior will always exist as long as society exists but that doesn't mean you disband the police.

I disagree on almost all points.

The attitudes and actions of certain people made someone's job so bad that they quit the industry. I am appalled by that, and I strongly disagree that they should have just put up with it. I don't think her leaving the industry signals acceptance; merely that she's been bullied out of it. I think this essay (I also disagree that it's "whiny") may, in some small way, help other people become aware of sexist behaviour.

Amen. Don't let the downvotes bother you, you're seeing 100% clearly and not blinded by the irrationality that seems to be filling this thread.

I consider the phrase "lighten up" patronizing and would avoid it altogether. I was once told to "lighten up" by an interviewer at a bank and immediately knew that I did not want to work there. It's insulting to suggest that a person ought to have feelings other than the ones they have. In my view, feelings (not behavior) are generally involuntary, largely beyond conscious control and lie outside the moral sphere.

I'm in academia, where the use-mention distinction isn't recognized where sexual innuendo is concerned. To be on the safe side, I take the attitude that even non-interacting, space-like separated particles at opposite ends of the universe could be accused of sexually harassing each other--and probably are.

It appears that virtually all comments expressing even mild criticism of the OP are being downvoted with a vengeance. Groupthink is alive and well here on HN. If you want to know what a member of the Thought Police looks like, find a mirror.

Sure, it could be group-think and thought police, or it could be reasonable people finding a consensus.

In media studies there's the idea of the circle of consensus (everyone agrees with the notion that slavery and rape and child abuse are bad) and outside of that is the area of legitimate controversy. ("Does Keynesian economics actually work?" "should states mandate that people wear motorcycle helmets?" whatever). Outside of that is the lunatic fringe ("Show me the birth certificate!" or "Dick Cheney was a Hitler Youth")

It seems that in this community, the statement "yeah, maybe these chicks really should just lighten up" is outside the area of legitimate controversy. As it should be.

"Oop, Katie's got the low cut dress on today! I know where I'm sitting!" ... [Should I] go to HR and get stuck with his work when they move or can him?

Do you think that potentially firing someone for making such a comment is part of a reasonable consensus? Or is it something about which reasonable people can disagree?

I think the consensus is that the comment is not appropriate for a professional context.

As far as firing goes? I personally wouldn't fire someone for the first bullshit sexist remark, but I would make it perfectly clear that the next bullshit sexist comment would be the last one. I am not sure where the reasonable consensus is around that issue. I personally care more about the victim than the perpetrator.

I read that as potentially firing someone as an expected outcome, not a desired/optimal one. HR is short for CYA.

Clearly the author is hesitant to report it because of that outcome.

Indeed. This thread possessed me to register "abovethecirclejerk.com", which I one day hope to use in a meaningful way.

The guy sees the "one joke." He doesn't see that to her it's the billionth-and-one "joke."

Bukowski put it best: "The Shoelace" http://allisonlanda.blogspot.com/2009/02/bukowski-shoelace.h...

Attention my fellow men: Just STFU unless you are reading stupid jokes from a bad sitcom script before a camera for TV.

Hang in there. The norms are always transitioning, so someone is always getting "the shaft" (hopefully that won't come across as sexist :) And unfortunately, when you can't change everyone's "natural" behavior, the next healthiest choice is to grow thicker skin.

EDIT>> I'm not saying that it's ok she's treated like this, but you can't change everyones behavior. It takes lifetimes. In the meantime, if you want to have a healthy mind and continue to be around that kind of behavior, you have to grow a thicker skin.

You're right. That is the healthiest approach for her. Which makes dealing with the bullshit that people fling at her for not having thicker skin all the more valuable. She could go along to get along, but hasn't, so everyone else won't have to go along with this crap too.

Your "hopefully that won't come across as sexist" bit, by the way, belittles the concern. It's not just her concern; it's my concern too, and you've belittled it. Thanks, internet message board guy.

> You're right. That is the healthiest approach for her. Which makes dealing with the bullshit that people fling at her for not having thicker skin all the more valuable. She could go along to get along, but hasn't, so everyone else won't have to go along with this crap too.

Sorry, I'm a little tired today, could you rephrase this so it's easier to tell if you're being sarcastic? (serious question)

I am literally saying that you are right. The easiest thing for her to do, the thing with the best personal outcome, is to lighten up and get on with her life.

The problem is that is also the response with the worst outcome for the field in general.

So, what I'm saying is, she's taking a hit (for instance, by being told to "stop victimizing herself" and to just work harder) in order to stand up against this stuff.

And I'm also saying that as a husband and the father of a little girl who could god-help-me end up in this field, she's standing up for my family too. And so I personally have an issue with belittling her for doing that.

You put a little smiley face after your comment because you thought it was amusing. It's not funny.

> You put a little smiley face after your comment because you thought it was amusing. It's not funny.

That's the beauty of humor: different things are funny to different people. I'll send you an email when I'm going to start catering my comments to you and your sensibilities :)

> Your "hopefully that won't come across as sexist" bit, by the way, belittles the concern. It's not just her concern; it's my concern too, and you've belittled it.

I'm sorry if you feel that way. Someone "getting the shaft" is a common phrase. When I typed it, I realized that it had obvious masculine connotations, so I thought I'd point that out with a smiley face. The rest of my response should make it more than obvious that I took her concern and health seriously.

The rest of my response should make it more than obvious that I took her concern and health seriously.

It doesn't, unfortunately. That's the problem with mixed signals: they're mixed.

For the record, if you realize ahead of time that a word or saying will have an unintentional double meaning in a context that you don't want, find another way of saying it.

Assume for a moment that you're right. Assume, even, that the original poster agrees with you.

Now, re-read the post. You'll see that the poster doesn't have a thin skin; they're just sharing something that happens all the time.

The blatant stuff is, perhaps, easier to deal with because you can let off steam and have a rant. It's the gradual drip drip drip of every day comments - comments that your colleagues don't get, and the only reason they don't get them is because they are male - that just wears you down.

UK Comedian Josie Long has a good talk about it here:


I don't get the idea that these are weak people, or oversensitive, or they have weak skins. I get the impression that they've just had enough.

(I hope you see that I've tried to engage your argument and not just attack you. Personally, I really dislike the idea of telling people that "jerks are out there and it'll take years to change them so sorry, deal with it.)

I don't think she has thin skin, or is weak, or oversensitive. And believe me, I know what it's like to have an above-average wearing of my patience daily from people. What has helped me is understanding the psychology of why people behave the way that rubs negatively, and framing it in that every time I deal with it. That's the change of perspective, that's growing a thicker skin.

At the same time, the realist side of me knows that people take a long time to change, and in the meantime, I'm going to be the one that has to deal with it.

That is an excellent talk. She really conveys why all the little stuff mentioned in the article adds up to a big problem. Thanks for posting it.

Really? Your sole contribution here is an earnest restatement of the dismissive line decried over and over in the linked piece? For shame.

Edit in reply: Exactly how are these not all the same: “Hang in there,” “lighten up,” “change your perspective”?

They have different connotations:

"Hang in there" - common phrase of support. Have you seriously never heard of this? "lighten up" - dismissive, which I didn't say. "change your perspective" - Helpful advice for many situations people have to endure unjustly. If you've never been in a situation like that, be glad. If you are, and you cannot change it easily, changing your perspective works.

You're trying way too hard to villainize me, to the point of erring on the side rashness.

EDIT >> removed ad-hominem. Sorry, I slipped!

Ad hominem.

How is what I said dismissive? I take her concern seriously, and I gave her my opinion of the best option for her health. I'm being a realist here, there is no "changing everyones behavior." There is only changing your perspective.

But there IS changing everyone's behaviour. In my lifetime, drunk driving and spoual abuse have become socially unacceptable. Overt racism has become socially unacceptable. Two women got engaged at centre-ice in a hockey game, a bastion of blue-collar society.

All these changes happened because people said, "I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take it any more!"

You, sir are correct.

Incidentally, daenz is also correct. Albeit with a little addition to what he says:

"There is no changing everyones behaviour in a matter of days."

Which means that daenz's suggestion is the "best" (as in "highest gain") solution in the short run. It is not incompatible with simultaneously trying to change people's behaviour in the long run.

> In my lifetime, drunk driving and spoual abuse have become socially unacceptable

Seeing the change in your lifetime does not mean the entire process occurred in your lifetime. How many lifetimes is it taking for women, gays, and black people to become treated as equals, and we're still not there. Like I said, it takes lifetimes.

I'm not saying don't fight discrimination. I'm saying she should consider her health. Unless she wants to be a full-time martyr and campaign for this cause, then by all means, she should give herself 1000%. But if she doesn't, she's going to need to focus on your health in the face of this alleged behavior, and that includes not letting herself get worked up to an unhealthy level if she can help it. But by all means, continue the fight.

Hey, growing up all sorts of Black people decided to "not make waves" and all sorts of gay peple decided to live in the closet. I'm grateful for the people who made other chouces and didn't listen to the "voice of reason."

It's a game theory thing, isn't it? Fighting is cooperating, and lightening up is defecting, and the payoff for cooperating takes years or decades and only happens when enough people ooperate to make change.

OK, black people were literally property in mid-19th century America. That's pretty much rock bottom, just 157 years ago. For reference, a full human lifespan is something like 120 years, and the average is a little over 70. So today, a mere two lifetimes later, a guy descended from the slave owners can marry one of the slaves' descendants and nobody even bats an eye. And a first-generation African-American is running the country. In the face of all this, how can you say meaningful change can't happen on the scale of a person's life? (And most of that civil rights process did happen in raganwald's lifetime if he was born before the '60s.)

Read your history, slavery in america started in the early 1600s. That's almost 400 years ago. That's almost 6 lifetimes. That agrees with my statements.

Interracial marriage was illegal in much of the US until just 45 years ago. The Stonewall Riots were the same year we landed on the moon. Romer v. Evans wasn't until 1996, and Lawrence v. Texas is just eight years old. You have a poor sense of history and the passage of time if you do not recognize the staggering speed with which the world can and has changed.

I'll say it again:

> Seeing the change in your lifetime does not mean the entire process occurred in your lifetime.

When did slavery start in america, the 1600s?, and when was interracial marriage legalized, 45 years ago? That is the timeline of change for african americans. Just because you see the end of something in your lifetime, it does not mean the process also started in your lifetime.

Uh, nobody is talking about changing any "natural" behavior (whatever in hell you expect that to mean), no matter how shit-headed.

Behave however you like outside the work environment.

But if you behave in a sexist or racist way in the work environment you can expect to be gone. Gone. Period.

Stop blaming the victim.

> Stop blaming the victim.

First of all, stop putting words in my mouth. This villainization of everyone who doesn't instantly white-knight is insane.

> But if you behave in a sexist or racist way in the work environment you can expect to be gone. Gone. Period.

Great, maybe you should run the company she works at. Or maybe you should put your money where your mouth is and go try to stir up a lawsuit for her. Or you can just posture and puff up your chest in the comments.

To be fair though, I've worked in places that were 70/80% female before and I was usually the first person they asked when they needed something heavy moved.

Perhaps it's just that many guys are so disorganized that it really makes sense for the woman in the group to take notes etc.

> Perhaps it's just that many guys are so disorganized that it really makes sense for the woman in the group to take notes etc.

Assuming that, because she's a woman, she'd be better suited to note-taking is the definition of sexism.

except in this instance it wasn't an assumption , it was a fairly obvious fact.

There is nothing fairly obvious (or, probably, factual) about women being better note-takers than men. Certainly not to the extent that it's better for someone to automatically ask the woman to take notes, rather than say 'who here is good at taking notes?' and if nobody responds, cycling through everyone, and then having the group decide whose notes are best (or something like that).

I just want to say a sincere thank you for writing this. I hope the whole community will read this with an open mind and understand how important it is to be conscious of these subtleties.

Hear hear.

I agree this is a problem. But it's not one-sided.

I work (part time, not IT) in an environment where it's perfectly OK to generalize and joke about how men are assholes or idiots. I'm no writer, and I'm not about to attempt writing a post about the situation. I've been around enough that I can shrug it off at the end of the day, but in the moment it's beyond annoying and approaching degrading.

I haven't found this in academia as much as in bureaucratic office culture. At one bank where I once had the displeasure of working, one woman manager liked to make disparaging remarks about the physiques of her male subordinates. She was an acquaintance of a well-known action star and used him as the basis for her invidious comparisons. I thought this treatment was completely unnecessary.

Joking about men being idiots is sexist (or misandrist), but I'm beginning to wonder whether the unfairness consists in excluding one half of the population of the working environments in which this assessment is commonly made. OK just kidding, "lighten up." (I hate that phrase.)

Do you think reaching some critical mass of female developers (say 20%) will help prevent the problem? Perhaps an industry goal of reaching 20% female developers would be worthwhile (who would set such a goal?)

These problems also exist in the boardroom and some have pointed out that it takes 3 women at the table in order for the rest of the room to treat them fairly. If it's just one, she's sidelined. If it's two, then they're seen as just teaming up with each other, but three makes them legitimate in the eyes of the rest of the group. Perhaps larger groups of developers can make sure to have at least 3 women on the team to help eliminate issues.

The other factor is the stereotype in our media culture, look how Hollywood still pictures Nerds and technically versatile Women. A women who is good with computers and not a confident sexy goddess is automatically a looser.

In pop media, everyone not a confident sexy god/goddess is a loser.

My £0.02: having worked in a few teams in the UK, France and Sweden over the course of the last decade, I'd say this is a cultural effect that can be won over locally by a certain company or social group, but would require a coordinated and concerted effort on behalf of men and women to stamp this kind of stealth-bullying out of social acceptability. I fully support the men who will help call out this kind of behaviour, and am also fully satisfied that this issue has front-paged HN for as long as it has.

From my own experience of work, cultural norms and popular issues, although only the smallest of samples, I'd say that (younger) Swedes have a much better handle on the balance of respect and gender roles than their peers in FR or the UK (England, specifically). Even the most subtle attempt at sexism is picked up on to a degree where it is unacceptable to at least publicly chance a remark of this kind in the workplace or in the media. Why this is I can only guess.

Prevalent (older) attitudes may account for the continued pay discrepancy between men and women and all that this reflects, but I'd say the Swedes have a very much less subtly-offensive 'working atmosphere' than those I've been part of elsewhere.

Also troubling is the question of 'women/babies/employment', but that's a whole other can of worms; just as a parting shot - men also leave poorly managed jobs when something better in life is offered to them, at least you get up to 9 months warning with women.

It's all down to ignorance really isn't it. Isolated incidents by themselves aren't really a big deal. Idiots are everywhere. Sometimes people just don't think before speaking.

Sometimes the odd jibe is actually amusing. Of course when the jibe has been heard a hundred times before it never is.

I have a stutter and the amount of crap I have had over the years is rediculous. It isn't people taking the piss, I am used to that. Its people being 'kind'. People assuming I cannot do something or wouldn't want to do something on account of my speech. People being 'protective' or finishing sentences...

The outride rudeness of people is easy to confront and challenge. It is the subtle stuff which is very difficult to deal with. Often people genuinely do not understand that they have done something wrong. They were just asking someone to take notes and you have become the defacto note taker... whats wrong with that?

I have always thought the best thing to do is stand your ground but if you do that every time you get a reputation of being a stickler and being less approachable. The trouble is finding the right balance between letting the odd thing slide without just leaving yourself open to taking crap.

I feel for Katie and think it is a shame that she has been effectively forced out doing she something she enjoys by the ignorance of others.

I can't stand it when people use the "Lighten up" line.

What it really means is that they can't empathise.

For them it's no big deal... so therefore, as far as they see it, it is no big deal.


If someone truly thinks another person is taking something too seriously, and really feels that something should be said about it, then the non-patronising thing to do would be to try and explain it to the other person.

Katie, don't leave the field -- just find the right group to work with. It's the company you keep.

Don't let everyone else dictate your life.

I'm a woman, this happens to me (not very often but that might be because I've worked in this industry only for two years) and whenever it does, I just say something horribly cold.

One day I had a pretty watch on, and a male coworker said "That's such a come-hither watch". He was one of the most intelligent people I'd met, and it was painful to hear that come from him. I made an exception and tried to tell him that one might wear something pretty simply because they liked wearing it but I don't believe I got my point across.

I don't think it's a reason to quit though. Everyone suffers from several disadvantages that others might not know about. For example, the guy above once complained that some american universities (like purdue university) prefer women candidates to improve their sex ratio, and that it's unfair.

I don't want to tell you to stoically put up with this problem, but that's what I try to do.

"That's such a come-hither watch".

Making objectifying comments in the workplace is wrong, no two ways about it. But because I don't have your context, this one jumped out at me as "could be interpreted in many ways". I'm curious if I can cajole a bit more context out of you? (because I've made my share of innocently-intended comments resulting in a situation going horribly awry, so I'm always looking to improve my appropriateness radar).

Specifically, do you think it was A) an innocent/clueless comment, B) a "testing the waters" comment as a prelude to hitting on you, or C) outright hitting on you?

A) Do you think he was just complimenting you on the watch? Particularly, I wonder because he made the comment about a thing, not about you. I.e., consider the difference between "that's a sexy skirt" and "you have a sexy ass". The later is clearly objectifying, but the former could be interpreted innocently or offensively, because its a comment about an object (although even the former is pretty risky -- you'd have to be very close friends with the person and be sure they'd understand your intent to feel safe making such a remark).

B) Or perhaps he was "testing the waters"? I've notice that being labelled a "creep" actually has more to do with whether your attraction is unrequited, than whether the action was objectively creepy, and a "testing the waters" approach is one way to try and avoid being the office creepster. Unless of course even testing the waters is creepster material (I hope not...).

C) or was he just flat-out being a slime ball?

Talking of sexism.

Dear Y-combinator community, you have been caught red-handed @ 17:50 in this video at Startup School http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K9m9vPAlb_0&t=17m50s

Would you laugh if it were a male speaking? I kind of wish people would, then men might know the feeling of what it's like. Can you imagine if this happened to you?

This isn't PG's fault. It's the idiots in the audience. You can have a high-IQ, make brilliant stuff and still be a sexist asshole.

I'm a male, and I hate this stuff, because my it's my friends that are the ones that are affected by this behaviour.

While subtle discrimination is really bad, how does she get from low cut dress to slut? That's surely something she came up with herself and nothing like that the guy intended. The guy certainly doesn't want her to wrap herself up in sweaters, why does she feel like that's how she should respond?

I feel like there's a huge gulf between second and third wave feminists. Modern ones would find the above comment empowering, you only react in this way if you've been brought up in a society and culture that demeans female sexuality and teaches you that low cut dresses implies slutiness and so on.

My interpretation is that she felt the low cut dress comment was derogatory (like the term slut), and that the man, by sitting across from her in order to sexualize her, thought he was doing what she (the slut) wanted ("why else do women dress nice?"). If she weren't a slut, then her dress would be a dress, and there would be no reason to call attention to it, especially not in that way.

The guy doesn't want her to wrap herself in sweaters only because he wants to continue to objectify her, not because he sees her as a person that has the right to dress comfortably (as long as it's still appropriate).

What's empowering about being a sexual object if you want to be a programmer?

I can't up this enough. My wife is a Java dev (I am a .Net dev), and I hear about the crap she has to endure almost weekly. It truly makes me want to walk into her client site and smack some faces. It is so hard to believe that this can be so common, especially since the field is made up mostly of younger "enlightened and tolerant" guys. This speaks so badly for our field (and society in general). (Now we are both in the early stages of "age-ism", but hey, we can fight that with talent, right?!?)

When I managed my team, I bought gallons of beers for everyone. With my own money, and handing the beers myself to my peers (In this example I'm using beer-time as substitute for potluck).

Of course I did ask for reimbursement through the company and the company did approve, but that's not the point.

The act of doing potluck is supposed to raise morale. Whoever manager in charge should organize the potluck him/herself for maximum boost of morale. Telling others to do potluck is so lame. Telling someone else to take note is equally lame.

What happened to the "OH HAI SEXISM" thread, previously at (http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=3739913)?

Will Schumpter win out here?

Presumably in a perfect labour market competant women will leave companies like this and go work for the non sexist competition

I believe that will be true for companies that do not embrace for example lean product discovery or software as transformative. But I just don't think the labour Market is really perfect enough to make this kind of difference

but even so, start looking at jobsites. You won't change them, and if you leave for good reasons, good employers will understand.

Cass R. Sunstein in Free Markets and Social Justice offers a chapter with an interesting perspective called "Why Markets Don't Stop Discrimination." The book is actually one of the more readable economics works I've seen, and the author gives a more in-depth account of why competitive markets would normally be believed to work the way you're saying you expect them to work.

The basic idea is that even if you operate in a competitive market, your customers and associates may not: and due to this, competitive markets can sometimes only float the ball to some socially-appropriate level. So, let's talk about someone who stops doing business with you because they know your programmers are female and they hold some subconscious belief that female code is of lower quality. (I mean, if you called them on it they would say "no, of course not!" but somewhere deep inside they'd prefer the familiar and they discriminate institutionally rather than individually.) Now your incentives to discriminate are bound up in a complex: that complex contains their tastes, and what they're willing to pay to get a product which tastes right to them. If they're in a very competitive market they might not be able to afford any overhead, but if they're a personal user, or they are turning a profit, they get to choose based on their tastes alone and then your financial incentive is to also institutionally discriminate. The whole point is that discrimination might be "economically rational" while nondiscrimination might be "social justice" and therefore they can come at odds -- which is more or less the topic of the book.

I found it an interesting idea.

No, because of the marriage monopsony (among other reasons). Because most women choose to live where their husbands live, they will essentially never be able to command the same wages or working conditions as men (under the current system) because the employers have significantly more power than what a competitive market would otherwise dictate.

If you walk around alone in an unsafe neighborhood at night, you're asking for trouble. If you don't have a choice but to be in an unsafe neighborhood, hunker down and get to a point in your life when you can afford a safe neighborhood.

In the programming world, this translates to : become a great programmer, and you will find yourself in a great programming environment (birds of a feather...). If you really love programming, you will get to that point eventually.

Great programmers love programming, and love learning from other great programmers even more. That's why they'll never offend another great programmer or risk it all by indulging in bad behavior. (You can actually substitute "great programmer" here with "great any-profession". There might be exceptions, but in 15 years of programming, I haven't met any.)

When you don't have these types of programmers around you, whats left is the (sub-)average programmer, and the concomitant sexist environment.

Also, by wearing a low-cut blouse to a professional environment, you drive away those people who actually contribute to a good environment, leaving behind those that don't.

Biologically, men's brains light up when they see a woman's cleavage. The people who value you as a programmer will avoid you, because they recognize what's going on in their heads, avoid the distraction, and the risk of offending you. Heck, some of them might not even look in your direction. My advice is the same one I give my daughters: wear a scarf - it prevents the over-heating problem you mentioned. Its the same reason I wear boxers, rather than walk around in shorts.

You don't need to lighten up, just hunker down.

I think that solving the problem of an unsafe neighborhood is much more intractable than solving sexism in the workplace. Mostly, this is because 'we' are not part of the culture in those unsafe neighborhoods. We are part of the tech culture. If we, as a culture/society/whatever can agree that this kind of behavior is unethical, unprofessional, and not welcome, then we can and should express our disapproval towards those who are sexist, or allow for sexism to be the problem it is.

So, to me, you're saying that because we can't solve unsafe neighborhoods by calling out that undesirable behavior when we see it (which we can't), we shouldn't call out undesirable behavior in an unsafe work environment.

Biologically, human minds do or want to do lots of things when presented with various stimuli. That doesn't mean it's OK for them to do it. I wonder if we're biologically inclined to victim-blame the way you just did...

>Biologically, men's brains light up when they see a woman's cleavage.

WoW! I did not know that. Thank you for that fact. But how do the men function in tribes where women walk around bare chested? It's a wonder more men don't drown on topless and nude beaches!

Or maybe you are attributing social conditioning to biology as an excuse for shitty behavior? And you have no actual evidence but you just badly want it to be true?

Well that was a rather specious mansplaination

I have to wonder if I'm just hanging out in the wrong circles or working at the wrong companies, because I've never seen anything even approaching some of the appalling examples in the article. Am I in the minority here? Note that I'm not denying that it happens; I've just never seen it personally.

Disclaimer: I work for a midwestern branch of a major company based in California, and I've never worked in any of the major tech hubs.

There's a real problem here that comes down to the status-quo of the office. Imagine your office of 100 people is 50% male/female, and a nice sampling of racial groups, sexualities and ages (I've had the fortune to work in such a place). What happens is that there is sufficient diversity and commonality between enough people of their varying interests, looks and views, that you find it completely unnecessary to make comments about what someone is wearing, or whether their gender deems them capable. I say again, the problem with the high-tech industry is there is simply not enough diversity. Now we can't fix this today or tomorrow, maybe not in 10 years, but you can certainly imagine that it's there. With any comment, consider what is appropriate given a hypothetical situation where there is a good balance of whatever-stereotype-you-are-addressing and go from there.

So hey HN, if we really are gonna go on a crusade against objectification and gender roles, why does it almost always have to be about women playing victim?

Any guy could whip up blog posts about daily situations where specific (not necessarily superior) roles are imposed upon them by society simply because they are men.

I get told all the time by the ladies (even if jokingly) that I should put on some weight so I am more of a man.

I get asked all the time and it is assumed of me even more times to carry the bags because I am the man in the situation.

Aren't there centuries old idea about being a "gentleman"? Where you are expected to hold the door for the woman, buy her stuff etc.

Aren't there studies that men are much less likely to report rape than women? Shouldn't that be much more appalling to all than some of the pettier examples posted on HN recently?

I like to joke around and have a good time while doing serious work. This isnt some profound optimization technique, just something that makes my day happier and usually that of those around me. However, my general rule of thumb is to never directly engage a female at the workplace outside of a purely professional, subdued necessity. They are too sensitive. While I know I have good intentions and care for their happiness, not everyone has the same level of empathy. So I simply avoid getting grouped into the fratboy category even when I really do want them to just lighten up a bit. I personally find blanket invitations to after-work drinks to be a better environment to get more friendly with the ladies on the team, most will drop their shields a few notches.

I can tell you from experience that women in the workplace are fine with joking around and having a laugh. The folks in my office have very casual and friendly relationships and we often find ourselves discussing, and joking about, very sensitive topics, the women included.

The issue is not that women are too sensitive to joke with or talk with about these things. The issue is when those jokes are made at the expense of women, targeted at women, or degrading to women. And that's going to be true for most women both in and out of the workplace.

So far all the women on my team are fantastic and can give and take in equal measure to any of the guys.

I fear the day we hire a hypersensitive woman and the entire office becomes censored.

I think both behaviors provide continuation to the problem. On one side, the people who is actually sexist, or racist, or just believe in stereotypes. In the another, the people who also believes that the rest of the people are biased towards their sex, skin color or condition. Ignoring information that is not interesting or useful for us is the best tool we have to not be hurt by other people so easily, get stronger and prepared to survive in an unfair society and preserve freedom of speech. Nobody wants to be negatively discriminated, but does somebody think positive discrimination is the solution? I believe is the same social problem after all.

You know, I come to HN mostly for the enlightened commentary on the news articles that are posted. Yet anytime something related to sexism in the industry comes up, I am stunned at some of the comments.

Yes. It is hard being a woman in the industry. It is hard being a woman in general. But the worst part is seeing how many men think we act like an entirely different species, and its disheartening. Sometimes, comments speak of women as if we don't even read this site.

Obviously there are many cultural and sociological norms at play here, but I expect more from this community. I guess thats my fault.

The same story when anything involving race comes up.

> All I did was make a joke about you needing to be in the kitchen!

I'm a fellow programmer, and a guy (if it matters), but whenever I hear this exact comment (luckily for me I didn't hear it from any of my present or past co-workers, only distant acquaintances) I almost literally start to boil. Are some of us men really, I mean really that stupid?!

Again, luckily for me most of my career as a programmer has been spent in small non-software specific firms (5 to 20 people) where the female to male ratio was in most cases higher than 50%, so that I didn't have to hear this misogynistic and stupid crap.

I'm a bit late to the party here but isn't she being sexist too?

For example, with the notes issue - how does she know that she is being chosen because she's female. She probably doesn't. She's probably assuming that's the reason, because men are misogynist pigs, right?

It's one of those situations where we can't tell at all. The mens rea, if there is one, is hidden.

Why doesn't she assume that she takes the best notes or that the boss thinks that because of her CV [made up example:] having documentation experience or the best English pass scores of the group that she'll be the best note taker.

Reading through the article and the comments here it seems to me that there is a tremendous unresolved tension. There seems to be an idea that we just 'fix the sexism' and that's that. However, stepping back and asking harder questions makes me think the problems are fundamental to highly developed capitalist economies. Before you mod me down, at least read the rest of what I have to say.

Everything we do-- what we wear, how we walk, the way we talk, sends subtle social signals, and these impact all areas of life. Two fundamental (and increasingly entwined) areas of life are sexuality (without which our race dies out) and economic (without which, each of us dies individually). These are tremendously entertwined, with over half of Americans having dated co-workers (see: http://www.forbes.com/sites/susanadams/2012/02/10/the-state-...).

So it seems to me that, particularly single, women navigating the modern workplace are trying to navigate two fundamentally conflicting desires. The first is to be professional and not be open to the problem of being offered promotions for sexual favors, or retaliation for declining such offers, and the second is to find romance, companionship, love, etc. The fact that workplace romances are so common cannot be discounted in this area.

And so you have two key questions:

1) How do you define appropriate boundaries? This is a hellishly difficult problem in the context of the workplace.

2) If boundaries aren't bright but involve a lot of give and take, then doesn't that fundamentally mean that there will be a lot of behavior that will fall outside of that which is desirable?

I honestly don't see how you solve that problem.

On the gender role issue, I am a firm believer that one is generally better off making such tasks as taking notes or arranging potlucks things which are volunteer, and then if that fails, rotated, eliminating those who can't do it reasonably well.

But beyond that........ As long as so much of our social spheres surround work, and that's where a lot of opportunity for dating (both for men and women) lies, I just don't buy that you can wish away unwanted attention.

I think another commenter in this thread had a good answer (it was his understanding of California law). You can politely ask a coworker on a date, but if that person declines, then you drop it.

And if that co-worker says, "I can't. I am busy tonight"

Does that mean you can't ever ask again?

Or if you ask five times and are politely but not definitively turned down can you ask five more times? 25 more times? Is there no limit?

Now we might say there is an obligation to say something definitive. But then you get into a problem. What if there is a power difference? What if you are a general manager of one business unit asking a floor worker in a different business unit out on a date? Maybe the floor worker is afraid if she hurts your feelings, there will be career consequences? So does that change things?

I don't think sexuality (and that includes romance if we are honest) admits of really simple rules except maybe magic safe words. These things also thrive on mixed messages. Magic safe words ("no" and "stop") protect against the worst problems (sexual assault) but not unwanted attention (how am I supposed to definitively know whether the attention is wanted or not? I can't read minds....), and they don't address the areas where people may want to try to get out of something letting the other person down gently.

"When asked, most men will gallantly express their admiration for women in general and profess a profuse love for their mates in particular. Despite these touching personal testimonials, society is rife with misogyny and patriarchy. A cursory glance at the current newspapers or television news reveals a global society in which the majority of men disdain women. While some cultures are more egalitarian than others, men's actions suggest that they believe firmly in their superiority over women.

-Leonard Schlain (Sex, Time, and Power)

What a trainwreck of a comments section.

If your immediate knee-jerk response is to try to point out why it's her fault without reflecting on her points, you're part of the problem.

I hope one day we can all work in environments that are completely non-hostile. Some jobs seem to be a lot more rough than others, in my experience. I've never had to deal with sexism or prejudice but i've had my share of crap to take from coworkers. I've also worked with highly professional, straight-laced people who know not to be asshats and treat people fairly.

I really hope you don't stop doing what you love because of where you work.

I am very glad this subject is being discussed here. The subtle sexism in the tech industry has always been disturbing to me as a man and I can only imagine how women must feel about it. Sexism in our industry is not only offensive it is counterproductive. It saddens me to think of the great female innovators that may be turned off from entering the industry because it is seen as unwelcoming to them.

"Oop, Katie's got the low cut dress on today! I know where I'm sitting!"

Anyone says that at my workplace and they will be shown the door in less than 120 seconds.

Honestly, I'm OK with the first part of the comment. It's the latter part which irks (most) people.

Had it been "Katie's got the low cut dress on today! Going out tonight?" then I think it's acceptable.

It's bizarre, I'm sure if I made any of those comments to women at university I would quickly become pretty unpopular.

So is this just a problem of the previous generation or a problem specific to the workplace?

I really do feel for the author, I can't imagine how awful it must be to put up with that kind of thing everyday.

My wife is a programmer. I hear you!

Is anyone else bothered by the fact that of the 752 comments on this thread at the moment probably >700 were written by men? Isn't it potentially sexist in and of itself to have a large discussion about this subject exclusively between men?

AFAIK, ycombinator forum software does not make a sex/gender distinction. I don't see how it could be sexist.

Being labeled a sexist is a terrible thing. Saying that a discussion by man on the subject is sexist seems potentially sexist because it implies that man should not discuss because they are man.

in no way a contradiction of anything, or a statement of what is correct in the workplace just an observation on human relations as it relates to this topic:

A.) Women would not like to be treated by men as men treat other men in the workplace. You might think so, but I think you'd find it is also inappropriate, just in different ways.

B.) Men would not like to be treated as women often treat other women in the workplace. You might think so, but I think you'd find it is also inappropriate, just in different ways.

which leads me to:

C.) It is difficult for either gender to rigorously define appropriate asexual behavior towards one another, as their behavior is (generally) genuinely sex-aware.

I just can't relate to this post. I can't say you are inventing things, but maybe change companies a little, discover something different, don't just complain. As consultant I see quite a lot of different companies and believe I have good idea what can be seen.

I am annoyed by childish behavior of my colleagues, this has nothing to do with me being able to handle it, just I would like to work somewhere where I don't have to deal with it all the time. Also, some female colleagues left field because constant learning was just too much for them and they wanted someplace where they don't have to invest so much of them. Totally reasonable.

Again, can't relate to what you are describing and your description is in no way characteristic for IT, it might be corporate lack of culture in your workplace.

Sorry to play the HN etiquette bot, but you're being downvoted because you basically replied to a post saying, "don't dismiss my concerns when you don't share them" by dismissing her concerns because you don't share them.