Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Dude, Looks Like A Lady

It has been with increasing frequency that I have encountered men at work who refrain from using certain language or recounting certain stories for the sole reason that a female is present.

It usually goes like this: I am training at a new site and find myself among a group of men from a male-dominated department, such as maintenance. They begin to joke around about something, and sooner or later the conversation takes an inappropriate (read: sexual) turn. Then, upon remembering I am in the room, one will comment,

"I'd tell you the rest, but there's a lady present."

I never know whether or not to feel offended by this. I like the idea that they want to respect women. I don't like the idea that, in order to do so, they feel the need to censor themselves. I have the impulse to cry out that I'm an adult just like them, not a delicate flower whose virgin ears need protection. That it's not right to assume that, just because I'm a woman, I need to be shielded from dangerous assaults on my innocence.

But before I fly off on some feminist diatribe I need to remember that the reason this happens is not just because of men, but also because of women. Women are still taught to be squeamish about *certain* topics and words, and many will state explicitly that they are uncomfortable with some conversations just because they're women. This bugs me, because the only other group of people I can think of around whom adults modify their language for their protection is children.

When I was young and curious about things, I couldn't stand it when adults would stop short of revealing something juicy, only to glance at each other and agree to hold off until I was no longer in the room. Why, I wondered, did everyone assume that I could not, or would not, endure and understand the truth? I couldn't wait to grow old enough to know things. But now I often find that I am still not privy to certain anecdotes and language for the sole reason that I have a vagina. And it's not the fault of the employees who won't "go there" in front of me--it's the fault of sheltered, uptight bitches who cry to HR every time someone says the word "fuck" in their presence.

I'm tired of this shit. Yes, we're all going to modify ourselves a bit in front of people we don't know as well and loosen up more around those we work with, but let's try to keep the standard the same for everyone--either keep it super professional around both men and women, or be adults and deal with the language and anecdotes of the real world.

I would much rather have my insight and perspective valued than have the door held for me but be kept in the dark. Antiquated manners and notions of deference be damned--I want to be truly respected, not placated. To be listened to, not patted on the head.

So if you have a dirty story to tell, by all means, tell the whole thing without holding back. If I'm offended, it's because it's offensive. Not because I am a woman.


  1. I work with engineers and am on construction sites from time to time... and I am ALWAYS treated differently.

    I make it a point to wear loose clothing and little or no make-up to not emphasize that I am female.

    My closest co-workers know that I can tell the dirtiest jokes out there, but I hate the construction guys sizing me up and treating me like I am delicate and that I can't hear swearing or rude jokes.


    Seriously?... Reeeally??... Seriously?

  2. I know and work with plenty of women who can talk as dirty as blokes. There are some men who go to far and get all leery but most times people are adult about it. However there are always women AND men who will report what they see as inappropriate behaviour. These people are usually doing this for their own ends to curry favour with the bosses.

  3. Great post. I agree with you on this issue.

    There is a lot of reasons things are the way that they are. But on the flipside, some of the most messed up jokes I have heard at work have come from women. Hmm...

  4. @StephanieC: I understand the whole presenting yourself differently thing. I tend to try to emphasize that I don't do my nails or wear a ton of jewelry or makeup. But that doesn't always make a difference.

    @Tony: You're right that there are always whistleblowers who ruin it, like the girl who cried and had her daddy call the store because the manager had used the phrase "pain in the ass" in her presence.

    @OT: That's why it's funny to me when men shelter me just because I'm a young, quiet woman. I'm just as bad, if not worse. I guarantee I could tell them some jokes that'd make them blush.

  5. I totally agree that it doesn't always (in fact, often doesn't) make a difference.

    And we shouldn't have to do it, either.

    And I can make a guy blush, too. If some of these guys only knew...

  6. Excellent. I completely agree! I also work in a male dominated field have frequently have this happen to me. I grew up with nearly all male friends. I'm no stranger to these types of things. I don't need to be coddled. Today is about equality. So treat me like you would any other co-worker.

  7. I always find that as a woman, when men stop talking because I'm around, I just go on a rant about an inappropriate story and then they tend to get the idea. You know, there is a line between gruesome, gross and straight out offensive. Two of the three shouldn't matter because of gender.

  8. While I understand your point, I am not offended when a man chooses his words around me. I'm not offended because it doesn't happen nearly enough. Probably because my words are just as bad as theirs, but whatever. I had to go off on some guys once because they wouldn't restrain themselves in front of my then eight-year-old daughter. I think it's only out of respect, not condescension, that some guys exclude you from certain jokes.


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