Blowjob Jokes and Exclusionary Tactics in the Workplace

Emily Heist Moss wants us to be able to talk about the appropriateness of sexual conversations in the workplace, instead of just dismissing concerns.

When I was 18, I waited tables at an Italian restaurant in my hometown. The staff was the typical collection of teenagers, college drop-outs, townies, and single moms you’d expect at a suburban casual dining establishment. Our boss, Jeff, was an outrageous flirt, but his banter was generally accepted as a harmless, occasionally welcome distraction from the frenzy of the dinner rush. One night, at the pre-dinner staff meeting, Jeff lectured us on the proper cleaning technique for the mini-fridges under the counter. You had to kneel down to get at the back corners, he explained. He paused, pointing to one waitress, “Come on, Kari, you know what it’s like to spend plenty of time on your knees….” And then, while the entire staff looked on, he made the classic tongue-in-cheek blowjob gesture.

At the end of the night, I went to Jeff’s office where he was tallying receipts. I politely told him that I’d found his comment at staff meeting to be offensive. I said that, although we worked in a casual, intimate environment, he was the boss and it was his job to set a higher bar for appropriate humor. He rolled his eyes, pointed to a poster on the wall, and said, “There’s the hot line for sexual harassment if you want to call it.” I didn’t, but I wish that I had.

Jeff’s blowjob gag was not directed at me, and I was not the one being disparaged in front of my coworkers. Kari, the target, may even have found it amusing. At the very least, I didn’t bump into her on the way to Jeff’s office to file my complaint. As an employee of Jeff’s, however, the indirect implications of his joke rippled out and created, for me, a hostile work environment. The joke itself was sexually inappropriate, but the real damage it caused was the condoning of a certain type of objectifying humor. In responding to my rebuke with dismissive hostility, he denied me a safe and comfortable process for discussing my concerns. Jeff was supposed to be the guy I turned to if I felt harassed by another employee. He was supposed to be an impartial and fair resource for the whole staff. Instead, his behavior created a space where that kind of commentary was sanctioned by the management.

♦◊♦

Many years later, I was at a work event, sitting at a table with half a dozen male coworkers I’d never met before. One of them, in casual conversation, used the expression “sucking dick.” The remark wasn’t directed at me ,and it wasn’t even about oral sex; it was merely a turn of phrase he’d chosen to describe some asexual phenomenon. Mid-sentence, he turned directly to me, “Oh man… I’m… uh, I’m really sorry… Was that offensive? Did that bother you? I didn’t mean to… Well, I hope you weren’t… Yeah…..Sorry.” I assured him his language didn’t bother me in the slightest. He sighed with relief, beginning his story anew. “Wait,” he said, whipping back to me one last time, “Are you a lesbian?” I balked. I don’t think anyone, much less a co-worker, has ever asked me my sexual orientation, point-blank. His question put me in the awkward position of revealing personal information to a slew of colleagues or pointedly refusing in front of the table. I let a raised eyebrow convey my discomfort, and he let the question drop.

After the fact, the whole exchange struck me as preposterous. I had never been offended by the language choice, but I didn’t appreciate being singled out as the only person at the table who might have been. Most of all, I really didn’t like being put on the spot about my sexual orientation.

For many professional women, depending on their industry, the feeling of exclusion is much more subtle and potentially damaging than outright sexism. Had this guy made a sexist comment at me, I know my rights and my options for defending them. This guy, however, was singling me out for specific comment because of my gender. It’s equivalent to a teacher calling on a black student to ask how he feels about reparation politics. From the moment he asked me, and only me, my feelings on his word choice, it was obvious that I was somehow a different type of colleague than the rest of the table. It was as if, since I didn’t a penis, I was an obstacle to the flow of conversation, instead of a contributor to it.

These kind of exclusionary tactics may seem surface deep—and they are—but they often facilitate professional divisions that damage women’s careers in the long run. A friend of mine had a boss who used to send pictures of women in bikinis to all the men on her team. She found herself excluded from email chains with substantive work content because she hadn’t been included on the original raunchy note. He also prefaced conference calls with, “Hey guys, just want to let you know that Becca is on the line… watch your words!” How inappropriate was their conversation if this sort of preemptive warning was necessary? Suddenly Becca is depicted as an impediment to the project instead of a part of it.

♦◊♦

The most important distinction between the restaurant experience and my “Are you a lesbian?” interrogation was the quality of management. I later recounted the dinner conversation to my male supervisor. He laughed with me at the absurdity of it, but he also made sure to ask if I wanted him to intervene on my behalf. I assured him that all was well. I had complete confidence in my boss that, should I ever need his support regarding some gender-related colleague issue, he had my back.

It’s a fine line between, “You look nice today,” “You look nice today” with a leering grin and an ogling chest-level stare, and “You look nice today” if you’re worried that not looking nice might cost you your job. Contextualizing a workplace conversation helps us determine what falls on which side of the harassment line, but it’s still a distinction that’s extremely difficult to articulate, and even harder to prove. A company can’t control the actions or words of an individual employee. They can only set policies that create clear expectations of what is acceptable work behavior, and provide an easy, hassle-free avenue to address issues.

I wish I had called that hotline five years ago. Kari may have found Jeff’s blowjob joke hilarious, but my personal level of comfort took a tumble. Everyone deserves a workplace where they feel safe, respected, and heard, and damn, did that man need a refresher course.

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About Emily Heist Moss

Emily Heist Moss is a New Englander in love with Chicago, where she works at a tech start-up. She's a serious reader and a semi-pro TV buff. She writes about gender, media, and politics at her blog, Rosie Says. (Follow her: @rosiesaysblog, find Rosie Says on Facebook). 

Comments

  1. Emily, a couple thoughts: I agree that your first boss, Jeff, was outrageously out-of-line in his dismissiveness towards your discomfort — though perhaps the initial joke was intended in a friendly fashion. (His reaction to your complaint makes that seem unlikely.) I only mention this because in my workplace (military) we say shockingly offensive things to each other all the time (at least I’m told normal people would be offended). The practice is friendly in nature, though of course there is a competitive edge to it.

    As far as your second conversation goes, I don’t think it’s accurate (or even fair) to refer to that as an “exclusionary tactic.” Sure, his question about your sexual orientation was way out-of-line, but I would say that his initial attempt to correct himself was an attempt to be respectful, not to highlight your difference. My impression of your writing on here is not that you feel the need to have people cater to your personal sensitivities, but we men are often told (by many other women) that this is necessary in order to make women feel included in male-dominated spaces: make sure to ask her what she thinks about everything, don’t use coarse language or interact with each other the way male friends typically do, keep conversations limited to broadly-accessible topics based on gender stereotypes (e.g. don’t discuss football because maybe, as a woman, she won’t like football and she’ll feel left out). In other words, note that there is a woman in your presence and change your behavior accordingly. I find it more likely that your colleague was trying to juggle this advice than that he was excluding you.

    • I don’t know, It sounds like the gentlemen are being passive aggressive about the power dynamic in the work place. I think they’re intentionally saying off color comments followed by throwing themselves at the mercy of the all powerful Sexual Harassment victim.

      It’s little childish.

    • Julie Gillis says:

      “we men are often told (by many other women) that this is necessary in order to make women feel included in male-dominated spaces:”

      So if it is a white dominated space, do you get to leave african americans out? If it is a hispanic dominated work place, is it polite for them to make a white employee feel included?

      We are all people, yes? All humans? And while we all have different cultural backgrounds and ways of communicating. But in a work place, while there does need to be cameraderie, there also exists the awareness that not everyone is the same. So there are standards of behavior placed on employees so that everyone feels relatively included and safe.

      I hear men saying, women should toughen up. But why should we toughen up just so a man can make blow job jokes about a young female employee? Or why should an african american need to toughen up about race jokes?

      Why not meet more in the middle. Everyone needs to learn to filter based on environment, I’d say. Just like with the porn on airplanes piece. It’s a public space that we all share. Is there some kind of common denominator in place we can agree on?

      The pushback all seems so much like workplace sour grapes to me, I have to admit. That people are being asked to do the work of differentiating which behavior is ok at which location and then to filter themselves accordingly, when in the past they didn’t have to.

      No, you really can’t ask me if my curtains match my drapes in a work place, you really can’t. In a bar? Backstage at a theater? At a drunken party? Maybe so. Those are different environments and cultures and as such people have different filters.

      • I think you’re misunderstanding. Emily was complaining that the group used an “exclusionary tactic” by apologizing for saying “sucking dick.” She stated that she wasn’t offended but that it bothered her they felt the need to treat her differently by thinking she might be the one offended. I’m merely stating to her that, per your comment, men are often told to moderate themselves based on their audience so these guys were probably trying to do the right thing.

        • Julie Gillis says:

          Ah, sorry. I misread.

        • MorgainePendragon says:

          Rick, I think YOU’RE misunderstanding. Emily stated (to her co-worker and to her audience here) that the ‘sucking dick’ expression didn’t bother her:

          ” I assured him his language didn’t bother me in the slightest.”

          What DID bother her was his exclusionary tactic of asking her about her sexuality:

          ‘He sighed with relief, beginning his story anew. “Wait,” he said, whipping back to me one last time, “Are you a lesbian?” I balked. I don’t think anyone, much less a co-worker, has ever asked me my sexual orientation, point-blank. His question put me in the awkward position of revealing personal information to a slew of colleagues or pointedly refusing in front of the table.’

          I’m not sure if your misunderstanding is just that, an honest mistake, or an intentional (as so often happens) attempt to sidetrack the issue and make it about something it’s not at all about.

          CLEARLY it is exclusionary (not to mention offensive) for someone you don’t know very well in a profession setting to ask you your sexual preference or anything else about your sexuality that is designed to illustrate your ‘difference’ from the rest.

          Even if that wasn’t clear from that particular example, Ms Moss made it clear in the other examples she used.

          • “I hear men saying, women should toughen up. But why should we toughen up just so a man can make blow job jokes about a young female employee… It’s a public space that we all share. Is there some kind of common denominator in place we can agree on?”

            Sure but the common denominator should be much much lower. We don’t live in the 1950’s anymore. Television discusses blowjobs. Sex is depicted. Vulgar language is common. It may have made sense 50’s years ago to censor language because women were not used to it. But now they are so I don’t see why anything at all should be censored.

            I also feel like this is just something women like to do. Set up arbitrary rules and then get men to jump through hoops. This is the female method of demonstrating dominance over men. But I don’t really want to submit. Why should I have to. Men built the companies, constructed the economy. Why should we change to accommodate women. Why shouldn’t you change to accommodate us? You talk about meeting in the middle…what accommodation have women made exactly. Seems to me like they have done nothing except complain.

            • Again, I’ll ask this from a different angle. If you are in a 50-70% white environment (after all whites built the company) and you have a habit of enjoying some racist humor, should the blacks just toughen up and deal with it?

              Why shouldn’t they change to accommodate you? Seems like they have done nothing but complain about pesky hiring policies and equality in the workplace after all. Or is that another method of black dominance over whites?

              End sarcastic example.

              The short answer is because we are all human beings and human beings might could take better care of each other yes? Why is this about “submission” to the great lash of feminism and not about just treating people well?

              I feel tempted to go on to discuss the many accommodations that women might make in the workplace, but am pretty sure you’d just mock me, and I’ve got a full day ahead of me so I’m gonna leave that to Lori, Aya or LIsa.

            • “Why is this about “submission” to the great lash of feminism and not about just treating people well?”

              Its more than submitting to the great lash of feminism…its submitting to the great lash of women, society and everything else. I don’t really want to submit to anything at all. Not the women with their rules. Not the society with its rules. Not the workplace rules. I want to come late. I want to dress however I want to dress. Say what I want to say. Live with few restrictions. That is my nature.

              “you have a habit of enjoying some racist humor, should the blacks just toughen up and deal with it?”

              Good question. Depends on the humour. There is humour that is mean and comes from hatred. And there is joking around. I don’t have a problem with racist humour and I am not white. I don’t have a problem with stereotypes and humour based on it. In contrast to feminist I think it is funny. I have a problem with people who hate me, exclude me and purposely do things to hurt me. The underlying intention is important. There is plenty of racist humour and ribbing on the Big Bang but I don’t have a problem with it because its good-natured.

              The guy who made the blowjob joke wasn’t excluding you, didn’t hate you. There is zero evidence of this. But you had a problem with him because he didn’t follow respect an arbitrary boundary you created. My sympathies are with him not you.

            • Assman,
              I’m actually okay with their being anti-harassment rules in place, and some level of speech codes. I think most speech codes and anti-harassment rules are on the heavy handed side.

              My main thrust would be if the work-sphere needs to change to accommodate women to facilitate equality, then the same should happen in family spheres. While hundreds of companies have been having their first time CEO, and women have been blazing a trail as astronauts, supreme court judges, and presidential candidates the rate for fathers to win sole physical custody of their children have remained fixed for 40 years. Fathers have a 1 to 13 chance versus mothers of winning physical custody.

              Progress for one gender is not progress.

      • John Anderson says:

        @ Julie Gillis

        “Is there some kind of common denominator in place we can agree on? ”

        I completely agree. That’s why I oppose the reasonable man and reasonable woman standard. If a reasonable woman feels something is harassment, but a reasonable man doesn’t then he has no criminal intent and is not guilty of harassment. If a reasonable woman feels that a behavior is harassment and a reasonable man doesn’t, she has criminal intent whether he knew he was victimized is irrelevant.

        The only reason having two standards makes sense is if you apply a double double standard. A reasonable woman would believe that a woman touching a man’s shoulder would not constitute sexual harassment. A reasonable man would believe that a woman touching a man’s shoulder would not be sexual harassment. A reasonable man would believe that touching a woman’s shoulder would be sexual harassment. A reasonable woman would believe that a man touching a woman’s shoulder would be sexual harassment.

        I have no problem with a standard just a double double standard.

  2. Women comprise over 50% of the workforce and over 50% of supervisors and managers. Therefore, the odds of men being made to feel excluded are higher than women. Simply based on the numbers.

  3. I happen to value banter in the workplace; it’s fun, and if done right can contribute to a good social climate in the workplace. Unfortunately, inappropriate banter is far too common. Some of it *does* come from people who just do not get it, but in my experience the most common situations are like the ones you describe – people who generally mean well and do have a clue, but experience brain failure or have misunderstood what is “funny” in a workplace setting.

    I think you did the right thing in the two situations. In the first situation, speaking up is the key. Your manager might have waved it off, but he might very well have learned from it anyway. Lots of people have a hard time recognizing right away when they’ve been out of line, not to mention admit it to a staff member – but there’s a good chance it will give him reason to think again and adjust future behaviour.

    Speaking up is key to making changes. I know it’s no very nice to always be that guy or gal who “can’t take a joke”, but in the long run it works. And, yes – it’s really helpful if the blokes speak up.

  4. So you had one boss who made inappropriate comments and created a potentially hostile workplace, then several years without problems working other jobs, then you had a second experience where a man made an inappropriate comment. Those are unacceptable comments to be sure, but considering how few and far between those experiences were, they were obviously the exception for you and not the rule for your work history with men. It seems like you are trying to make this seem far more wide-spread than it actually is. You can’t stop every jerk you encounter in life from being a jerk. Speak-up when it happens, report it if necessary, and then get back to work.

    • The point is it shouldn’t happen at all. Saying she’s exaggerating about something that clearly is a problem and clearly affected her is such misdirection and so besides the point, I can’t even.

      • Yes, it shouldn’t happen at all. But like I stated, you can’t stop every jerk you encounter in life from being a jerk. If these situations are only occuring rarely, which seems to be the case with this writer, then its a problem of encountering individual jerks, not men in the workplace or men in authority. When you cast the behaior of a few indiviuals to an entire group, that’s called stereotyping, Gaby. Heard of it? That’s not besids the point, that IS the point. If you can’t grasp that Gaby, then I can’t even!

    • No, not “several years later”, “MANY years later.”

      Not much of a foundation upon which to frame men in general (by implication) but not women as guilty of workplace gender discrimination. But if you’re determined to grasp at straws, any straw will do.

  5. My employment has been in the medical and educational fields, and I have many jobs where I was in the minority, at least, by gender.
    Ms. Heist Moss, Ms. Gillis, you might be surprised at the dynamic I’ve experienced while working in these environments. I don’t want to turn it into a martyrdom contest, but I will say thay some of the ways men are treated when women are the majority in the workplace are fairly toxic. If you don’t believe me, just think back to high school and the ‘mean girls.’
    I’m not saying I don’t like working with women. I do, and I’m not willing to change careers because of the male/female ratio of these careers.
    My wish is that y’all look at these issues with a more egalitarian viewpoint.

    • Julie Gillis says:

      I wish that everyone treated each other better. I’m plenty aware of the way women perpetrate violence on each other and also on men. People can be jerks all the way round.

      • Quite true. So why don’t we ever see any articles calling out _women’s_ bad behavior?

        • Oh, Copyleft.

          I’m rehearsing tonight but I’m of a mind to find articles about those very subjects just for you. I’m sure the Spearhead has a few, or Roissy, or TMZ for more mainstream tastes about naughty movie stars. Or the news about women like that chick who was just on trial for apparently killing and/or hiding her kids body? Caylee something?

          If you are referring to why GMP doesn’t, I suspect it’s because they are focusing on Men, both the behaviors that would be positive and some that is considered negative.

          • It seems to me that one of the biggest issues men face is how women behave badly to us and disappoint us on a regular basis. Feminist sites have such discussions all the time about how awful men are, but this forum makes nary a mention of female misconduct.

            • Then please provide us with links, copyleft. Write an article and submit it. Don’t just complain in dribs and drabs, be proactive and assertive and write posts that lay out just how we women disappoint all men on a regular basis. Start a blog, make videos and so forth.

            • Oh Julie. The point is that most problems written about and blamed on men are not “men” problems as they are so often portrayed by feminists and women like yourself. Those very same behaviors are also exhibited by women, which makes them HUMAN problems. You may wish that those individual who point out that FACT would just go away and do their own thing, but we won’t. We will comment here each and every time we see femininst bias against men. After all, this is supposedly a site for men and about men.

            • Actually, I’ve been quite vocal here and in my day to day life about focusing on humans treating humans better, boys and girls getting equal and fair treatment in schools, straights and LGBT getting bullying protection, etc ad nauseum. I’m a feminist, sure, but a humanist, a diplomat, and a proponent of love, compassion and everybody trying to not be jerks to each other.

              (I’m also aware during various points in history, groups have decided to stomp on other groups. Men on women, whites on blacks, straights on gays, women on kids so forth and so on. People can be terrible)

              Regardless, I don’t wish that people would go away, Luckey. I wish that people would be assertive and proactive in how they want things to be rather than just doing drive by passive aggressive comments that don’t really do much but bait other commenters (guilty of being baited).

              I just don’t think baiting does much good for anyone and so I’m personally gonna stop responding to those particular comments. But I just don’t see much point in complaining if you aren’t gonna write/take a stand etc in a way that makes an actual change.

              But I’m certainly not going to stop anyone from commenting, even if I could.

            • “But I just don’t see much point in complaining if you aren’t gonna write/take a stand etc in a way that makes an actual change.”

              – Writing and taking a stand in the comments section in response to an article can be just as effective or ineffective to making “an actual change” as an article itself. BTW, pointing out factual information, incorrect assumptions, or the fallacy of someone’s argument is not baiting or being passive aggressive.

            • I have no issues with information being corrected (with cites preferably, though I know all of us are busy and can be hard to take that time). I do have a hard time with snark and sarcasms, because it doesn’t really add much to the conversation. Are the folks engaging in dialogue, or arguing in good faith, but just doing drive by angry comments that poke at the other commenters or the author.
              I suppose it gets down to: are you (the general you) using the site and comments to let off steam and frustration? Or to be in a dialogue.

            • Why can’t it be both, Julie?

              TGMP is a place for men to discuss men’s issues. Quite simply, feminism has no place in that discussion (except, perhaps, on the list of problems we have to deal with).

              If you want a link for rational, thoughtful discussions of the problems with feminism, check out http://www.feministcritics.org/blog.

              In the meantime, we men will continue to stand up to feminist male-bashing both here and everywhere else it occurs. There’s no reason for us to put up with a barrage of anti-male messages, stereotypes, and blamefests HERE of all places.

    • Hi Mike,

      Thanks for your comment. I absolutely agree that this kind of workplace issue can happen with the genders flipped. It can also affect different racial groups, religions, sexual orientations etc. I can only address my own situation, since I have no experience being the “other” in a way besides the one that I am. But, that being said, I completely agree that there are fields where men may be made to feel uncomfortable, and that that is equally inappropriate.

      Emily

    • Mike,
      Thanks for making that point.  This issue is usually presented as if we are in 1950 where women comprised a small percentage of the workforce instead of here in 2011 where women are the majority of workers and bosses, and in some cases the vast majority – such as in the medical field.   So, clearly, this goes both ways, not just one.
       

  6. - You showed your boss that his behavior was acceptable by not making that call.

    – Most likely there will be situations where the woman feels like an outsider, because the men will lessen their interactions with her or watch their language around her for fear of punishment

  7. GMP

    Please stop telling just one side of the story. For example when talking about sexual harassment in the work place, include women’s sexually aggressive attire and how flashing cleavage for effect creates a sexual atmosphere or how the problem isn’t gendered. Take a male or egalitarian perspective, the feminist slant is inappropriate, inaccurate and narrow.

    “Men victims of sexual harrassment

    Men were more likely to be sexually harassed in the workplace than women, according to new academic research.

    Behavioural scientists Dr Don Hine and Roberta Martin from the University of New England also found that men had greater difficulty coping with sexual harassment and were more likely to quit their job because of it than women.

    The academics based their research on a questionnaire participants filled out anonymously that asked if they had been sexually harassed in the past year. It also asked participants to describe the type of the harassment they were subjected to. Participants were not asked the gender of the person who had harassed them.

    “We found 88.7 per cent of males had experienced a form of sexual harassment in the past year compared to 82.5 per cent of females,” Dr Hine said.

    “What we found is that for both males and females, sexual harassment was associated with increased levels of psychological distress and decreased levels of job satisfaction,” he said.

    “However, sexual harassment is associated with increased intentions to quit one’s jobs for males only. Men also neglect workplace tasks where females don’t,” Dr Hine said.

    “Females may be coping better with sexual harassment in the workplace that males are but I would suggest most of the interventions put into place focus on sexual harassment of women.”

    Dr Hines said that women were probably more likely to discuss the harassment with their support network where men could fear ridicule if they mentioned the harassment to friends.

    “I think sexual harassment of men in the workplace is something that has been overlooked,” Dr Hine said.

    “Sexual harassment is definitely a problem for both men and women but given our findings there should be a shift in focus to ensure men are adequately prepared to deal with this sort of stress in the workplace,” said Dr Hine. ”
    http://feck-blog.blogspot.com/search/label/Sexual%20Harassment

    • Julie Gillis says:

      I’ll review this link. If this is the case, then I”d say we need to do some serious work with everyone as they grow up to cease the behavior (bullying). It’s not fair in either direction.

    • I’ve had women start talking about their ex boyfriends, and believe me it can get pretty uncomfortable very fast. I usually attempt to leave the area if possible.

  8. I really do not care for the direction this article seems to suggest we should head in.

    I cannot speak for others, but personally I am not in favor of becoming a slave to the idiosyncracies of other people.

    As a man, I often put up with insults that attack the very core of my sexual self-confidence. I’m short. This has always been pointed out in both innocent and not-so-innocent comments. Men are not supposed to be short. Being short is not manly. I’m also a graduate student. Graduate students are broke. Being broke is not manly, men are supposed to have high paying jobs (at least according to Kate Bolick). My hairline is receding. Regardless of what people think of Patrick Stewart, in the majority of mainstream culture, balding is not manly.

    But I also recognize that whether or not comments relating to any of these conditions offends me is, well, up to me.

    So when I read an article entitled “Could I date a bus driver?” on the GMP, I could choose to get offended. After all, anyone who has read Jane Austen knows that wealth is a source of sexual attraction to women. So, in a sense, “Could I date a bus driver?” written by a woman is not so different from a man writing “Could I date a woman with small breasts?”

    But what would I gain from being offended, other than the self-satisfaction of being indignant? And what do I gain by being offended by being called short or bald? Anything? Stress? Self-importance? The “right” to be angry? I’m not sure.

    Yet when I choose not to be offended I am sure of what I gain: I get back the time I would have wasted being offended. I get back the self confidence I would have lost pretending that being short, bald, or poor is a defining feature of who I am. And I get back the power I would have given up to anyone who was silly enough to believe that I was so weak a careless word could cause me to break down.

    What offends any of us is going to be idiosyncratic. We are not all black or white; fat or thin; hetero or any of the groups currently encompassed in LGBTQAAII2 (as I recently saw the acronym written). There is a lot about ourselves that we cannot choose, but what offends us is definitely within our purview. Being offended might provide short term satisfaction, but it’s difficult to believe it brings the long-term gains that come from accepting yourself to the point where you need not be offended by the statements of others.

    So, sure, blowjob jokes are offensive to some people. But are we better off when we all demand that everyone conform to behavior that does not offend us? Or are we maybe better off when we stop being offended in the first place?

    • Stray insults or comments are pretty easy to deflect. But if you were in an well playing work environment where day in and day out there was a disregard for your feelings on your height or financial status, where jokes about short dudes and their genitals (Im not sure what the jokes would be but you get the pictures), and if you finally asked for it to cease the group said…what’s your problem!’
      My guess is you’d probably either need to quit a good job or fight to have the culture changed. If you want to quit, cool. I think more people should reflect on, I don’t know, respecting each other as human beings and trying not to make people feel like crap, just cause something is funny to the other person.

      • But the point is, what makes any one individual “feel like crap” is inherently individual. Why should we all be beholden to the lowest common denominator?

        • Call me old fashioned but I guess the answer to your question is basic politeness and courtesy? If you’re with close friends who you know you won’t offend, then bring on the crass jokes – if they say something you don’t like, or you say something that they don’t like, they can tell you without it being uncomfortable. You don’t have that luxury with strangers or acquaintances, so it’s simply a matter of not being an immature ass.

          This is even more relevant when you have a group with privilege generally demeaning a group without privilege, to take this example men making women feel uncomfortable. This isn’t to say that men don’t have jokes made about them; it’s just to say that because women are the weaker ones in terms of the general power dynamic in society (e.g if a joke pisses her off she’s ‘on her period’) it makes the insult a double whammy. I’m a grad student in an environment where men are very much in the majority and I’m pretty fed up of the leering and smutty remarks from my fellow students; even if they’re not directed at me, it still creates a general environment where you feel pretty dehumanised. I’m glad you can choose not to get offended about your height or your hair but history does not have a consistent trend of treating shorter, balding men as objects or dismissing their opinions as irrational (even if that does happen from time to time). Additionally just because you or I (most of the time) can ‘see the funny side’, it doesn’t mean that it doesn’t take a mental effort to do that, which can get pretty trying. What sexist remarks in general do is reinforce the meat-market gender stereotypes, so just like with racist remarks, the empathy between people is degraded and ‘banter’ becomes the default mode of interaction. Which as well as hurting people’s feelings is well, boring.

          Essentially, echoing Julie’s point, we should all just be a bit nicer to and more considerate of one another. And whoever wrote the ‘Can I date a bus driver?’ is a total moron ;)

  9. So what offends the author is that she feels singled out because he apologized thinking he had offended her? Perhaps he realized belatedly that his comment may not have been seen as situation-ally appropriate .i.e. he forgot himself and what came into his head came out of his mouth. Everyone has situational lapses and when comprehension dawns an attempt is sometimes made to address it. Especially if the intent was not to offend or make anyone uncomfortable – at that point the attempt to recover may be well intentioned but less than graceful. Think of the intent behind the actions.

  10. I hate to say it, but every time I hear a blow job joke, I sort of stop wanting to participate in the act. Unless they’re super funny and/or integral in a comedy bit, BJ jokes tend to make something that’s supposed to be fun, hot, and awesome into something that’s degrading and creepy. Then again, ‘suck my d***’ is one of my favorite sayings. I’ll test out ‘lick my pus’ and see how it works. ^.^

    • Yeah, I don’t think straight men are doing themselves any favors by making blowjob “jokes” about women, especially in a context that makes it sound like giving blowjobs is an undesirable or demeaning act.

  11. Emily,

    I’ve worked in my fair share of restaurants and I’ve found generally the rules are a little more lax. That’s one of the only things I found appealing about it, to be honest. It’s clear you didn’t like your first manager’s remark, but I wonder how many of your co-workers did. If 90% of the people who worked there at the time appreciated his humor and only you and a few others didn’t, doesn’t that mean your manager is keeping the majority of his employees happy? You can’t please everyone, and he did give you the number to call to file your complaint. You failed to take him up on it.

    Your second example is just a case of a guy being a total idiot. He sounds clueless more than malicious, but either way it was inappropriate. I find the second example more damaging because, as you said, it put you on the spot to answer personal information about your sexuality that is nobody’s business. I see far more harm in that as compared to a boss gauging his employees and making a blowjob joke.

    • Thanks for the measured comment, Aaron. I’d agree that the second issue is more big-picture problematic. But let’s say that one of the other employees at the restaurant harassed me in a personal way (i.e. implied that i should give HIM a blowjob). Jeff’s brand of humor made me feel that I couldn’t take a legitimate (non-joke) sexual harassment issue to him, or that if I did, i wouldn’t get a respectful audience. It’s that climate of talking sexually about an employee that caused a problem for me. Making a blowjob joke into the air is different than directing one at an employee. I’m not averse to talking about sex in general, since I don’t find that offensive. I am averse to talking about a particular employee’s sexual behavior, or implied sexual behavior, when you’re the supervisor.

    • I dunno, is it really ok to entertain that 90% of people at the expense of making the other 10% feel really uncomfortable in place where they have to get along with everyone to earn a living? I don’t really think that’s cool. Can you honestly say you’d find it acceptable if your boss made fun of you in front of everyone in a really personal way, as long as the majority of people thought it was funny? I think as Emily says, this is unprofessional and the reason he gave her the number to call was probably because he knew she wouldn’t go through with it, as he felt and made Emily feel like she wouldn’t be taken seriously.

  12. Transhuman says:

    I do not expect friendship nor romance at any workplace I am in, in fact I would refuse it if it was offered. Gently but firmly. I have seen how destructive feminists are in the work place and the best approach I have found is to be neutral, say nothing that is not work associated. I take the view I am at work to earn a living, not to risk censure by some office Miss Manners.

    • Absolutely, thats the safest approach to take. The man in the second incident probably” soiled himself” when he realized what he said in the presence of a woman. He saw his whole carrear flash before his eyes. You said you weren’t offended, but if you decided you were, he was “Toast”. this is what men have to deal with everyday. You can come in one morning and be Mary Poppins, and the next day be Jenna Jaminson, and the guys have to figure out which is which. My good friend , who lived in the “Corporate Jungle” for many years told me of the “defensive measures” he needed to take. For instance, if he had to go out of town on business and it involved taking a female co-worker with him, he ate in his room or went out alone for dinner. If they got togeather to discuss business, it was only in the lobby or some public place. He explained to me that sexual harrasment is a “guilty until proven innocent” type of charge so you had to be extra careful.

  13. van Rooinek says:

    Simple oldfashioned (pre-feminist, pre-sexual revolution) POLITENESS would solve a lot of this.

    My dad’s generation would NEVER make blowjob jokes in a workplace environment, or perhaps anywhere.

    My mom was one of the original career women (starting in the 1940s) and if anyone had dared talk like that to her, or around, her, that man would have been fired and possibly beat up in the parking lot. She was NEVER sexually harassed.

    This is a NEW problem, historically speaking.

  14. John Anderson says:

    I’ve always felt that you treat people the way you’d like to be treated. I worked in a department that was all women except for me. My boss was female and her boss was female so as far as the department was concerned, the chain of command was women. They had a conversation once where they were vividly describing their underwear (not what they were necessarily wearing just what they bought). After about 10 minutes, I told them I had to leave. They seemed as embarrassed as I was. I think they forgot I was there. I never made a big thing about it because I don’t want people jumping down my throat if I say something.

    Another time they made a big deal out of me buying the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue even though its’ entire presence was in a bag hidden in a desk drawer and I took it home the same day. It’s only irritating because one of them brought a pornographic magazine to work and they all gathered to look at it, including the two bosses. Granted women’s pornography is probably only slightly more risqué than the swimsuit issue, it was still upsetting. I let that and the comments go.

    The main problem I have with sexual harassment laws is that they either hold men to a higher standard of behavior or they condone female perpetrated sexual harassment. Why do you think they have a reasonable man standard and a reasonable woman standard and not a reasonable person standard?

  15. HidingFromtheDinosaurs says:

    No one should be made to feel uncomfortable or alienated in their workplace by that kind of unprofessional behavior. I also don’t think there’s anything wrong with a woman voicing her personal experience with sexual harassment just because men’s experiences are under-represented. It’s a problem for anyone who’s ever been in the minority in a working environment and they should all feel at liberty to discuss their own issues and experiences.

    To add my personal experience to the discussion, I’ve never been harassed at work, but I have been in other activities. Because of my autism I have a hard time talking to people and making friends, so I try to alleviate that by joining clubs or classes about things I take an interest in. Unfortunately, I’m much more interested in arts and crafts than I am in more stereotypically masculine activities and, as a result, most of the other people in those groups and classes are women. Some of them are nice people, but they generally do a lot to exclude me from conversations, especially when I’m the only guy there. This usually involves prolonged discussions of terrible ex-boyfriends, periods, womens’ underwear, etc, but it also manifests itself in the ways they would interact with me when they did actually let me into the conversation. I particularly remember a sewing class I ended up leaving because all the women responded to my questions with a lot of hostility and kept claiming that I was trying to be “smart” or trying to prove that I was better than them when I was just asking why it was important to turn a seem in a certain direction or what made a certain stitch the best for what I was doing. I have a very hard time being around visibly angry women because of some rough childhood experiences, so I ended up quitting after three months. I’ve also felt excluded in classroom discussions, where my points aren’t considered to count for as much in discussions of sex and gender (given the contents of my film and literature classes, this is a big deal) and women are routinely allowed to shut me down by assigning me a ridiculous strawman argument instead of anything I’ve actually said (usually something to the effect of “I really don’t think we can consider that the protagonist of this 1980s Chinese short story is being forced to do housework by her husband because he seems perfectly willing to do it for her when she’s gone or ill, he never actually tells her to do anything and she never actually talks to him to express her dissatisfaction with the current arrangement”).

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  1. [...] week, the Good Men Project is running a series on business ethics. My contribution is a piece on sexual harassment. More specifically, I wrote about the fuzzy lines around sexual language in the modern (uber [...]

  2. [...] off for several hours. I want to write a response piece to the number of posts up recently about sexual harassment in the work place, sexual misconduct, whether [...]

  3. Life says:

    [...] piece originally appeared on the Good Men Project. Republished with [...]

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