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How not to talk to women in the workplace

By Heather Lansdowne 19 March 2015 48

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Recently I’ve been watching Channel Ten’s reality show Shark Tank, in which nervous entrepreneurs pitch their business ideas to a panel of “sharks” (successful millionaire businesspeople) with the hopes of securing investment. During the pitching process, I’ve noticed a contestant refer to one of the two female Sharks as “darling” on more than one occasion. I just can’t understand this. I mean, you wouldn’t walk into a room to pitch to Richard Branson and say “Hey stud, have I got a product for you!”

It’s a phenomenon I’ve come across in the workplace time and time again. This persistent belief that it is reasonable to use dismissive or overly familiar parlance with women, but not men, that you work with.

Another thing that irks a lot of people is that fully-grown women are often referred to as “girls” (as in “go and see the girls in accounts”). Newsflash: This is infantilising and insulting, and we don’t appreciate it. We’re not in primary school, so don’t treat us as such.

In addition to this, referring to groups of women as “girls” or “ladies” implies that the gender distinction is an important signifier. I’d much rather refer to groups in a non-gender specific way, as in “go and see the team in accounts”. This might seem overly PC, but I think that symbolism is important and subtle changes like this can help change people’s mindsets in a significant way.

I realise that I may have had a different experience to many Canberrans in that I have primarily worked in the private sector rather than the public service. I heard a great story about a job applicant losing the opportunity to be considered for a public sector job because he referred to the secretary as “honeybun,” and I applaud that decision. If I were an investor on Shark Tank, I’d like to think I would refuse to work with anyone who thought it was appropriate to use language like that with me.

But I’m interested to hear your views and experiences. What are your pet peeves for inappropriate language in the workplace? How does this language differ in the public and private sectors? Let me know in the comments!


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How not to talk to women in the workplace
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justsomeaussie 11:24 am 23 Mar 15

We need more gender equality. Women are woefully under represented in workplace deaths, manual labour, suicide and prisons to name a few. Let’s work towards creating a society where we have a 50/50 split of women and men in these areas.

And to reiterate feminism doesn’t not equal equality. As has been pointed out equality is egalitarianism. I’m all for women’s groups to push women’s issues the same I am for Aboriginal groups, Jewish, Greek, Muslim etc. But don’t try to convince me it’s about equality. It’s about their specific agenda and that’s perfectly acceptable.

Because if it was about equality then you’d be able to look a these organisations and see that their structures had accurately represented society but how many non Muslims are the head of Muslim organisation, of feminist organisations?

When feminism is about equality is when feminist organisations have an explicit agenda and quotas of men in their ranks and management.

How about rather than just dividing people more into little groups we just be humanists and work together as equals?

rubaiyat 10:49 am 23 Mar 15

Given the assumption of the importance of gender based language shaping sexual dominance, it might be interesting to note that both the German and Italian polite form for “you”, are “sie” and “lei”.

Both are actually “she”.

How has that worked at reducing patriarchal dominance or castrating the male population?

dungfungus 10:25 pm 22 Mar 15

Keijidosha said :

I’m surprised that nobody has mentioned the insidious use of the term ‘guys’ by pretty much anyone working in retail or hospitality when speaking to a group of customers, regardless of gender mix.

Would you be more comfortable if the terminology was expanded to include “dolls”?
I am alluding to the 1950’s Hollywood musical “Guys & Dolls”.

rubaiyat 4:15 pm 22 Mar 15

Keijidosha said :

I’m surprised that nobody has mentioned the insidious use of the term ‘guys’ by pretty much anyone working in retail or hospitality when speaking to a group of customers, regardless of gender mix.

Yes when “persons” trips off the tongue so easily!

…until that also gets some pejorative association.

Ah the collateral damage of the English language.

Why do people waste so much time attacking the words instead of the deeds?

Antagonist 3:56 pm 22 Mar 15

OP: “Another thing that irks a lot of people is that fully-grown women are often referred to as “girls” (as in “go and see the girls in accounts”). Newsflash: This is infantilising and insulting, and we don’t appreciate it. We’re not in primary school, so don’t treat us as such.

OP: In addition to this, referring to groups of women as “girls” or “ladies” implies that the gender distinction is an important signifier. I’d much rather refer to groups in a non-gender specific way, as in “go and see the team in accounts”. This might seem overly PC, but I think that symbolism is important and subtle changes like this can help change people’s mindsets in a significant way.”

I find that people who take offence at the little things you point out are, in most cases, not worth the time of day. Typically, it is the whine of the argumentative person in the office who cannot play well with others. The same person is often the staff member that no manager wants on their team and others staff do not want to work with, and is likely to be the subject of underperformance/disciplinary action.

A true ‘feminist’, a term that has (IMO) been hijacked by extremist elements and no longer means ‘equality’, is more interested in tackling the bigger problems that contribute to real gender inequality. Things such as the career glass-ceiling, equal pay for equal work, sexual harassment – the big issues that really matter.

Keijidosha 2:01 pm 22 Mar 15

I’m surprised that nobody has mentioned the insidious use of the term ‘guys’ by pretty much anyone working in retail or hospitality when speaking to a group of customers, regardless of gender mix.

gooterz 8:41 pm 21 Mar 15

‘Girls’ and ‘ladies’ is the least of their worries, I always get ‘guys’ ‘gents’ ‘hon’, ‘buddy’, ‘dude’.
Every workplace I’ve been at there has been so much angst among different female groups that David Attenborough would have a hard time to describe the dynamics.
Still don’t get why some women feel they can’t wear the same outfit twice (ever).
I can also never keep up with who is in and who is out in terms of group acceptance.

rubaiyat 1:01 pm 21 Mar 15

I am all for women taking on whatever half of holding up the heavens works for them.

It would be stupid to not use the best available people to get things done.

The title of this piece ironically spells out the problem:

“How not to talk to women in the workplace”

Make it difficult enough and we’ll all be avoiding the “speakwrite” and “face crime” that already pervades the Public Service and leads to the more insane self-reinforcemend decisions.

GuruJ 10:24 am 21 Mar 15

Not that this is likely to change many people’s minds … this is an issue where people tend to have (and keep) their prejudices intact BUT:

– some people do think that “feminist” means “someone who wants equality between the sexes” (see: Emma Watson)
– some people do think that “feminist” means “someone who works to reduce disadvantage for women” (see: Germaine Greer)

I think it’s possible to hold each of these positions reasonably. It’s also possible to have reasonable discussions on what activities are likely to further each of these goals. It’s also worth recognising that these goals *are* different, and that lots of people use the definition they prefer while pretending the other doesn’t exist to take the moral high ground.

Some people think language matters as much as intent in ending discrimination against women. Others don’t. I don’t think that insults and generalisations (“all women”, “all feminists”, “all men”) on either side of that argument are helpful.

I think it’s pretty hard to deny that women would have got as far as they have in achieving equality without yelling at men a lot. I think it’s also more complicated these days. I think the vast majority of men born, say, after 1975 don’t have an entrenched view of women as “lesser beings”. And most men and women older than that are at least exposed to the idea, whether or not they believe it deep down or not. So personally I think that with the vast majority, there’s room now for a conversation rather than yelling.

And “privilege”, while I believe it exists situationally and culturally, shouldn’t be a universal stick to beat down men with. There’s some good evidence to show that “privilege” in the UK is a predominantly a function of class, not gender. And I doubt that in Australia where we have annual leave, sick leave, and maternity leave that the privilege of men is particularly strong.

For example: If there was a young white woman applying for a job alongside an older Aboriginal man, I can’t believe that anyone would claim the man was the “privileged” one in that situation.

Tembo 2:21 am 21 Mar 15

watto23 said :

Maya123 said :

watto23 said, “Feminism is not what society needs. Equalism is what we need.”

Um er, weird comment as feminism means equality. When someone makes comments like that I can only think they prefer inequality, and have invented a personal definition of feminism to suit personal prejudices.

From reading comments here, it is obvious males and females have different ideas of what is offensive.

Feminism does not equal Equalism. Feminists often go way over the top. Feminists never feel that a man could be hard done by, because they’ve always been the dominant gender etc etc. Feminists argue that female dominated careers deserve being paid more. Equalists would argue that men and women doing the same job deserve the same pay and acknowledge that men and women are different and there are female and male dominated professions. Whether a profession deserves more pay should be irrelevant to the gender that dominates that profession.

However its got to the point that a man could not do childcare and less do teaching, because feminism means men are worried of being labelled a pervert or child molester by an over zealous parent.

Men also suffer domestic abuse. Now a very small number of course but I know of a case and the man basically had no support and was accused by others that he must have hit her first.

That is the issue I have with feminists, they can overstep the line and say oh I’m a woman and we’ve been treated badly by men for centuries. Nope that doesn’t cut it, if its good for one gender its good for both genders and we also still need to realise that we are different and there are natural differences. Aggressive feminism isn’t the answer.

Plus 1, watto23.

Articles in the media about female office worker’s complaints, are regularly dusted off and rebadged with a catchy headline, especially on slow news days.

*Appearing* to want equality, these semi-feminist articles are actually one-sided, sensationalist and usually overstep the line, doing more damage than good. It seems articles in the media are becoming more like this; desperate clickbait.

Although equalism and ‘a fair go’ would solve many of society’s problems at the moment, are people going to treat each other equally if sensationalist articles continue to dominate the media?

rubaiyat 11:28 am 20 Mar 15

Morelia said :

@ rubaiyat:

I was not saying that claiming to have a boyfriend to evade unwanted attention makes women objects, merely that that particular defence (and the way that it works better than personal-agency based answers) is an example of how women have to deal with possession-based objectification.:

“Don’t believe me? The most common excuse a woman will use to deflect unwanted advances is to say she already has a boyfriend. This excuse works much better than any based in her own agency or desires because it declares her as “already owned by another male”.”

And by the same logic when I say I have a girlfriend/wife it declares me “already owned by another female”. Which seems to spur some women on, as it declares me to be an already broken-in, desirable mate.

It seems to me you have taken a course that has given you startlingly ‘new’ thoughts you never had.

I noticed quite a lot of students at university who were being challenged to think for themselves for the first time in their lives and find themselves in the absence of anything else, latching onto anything said with absolute conviction. Merely showing that previous ideas are flawed does not guarantee any proposed alternatives are not equally flawed. This is not a matter of barracking for the home team.

Equality is a noble and practical objective. Feminism too often becomes a self driven ideological power grab serving certain people’s self interest, or as a set of boilerplate excuses. Like most movements it starts off with a noble objective and then descends into huge portions of nonsense as the contradictions and inconsistencies creep in, and the claims sustained by the new recruits’ ignorance escalate.

Maya123 11:03 am 20 Mar 15

watto23 said :

Maya123 said :

watto23 said, “Feminism is not what society needs. Equalism is what we need.”

Um er, weird comment as feminism means equality. When someone makes comments like that I can only think they prefer inequality, and have invented a personal definition of feminism to suit personal prejudices.

From reading comments here, it is obvious males and females have different ideas of what is offensive.

Feminism does not equal Equalism. Feminists often go way over the top. Feminists never feel that a man could be hard done by, because they’ve always been the dominant gender etc etc. Feminists argue that female dominated careers deserve being paid more. Equalists would argue that men and women doing the same job deserve the same pay and acknowledge that men and women are different and there are female and male dominated professions. Whether a profession deserves more pay should be irrelevant to the gender that dominates that profession.

However its got to the point that a man could not do childcare and less do teaching, because feminism means men are worried of being labelled a pervert or child molester by an over zealous parent.

Men also suffer domestic abuse. Now a very small number of course but I know of a case and the man basically had no support and was accused by others that he must have hit her first.

That is the issue I have with feminists, they can overstep the line and say oh I’m a woman and we’ve been treated badly by men for centuries. Nope that doesn’t cut it, if its good for one gender its good for both genders and we also still need to realise that we are different and there are natural differences. Aggressive feminism isn’t the answer.

Thank you, you make my point here.

Re childcare. After I retired (a job with about equal males and females) I worked part time in after school childcare for a while and there were several men employed there. Probably more females, but still a high percentage of males. Perhaps there would have been more males if they had bothered to apply for the job. But that is up to the individual to do so.

Re supposed different abilities between the sexes. I prefer people are treated as individuals and not presumed to have certain abilities and weaknesses because they are male or female. For instance, I am not supposed to be able to read maps because I am female, but I have never had any difficulty with this simple task. I could give other examples too. An example of sexism to prove sexism. Years ago I did a well known (at the time) so called question and answer test to ‘prove’ the difference between the sexes. Sorry, can’t remember the name as it was a number of years ago now, but at the time I remember it was discussed. First point; if you are female, add so much to your score. From memory it was quite a high number of points, virtually guaranteeing females would score differently from males. I am unconvinced that even if there is a difference in ability it is very great. I suspect there is a difference in self-assuredness, self-worth and aggression though.

watto23 10:25 am 20 Mar 15

Maya123 said :

watto23 said, “Feminism is not what society needs. Equalism is what we need.”

Um er, weird comment as feminism means equality. When someone makes comments like that I can only think they prefer inequality, and have invented a personal definition of feminism to suit personal prejudices.

From reading comments here, it is obvious males and females have different ideas of what is offensive.

Feminism does not equal Equalism. Feminists often go way over the top. Feminists never feel that a man could be hard done by, because they’ve always been the dominant gender etc etc. Feminists argue that female dominated careers deserve being paid more. Equalists would argue that men and women doing the same job deserve the same pay and acknowledge that men and women are different and there are female and male dominated professions. Whether a profession deserves more pay should be irrelevant to the gender that dominates that profession.

However its got to the point that a man could not do childcare and less do teaching, because feminism means men are worried of being labelled a pervert or child molester by an over zealous parent.

Men also suffer domestic abuse. Now a very small number of course but I know of a case and the man basically had no support and was accused by others that he must have hit her first.

That is the issue I have with feminists, they can overstep the line and say oh I’m a woman and we’ve been treated badly by men for centuries. Nope that doesn’t cut it, if its good for one gender its good for both genders and we also still need to realise that we are different and there are natural differences. Aggressive feminism isn’t the answer.

MERC600 9:43 am 20 Mar 15

switch said :

Well this is all going nowhere as usual.

Good one switch. But I would like to know what Heather meant by ” infantilising ” . Haven’t come across this one before.

chewy14 9:15 am 20 Mar 15

Maya123 said :

watto23 said, “Feminism is not what society needs. Equalism is what we need.”

Um er, weird comment as feminism means equality. When someone makes comments like that I can only think they prefer inequality, and have invented a personal definition of feminism to suit personal prejudices.

From reading comments here, it is obvious males and females have different ideas of what is offensive.

See, I find it offensive when people claim feminism means “equality”. Even if you assume that the dictionary definition of feminism is correct (which is a massive assumption), feminism only means promoting equality in areas where females are currently disadvantaged. If feminism was 100% successful, we still wouldn’t have a society based on equality.

VYBerlinaV8_is_back 8:49 am 20 Mar 15

Morelia said :

Okay, in lieu of allowing this thread a dignified death, let’s try this another way:

First, go look up “mainsplaining”. It may offend the delicate sensibilities of some men, but by dint of being male, you don’t actually get to lecture women on what constitutes sexism. Sorry.

Mysteryman said :

JaneQBN said :

Mysteryman said :

To assume that being male magically grants someone a position of power and advantage, if you will, is just as offensive as the views about women that you take exception too.

It’s an interesting facet of privilege, that it’s so often invisible to the ones who occupy it, isn’t it? Everybody is entitled to feel offended, of course. If you feel offended by the assertion that white maleness conveys privilege, perhaps it would be a worthwhile endeavour for you to look inside at *why* this offends you. Is it because on some level, it hurts? Makes you feel like the pedestal isn’t of your own making?

There are a lot of comments here to the effect that “we’re being told to think about what we say to women and minorities, and that’s really hard and it will all be political correctness gone insane! We won’t have anything left to talk about but the weather!”

If this is your point of view, it suggests that you feel like you have to comply to some standard because you’re being made to. Which further suggests a lack of insight into the reasons why rethinking interpersonal exchanges might be beneficial. A lack of empathy, in short.

Far more useful than trying to meet a set of standards you don’t understand would be learning about feminism for yourself. Take a walk into that uncomfortable valley and you’ll be amazed at the things you see that you never had the imagination to suspect. You will find that feminism is good for both men and women, and that we are both lessened by patriarchy.
And then you won’t have to try to appease the PC brigade, because you’ll understand.

LOL hypocritical much?

Morelia 9:22 pm 19 Mar 15

@ rubaiyat:

I was not saying that claiming to have a boyfriend to evade unwanted attention makes women objects, merely that that particular defence (and the way that it works better than personal-agency based answers) is an example of how women have to deal with possession-based objectification.

chewy14 7:25 pm 19 Mar 15

Morelia said :

I messed up the quotes on the last post. It wasn’t JaneQBN, but me, who said:

It’s an interesting facet of privilege, that it’s so often invisible to the ones who occupy it, isn’t it?

Its an interesting facet of “privilege”, that it’s so often used by people as a excuse for not taking responsibility for own life choices and failures and at the same time allowing you to dismiss anyone who disagrees with you as simply too privileged to notice the amazing invisible force that somehow affords them a myriad of benefits just because of an arbitrarily chosen feature.

Yay privilege! Now excuse me, I’ve got to head off to my local Patriarchy meeting. I believe tonight’s topic is : Increasing the gender Pay gap and forcing women to do unpaid house work.

Maya123 7:19 pm 19 Mar 15

watto23 said, “Feminism is not what society needs. Equalism is what we need.”

Um er, weird comment as feminism means equality. When someone makes comments like that I can only think they prefer inequality, and have invented a personal definition of feminism to suit personal prejudices.

From reading comments here, it is obvious males and females have different ideas of what is offensive.

Maya123 7:01 pm 19 Mar 15

Morelia said :

To all the men saying “It’s not meant to be offensive, but some people are determined to take offence”, it’s worth considering that you haven’t grown up in a culture that objectifies and demeans you as a matter of course. Using overly familiar terminology towards a woman may not be intended to cause harm, but it’s important to recognise that it’s used in a culture that all too often designates women as being a form of property.
Don’t believe me? The most common excuse a woman will use to deflect unwanted advances is to say she already has a boyfriend. This excuse works much better than any based in her own agency or desires because it declares her as “already owned by another male”.
So no, of course you don’t mean to be degrading when you use overly familiar pet names towards a woman such as “darl, honey, love” etc, but you also aren’t stopping to consider that said woman’s experience is likely to include a fair amount of very uncomfortable overly-familiar behaviour from men who didn’t know where the line was. And used within our patriarchal culture it is a form of possession and control.
To say that it’s okay because you don’t feel offended when women use the same terminology towards you is to ignore the imbalance of gender power. Same as saying you don’t feel threatened being followed by a woman in a dark alley at night means a woman shouldn’t feel threatened in the same situation, genders reversed.

I’d talk about the collective noun “girls”, but I’ve exhausted myself with this rant.

+1

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