Illustration: Loryn Englesman

Dear Metro: "I can't stand the way my male workmates disrespect women in our office"

Got issues with work, love, sex, family, friendships, money or the crushing existential angst of modern life? Each week our Metro advice columnist answers a reader's query and (we assume) solves all their problems.

Send your woes to: dearmetro@bauermedia.co.nz.

Dear Metro,

I’m a man and I get on well with my male colleagues but I can’t stand the way they disrespect women. They give our female colleagues sexist and sexual nicknames and act like an immature boys’ club behind closed doors. I want to get on with them and be part of the team dynamic but I feel uncomfortable with this issue and can't see a way through!

Mere Male

Dear Mere Male,

As a man, you’re in an important position here. Misogyny is difficult for women to tackle in many instances, due to the whole ‘people who are practicing it despising them’ thing. Yeah these men may love the individual women in their lives (and without getting into a bell hooks tangent about what love is and whether it can meaningfully exist alongside disrespect, we will assume they do), but they very obviously don’t particularly care about the women they work with - who incidentally neither care for or fuck them. Whether or not they truly hate women is in a way neither here nor there, what matters is that this kind of behaviour left unchecked will impact on the women in your workplace; their ability to do their jobs in an environment which makes them happy. And that’s really unfair.

As much as it infuriates me the way women so casually have their dignity affronted with this kind of juvenile boys’ club “banter” (we’re just trying to send emails and sit through meetings and make money so we can enjoy our lives, no need to assert social dominance by reminding everyone we’re sexual beings first and foremost and human a distant second), I do get that not every man who engages in this kind of talk is a monster and I understand wanting to get along with the people you spend 8+ hours a day five days a week (or more) with.

Read last week's Dear Metro advice: "I keep getting UTIs... how do I tell my boyfriend it might be his fault?"

I have also, through a decades-long process of trial and error, come to realise that people do not respond particularly well to being scolded, especially if you’re challenging their core beliefs about what kind of person they are (most of these men probably think their little jokes are harmless and they’re good guys), especially if you’re doing it in front of other people.

I would advise leaving judgement out of your reactions, but please do react every time. If someone refers to a woman by some yuck nickname, point out that she has a real name, use it, and say you’d prefer if others did as well. Use “I” statements - “I am feeling uncomfortable with this conversation, can we move on”, “I don’t think it’s fair to speak about our workmate like that,” “I think if [x] heard this she would feel really upset”, rather than tell them they’re being disgusting or asking them to shut the fuck up and stop being such pervy little creeps (even though that would be an accurate thing to say). Consistently shutting down this kind of conversation without taking the moral high ground or escalating tensions has more potential to change the minds and behaviour of your fellow men over time than moralistic lecturing, but you will need to keep at it.

The exceptions to this would be if a boss or manager is making these comments, in which case lay a complaint, or if the comments cross a line - which is of course subjective, but you’ll know when something needs to be swiftly condemned. Pick your battles so that when you do say something, your workmates are willing to listen.

Oh - and if one of the women in your workplace ever gets wind of any of these “jokes” and reacts with fury or hurt, back her 100%. When it’s your humanity being degraded you don’t get the luxury of detachment and measured responses, and the best thing you can have in those moments is an ally in your corner.

With love,

Metro

Send your woes to: dearmetro@bauermedia.co.nz.

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