Advertisements

#678 “Am I the next Bill Cosby?” No, thankfully. You’re just really sexist.

The “Am I the Next Bill Cosby?” subject line was the Letter Writer’s own word choice, if that helps you decide whether to keep reading.

Also, comments are closed as of 3/15.

a still of three lady vampires dressed in negligees from Dracula 2000

A normal, routine day at the office when you hire foul temptresses.

Captain,

I am a 50’s married man who owns my own business in an obscure, male-dominated field which requires engineering savvy and a lot of building of things by hand.  About five years ago I lost all my help within several months due to various things beyond my control ( major events like death, for instance).  Desperate for help, since I had two projects, and was already running behind, I very reluctantly hired a 17 year old girl, whose mother thought experience in my field would be great for her daughter.  I held out little hope for this arrangement, and was more than a little nervous, working alone with this kid. I never had a daughter, so I entered into the whole aspect of how to interact with this “alien life form” with trepidation. Not to mention that it seemed kind of creepy.  Within weeks, still needing more help, I acquiesced to also employing this girl’s best friend: “she’s a really good kid”, I was told. Then the best friend’s sister was available, so I had three.  Their combined output, and the painstaking quality of their work exceeded any expectations I ever had, so I have kept working them over the years, watching them blossom from 17 year olds (with no filter who would tell me anything), into young adults who are confident, funny and well-adjusted.  Quite a bit of mild drama has gone on, including a love triangle: I hired a guy (Oh, good! A guy! Someone I can relate to!), not knowing he was already completely infatuated with girl “A”, who was herself mildly interested in him. Meanwhile, girl “B”, who was “A’s” best friend, was infatuated with him, but to him she clearly did not even exist. Girl “B” confessed all to me one day when we were working alone together, and we had a long talk. I asked if she wanted to jeopardize her good friendship with girl “A” by making her feelings known. She did not want to take that chance. It all worked out. The guy was not terribly skilled at the work and left soon after to work at a hip clothing store in a mall. I reminded girl “B” recently of the crush she had had on this guy when she was 17, and she was utterly embarrassed she had told me so much.  I reassured her she had no need to be embarrassed, that looking back on it, it all seemed pretty funny and sweet. 

I often have to travel alone with a helper, so I generally take whichever girl is available and/ or interested in a road trip. Almost all the girls, for some reason, get so comfortable talking to me about all sorts of things that the conversation sometimes veers into bizarre territory before I realize where we are. Telling me about their miserable experience trying to find the right bra (apparently this is a common grievance) and explanations about problems with feminine hygiene products ought to be off limits, and several of the girls have found themselves a little embarrassed when they realize what they have blurted out. I gently try to remind them whose company they are in, and we both have a good laugh. Add to this the fact that this sort of work attracts engineering-minded girls who might score pretty high in the Asperger’s spectrum, and thus prone to say whatever comes into their minds, and you have a combustible mixture of situations which look highly inappropriate, but are completely innocent.  For instance, on the job site, an engineering-minded task-oriented girl whips out a screwdriver to help with a very difficult, inaccessible mechanical part, and asks me flatly, “Alright, you want me to screw while you watch?” Or, lovely young lady starts talking about make-up and how she hates to wear it, all while the two of us are pretty physically entwined trying to hold too many delicate parts in one place out of our line of sight while one of us tries to screw an unseen fastener in place. This wouldn’t have been so bad, except she turned to me, our faces three inches apart, and said, “But I have to wear mascara. See, my eyelashes come in completely blond, and it just looks like I have no eyelashes at all.” Then she batted her eyelashes at me multiple times, just as the customer walked in. We couldn’t change position, or all the little electronic gizmos we were holding in place out-of-sight would have fallen into Sheol, so we grimly kept working, still entwined. Or I worked grimly: she seemed cheerfully and utterly unaware that we had been “caught”. 

Dracula's Brides from Van Helsing, three women in fancy gowns and vampire makeup

Perhaps a talk about the employee dress code is in order.

Since the first three girls, I have had quite a few others, all of them in and out at various times what with college schedules. Recently, one of my most skilled and valuable workers, who has been slowly becoming aware of how often I end up in compromising situations, said, “Well, I love the work, but I wouldn’t blame you if you stopped working us altogether. You might end up being the next Bill Cosby.” I thanked her for her optimism, and then we immediately had a wildly funny conversation, analyzing all the other girls to try to figure out which one of them might go crazy-off-the-rails in 15-20 years and accuse me of things that never happened. We reached no conclusions. 

So should I keep employing girls, or take the careful route, throw in the towel, and start deliberately looking for men? It certainly would make road trips easier.  I did see a psychologist two years ago to try to figure out if there was something weirdly wrong, that young women kept showing up to work for me. She seemed to think that, even though it was pretty unusual, that everything was fine. 

So far all the dire warnings I received from pretty much all my friends have not occurred, e.g., “One of those girls is going to get a crush on you! That’s really dangerous, and you’ll be traveling all alone!” or, “You better not do this! You’ll get arrested! And anyway, it looks terrible!” But it has been oddly isolating, because so many of my friends ( not that I have very many) don’t even want to hear about it. Men, in particular, all get the same look in their eye when I attempt to get some advice about the occasional odd problem: it is the look of terror. If I begin an attempt to get a little advice, my question may start out something like this: “I would like your insight on something. Caitlyn and I drove together to Milwaukee, and had to spend several nights on the road. Here is what happened…” By this point they are backing away from me and want nothing better than to not-have-to-answer-the-question-whatever-it-is. So I have given up seeking much advice and mostly wing it on my own. Any advice I do glean comes from older women. 

So maybe if I quit employing girls, I could talk to my few friends about my life again.  Or as the oldest of my helpers (age 23) suggested, I could just write a book about all the weird and funny stories, and hope to make enough money to quit working altogether. But when she realized she would also be in the book, she suddenly was not so enthusiastic. 

I should add that I tell everything to my wife, who gets a real kick out of all the weird situations, but, she admits she has no analytical skill at trying to help me figure out what I should do in situations that might be a problem.

Worried Employer of Competent Women

Dracula's daughters feeding on Jonathan Harker in Bram Stoker's Dracula

Behold: Your terrible fate if you do not change course now!

Dear Worried Employer:

The “surprising” competence of the women you’ve hired is not the problem. Nor is their youthful energy or occasional workplace crushes on young dudes you hire. Nor is the likelihood of “compromising situations” occurring the problem, as you say yourself:

So far all the dire warnings I received from pretty much all my friends have not occurred, e.g., “One of those girls is going to get a crush on you! That’s really dangerous, and you’ll be traveling all alone!” or, “You better not do this! You’ll get arrested! And anyway, it looks terrible!”

Zero of the actual girls have gotten actual crushes on you. How about that.

Zero actual compromising situations of any kind have resulted from your decision to hire young women. How deeply strange.

And yet, you seem to be obsessed with this possibility. Your letter reads like a combination of a Letter to Penthouse, Nabokov’s Lolita (Humbert Humbert would def. keep an accurate eyelash movement count), and a Three’s Company-episode: All These Young Women ‘Blossoming’ Around Me, Can You Believe Nothing Sexual Has Happened Yet?” 

If you had teenaged boys working for you and they made slightly off-color jokes and got twisted up with you repairing things and went on road trips, etc., would it be some kind of dark web of sexy sexual intrigue and fantasy? If a young male employee made a joke that you thought was inappropriate, or talked about something that you thought was too personal or weird, you would probably a) ignore it or b) tell him, “Pipe down, son, we’re at work.”

There was and is nothing stopping you from doing the same with these employees, who, having started working for you at 17, didn’t come in knowing all the unwritten rules of how to behave in a professional workplace and were maybe sorta relying on their first-ever boss (a kindly older gent sort of like their dad or grandpa) to teach them. You have had the power all along to say “That’s not appropriate,” and to set the tone and environment in your business any way you’d like it to be. You don’t need to fire anyone, your employees will follow your lead on that just like they followed your lead on learning the intricacies of the work. Scripts: “Very funny, but we’re at work, let’s focus.” “It’s nice that you see me as a sounding board and a friend, but I’m also your boss, and some topics are really not for the workplace.” “We’ve all gotten very comfortable working together over the years, but sometimes it’s good to redraw the lines of what professional behavior is.” You clearly know this, because you say that when topics got too personal you did try to “gently remind them whose company they were in,” but not until you’d hung on every word and batted eyelash.

If you can’t remember the scripts, and you lose your way going forward, ask yourself, is this how I would treat a male employee? If the answer is no, then don’t do or say that thing.

Bella from Breaking Dawn

She looks cute, but if you give her a job pretty soon she’s gonna want you to bite the vampire baby out of her womb.

You say that dealing with all of this “has been oddly isolating, because so many of my friends ( not that I have very many) don’t even want to hear about it.”My read on this is that either over the years you’ve bored the shit out of them with these fantasies thinly disguised as complaints, or, like your psychologist, they don’t see anything inherently weird about working with women. Does solving this really require a) joking comparisons to a serial rapist (which we will get to in a minute, believe me), b) violating federal employment law or c) mess with the livelihoods of excellent employees?

It is illegal in the United States to use gender to discriminate in hiring practices. It is illegal, frankly, because of people who see women the way you see women, as sexual beings first and human beings second. Your letter portrayed women as temptresses (don’t think I don’t smell some of that Old Time Religion in your worldview) and unreliable narrators.Your letter portrays the talents of your female employees as exceptions and flukes, even when you have years of evidence that they are not. You called them “alien” and said again and again that you couldn’t possibly relate to them even though in the day-to-day it sounds like you get along pretty well (probably because they are blissfully ignorant of or have learned to laugh at your fixation). You portray them as more likely to “go “crazy-off-the-rails” or cause “drama” (even though the young man you hired had an equal role in crushing on coworkers). I know I have been pretty harsh on you, but your question wasn’t about how to make your workplace run better or how to be a better boss, it was “Should I discriminate against women to prevent myself from being the victim of these Daughters of Eve and their fake rape accusations when they go crazy in the future.” What.

This “problem” is completely 100% fixable, by you, now, today, if you stop reading sexual subtext into situations that are not sexual, if you reassert some basic boundaries about what kind of topics are welcome in the workplace, and if you find a new topic of conversation for your friends and save the “funny” “stories” about how you work with all ladies for your “book.” Your field is male-dominated…for now. It doesn’t have to be. You can be part of the solution, you can relax and enjoy the company of the awesome people you’ve mentored, you can choose to put this entire burden down and like these people in an uncomplicated way while you help their careers and do good work together. Your employees aren’t into you. Your clients and passersby don’t think you are all screwing. Your wife and your friends aren’t worried about what could happen.

Or, you can literally be the problem as you fire all your best employees because you can’t stop waiting for the the other screw to drop.

Let’s talk about that awkward, awkward Bill Cosby “joke.”

I’m sure Bill Cosby can create a story in his head about how he is a kind mentor who just tried to help all those women succeed in show business, and it’s a shame that (at the time of this post) thirty-four of them independently went “crazy-off-the-rails” and described pretty much the exact same modus operandi of being drugged and assaulted.

I believe Bill Cosby’s accusers.* They aren’t crazy. They were attacked by a man they thought was their friend, a man they looked up to. You think fans of Cosby wish that this weren’t true? Nobody wishes this weren’t true more than those women.

Poster for A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night

My favorite misandrist vampire tale.

I don’t get the vibe that you are drugging and raping your employees, but I do get the vibe that deep down you are grooming them, and your wife, and everyone you know (and yourself) to accept the inevitability of some sort of “It just happened!” scenario if one of them were to happen to launch herself at you. If shit hits the fan, you want the narrative to be “Look at poor Worried Employer, that’s what you get for trying to help young women” (the narrative that is protecting Bill Cosby) and not “Remember how I constantly thought about how people might think we’re having sex even though we’re totally not (but we could be)?”

Sadly, your employee doesn’t believe Cosby’s accusers, and she made a really unfortunate and joke at their expense. You and she certainly are certainly not alone in those views. We live in a culture where an unconscious girl can be raped on video and people will still try to argue that she caused it somehow. She batted her eyelashes, maybe, or made a bad joke about screwing while holding a screwdriver in front of the wrong boy or wrong dirty old man. Someone is always counting up the things we do so it can be our fault when someone hurts us, so that men can be the “real” victims of something we are.

You changed your mind after you hired that first alien/girl, couldn’t you, I don’t know, change your mind about all of it and decide that women are human?

 

 

 *Moderation Note: The accusations against Bill Cosby are not up for debate here. If you have doubts or want to explore the truth claims of that topic, post them on your own blog. If you want to meet the banhammer, permanently and without warning, try me with some of that Devil’s-Advocate-rape-apologia bullshit.

A still from A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night, where a young woman in a hijab has blood smeared around her mouth because (spoiler) she just ate a sexist dude.

Daenarys from Game of Thrones with fire behind her.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Advertisements
208 comments
  1. i used to work for this guy (not literally) and it was super creepy how he “just happened” to hire so many 17 year olds. Great advice.

  2. The entire letter was just.. Gross. Creepy gross. God I wish I could protect these girls.

  3. Forgive me if I am totally misreading this, but it seems like the LW didn’t really ask a question, which, after re-reading the letter, gives me the creepy feeling that this is more about looking for validation of the fantasy that “something might happen” than actually looking to fix anything. You went to a therapist to ask if you are strange because women keep coming to work for you? Were you actually expecting to find that women were *applying for jobs* because of some deep rooted part of your personality?

    If you’re sincerely concerned that something inappropriate might happen one day, then you can stop it and say “That’s inappropriate.” That really doesn’t require the years of mental effort you describe – ANYONE could have an affair at work, but, if you don’t want to, you choose not to.

    Also, let me be one of probably many autistic women to say: painting us as cute and childlike and unable to control what we say is not cool. We have complete control of what we say, and any myth otherwise just comes from differing opinions of what constitutes normal conversation. When a woman says “You want me to screw” and she is holding a screw, she is talking about screwing. The sex is in your imagination.

    • “The sex is in your imagination.” So very true.

      Seemed like LW was seeking for validation and approval for his warped thoughts, given the amount of detail and effort given into describing his encounters with these girls; as if “Look! She was giving me a hint all along, right?!!” All that effort just to memorize AND sexualize their encounters.

      I hope any advice is not lost though. Really.

      • No kidding! I’m quite certain that anyone walking in on two people assembling cabinetry, contorting around to hold things in place while getting nuts and bolts in place, is not going to jump to the conclusion that those people are having sex. I’d imagine that the “have sex while assembling Ikea furniture” kink is rare enough for it to not be the first assumption in that situation.

        • Baytree said:

          I work in a shop where everyone’s always in a hurry, and reaching for things in very tight quarters. It’s not unheard of for one person to actually *put their hand on another persons crotch* by accident. And yes, these are actual accidents, and no, there is nothing sexual about it and everyone is clear about that fact. Can it be embarrassing? Absolutely! But embarrassing is not the same as erotic.

        • “I’d imagine that the “have sex while assembling Ikea furniture” king is rare enough for it to not be the first assumption in that situation.”

          • Oh, blast, that was meant to be followed by a line ‘cleans monitor, makes mental note to be more careful when eating breakfast while reading CA & comments’, but I put it in pointy brackets without realising that that would cause WordPress to edit it out. Sorry, I wasn’t posting purely to quote your line again, despite how good it was.

    • ” The sex is in your imagination.”

      Damn right.

    • hummingbear said:

      Then there’s the implication that “engineering-minded girls” must necessarily have some condition that causes them to say whatever pops into their heads, even though as a (presumably) engineering-minded man, he is exempt from this malady.

      • Yep. In fact, the more I read this letter, the less I like it. Because of its density I thought there were no questions, but now I realise there are two.

        “Should I stop hiring girls and start only hiring men?” Well no, because it’s illegal. Unless he’s deliberately giving preference to hiring girls (which is a possibility) then he should stop.

        “Am I the next Bill Cosby?” Which is LW’s view seems to mean “Will 34 of my former employees accuse me of rape in the future and wouldn’t that be hilarious?” No. To be frank, this now looks a lot more sinister to me than it did at first. It may well be a joke to ease into the narrative about “compromising situations”, but, why would you be concerned about being accused if you had not done anything wrong? In whose worldview is it probable that an old colleague will suddenly accuse you of being a rapist, 20 years later? I cannot and say and am not saying that LW has acted in this way, but the ease with which he imagines this happening is chilling, and bizarrely self-centred. If nothing of note ever did happen, it is extremely likely that in 20 years these girls just won’t remember him at all.

        • Team Greg said:

          “In whose worldview is it probable that an old colleague will suddenly accuse you of being a rapist, 20 years later?”

          In the worldview of all those Americans who have heard about the accusations against Bill Cosby, but don’t consider him guilty. It would seem that the LW is one of them and so are people around him.

          • All those children and teens who are afraid to tell until they are safely away and old enough to feel responsible to warn others. Priests, coaches, movie stars, the list of predators goes on and on.

        • Emma said:

          Yeah… I mean it could be that the whole false accusatons thing is a cover for him already being aware that he’s behaved in gross and creepy ways, but sadly, I think it’s equally possible that he is one of the many, many people who have bought into the idea that false rape accusations are a Thing, without realising how misogynist and, crucially, untrue that claim is.

      • Lina said:

        Ugh, thank you for pointing this out. it just more of the same “women shouldn’t be involved in The Manly Trades, and if they are they are clearly defective in some way”* that keeps so many women and girls out of science and engineering.

        *Not that having autism is a defect in any way, but this dude is clearly using it that way.

        • Nezdragon said:

          If not defective, then they’re the “Other.” Hell, he even used the word “alien” to describe them.

    • levoyageviolet said:

      Yeah the bit about Asperger’s/autism really bothered me. Like “These young women are likely to be part of a group that are more commonly abused than average and less commonly taken seriously” – why would that be relevant unless you’re considering how likely someone would be to listen to them? Even if that comment was totally innocent, people on the spectrum are one of the most underemployed groups in the US, and LW is asking if he should deliberately fire or avoid hiring them? Talk about being part of the problem…

    • cruelmistress said:

      I am not autistic– nor am I an engineer– but I feel icky about the implications of his “this sort of work attracts engineering-minded girls who might score pretty high in the Asperger’s spectrum, and thus prone to say whatever comes into their minds”. I think it’s pretty sexist to assume that the only women who become engineers are ~faulty~ in some way in which girls are supposed to be skilled, not to mention pretty ableist to ascribe awkward situations you invented in your own mind to some ~defect~ of the women you describe in your own letter as “confident, funny and well-adjusted.”

      • golden peanut said:

        I’m an engineer, and I am a little tired of all the armchair psychologists who have made interest in engineering a diagnostic criterion for being on the spectrum (referring to the LW, not to you). I also occasionally work with teenagers. Saying whatever is on their mind without filter is a symptom of being a teenager.
        Awesome innocent-but-inappropriate teenager story:
        I (female, wears a bra) was demonstrating how infrared (heat) goes though some visually opaque materials. Teenage girl in class: “Wow, we can totally see where your bra is and everything.” (She was right, you could.) I found it hysterical. Inappropriate, but hysterical. I armchair diagnosed her with Teenagerism.

    • RFM said:

      “You went to a therapist to ask if you are strange because women keep coming to work for you? Were you actually expecting to find that women were *applying for jobs* because of some deep rooted part of your personality?”

      This.

      And also this: “Also, let me be one of probably many autistic women to say: painting us as cute and childlike and unable to control what we say is not cool. We have complete control of what we say, and any myth otherwise just comes from differing opinions of what constitutes normal conversation. When a woman says “You want me to screw” and she is holding a screw, she is talking about screwing. The sex is in your imagination.”

      Thank you.

  4. Funny, when I read the LW’s description my first thought was “missing Heinlein novel” (just a hardworkin’ dude in his 50s whose employees are all beautiful, much younger women – though they’re also very competent, how surprising and novel for women! – and all of whom must secretly want to bang him/have complex romantic feelings towards him).

    LW, I don’t have much advice for you beyond what the good Captain has said. You need to somehow get beyond sexualizing or seeing potential sexual subtext in, your interactions with your employees. You need to come to an understanding of your employees as people and good workers whose relationship with you is not romantic or physical in the least.

    (I, on the other hand, really need to find a copy of ‘A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night’.)

    • FlyBy said:

      I really, really want to like Heinlein, and most other classic Sci Fi. I really, really can’t. Because that.

      (I’ve also read Ursula LeGuin, and really, really want to like her, and will freely admit she’s an awesome writer, but her style just doesn’t work for me. Not sure why. Sadness.)

      • notleia said:

        I third about Heinlein, as little as I’ve read of him.

      • Cactus said:

        I haven’t read most classic sci-fi.

        But I adore what I have read of Octavia Butler. Have you read anything of hers?

      • Oh, Heinlein. When I was younger I thought he was extraordinary. The sexist stuff went right over my head, and I soaked in everything about polyamory and all the other philosophical things. It was great, but now that I’m an old feminist I feel like I shouldn’t re-read anything because I’ll get mad.
        I feel like this is another entry in the great encyclopedia of Problematic but Valuable and Often Enjoyable Works. Somewhere between Wagner’s music and Kipling’s poetry.

        • SarahTheEntwife said:

          Yeah, I read his stuff when I was about 14 and most of it when entirely over my head other than a lingering “wait…what?” whenever he talked about women. Learn from my experience — don’t reread them unless you want to feel mad and vaguely betrayed.

      • aebhel said:

        I only have fond memories of Heinlein because I read him when I was too young to realize how deeply creepy a lot of his books are.

        Although, sadly, he does better than a lot of other classic SF writers, because at least he writes female characters, however badly.

        And yeah, this whole letter has a ‘Farnham’s Freehold’-esque feel. LW, your employees do not want to bang you. You’re not going to accidentally end up having sex with one of them. Delineate appropriate boundaries if you feel uncomfortable with your interactions with them and stop reading sex into every interaction. Everyone will be a lot happier.

      • I made it 2/3 of the way through Stranger in a Strange Land, couldn’t get any further, and now refuse to even try anything else he wrote. Major ick factor.

  5. BodilyAutonomyFairy said:

    I guess I have been flirting wrong, talking about concealer and tampons and an underside which is cutting into you is a come on now? I always thought tampons were protected by the layers of euphemisms because of squick, but no? Does referring to anything remotely gendered work? Yooooghuuurt. Pilaaaates. Pay gaaaap. Oh no, I just eroded the free will of every phallus ever. Darn my innocent probably Aspergers ridden (?) (No, actually don’t even get me started about him saying that) mind.

    • Exactly. Talking about tampons is a come-on?? How far can LW’s imagination stretch, seriously…..

      Menstruation is the passing of waste material (uterus lining) (because LW says girls are aliens so I just included that) which is like saying poop conversations are flirty. Okay, that’s another person’s kink but whatever you get my point

      • But it’s *girly* poop!

        /sarcasm

        • golden peanut said:

          Oh, you. We all know girls don’t poop.

    • Clementine Danger said:

      Hah! I will remember this when I am next called upon to talk dirty.

      “Sports bra! Mascara! The infuriating powerlessness of functioning in an inherently sexist society! Ugh, yeah baby! Heavy flow! Lipstick! LIPSTIIIIICK!!!”

      • LOL I am having a really shit day dealing swimming along in the soup of rape culture this afternoon and feeling rotten about it, and the “infuriating powerlessness of functioning in an inherently sexist society!” is not only true, but the first mental laugh I’ve had. Thank you ❤

  6. “accuse me of things that never happened.”

    Um. What even.

    a) They are not sexualising you. YOU are sexualising them and it’s creepy and I really wish you’d stop.

    There’s bound to be a lot of venting and somewhat harsh advice in this thread. I know you’re a real person and I don’t want to hurt your feelings. It can be difficult to take in advice when you’re feeling defensive but try. That said, I’m about to be harsh.

    No, you’re not Bill Cosby-ing unless you’re raping them (I know, he did other things, but I don’t wanna trigger myself). But you’re displaying some major red flags with how you look down on girls (women), your not so pseudo-sexual fear/hope that someone might get the wrong idea… everything the Cap said.

    I’ll tell you what, in those same situations I wouldn’t have a problem, even if I stood 2 inches from the most attractive person ever. Because I’d remember that they are still a person with their own agenda and thoughts and feelings, not some vessel to project my fantasies upon. The way you look down on them is really creepy.

    If you have fears about suddenly assaulting someone, I strongly advice therapy. For the rest I advice consuming media from women and working on remembering that they are whole, complete human beings just like you. They are not less just becaue they are young or girls or whatever.

    Oh yeah, the way you talk about Aspergers is really ableist so check that out as well. The same goes for the use of “crazy”. They are not crazy just because you don’t understand them. Maybe you should ask yourself why you’re having such a difficult time understanding them instead of belittling your employes. In fact, why even have employes that you think so little of.

    (Cap: shout out for the Van Helsing vamps!)

    • Team Greg said:

      “For the rest I advice consuming media from women”

      I’d actually recommend the opposite. The LW writes that he gets most of his advice from older women. I think he should seek to get advice from men, too. A man might be in a better position to relate to his sexual feelings and thoughts and advise him on how to handle those. It is unfortunate (but not unexpected) that his male friends and aquaintances won’t talk about this issue. LW, maybe you can find a male psychologist?

      • Consuming media from women doesn’t mean talking to actual women, it means reading books by women, listening to music by women, watching films directed by women, etc. It is advice the Captain often uses for men like the LW. Sure not all media created by women is great, but I think the Captain, as someone in the world of media herself, is spot with this advice (that I personally would never have thought of myself) because it highlights the fact that MOST high profile media, especially in film, is created by white men. And that means white men are exposing themselves over and over to the white male point of view, the point of view they already have, without even thinking about it.

        This advice also has the great advantage that it doesn’t involve bothering actual women. I knew a guy who wasn’t having much luck dating so he would constantly ask his female friends to pick apart every date of his for that magic moment where he blew it. Unfortunately the route of his problem was not allowing the women any agency. He did it to me once and I said ‘she just wasn’t that into you. Sorry.’ He had not considered that this was even a possibility. It was messed up. He is probably still doing it, though I no longer count myself as one of his female friends.

        • minuteye said:

          I’m currently following a reading challenge for the year, and one of the entries is “Read a book by a woman”. I figured that one would be easy, since I read a lot of books by women! But now that I’m paying attention to it… “a lot” is only about 5-10% of my reading material. Oops.

          So, yeah. I’d say that paying attention to where your media is coming from is a good thing for everyone to do periodically.

          • Good luck on your challenge!

      • Nezdragon said:

        As a friendly note, you may want to reread the context of the quote. Consuming media from women is about breaking down assumptions and biases.

        Also, if the psychologist is worth his/her salt, it shouldn’t matter what gender s/he is.

        • Thanks Nezdragon, you said what I wanted to say!

          Re: The therapist thing. You’re absolutely right that it shouldn’t matter what gender the therapist is presenting as. But some people have an easier time trusting people of a certain gender. Myself, I have an easier time talking about sexual abuse with female therapists. The LW might have more faith in a male therapist to be “levelheaded” and other sexist BS. I’m not saying it’s fair, but if’s easier for the LW, hey, atleast they’re in therapy, right? Hopefully the therapeutic journey could explore exactly why that it a sexist assumption.

  7. LW, please stop sexualizing your employees, even if it’s coming from a genuine place of concern for what others may think. I am also a female in a male dominated industry. I once worked for a man who said “I wonder if people think we are on a date! Wouldn’t that be SO funny and dumb?” while we were having lunch at a Denny’s. I wasn’t concerned what strangers in a casual restaurant might think, but I was suddenly quite concerned about what my boss might be thinking. It was a terrible moment and I wish he had kept his comment to himself.

    I’ve worked with and for several other men before and since. No one else has thrown out such an awkward bait. I have, on occasion, been asked if I was the wife/girlfriend/secretary of the man I was working side by side with by a client. I say “no” and the world moves on. Them asking a sexist but innocent question is different than someone I work with basically admitting that they’re having inappropriate thoughts about me.

    I also strongly advise locking down on the rules of the workplace. Why the hell are your employees having love triangles and talking to you about it? Most workplaces forbid internal dating because it causes havoc within the company.

    • HM said:

      “I wonder if people think we are on a date! Wouldn’t that be SO funny and dumb? Ha! Ha ha ha! Ah-ha! Plausible deniability, ha!”

      Lord above.

    • Maybe I’m being too fair, but I’ve used the ‘LOL people think we’re dating LOL’ with a friend to tell him, as lightly as possible, that we’re NOT because I was getting vibes from him that he thought we were. IDK about your situation, and if dude might have misinterpreted something.

      • Remember, this ‘dude’ is her BOSS.

      • I get that, but in my situation, it was him. Besides that day, he had made some comments that lamented me being in a relationship at the time. He was a terrible, unstable person all around. After working for him for a few months, he got coked out of his mind, stole everything of value from our shop (including my personal equipment and the PC tower) and hopped on the first available flight across the country in the middle of the night and was never heard from again.

        If I ever see him again I’ll have a very hard time using my words.

  8. Ew. Ew ew ew ew ew ew ew.

    Is this for real? That whole letter gave me goosebumps with its creepiness. He better read this and he better do some deep personal searching, because the subtext here is extremely icky.

    Why is it so hard for d00ds to see women as people? Why do they (I really should say “we”, because it took me longer than I care to admit to figure this out for myself) always have to default to seeing women as sexual beings? They are human beings, too, you know…

    • Team Greg said:

      “He better read this and he better do some deep personal searching”

      If you really want somebody to take your advice you better refrain from calling them disgusting (or stupid or crazy …)

      “Why is it so hard for d00ds to see women as people? Why do they […] always have to default to seeing women as sexual beings?

      Because of sexual attraction. And because of the amount of brain capacity this can block. Sometimes this can feel like a DoS attack.

      Also, it seems that you consider “people” and “sexual beings” as opposites. They aren’t. Being sexual is being part of being human.

      • HM said:

        Wow.

        • Team Greg said:

          May I take your “Wow” as a compliment?

          • Clearly you’re new here. ‘WOW’ means ‘WOW that is a thing you actually said out loud like a creepy creeper’. Feel free to stop commenting until you’ve read a thorough sample of the archives.

          • winter said:

            Pretty definitely no.

          • You may not. Or rather, you can, but you SHOULD not. I can tell from your above misinterpretation of the advice ‘consume media by women’ that Kellis Amberlee gave that you haven’t been around this site very long. Around here we use ‘Wow.’ to mean pretty definitively that someone just said something awful. In meatspace tone can also be used to shut down further conversation on that topic.

          • Team Greg said:

            OK, so I understand now that I said something you find very offensive. Honestly, I did not mean to. Could you point out, which of the three points I made was the offender?

            I read this blog and sometimes the comments in order to get women’s perspectives, so I’d appreciate any input.

        • paddlepickle said:

          I’m thinking there is an 80% chance that “Team Greg” is the letter writer.

          • I think if the letter writer was in this thread we’d be reading VERY long justifications for everything the Captain called out! Good call, though.

          • Linden said:

            No, I think I saw him busily mansplaining in another thread. I don’t think he’s actually here to get women’s perspectives, but to argue with them. Team Greg, instead of making demands on women to spoon-feed you (“could you point out …?”), why don’t you take an extended spin through Feminism 101 at https://finallyfeminism101.wordpress.com and then come back, if you’re really serious?

          • attica said:

            If not, he’s just a sea lion. (http://wondermark.com/1k62/) “Please stop your discussion and talk about meeeee.”

          • …My prediction was correct. See below.

          • Linden said:

            @Attica — I love that Wondermark cartoon, and indeed all Wondermark cartoons. That guy is a genius.

      • Nezdragon said:

        “If you really want somebody to take your advice you better refrain from calling them disgusting (or stupid or crazy …)”

        Good thing he didn’t.

        “Because of sexual attraction. And because of the amount of brain capacity this can block. Sometimes this can feel like a DoS attack.”

        And this is an excuse for what, exactly? Having a sudden wave of pantsfeelings doesn’t turn us into dumb animals, no matter how much “brain capacity” it “blocks.” We still have control over our actions—and if that’s not the case, if you have lust so strong you can’t control yourself when it hits, then for the love of whatever, REMOVE YOURSELF FROM PUBLIC SOCIETY UNTIL IT’S FIXED. At best, it disrupts one’s own functioning; at worst, the words “threat to other people” come to mind.

        “Also, it seems that you consider “people” and “sexual beings” as opposites. They aren’t. Being sexual is being part of being human.”

        Asexuality called and would like a word.

        Otherwise, sexuality may be part of being human, but too many men (males, morelike) put the sexual first and foremost—if not skip the “humanity” part and straight up objectify women. Nothing we didn’t already know. And even if everyone’s a sexual being, so on and so forth… that doesn’t mean they have to be a sexual being WITH anyone. Especially not a boss old enough to be the employee’s parent.

        I don’t think 50-something married not-Cosby-but-acting-skeevy guy is in the objectification camp, but it sounds like he has a plethora of issues, and maybe needs to not see his (young and femme in eye-raising proportions) employees as sexual beings. Especially not with him. Right?

        • “Asexuality called and would like a word.”

          You’re on fire today!

        • Tabitha said:

          You are totally right. Especially about the gross ‘sexual’ stuff Team Greg said.

          You know how someone can know if I want to be seen in a sexual way by them? I will say things like “I want to have sex with you” and “Would you like to have sex with me?”. Anything else is objectification and unwelcome no matter how I’m dressed or acting.

      • Because of sexual attraction. And because of the amount of brain capacity this can block. Sometimes this can feel like a DoS attack.

        This right here is when I laugh when people say feminists hate men. Seriously, LOOK at this. ‘Men are so stupid any blood loss to the head makes them act weird!’ ‘Men can’t possibly control themselves around sexual feelings!’

        It’s like that whole ‘fast train travel will make women’s wombs drop out’ only 200 years later.

        • peregrinations said:

          Yes, THIS

        • annejumps said:

          “‘Men are so stupid any blood loss to the head makes them act weird!’ ‘Men can’t possibly control themselves around sexual feelings!’”

          Ha, like: “Men are stupid and unable to control themselves buuuuuuuut don’t forget they’re more *rational* than women and should be the only gender in charge of the important things!”

      • Myrin said:

        Not that it really matters, but it’s pretty clear that Nathan didn’t see “people” and “sexual beings” as opposites/an either-or. He specifically said “Why do they […] always have to default to seeing women as sexual beings? They are human beings, too, you know…, “too” being the operative word here. Obviously, he could have meant it as “women are human beings [just like men], too”, but I don’t really think it’s important to nitpick Nathan’s comment like that because the overall message and intent was clear either way and in line with what everyone else in this thread has said.

      • Benn said:

        You know, my being a guy and thinking about sex had never rendered me incapable of rational thought. That is not inherent in having a certain amount of testosterone in your body. It’s a myth of toxic masculinity and you bought it hook line and sinker, my friend. So if this is something that happens to you, please get a therapist ASAP and stay away from people you might find attractive until you get it resolved, because you are a danger to yourself and others.

      • tinyorc said:

        People who claim that sexual attraction short-circuits their ability to treat their preferred demographic as human beings?

        DEEPLY DEEPLY CREEPY.

      • aebhel said:

        No.

        I’m sorry, but no. I can treat people I’m attracted to like human beings and not like fuckdolls. And before you haul out the ‘but it’s a GUY thing,’ I have known a lot of men who were sexually attracted to me, some of whom I have been sexually intimate with, who have no trouble interacting with me like a person instead of a sexual object.

        LW is being gross and creepy. I see no reason to tell him that he’s clearly a wonderful man who’s in a difficult situation when in fact his entire situation is caused BY HIM BEING GROSS AND CREEPY. He’s written a Penthouse-esque letter sexualizing literally every single interaction he has with women who are less than half his age. Whether or not those women are ‘sexual beings’ in their own right has no bearing on how he should be interacting with him, because they are not behaving in a sexual manner TOWARD HIM.

        Just, seriously. It’s so fucking gross that you think sexual attraction is something that forces men to act like creeps. Sexual attraction is normal and not necessarily voluntary. Creepiness is a choice.

      • If you really want somebody to take your advice you better refrain from calling them disgusting (or stupid or crazy …)

        Um… I didn’t.

        Because of sexual attraction. And because of the amount of brain capacity this can block. Sometimes this can feel like a DoS attack.

        This? Right here? This is misandry. It is not what misogynists complain about, no. That isn’t real. It’s this. Right here. This utter bullshit.

        I’m pretty much as straight as straight can be. I have been to nude beaches full of women who could have been playboy models, and yet I somehow managed to not be a creeper or a rapist. I have managed to see people who were trying to stay cool on a day that was hitting 107 degrees Fahrenheit, instead of suddenly deciding I was in a porn shoot and it was time for my scene.

        You know why?

        Because I have self. Control.

        Maybe you’ve heard of it. It’s this incredible thing that all human beings have. For us men, one of its amazing properties is the ability to not attack a woman every fucking time our dick twinges.

        I suggest you do some research on self control and figure out how to start using it yourself.

        Also, it seems that you consider “people” and “sexual beings” as opposites. They aren’t. Being sexual is being part of being human.

        Did I say that? Guess what? I don’t.

        • “This? Right here? This is misandry. It is not what misogynists complain about, no. That isn’t real. It’s this. Right here. This utter bullshit.”

          Nathan, you are wise.

      • Molly Grue said:

        …Because of sexual attraction. And because of the amount of brain capacity this can block. Sometimes this can feel like a DoS attack.

        You know, if misandry existed, it might look like this.

        So why is it always men saying this, about men, to justify rapey behavior?

  9. paddlepickle said:

    Darnit, creepy LW, I’m already late to be somewhere and I need to take another shower after reading this garbage. I feel gross. Ewwwwwww.

  10. My former landlord was a drill sargent in the US military in a branch that historically had not been open to women. When they did open up, he said the first batch he trained he went too easy on, because they were women, and was surprised to see that they could handle what he was asking them to accomplish. The next batch he ruefully admitted he nearly destroyed, because he pushed them so hard, yet they still kept it together. It was then he realized that women were just like other people, and he learned to treat them the same way he did the male recruits.

    Women are people. Just treat them like people.

  11. No. No. No.

    I have been that girl in a heavily male environment, the one who’s “surprisingly good for a girl.” You know what *I* was worried about? That the men around me were constructing narratives like yours. That every word I said might come off as sexual despite me just talking normally. I got so many “jokes” about “screwing” (yeah! It’s hilarious! Because the little metal piece I’m attaching to this 2×4 is a screw! It’s like sex! Come on, what is this, sixth grade?) that I felt like I had to laugh at at the risk of not fitting in. There’s a metric assload of social pressure on women in general, but in male dominated fields? I’ve met more casual misogynists who make assumptions about my level of interest in them or think it’s okay to make jokes about my period than I have out and out hostility, but I have seen how quickly the former turns to the latter, and it wore me down enough that I quit scene shop (and entertainment as a whole!) and entered a female dominated field so I wouldn’t have to put up with this BS.

    If you care about your employees, quit this. Quit keeping a running tally of all the unintentional entendres. Quit assuming you can’t relate to a young woman who is starting out in a field you were once young in, because I bet she has some of the same questions you did. Shut down inappropriate conversations- you are the boss here. And for the love of God, if someone says you remind them of Cosby, stop reminding them of Cosby. Don’t treat women as foreign creatures whose worth is only sexual unless proven otherwise. Just- stop.

    • Swistle said:

      I loved this: “…if someone says you remind them of Cosby, stop reminding them of Cosby…”

    • HM said:

      Yes, precisely. For the high quantity of hand-wringing in the letter (and, I’m sure, genuine care and concern for his employees, on some level) there is a notable lack of direct empathy with these young women. He doesn’t talk about or mention their needs or boundaries, or what he imagines they might be feeling in relation to him that doesn’t tie in to potential Humbert Humbert-ing down the road.

      Like any member of a dominant demographic along one axis of oppression, this man literally can’t empathize with these young women – he’s never been in this position of vulnerability, and he never will be. But he can certainly TRY. I feel strongly, in fact, that it is his DUTY to try. It’s in trying that you do the work of coming up with boundaries.

  12. Anisoptera said:

    Here is a story about me – I am a woman working in a very male dominated technical area. In my career I’ve faced many discriminatory practices, including a guy who was supposed to be teaching me a new role telling me he didn’t think I could do it and “he’d better not say why because he’d get in trouble” (followed by not teaching me anything and getting angry when I asked questions). Or the people I interview with for jobs endlessly worrying about whether I can handle a “blokey environment” or “take a joke” or otherwise prove my femaleness isn’t a problem (people who ask that stuff don’t hire me I’ve found).

    However, amongst all that there have been guys who’ve had my back. They’ve not always been perfect about it, but they’ve walked the walk. Like the guy who made terrible jokes and wore pinup girl shirts (heh years before the public realised it was a thing) and had to be told by HR that he couldn’t have a crude pun on a team tshirt. That guy promoted me into a rather hard to break into technical specialisation (and never flirted with me or any other women or targeted me for any weirdness). This guy basically believed in my competence and gave my career a massive boost. He needed to learn that some of the stuff he did created a hostile feeling environment for his female employees, but when push came to shove he walked the walk.

    Now LW it sounds to me like you are giving these young women jobs and a step into a difficult-for-women-to-access career. Great! Go you! You have recognised their competence despite the sexist belief that it couldn’t happen, which puts you a massive step ahead of a lot of guys I’ve dealt with in my career.

    So here’s the thing. Please, as others have asked, see them as *employees* not weird temptresses. Draw lines around apropriate workplace behaviour. Don’t worry about false rape accusations – police data shows they’re vanishingly rare. If you don’t assault anyone no one will accuse you of assault. Then sit back and be proud about being an equal opportunity employer, and a mentor to young people in their careers. Forget all about any sex thoughts. Leave them at home. If anyone asks any weird questions about you working with young women – just shut that down. You are their boss, you are married, it would be wildly inapropriate.

    These girls have shown you what they’re capable of – competent work, hard work. They rock! Be proud of them and treat them with the same respect you would any successful male employee. Then give yourself a pat on the back for hiring and promoting on merit rather than prejudice.

    • Swistle said:

      I love this whole comment.

  13. lasers said:

    This comment thread is hitting the main points, but I have a couple additions plus a story.

    1. Build a relationship with them as a work mentor, not as a life friend or life mentor. Ask them what they thought about work projects, what aspects of the work they’re most interested in, how a project could have been improved. Tell stories about how you learned hard work lessons. Learn what career they want and connect them with people who can get them closer.
    2. Refer to your female employees as experts and defer to their opinion in front of clients.
    3. If you get hit with a “false accusation” of harassment, it might be because you don’t know what harassment is. Learn what harassment is.

    Story: I was sexually assaulted by a mentor in Field 1, who I had known since I was a child and had a blurry kinda-friends-kinda-teacher-student vibe. It sucked. A few years later, I started working in [male-dominated] Field 2. I was very prickly and had strong boundaries. My boss was awesome in lots of ways– he made fun of male customers who tried to explain the machines to me, he told me I could 86 anyone who creeped me out, and he tried to make it easier for me to specialize where I wanted to. He also referred to us as “friends.” After a few months of this, I said, “Look, I like you, but as long as I work for you, we’re not really friends, because those two relationships can’t co-exist.”* He sulked for weeks and then hounded me for months about being his friend. Eventually I just gave in and went through the motions.** DON’T PUT YOUR EMPLOYEES IN THIS SITUATION. You don’t know their past or their triggers.

    * I should never have had to do this. Your employees should never have to defend their boundaries like this. Don’t ask for intimacy beyond pleasant-chit-chat and work-related conversation.

    ** Hey, just like when I was assaulted.

    • HM said:

      I’m so sorry this happened to you. That dynamic’s happened to me and echoed my assaults, too, and it’s such a psychological and emotional weight. Your advice to people in your boss’ position and the LW position is really good and I wish we could distribute flyers to their car windshields every day until they read them.

  14. Swistle said:

    I feel as if when everything is terrible and I don’t know where to start, the Captain sorts things out and makes sense of things again.

    • Megan M. said:

      Me, too.

  15. ScienceLady said:

    I cant get over the comment about how women interested in engineering must have aspergers. Just wow.

    • No, but they’re high on the Aspergers spectrum even.

    • As a heavy construction inspector for a state department I had a man who outranked me but wasn’t my actual boss tell me that since I have an engineering degree and twirl my hair when I’m thinking hard I fall somewhere on the aspergers spectrum. I felt weird about it and couldn’t put my flinger on why until I saw the captain’s reply here. I’ve also gotten in an argument over whether or not “mornin’ pretty” was an appropriate workplace greeting/compliment or not. Women are people. This whole letter has my shoulders up by my ears.

      • Blue Meeple said:

        I’ve going to school for welding and ok, school isn’t the same as work, but I had to ask one of the teachers (!) to stop calling me “darling”. Dude. No.

        Also, “this letter has my shoulders up by my ears” is a perfect description of how I feel, too. I couldn’t even read the whole thing, I had to skip down to the response.

    • I am a woman with an engineering degree who worked in heavy construction inspection for a while. At one point an older guy who outranked me but wasn’t my actual boss told me that because of my interest in mathy things and tendency to touch my hair when I am thinking hard I fall somewhere on the aspergers spectrum. I said at the time that if it’s a spectrum from zero to whatever, we all fall on it somewhere. The comment made me feel weird and I couldn’t put my finger on why until I read the captain’s advice here. I have also been asked the “can you lift 30 lbs” interview question twice, the second time with emphasis. I got a bit short when I answered the second time, and apparently that reassured the interviewer that I could indeed do the job. This whole letter has my shoulders up by my ears.

    • golden peanut said:

      No, really, interest in engineering is going in the next DSM.

  16. Margaret said:

    *Be* a good mentor–establish appropriate boundaries at work, or you aren’t doing these employees any favors for when they might choose to get further training, or move to a different company, and they’ve spent their whole work lives with someone who has been encouraging an amusing male fantasy for his own benefit rather than seeing them as professionals.

    One step might be to buy your company a membership in something like http://www.nawic.org/nawic/default.asp (National Association of Women in Construction) and ask your three employees to go represent you at one of their meetings. They will likely see women modelling what professionals in the field should do in their work lives, and doing the kind of networking that will benefit them and your business. Since this is pretty clearly an area where you’ve not been before, it is an easy thing to leverage your excellent employees to make contacts there for them (improving their professional standing) and as a by product, benefiting you.

    • Melanie Chorisglossa said:

      I’m just replying to say that I am loving your advice about NAWIC or similar SO HARD right now. It’s perfect advice, with a concrete (uh, ah, sorry!) suggestion with potential to improve both individual careers and the larger society.

      Definitely put a feather in your cap today, Margaret!

  17. Emmers said:

    Slightly OT, but: what are all the movies these pictures are from? (I got Game of Thrones, and Twilight. I am…kind of a philistine.)

    • ginksarade said:

      I’m not sure about #1, but #2 is Van Helsing, and #3 is Bram Stoker’s Dracula. The second to last is from A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night.

      • Amanda said:

        #1 kind of looks like the courtyard from Chuck, but if it’s Chuck, I don’t remember that episode.

        • charlotte said:

          I don’t know why but i think that the second came of charmed.

    • kat said:

      1: dracula 2000
      2: van helsing (?)
      3: bram stokers dracula

      not sure about the last one.

  18. To clarify, U.S. laws about sex discrimination in the workplace don’t kick in until an employer has 15 employees. The idea is that very small businesses need the flexibility to hire, not hire, or fire based on criteria that larger businesses may not use. Also, larger businesses have the resources that smaller ones do not, for example to train their personnel in discrimination issues, re-assign personnel to different departments if there are personality conflicts, respond to EEOC proceedings, and so on.

    That said, I think the Captain’s advice to LW is very much on target. LW is being creepy. But my take-away is that he’s running a small business here (unless I’m mistaken, he has these 3 “girl” employees and not too many more), so if he fires them because they’re female and only ever hires men in the future? He wouldn’t be breaking the law.

    Finally, I think LW would benefit from some sensitivity training. I bet that there’s a professional organization in his field, and they hold annual conferences, or they have a task force on women in the field. He might want to look them up.

    • mehting said:

      Not necessarily. Different states may have different rules; I’d hardly count on not breaking the law by firing them, since in some states the standard is much lower (my state anti-discrimination laws apply if there’s 3 or more employees) and other standards may apply depending on his business (for instance, government contractors).

      • glomarization said:

        OK. While laws vary by state and every situation is different, I think his risk of a sex-discrimination lawsuit, and further LW’s risk of losing a lawsuit, are super super low. The cases tend to be devilishly hard for plaintiffs to win in the first place, and it sounds as though LW’s employees aren’t the most careful, themselves, about keeping the workplace 100% professional. I think the bigger issue is LW’s rad interpersonal creeper problems. If LW can work on those, along with addressing some shortfalls in his personnel management skills, this situation will go a long way toward improving.

  19. twomoogles said:

    I have noticed this tendency for some guys, when saying something they think might be perceived as sexist (cause it is) they filter the story through a woman, like here the “I was talking to one of my employees” anecdote where it’s the woman saying the stuff about Bill Cosby etc. I wonder if this is sort of a way to legitimize the sexist statement. Not that I’m saying it didn’t happen; women sure can be just as sexist. I just see it a lot, so I wonder if there’s something going on there, like the guy feels he can’t own his statements without being jumped on, but if he says “my female friend said it” then it’s not his fault.

    • Cactus said:

      Good point, I’ve definitely seen that move being utilized.

  20. Twitchy said:

    How can someone be fifty years old and married and find the topics of bras and tampons so scandalous? They’re a sometimes annoying fact of life that about half the human population has to deal with. Complaining about them is like complaining about a health problem. It’s not flirtation.

    • photondancer said:

      They may be common topics of conversation in your circle but there are lots of people out there who’ve never talked about them in their lives. For many people these would be considered highly inappropriate things to say, especially from a very young woman to a man who’s a) old enough to be her grandfather and b) her employer. That was actually the one part of the letter where I was wondering if he was just making stuff up, or whether the employee in question was being mischievous. This man’s eagerness to assume a sexual subtext to any situation makes him a tempting target for anyone with a sense of humor.

      • Ryf said:

        Yeah, there’s just no way I would ever mention something like that in my almost all male workplace. Or any workplace, actually. It’s not that it’s disgusting or something, it just doesn’t belong there and that’s why a short “hey, could we not talk about that here? Let’s focus on work” should be said when the topic of bra shopping comes up. Or, you know, a lot of other topics. If you already have problems seeing your young female employees as employees, cut out the off-topic talk, dude!

      • Yeah…me too. I thought ‘woah, is the LW embellishing this?’ But if the young employees actually said this stuff, being flustered about periods is NOT an excuse to get out of the fact that the LW, as the employer, is perfectly within his rights to say ‘that’s inappropriately personal talk for the workplace’. And then leave it. And not continually think it over as evidence of secret flirting. It is quite possible these girls have never had a job before, or not a job with formal structure.

        • Code Wench said:

          I wondered if these are things that he’s overhearing as the young women speak to each other in front of him and not necessarily things that they are saying directly to him.

        • Anne said:

          I think he said the tampon comment was said while he was alone on a road trip with the woman, so I figured she just had her period at that time and maybe they had to stop so she could grab some more tampons or something. ‘Explanations about problems with feminine hygiene products’ sounds like it would go along with that (especially if she got a bit flustered, what with being alone with her older male boss on a road trip while period-ing). If I read correctly the bra comment was mentioned in connection with the road trips too, and while it’s not exactly workplace appropriate I could see complaining about an underwire digging in if they’d been in a seat for five hours.

          *this is assuming travel is often by car, which was what I thought of when I heard ‘road trip’

      • meekbookworm said:

        I’ve, umm, done something sort of similar before. A prof had given me an extension for medical reasons (the ER was involved). When I came back to class I thanked him and he asked me how I was (maybe recoiling a bit? I still wasn’t 100%) and I remember saying something like, “You’re safe, I don’t think you have any ovaries”. Which was medically true, but so inappropriate *cringe*.

    • Agreed–discussions of bra fittings and tampons are not flirtatious from a woman’s standpoint! However, they are also not appropriate workplace conversations, either. Young people of any gender benefit from having appropriate workplace behavior modeled and pointed out to them by their supervisors. LW can do his employees a service by drawing some boundaries there.

      • TO_Ont said:

        Yeah, it’s kind of an eye-opener to me that guys exist who would interpret talking about tampons as sexy or flirty! If I ever mentioned tampons to a guy, it would be because a) I knew him well enough to know that he wouldn’t care one way or another or b) I was deliberately trying to disgust him.

        Most women I know find tampons boring and slightly disgusting, not ‘flirty’. They’re definitely not appropriate professional conversation in most workplaces, kind of like discussing your hemerroids might not be, but it’s hard for me to imagine someone using them as a topic for flirtation.

        I think LWs employees are either getting too casual with their boss and he needs to change the subject when that happens and set the example of being a little more professional and a little less like ‘good friends’, or possibly they’re deliberately trying to gross him out (either for a joke or because he’s making them uncomfortable in some way).

  21. Sal-Pal said:

    The Captain really said it all.

    Somehow, most people employing or otherwise interacting with young adults manage to do so without being incredibly inappropriate or being obsessed with them as sexualized objects. Sure, we all have our “Young Adults Be Young Adultin'” stories, but they absolutely do not read like yours.

    However, if LW is seriously — genuinely — looking for help with this? The first steps I would suggest would be to take some Adolescent Education (may be worded differently) classes or at least some reading up on them. These will help tremendously to understand how Young Adults work (even the women! Amazing! It’s like we’re the same species!) in terms of brain development, emotional development, social development, etc. It will help with understanding why they are so desperate to be taken seriously as adults. It will help with understanding why they have inappropriate workplace conversations or behaviour (because we are TAUGHT those things, and you are currently NOT doing that, and doing both your company and your employees a disservice by doing so). It will help with feeling like they are another species, as you seem to have a massive memory gap for the first 20 years of your life (it’s okay, a lot of people lack empathy with phases of life they are not currently in, but it’s a blind spot).

    You used to pee your pants. Just because you don’t remember it doesn’t mean it didn’t happen and need to be dealt with. Their behaviour is no different.

    YOUR behaviour, however, is absolutely unacceptable and inappropriate. These young women are not young womening AT you. They’re human beings in an incredibly vulnerable state, as you have about six elephants worth of power imbalance over them that you are not just attempting to ignore, but are actively leveraging.

    So, instead of trying to come up with reasons why the sexual predation you are considering long and hard at attempting is totally justifiable, if not pre-ordained, try being a decent human being.

    Or stick your head in one of your incredibly-niche and male-dominated products that only neuro-atypical infantilized hypersexualized young women are apparently capable of creating (but only with your benevolent guidance, and genitals).

    • I heavily applaud your last paragraph.

  22. AthenaC said:

    As I read the letter, I thought it sounded really familiar – guys of his generation, particularly guys in male-dominated fields, have received tons of very poisonous messages about women. All I read in the letter was that he’s working off of all these messages he received, messages that clearly all his friends (also male and of his generation) have also bought these toxic messages, hook line and sinker. But he’s running up against the reality that is nothing like the world he was told existed – i.e. women are competent and they’re not trouble waiting to happen. Notice how his psychologist and his wife (two people in a better position to be independent and understand human nature) both think he’s fine?

    So it seems to me he’s working out that dissonance between reality and what his expectations were / are. I think maybe he could have used some encouragement that he’s not crazy, that the world does not in fact work the way he was told it did, and that yes – female employees should be treated the same as male employees. That part I 100% agree with.

    Note: I’m not trying to say that he’s in any way the “victim” here; what I am saying is that from his position of privilege he seems to have an open mind when he could very easily have no such thing. I think it’s more productive to encourage progress than to shame him for having not made enough progress.

    • misspiggy said:

      +1

    • Yeah… I guess I can see where you’re coming from, but there are dog-whistles in the letter that betray something creepier.

      It’s entirely possible that the LW is not aware of that, and is being totally honest and is completely ignorant of where his problems lie.

      Here’s the thing, though. Being nice doesn’t always work. Sometimes you have to be slapped in the face, either metaphorically or literally. I know this from personal experience. While it didn’t happen to me directly, I watched it happen in real time to a close friend for something we were both doing. We both learned from that incident, and we both grew from it and changed. I’m not sure it would have worked so well had she been nice to him/us.

      If LW’s intentions are not as terrible as they come across in the letter, I sincerely hope he’ll understand the anger and learn from it. If he’s offended by the responses, I would suggest the women working for him get the hell out of there.

      This letter squicked me out, and I’m a straight, white, cis-gendered, able-bodied male. Creep was oozing off of it. If it was unintentional, I hope he really reads and hears what everyone is saying and changes his behavior with his employees. And I really hope it was unintentional, and he is just being a product of his time, and hopefully he’ll read this and learn and grow and start seeing his employees as people, and not as sex objects.

    • photondancer said:

      Agree. It’s little wonder some men end up feeling they can’t win when they’re simultaneously blasted for _not_ bearing in mind that the person near them is a woman, to the point where they’re told they can’t walk on the same side of the street as her or get in an elevator with her, but then get blasted because they _are_ thinking of her as a woman. I suspect this man isn’t so much creepy as hyper-sensitive to the contradictory messages continually dinned into his ears that he _can’t_ deal with women as people because that in itself is ‘privileged’, insensitive etc.

      • I mean, I was following you until the last sentence. What about dealing with woman as people is privileged?

      • XtinaS said:

        Yall just had to go and mention elevators, dincha.

        This entire comment comes off as “that poor man!”, and frankly, no. I’ve worked with plenty of older men in my day, and it is simply Not That Difficult to not be a creepy goddamn creeper. Many men have managed this just fine without angsting about how the women are probably gonna be crazy and omg maybe I should stop hiring women.

      • cruelmistress said:

        I don’t think anyone is saying men can’t walk on the same side of the street as their female employees, and I’m confused why you find this relevant.

        The protocols for allowing strangers to feel safe when they’re alone in the street =/= the protocols for being a conscientious boss. Those situations are hugely different.

    • Exit Flagger said:

      Yes, this! I don’t think the guy deserves a medal or anything, but an older man in STEM employing college-aged women and taking them along on business trips is pretty far out of the norm and it’s a big part of why women are so far behind in STEM. Yes, the discussion about Cosby is gross, but it seems like it was the worker that started it, not him (unfortunately women are also often socialized to not believe other women or to vilify them, case in point: the all-woman discussion at my workplace about women “trapping” men with pregnancy, ugh).

      This guy might be clueless and sexist, but he’s part of the solution not the problem. And it seems like he’s really trying to learn, for instance by taking advice from older women or going to a (lady!) psychologist. You don’t deprogram yourself of sexism overnight. So many people in his situation would never have even considered giving these “alien life forms” jobs.

    • ‘I think maybe he could have used some encouragement that he’s not crazy, that the world does not in fact work the way he was told it did’

      I think he could maybe use a harsh wakeup call. I’ve learned, as someone that is part of many groups that actively oppress others (me=white, straight, middle-class and cis) that if you hold views that are actively hurtful and dehumanising, then you’ve already gone past needing encouragement to be gently coaxed out of those views. And it’s time to accept that you, personally, are hurting people. This letter was honestly so gross and made me feel like shit to read, and I’m not any of the people involved. That’s because it ties into societal problems that hurt women actively. I want these comments to be a wakeup call because the LW isn’t even a young person like, say, the guy from a while back whose girlfriend (his girlfriend who said ‘I might be a lesbian’ and ‘I don’t want to have sex with you’) was giving a lot of ‘mixed messages’ in the bedroom. Ok that’s an oversimplification but it should be enough for people to remember the letter I’m talking about. Anyway, that guy was young and still undoing a lot of harmful messages about consent he had received from society. This guy is in his 50s. We can’t have it both ways, and say that because he has even more harmful messages to undo then it’s even harder for him. That’s bullshit. He has the maturity to do this. He has the money to spend on trained therapists to help him get over his worries about being accused of sexual harassment. In the meantime he needs to stop dumping out his harmful bullshit onto, say, a feminist website. Just an example!

    • Theophilus Tierce said:

      Thank you. I am the old man LW and I figured my letter would rouse all sorts of irate responses. However, I wrote it here in hopes of some insight, because I am getting very little of it anywhere else. But you are correct AthenaC that I am assailed by many, many people who insinuate or suggest I am doing something that must, in and of itself, be creepy. And this includes lots of customers who work in the odd snide remark here and there. Some of them I have confronted immediately, asking them, “And what did you mean by that?” But too many times said “knowing remark” gets made just as we are walking out the door and I am insufficiently quick of mind to issue a retort. And when I have to travel alone on long trips, the suspicion from people we meet is common. So it’s really tiresome to deal with. That, and the fact that many of our maintenance calls are in churches, so the clergy seem to feel a need to grill the girls with questions. “Honey, what grade are you in? Umm, how long have you been working for him?” I usually stand quietly and say nothing, unless it goes too long, or gets too odd.

      As far as the “alien” remark, please realize that the last time I spent any time with a 17 year old girl I was probably in high school myself. To suddenly be thrust into that very different world at my age was, to say the least, quite unsettling. Alien is a good word to describe it. It was unlike anything I knew anything about. Isn’t that a good thing? It would be really creepy if I were a middle aged man and had spent hours learning all about teen girl culture just in the hope that one would show up to work for me. Instead I was totally ignorant, and thus pretty nervous about it. It did seem obvious to me that any sort of sexual attraction to an old man like me was pretty gross, and I always thought the breathless, fearful predictions that some girl or other would get a crush on me as kind of crazy.

      And the Asperger’s question: one girl in particular started working for me several years ago, and she latched on to me like I was her last best hope. It turned out that she had never had any friends all through school, and when she came to apprentice to me ( her own words) she suddenly found someone who would listen to her and talk about “interesting things”. Interesting things being Hayek vs. Keynes, and geopolitical strategies of the evil empire of the U.S. We were in agreement on all these issues, so it was fun to talk about it. She was the one most likely to blurt out unintentional double entendres, and frequently got called down in school by the teachers because they thought she was doing it deliberately. So she had slowly learned to just shut herself down to avoid embarrassing herself. To make a very long story short, the two of us, neither one knowing anything about Aspergers, sort of figured out over the course of two years that she had all the hallmarks of it. She was relieved to know that her “weirdness”, as she called it, actually fit a recognized, known pattern, and that therefore she was “OK”. She still blurts out the funniest inappropriate things, but then catches herself and we both laugh, sometimes until we nearly puke. So there’s all that I know about Aspergers. I do absolutely love her direct, total (brutal?) honesty about everything. It makes everything work better in the long run.

      And to address the weird accusation that I am unable to empathize, you should know that I was that weird, nerdy kid in the 1970’s who had no friends because I was so socially odd, uncommunicative, and had such obscure, obsessive interests. The day this girl finally confided to me that she had never had any friends since daycare, I went home that evening and wept for a good 1/2 hour. I knew what that felt like. Anyway, she was the one that finally sent me to a therapist out of desperation: therapist became alarmed enough at my description of our relationship that she asked to see both of us. It came out, between lots of tears, that I was the first friend she had ever had, which was really unnerving, because nothing about that seemed healthy. But now she’s far away at college, we never communicate except an occasional email asking, “Do you have work for me this summer?” She has a good boyfriend who treats her well, and I hear from her mother occasionally about her achievements. So everything seems normal, whatever that is.
      She did flatly inform me several months ago that if they had been diagnosing it in the 1970’s, they would have diagnosed me as autistic. I just thanked her for that information.

      Since she has known a few girls in high school and college who have made histrionic false allegations against guys, she is circumspect on the Cosby allegations. But I have to remind everyone that she was the one who thought I could be setting myself up for later unsubstantiated allegations. It was probabpy a really stupid and ill-considered subject line, but I figured it would get attention. Ummm. Oh, well. Sorry about that.

      It does seem like a can’t win, though. If I seek advice from conservative, white Christian people, I am roundly condemned for working alone with these girls/young women. If I seek advice from the other end of the spectrum, I get assailed with even more darkly suspicious, thinly veiled accusations. I’m apparently pretty naive about sex (my wife will confirm that) and the truth is that the girls have rescued me a couple of times: one example: we were staying in a home several years ago while we worked on a project many miles from home. In the evenings I would often spend time talking for hours with the very obviously married woman who was our hostess. On the last night, to my total and dumbfounded surprise, she suddenly started coming on to me in a big way, and the girl I was with somehow telepathically realized something was wrong, took a break from skyping with her boyfriend, and came bounding down the stairs and into the room to break it all up. I am forever grateful to her…. But my lack of social skills show up in settings like that. So when so many people around me are frequently insinuating that some sexual undercurrent must be going on, I figure they may be right, because I seem to be oblivious most of the time. So I end up analyzing it all endlessly, trying to figure out if they are right. Ugh.

      The psychologist pointed out that, in the “fight or flight” reaction that most people have to difficult situations, that my unfortunate instinctive reaction seems to be to freeze and do nothing. She pointed out that I might need to learn a more effective approach,

      As far as fantasies, I’m pretty sure my only fantasy is to just live a quiet life, doing what I love to do without a lot of drama.

      So next week I take a road trip with a guy for the first time in 5 years. I think it will be a relief.

      • cruelmistress said:

        It’s really perplexing to me that after working alongside and growing close to these women over a series of years you would still consider “drama” a natural consequence of being near young women, and that a guy will automatically be a “relief.” (Leaving aside the gratuitous phrase “histrionic false allegations” which leaves a very sour taste in my mouth.)

        • crooked bird said:

          I suspect he means it will be a relief because of *other* people’s behavior as described in the first paragraph of his comment. I’m finding those descriptions very enlightening about why gender discrimination in hiring is so persistent. (I’m kind of smacking myself on the forehead here. Duh! So many of the *bosses* are men of the older generation and culturally they are just swimming in the “hiring young women only means one thing” mentality…) I’ve been in those worlds, I’ve been to those churches, you would ABSOLUTELY run up against that bullshit constantly…

      • emdashing said:

        LW, I think you missed most of the point here. “Alien” used to describe OTHER HUMANS is a distancing and devaluing thing to do. You are othering these young women and insisting on an extreme level of difference between the two of you in an inherently diminishing way. Sure, a middle aged man and teenage girls aren’t going to have a lot in common, but they are not separate species. I think it says a lot that you are so fixated on your differences when clearly, at the bare minimum, they are interested in the same work you do. I think a lot of the issues you describe in your initial letter and again here would be much smaller issues if you could just accept the notion that these PEOPLE you work with are PEOPLE. They aren’t a monolith of young femininity. They also aren’t interchangeable with each other, but instead individuals with individual personalities who happen to be women.

        I’m really disturbed by the the sort of deep-seated misogyny in your response, where your employees are responsible for the gross things “conservative, white Christian” people supposedly assume, and you want to avoid working with them as a result. To be clear, that is not a dark, suspicious, thinly veiled accusation. I am saying outright (just as the Captain did): you are sexist. You blame these young women for things entirely outside their control and plan to punish them by denying them employment. When you sum up your comments with the notion that spending time with men is SO MUCH EASIER than women, you make this fact pretty clear. You are the problem, not your employees and, it amazes me to say, not even the (imaginary?) jerks who are insinuating you have inappropriate relationships with your employees. You want that to stop? Look the next person who does it in the eye and say, “That’s inappropriate. Please don’t imply that about me or my colleagues.” You want that to stop? Set boundaries in your workplace that you are comfortable with. You’re the boss, that should be easy to do.

        Setting aside whether I believe that your former employee has “known a few girls in high school and college who have made histrionic false allegations against guys” (a notion that is, at the very least, statistically improbable), if you behave in an appropriate manner at all times and treat your employees (of all sexes) in a respectful work-place-appropriate way, the issuer of a false accusation wouldn’t have any legs to stand on. This should be something you consider when you spend time one-on-one with ANY employee, regardless of sex, but you should also want a workplace where everyone is treated with decency and respect all the time. In short: treat humans like humans.

        Finally, if you really want people in your real life to stop thinking you’re a creeper, maybe don’t ask everyone you know/meet for advice on how to deal with working with young girls. The more you act like your work situation is strange, unusual, and dangerous, the more that will turn into a feedback loop of weirdness and sexism. You are not the first or last male supervisor to have a primarily young, female employee pool. Your employment of young women doesn’t have to be A THING, but I think you’re really invested in the idea that it is and you seem to get strange enjoyment from painting yourself as a sort of modern Joseph Andrews surrounded by nerdy Lady Boobys. Just don’t.

      • It’s telling that you’ve gotten (so far) close to 150 comments and chose this one to respond to.

        I think a lot of your comment above reads like a Dear Penthouse letter and it’s giving me the squicks. If you’re not going to listen to all the great advice here, please at least refrain from posting further sexism and crap like “histrionic false allegations”. (Seriously?! )

        50’s isn’t old, but your attitude is.

      • Ethyl said:

        I’m sooooo tireddddd of dudes being all “i was nerdy too” to try to convince people they couldn’t possibly be creepy. Most of the most vile sexists I have encountered have been “nerdy.”

        As for the rest of your comment, I just don’t think I have the energy to discuss all the justifications, misdirection, gas lighting, and excuse-making.

      • Since she has known a few girls in high school and college who have made histrionic false allegations against guys

        Since the percentage of false rape allegations is currently 5%, and that percentage may be wildly inflated, I’m going to say that statistics are on the side of those few girls telling the truth.

        Why?

        Because of rape culture.

        Further, as others have already suggested, stop posting. Read the comments thread in-depth. It’s long, but there’s an education to be had, here.

      • catefish said:

        So…you came to get a different POV, but instead of listening to and internalizing the advice and experience of women who have been in the situation of your employees, you’re providing a jumble of justification and complaining of “veiled accusations”. And the lack of use of empathy is a “weird accusation” because…?

      • I’m…worried about the way you talk about this one girl. I really feel like nothing is getting through to you right now if you read all the comments and latched onto the most sympathetic to reply to but…please listen. The way you’re talking about her is really weird. She’s your coworker. She’s not a relation. Even if she was some of this would be weird. You have to put what she’s saying in context!

        Ok, so she had a hard time growing up and never had any friends (me too. That would have been me at 17). When she calls you her ‘first friend’, that’s where it comes from. You already know that, and you take her completely seriously? When I was about that age I related to adults more, because it was a relief to talk to someone who was outside the clicheyness and nastiness of the way kids are at school. It didn’t last, and it didn’t have any deeper meaning. It sounds like the same is true for her, as she now has a boyfriend (who is presumably her age) and she’s at college and probably has loads of friends her age now. Even if she doesn’t, that’s for her to work out, definitely not you. For the record, I had an older boyfriend at age 17, at the time when I didn’t have any friends. (He was 20. Yeah, I know, 3 years. Back then it felt like a HUUUUGE age gap. Because for my emotional stage, it was.) After we broke up, I moved on, made friends my own age, and grew up a lot. By the time he next contacted me when I was 21 or so, I felt like a completely different person. He saw on facebook that I was unhappy (working through depression and stress) and rather patronisingly tried to charge in and fix everything. It was weird and not at all his business. So even if you do find out that she’s having trouble making friends, having boyfriend trouble maybe, you have to…not think about it! Leave her to make her mistakes, make the mistakes of life, and find relationships and friends. It’s not. your. business. I hope the mother is giving you strictly academic updates at this point.

        Also, I’m just not buying this story about your lack of social skills, low emotional maturity, etc. You own your own company. How did you get there? Social skills are not just to do with relationships and sexuality. I’m guessing you got there by interacting predominantly with men, as you admit several times that you find women very uncomfortable, but you don’t seem to see how offensive and disturbing that is.

        And, this is about your young female ‘friend’ again (I say friend in scare quotes because I really don’t think she can be your friend. I don’t think it’s safe). You paint a picture of how you carefully, as a team with her, helped her figure out that she might have Asberger’s. I just can’t fathom how that is your business in any way. As her employer, her behaviour while she works for you is indeed your business. The cause of it is not. Even if it so happened that you found out you were autistic yourself, that doesn’t make you guys any sort of team. She will, I hope, meet and interact with lots of people her own age with autism or Asberger’s in her life. It is STILL weird that you are so much older than her, autistic or not.

        It is NOT your ‘girls’ responsibility to rescue you from the scaaary married woman who was coming onto you. It is NOT their responsibility to send you to a therapist (your words!). WHY are young girls, the ones you are so scared of, apparently running your life?? Please, keep seeing that therapist. Stop asking people whether you are doing something wrong and just work through your own issues, keeping them separate from other peoples.

        Treating women and girls as equals in this case means treating them the same as you would a boy that age. It doesn’t mean they are literally your equals. I can’t think of any other way you would think a friendship of this kind would be appropriate. There are roles involved here. Like, when I was 23 I childminded two girls. They were 8 and 10. I was very conscious of how I was not that much older than them, especially when they assumed I was still a teenager myself (well kids that age aren’t very good at guessing ages of older people). We got on very well and shared interests in things like drawing and animals. But I was never their friend. I was in a position of responsibility over them. They are 12 and 10 now and growing up, making new friends and going to new schools. I care about them but there is no reason for me to be in their lives any more as I’m no longer their childminder. That was my role. Your role is The Boss. Your girls’ role is The Employers. You need to maybe talk to your therapist about how you have trouble seeing these roles where girls are concerned. Someone who is being paid should be helping you with this situation. Stop bothering your friends with it.

      • So, my dad is also in his 50s and taught high school science. Dealt with a lot of bright young women, encouraged them, mentored them. Never. Had. A. Problem. It’s not necessarily a thing that has to happen, you know? Also, he’s a conservative white Christian guy. Never. Had. A. Problem. You know why? Because he was/is the adult, just like you’re the boss.

        Also, there’s no such thing as an unintentional double entendre. Just one person reading too much into what another person said.

      • hummingbear said:

        You don’t need to have telepathy or nuanced social skills to establish and enforce professional boundaries or to treat young women with respect. The rules are actually pretty clear and simple.

        1. No discussion of sexual topics or personal hygiene at work, including no sexual jokes.

        2. No dating colleagues with whom there is any kind of hierarchical or supervisory relationship.

        3. Apply the same rules to everyone, regardless of age, gender, Aspergers diagnosis, etc.

        4. People over age 18 are women and men, not girls and boys. “Young woman” is a far more respectful way to refer to a woman in her late teens or 20s than “girl.”

        If someone makes a statement that could be interpreted by “the wrong sort of person” as a double entendre, you can choose to not be the wrong sort of person and instead simply take it at face value. If a client hits on you or makes an inappropriate remark, calmly state the boundary, if need be using a prepackaged Script a la the Captain. “I’m sorry, but our relationship needs to be strictly business.” “Caitlin is a talented widget maker and a valued colleague. It is disrespectful to insinuate otherwise.” For your purposes it doesn’t matter why someone is violating a boundary. You don’t need to psychoanalyze them or diagnose them or come up with some perfect witty comeback. You just need to enforce your own workplace standards impartially.

        I second all the suggestions to read through the Ask a Manager archive, and maybe bring in an HR consultant to give you advice on developing written workplace policies on sexual harassment and nondiscrimination. If you have and follow good policies that are clearly communicated to all personnel, you won’t have to worry about anyone’s insinuations or gossip.

      • Bunny said:

        You came here to get some different perspectives and, well, you got them!

        Here’s the thing. You got told off, here. Yes. And that’s difficult and painful and hard to wade through, especially en masse. But if, rather than latching immediately onto the most sympathetic comment on here, you could take the time to read what the majority of people on here have said, you’ll find the advice and commentary is very consistent. To summarise some of it:

        1- None of the behaviour or conversations you’ve described as having with your employees reads as sexual, innuendo-laced or flirty to us. Some of it reads as inappropriate, but only in the sense of not being the right sort of conversation to have at work between two people of different power levels. Like discussing how large the dump you took earlier was or how bad your piles are.

        2- Many of the people commenting are, or have been, young women working in male-dominated fields and dealing with a variety of male bosses and co-workers. And for many of those people, the way you describe your employees brings their hackles up, and reminds them of the BAD bosses and co-workers. Intentional or not, that’s something you should be concerned about and should make you want to examine your atittude and wording.

        3- Referring to young women as alien creatures, being doubtful and then surprised to find they are actually capable of being good at their job, filtering all of their words and behaviour through a sexual lens and then continuing to complain about how you’d rather be working with men? All of that reflects poorly on YOU. Not on your employees.

        4- These young women exceeded your expectations and have proven themselves capable of the job. That you still consider firing them and replacing them with men because of something that is entirely in your imagination is, frankly, gross and incredibly disappointing. As a woman, it’s a reminder that even if I work ten times as hard as men, prove myself a hundred times over and do everything in my power to succeed, at the end of the day my career could be sabotaged because of some random dude who refuses to see me as a person. That’s a problem, and it’s a problem you’ll be actively causing and contributing to if you decide to do this.

        5- Basically, these women at work are not potential sexual partners or lawsuits or temptresses. They are people, at work, doing a job, and just starting out their careers. Treat them as such. Would you be analysing the potential sexual consequences of everything at work if they were young men? No? Not everyone is straight. At work, unless you are specifically working *in the sex industry*, your best bet is to forget that the people around you have genitals at all. Trust me – it’s not that hard. I’m attracted to people of all different genders, and I manage to work side by side with people without being constantly aroused!

        As an aside, I really am side-eying your claim to be naive about sex and unable to notice when potentially sexual situations arise. You seriously expect me to believe that you are some clueless, helpless innocent about sexual innuendo and flirting. when your letter to CA read like a letters-to-the-penthouse fantasy in which you took immense pains to carefully analyse every eyelash-flutter and word-choice of your younger employees?

      • xyz said:

        …Women. They aren’t girls, they are grown women.

        You need to adjust your attitude, badly.

      • JenniferP said:

        In this comment, Bunny said everything I wanted to say, especially the bit about the horror of being really great at one’s job and still being sidelined because of sexism.

        Clearly you think you’ve been badly done by everyone except AthenaC, but let’s review:

        You didn’t ask how you could make these situations easier on your employees or yourself.
        You didn’t ask how you could be a better manager.
        You didn’t ask for scripts for how to deal with rude assumptions or comments others might make.

        Instead, you consistently pointed out how surprising it was that your female employees were good at anything (so, insulting from the start), asked if you should stop employing women altogether (insulting as fuck), and you asked if the young women you employ are probably going to make fake rape accusations against you someday like Bill Cosby (insulting and creepy).

        You gave us a bizarre window into what sexism looks like from the inside and you got some new people to pay attention to your “problems.” You’ve gotten plenty of differing perspectives here, and that is all the time and mental bandwidth I and this site have for you. You can “fix” all of this by being a better manager; go learn how.

    • Molly Grue said:

      No.

      The letter writer is not simply regurgitating the “poisonous ideas of an earlier generation.” He is actively using them to further his own position of not only having power over these young women, but using it to sexualize them in really, really inappropriate ways.

      While it is infuriating for younger women to have to deal with those condescending beliefs, it is actively dangerous when someone in power over them sets them up as unreliable, alien, highly sexual all the time (tampons? REALLY?) while at the same time prone to tell lies about having been sexually assaulted. (c.f. the Cosby reference.)

      I dealt with both while I was in my 20s, and it is was the latter that was actively dangerous.

      • xyz said:

        Yep, and honestly 50 isn’t even that old. Shit, Gloria Steinem was in the limelight when LW was young. Toni Morisson was writing bestsellers. Punk (and Riot Grrl!) was a thing when LW was young… We’re not talking a WWII veteran here.

        • Bunny said:

          Yup. It’s 2015. A 50 year old would’ve been born in 1965. Women were in the workplace long before the LW reached adulthood. A lot of feminism happened between 1965 and when LW would’ve reached adulthood. A lot happened before LW was even born. Hell, the sexual bloody revolution happened during LW’s childhood.

          My grandfather turned 79 last week. He’s never had issues working with women, or seeing women as competent adults, or acted surprised or scandalised by women talking about women’s things. Someone in their mid-50s is well past being able to use age and “it was a different time back then” as an excuse for not getting this stuff.

  23. ThursdayNext said:

    As an actual engineer who just so happens to be a woman, I have found that the biggest sexist, patronizing assholes are the ones who make a huge hairy deal out of shielding and protecting my delicate lady-self from all the other rough men I might work with in the field. Treat ALL your employees like they are compentent humans and buy yourself a ladder to get over how persecuted you feel by chatty “girls”

    Ps – chivalry is both condescending and fucking annoying

  24. Absotively said:

    I’m another woman in a male-dominated industry with an older male boss who agrees with all of the above.

    I do wonder if the LW might benefit from working on management skills in general, in addition to working on being less sexist, setting better boundaries, etc. In his discussion of hiring the first woman, obviously his reasons for thinking that she wouldn’t be a good employee were very sexist and wrong, and it worked out for the best that he hired her. But it still seems odd that he hired someone who he expected to be bad at the job on the basis that the person’s mother thought that the job would be good for them. And his comment that young women keep “showing up to work for [him]” suggests that he hasn’t become any more proactive about his hiring process since.

    I am definitely not saying that he should stop hiring women, mind you.

    • cruelmistress said:

      He should probably reevaluate his friendships, though. He sounds dissatisfied in general with the number and quality of the friendships in his life, and is on the verge of firing competent employees so he can talk to his friends about his life again (???).

  25. Anothermous said:

    Everything–EVERYTHING that has been said in the Captain’s response + the comments is valuable and true. But something else mightily pissing me off about the LW’s assumption that “something might happen” (re: he might fuck is employees) is the obvious assumption on the LW’s behalf that any of his employees see him as a potential sexual partner.

    REALLY? You’re old enough to be those women’s FATHER. GROSS. Are you really so full of yourself to think that any of them are actually sexualizing YOU the way you are THEM?

    None of them find you remotely attractive, buddy. Grow up.

    • HM said:

      YEP.

    • Myrin said:

      Yes! Or they could be asexual (like me, which is why I always find expectations like the LW’s especially weird, even if the guy in question is in my “appropriate” age bracket) or lesbian or not interested in a relationship at the work place or not interested in anything sexual/romantic at the moment at all. There’s really no need for assumptions like the LW exhibits.

      • Anothermous said:

        Yup, yup, yup. There are SO many reasons why these women would not ever be into the LW sexually.

        In my experience, the assumptions the LW is making about his employees is a direct consequence of the assumption he’s making about women in general: that we only exist so men can have sex with them. Thus, of course he assumes that anything and everything they do is potential flirting, because he can’t conceive of them as speaking or acting for any other purpose.

    • Flora said:

      My hunch is that he blushes when they say “screw” or “tampon” and they see that do it on purpose just to f with him, and he mistakes that for flirting. Not the most professional behavior from his young employees, but he can still deal with it as a professional.

    • Linden said:

      There are men in the world who gather up groups of women around them so they can make themselves feel like the center of attention, particularly if they can put the women in a “one-down” position to themselves, such as employer-employee. Then they can cast themselves as the benevolent leader of the harem, dispensing manly advice and wisdom and sexual vibes and patting themselves on the back for how enlightened and caring they are. I found LW’s assertion that he just doesn’t know how he ended up hiring all these young sexy women, tee-hee!, to be disingenuous. It really smacked of “Dear Penthouse Forum, you’re never going to believe this!” type of writing.

    • glacialaceticacid said:

      I laughed, because as a woman who’s worked mostly in STEM fields all my life, I’ve run into this COUNTLESS times. In every one of these situations, I had (and had explicitly communicated, regardless of what some guy who barely knows me thinks he can read of my body language) zero interest in these men. To me, it seemed obvious from the context that a relationship, or anything else, would be extremely inappropriate-he’s in a position of authority over me, he’s old enough to be my grandfather, one or both of us is married/otherwise committed, etc. It was always a surprise to find out that the context, including my failure to communicate that kind of interest, was not at all obvious to the party on the other end, who had been viewing me the entire time solely in the context of his *own* interest.

      It defies any kind of logic, and makes me laugh at the stereotype of women tending to be more romance-oriented. If I were the sort of person to paint an entire sex with an anecdata-colored brush, my experiences would certainly lead me to believe the opposite, because it seems to me that men tend to get carried away with romantic fantasies at least as much, if not more, than women do.

      • Anothermous said:

        I relate to this a lot, too. I’m in the midst of my second master of science, and I’ve been active before in a lot of stereotypically geeky circles. This attitude is so prevalent. I can’t even begin to describe how angry it makes me. It says so much about the person (re: man) who thinks this way, because it’s a dead giveaway that he can’t conceive of any other reason to interact with a woman other than to try and elicit sex, and applies that thinking in reverse. “Well, if she’s talking to me, she must want to bone me, because lord knows I would never want to have a conversation with a woman for any other reason.”

        I would bet good money that the idea of having sex with the LW is actively repulsive to all of his female employees.

    • boutet said:

      Also: nothing will ever “just happen”! If somehow, someday, some young woman is interested in sex with this guy HE CAN DECLINE. Men can say no! Even old men towards younger women!

  26. ginksarade said:

    LW, you mentioned that after the first girl you hired, her sister and best friend ended up working for you, too. I think that’s kind of important. I would recruit my sister and friend(s) if I felt safe, OR if I felt totally unsafe and needed backup. If it were just those first three, I could go either way – but later on you say something about how women “keep showing up.” How are they finding you? I mean, are these all friends/acquaintances/classmates or something?

  27. ANRiley said:

    Maybe I’m just a hairy-legged old feminist, but it really gets up my nose when adults at work are called girls and guys. In social life or family life, sure, okay, but in professional life? How about calling them men and women — or even more radical, how about calling them colleagues, co-workers, engineers, editors, whatever?

  28. Your disclaimer was the best part.

  29. I wish I could really flesh out an anthropological note on why young women talk about makeup and bras and tampons etc. in front of older men, because my experience is that it’s a deliberate boundary-pushing tactic that’s intended to do the opposite of what the LW thinks/hopes it’s for. First of all it’s a test of how misogynistic a guy is–is he going to faint/scream/stop treating me as an equal if I mention I’m female? Is he going to act like I’m dirty and gross because I menstruate? (Real thing that really happens.) Is he going to belittle or judge me for being feminine? Just how far do I have to push before I get a misogynist response? It’s almost a form of hazing, to see if you can put up with being around women without turning into a raging dickhead.

    The eyelash discussion reads, to me, as makeup shop-talk. Makeup is really complicated! You need to use different tricks for different colouring and it’s all very complicated. That’s not someone trying to be alluring, that’s a nerd telling you about a nerdy thing she figured out about her hobby.

    • Cassandra said:

      “The eyelash discussion reads, to me, as makeup shop-talk. Makeup is really complicated! You need to use different tricks for different colouring and it’s all very complicated. That’s not someone trying to be alluring, that’s a nerd telling you about a nerdy thing she figured out about her hobby.”

      This is a true statement.

  30. Groovy Biscuit Intervention said:

    So. Your employees. It seems to me that if you have roles within your company that can be successfully performed by people without prior experience or qualifications in your field, they’re likely to be entry-level jobs? In which case, you’re likely to end up recruiting younger people because a) younger job-seekers will inevitably be limited to taking entry-level positions and b) I’m guessing the pay isn’t terribly high, so older/more qualified people would not want or be able to take them anyway.

    It sounds as though your employees are doing a really good job. Good! That means, in business terms, that your hiring practices, whatever they are, are working well for your company. Reading between the lines of your question, you seem partly to be asking ‘how come all these young women keep coming to work for me?’, though, so that may indicate that you should take a look at how you hire if you want to answer that question. From your letter, it sounds as though a lot of word-of-mouth is involved – the first girl you hired heard about the job via her mother? The young man you hired already knew your other employees? This is actually not a problem at all if it results in hiring people who can do the job, but it inevitably shapes who will apply in the first place – if the word-of-mouth is spreading out from an employee who’s a young woman, it’s not unlikely that it will be spread to other young women. This doesn’t have some special deep meaning about you being a magnet for younger female employees.

    If you do decided that you want to recruit from a wider pool of applicants, think about how you advertise vacancies (do you advertise? Where?) and about really defining, in the job description, what qualities you’re looking for in an employee (hint: being a man? Not one of these). I would suggest that, regardless of whether your company is large enough to legally have to be non-discriminatory, you should adopt a policy of not discriminating. You should make this an actual policy, written down. But, please note that I’m not saying you actually *need* to widen your pool of applicants, if what you’re doing currently works well for your company – it might, however, be worth doing if, for example, you needed to hire someone who already has technical expertise, or if your business expands and you need to take on someone to fulfill a specific role (like admin, or accounts, or whatever).

    The whole thing about weirdly inappropriate conversations happening at work? *You* are the person who needs to sort this out. Things like ‘…and then we immediately had a wildly funny conversation, analyzing all the other girls to try to figure out which one of them might go crazy-off-the-rails in 15-20 years’ suggest to me that you aren’t modelling professional workplace behaviour very clearly to your employees; in which case it’s hardly surprising if they don’t display it themselves. And again, if these are entry-level positions, your employees probably don’t have much (or any) prior experience of the workplace to draw upon, so they will take their cues from the environment they find themselves in, and from you. I think you’re doing them a disservice in engaging in these kind of conversations with them.

    It sounds from your letter as though you’re struggling to work out how to view your relationships with these women – Fatherly? Friendly? Potentially romantic or sexual? – because you’re paying waaaay too much attention to the fact that they are women, and you’re then trying to put them into a mental category you expect to find women in. In reality, your relationship with them is really clear – you’re their boss. Being their boss means setting and maintaining an expectation around workplace behaviour. This doesn’t mean that no-one can ever have any fun, and it doesn’t mean that you yourself can never be friendly with your employees – I don’t want you to read this and then go away and clamp down on all fun of any kind! – but it means drawing a boundary between you and them, a boundary that (regardless of the age of your employees, and whether they’re women) gently keeps things professional. Part of that – a big part of that – means you not getting involved in conversations and situations that should be between friends, not between employee and boss. That whole conversion with B about her crush? Not an employee/boss conversion, unless and until the situation directly impacted on work. If you’re going to be someone who has friend conversations with these young women, then you really shouldn’t be surprised to end up hearing about tampons.

    The Bill Cosby thing sums up the whole problem. Here you have one of your employees making what seems on the surface to be a very inappropriate jokes to hear in the workplace (or, well, anywhere) – which, if that’s what she was doing, suggests that your employees have learned (from you) that it’s OK to do this. And below the surface, you have a concern that she may be referring to a real tension that she and/or other people are feeling. And your response to that was to join in with the ‘joke’, reinforcing the idea that this is OK and normal and just how things are here, and passing up on the opportunity to hear her out and find out whether she was actually trying to tell you something serious. A better script might have been something like ‘[Employee], that’s very concerning to hear – it sounds as though you’re telling me I’ve been making you uncomfortable in some way. Can you tell me more about that, so I can deal with the problem?’

    I’m going to suggest that you check out Ask A Manager, and spend some (a lot of!) time thinking about the culture you’re building within your company. I’m guessing that your business has grown slowly over time, and that maybe being a manager isn’t something you have given a lot of thought to – you repeatedly refer to your employees as ‘helpers’, for example, which suggests you think of the business as yourself + eh, some extra pairs of hands when I need them. Go away and learn as much as you can about managing people, and I strongly suspect all the OMG Young Women! stuff will start to melt away.

    • winter said:

      All very well said.

    • Myrin said:

      Fantastic comment!

    • xyz said:

      Yep. He’s just their boss. That Is All!

  31. Adele said:

    My perspective was a little different… it’s entirely possible I’m giving the benefit of the doubt too much here, but anyway

    You know that thing that happens when you’re near a cliff? That whole “don’t jump don’t jump DON’T JUMP” in your head? You know that thought you have of a terrible and entirely random thing you might do, but actually you really wouldn’t, because duh?
    That phenomenon is really important as a reminder of the thing you should ABSOLUTELY NOT DO. And while I’d like to say that it shouldn’t be necessary for this guy (see: duh), it’s likely that he’s been around in the times when those kinds of behaviours were normal-ish (see: Mad Men), and this is how he can try to ensure he’s not a part of that. I don’t think its a creepy fixation so much as a network of paranoias put in place to try to ensure that he isn’t the creepy older dude that so many men of his age are (while living behind a blissful veil of privileged ignorance).

    Additional theories: the *women* (not girls) he works alongside are pretty aware of all this. I can easily imagine the conversation:
    A: there seem to be an awful lot of pretty, young ladies working here. Is Boss Dude a creeper?
    B: nah, we like working here cos he’s really not. Like, if you say your bra’s way uncomfy, some guys will get super-interested, but this dude goes rabbit-in-headlights.
    A: that’s not ideal either
    B: nope, not really, but he’s old and trying, bless him, and he won’t stand for any shenanigans from any guy employees or clients, and he isn’t so blinded by our tits that he can’t see that we’re fucking good at what we do
    A: sounds better than most engineering work environments…

    • mehting said:

      heheheh, I love this imagined conversation, it exactly captures my thought process about working with some people in my male-dominated field.

    • Zatchmort said:

      I also read it this way. I think many of us have moments of “BUT WHAT IF I DID THIS?? Oh wait, no, that would be an awful thing to do, so I just won’t.” I used to worry about it until I realized that it actually started happening *more* as I read CA and other feminist blogs and realized some of the many ways people are awful to each other that I wasn’t aware of previously. That sound is your brain going “THERE’S A NARRATIVE WHERE PEOPLE DO [X AWFUL THING]”, and it’s your cue to say “So there is, thanks Brain for reminding me not to do that, although shouting isn’t necessary.”

      Letter Writer, please read the Captain’s response and others, in small doses if that makes them easier to digest. Yours was a more “101” kind of letter than we’ve been getting recently, and people came down on you pretty hard. What I want you to get from this is that your letter made many people deeply uncomfortable – not, I propose, because the thought once crossed your mind “here I am surrounded by young women, this could be interpreted as weird/sexual”, but because of how seriously you take that narrative and the credence you continue to give it. As How Byronic said above, “The sex is in your imagination.” YOU have the power to make this not weird – by tightening up the standards for professional workplace conversation, yes, but mostly by responding, when your brain or anyone else suggests that something sexual might be going on, “But *I* know there isn’t, so there’s really nothing to talk about.” Consider going back to that therapist, or a different one, and saying “I have come to understand, intellectually, that women are people who make good engineers and so there is nothing strange about this situation, but I’m having trouble really convincing myself day-to-day.”

      Though it may seem tangential at first, I also agree with those who say you should read more books/consume more media written by women. You could start with the archives here. I truly believe that the more comfortable you become with the idea that women of all ages are people – independent agents with their own motivations, goals, and abilities, not just stereotypes or sex objects – the more you’ll come to see your employees as colleagues, not future tabloid fuel. Along the way, you’ll likely pick up some good info about what “jokes” and other behaviors made people here feel threatened, and might be making your work environment less welcoming than it ought to be.

  32. Lolita by Nakakov is one of my favourite books, because it’s like a three hour (or however long it takes you to read it) vacay into Gaslight Hell. It’s an amazing book, because it demands you sympathise with the unsympathisable. It’s a book that makes you aware of the charm and persuasion of rape culture, and you can feel the exact moment when your cognitive dissonance twangs.

    This letter reads an awful lot like that, LW.

    But if you take away the gloss of plausible deniability, what you’re saying is:

    – I belittle and patronise my employees because of their gender
    – My adult friends refuse to talk to me about the compromising situations I’m imagining my teenage employees and myself getting into
    – My teenage employees compare me to a serial rapist

    And your take-away from that was ‘maybe I should fire them all’?

    Here’s how you stop being a creep:

    – Consent in all things. ‘I’m going to have to lean against you to screw this in, ok?’, ‘I’m going to push against you to give you more power, alright?’, ‘I’m going to reach over your leg to grab that, is that alright?’ Then, if you’re making anyone at work uncomfortable by touching them, they get a chance to say ‘no’ or move away. If you’re not making anyone uncomfortable, then it won’t hurt.
    – Whenever you find yourself counting how many times a young woman is batting her eyelashes at you, say to yourself ‘she is a coworker, that isn’t appropriate’. Can’t help but noticing how long someone’s legs are? ‘She is a coworker, that isn’t appropriate.’
    – Enforce boundaries at work. ‘That’s not really appropriate talk for the workshop’, ‘not at work, guys’, ‘can you save this for your lunchbreak please?’
    – Stop making Bill Cosby jokes literally right now stop STOP s t o p

  33. Pizkies said:

    LW, like everyone else I was sorta creeped out by your letter (hello, young woman in tech here!), but I’ll go easy on you since you are at least self-aware enough to ask for help, and that counts for a lot.

    First: I can’t help but notice a sort of… pride in your letter, in the trust and confidence you’ve won in these women (it’s “sweet”, you teasingly reminded B of her crush, etc.). I’m not blaming you – it’s an easy trap to fall into – but it explains a lot.
    You hired three very young people who were already friends. Of course(!) the tone would start out informal, jokey, even inappropriate. That’s how friends talk, and without any workplace experience to tell them differently, why would they dial it back? That knowledge does not spring fully-formed into people’s heads.

    The whole “you reminded B of her crush” tells me that you have an equal hand in creating the informal workplace tone. Why would you even bring that up? Why would you keep following conversational threads that you find inappropriate?
    The workplace tone problem is not on your employees’ shoulders. It’s on yours. And that’s good news – it means you are able to dial it back like everyone has said. But first, you need to realize that this is not a “new blood came and upended professionalism!” problem but a “boss has failed to set boundaries” problem.

    Now. Like everyone else, I got the shivers reading your letter. You are definitely sexualizing these employees of yours to an uncomfortable degree. Having never been a sexist middle-aged dude, I have a hard time giving any advice about how to overcome this. Someone else mentioned seeking out women’s works, and that’s a great idea IMO. Read up on prominent historical women in your field. Make a point to chit-chat with women at professional gatherings. Just… generally try to step away from the male-centric lens you’ve been seeing the world through. Maybe your therapist can help here, too.
    Because believe me, sex and romance is the furthest thing from these employees’ minds. There’s a reason dudes don’t usually flirt by mentioning boner hiding strategies or their favorite shaving cream or the nasty case of farts they had yesterday. Likewise, periods and beauty regimens are not really flirting strategies employed by women. They are, however, excellent and laugh-worthy topics among friends. And to be honest, depending on detail and grossness level, such topics might not even be unprofessional* if discussed at the water cooler and far away from clients.

    I can’t rule out that some of your employees are messing with you because you are so easily flustered by non-sexual conversation. Some people have that kind of humor, and it sounds like you make it easy.

    But you are the only one thinking you’re getting “caught”. Either your employees are gleefully unaware that you’re constantly fantasizing about Bill Cosby-like scenarios, or they know and find it kinda harmless and funny (in which case I want to seek them out and give them big hugs because… eep. that’s really bad survival instincts, and they should be taught better). But they definitely don’t agree with you that your workplace is a bare-restrained lustbowl of illicit affairs waiting to happen.

    And if, at some point in the future, you stumble across a young employee who likes ’em granpa style? You have the option to shoot her down. You… do know that, right? And, more importantly, you’d WANT to shoot it down, right? … Right?

    * Disclaimer: I’ve never worked for a small company, so I don’t know how drastically the tone differs, but I do know that silly and inappropriate topics tend to come up in larger companies over lunch break, especially if no dudes are present. People at equal authority level be friends, yo.

  34. winter said:

    I honestly have the impression that LWs friends don’t want to talk to him about it (except for the boredom) because they worry they’ll hear about truly gross behavior by LW.

  35. Side note: Ugh. Just made the mistake of scrolling down to read the comments on that Bill Crosby timeline. Ick. OK, not gonna do that again.

    • Thanks for the warning!

      I’m sorry you had an ugh, icky-y experience. Jedi hugs.

      You know, I see you around here and I always think you write great comments. I’m glad you’re here!

      • Why, thank you so much!

  36. TO_Ont said:

    I would suggest the LW look for some professional training to help with some of his questions about managing employees. It’s not something he may have automatically gotten since he is a small-business owner, but there are lots of courses and resources out there for employers and managers that larger organizations often send managers and team leads on as part of their routine training.

    There’s lots of useful information and advice out there to help him be the best manager he can be, and to learn from the experience of others, both specifically in terms of things like setting professional boundaries and what is and isn’t harassment, and more generally how to effectively mentor people and bring out the best in them.

    When you’re running a small business it’s easy for this kind of training to not happen and for you to have to just make things up on the spot, particularly if, as it sounds, the LW has been working for many years, and it sounds like the LW has figured things out on his own pretty well in some areas and not as well in others – well, that’s one of the things professional training is for, to help you fill any gaps in your own professional development as you learn all the details of _how_ to be a boss.

    • Myrin said:

      I’d recommend Ask A Manager as a helpful starting point in the quest of learning more about how to behave as a business owner. Alison Green has a lot of great advice in general and I can think of several (very recent, even!) threads that talk about professional behaviour and boundaries around employees.

  37. Clementine Danger said:

    LW, I know all this must be hitting you hard, but… it sort of should. As a young woman myself, your letter made me feel very uncomfortable and even a little afraid. I don’t know if you’re reading these comments (I haven’t, but I can imagine there’s not much reassurance for you here either) but just in case you are, I want to share with you my first thoughts after reading it:

    “I should show this to those people I know who think sexism = hating women.”

    Because that’s not what sexism is, and so many people mistakenly believe that to be sexist, they have to have in themselves some sort of virulent hatred or an active wish to cause women harm. Most don’t. In most cases, from what I’ve seen, sexism is grown from unexamined cultural attitudes and a tumble down a slippery slope. Kind of like you described here. I know there were a bunch of tiny little steps to get you to the point where you are now, but at this point you’re actively wondering whether you should break the law to drive women out of their chosen (male-dominated) career for your own peace of mind, for no other reason than your feelings, as opposed to their job performance.

    That is what actual sexism looks like. It’s not hatred. It’s a dirty, dirty smorgasbord of contempt, assumptions, gender norms, stilted interactions, badly drawn boundaries, unfair accusations and fearful tiptoeing around creatures perceived as “alien.” You actually used that word.

    I find myself really wondering how you found Captain Awkward. I really do. But you did! This is good news! The archives have a wealth of information, but more importantly insight into the lives of young women, the struggles we face, how living in an inherently sexist society colors our private and working lives, and I think it would be a massive favor to yourself if you read some of the letters here. And then keep reading. My perfect ending to this story is that you understand that your thinking could do with an injection of empathy and start reading stuff by and about young women: blogs, non-fiction, essays, poetry… I know a lot of people who would be very happy to help you compile a list of reading material that can help you gain some insight into how difficult our lives can be. And how you are contributing it. I’m not saying that to hurt you. I’m saying that because I honestly believe it wouldn’t be hard for you to be better, and it would be a wonderful gift to yourself, sure, but mostly to your employees and your surroundings, who deserve to have the best version of their boss/husband/friend around. You can be that for them and for yourself.

    Please swallow hard, shake of any angry feelings this answer and comment thread may have awakened in you. You’re not abnormal for feeling that, by the way, most men get a little angry and hurt when their sexism is pointed out, and I get that. But whether that anger is the end of the journey for you is completely in your hands. You have a chance here to be a better, kinder, more empathetic and calmer human being. Everyone will benefit from that. So swallow the anger and hurt and let me know if you want that reading list.

  38. TO_Ont said:

    Basically, there’s no reason he needs to figure all this out on his own by asking friends or writing to an online blog. There are actual organizations that make a business of teaching people the skills to be an effective and good boss, and they’ve probably got loads of stuff he’d find useful.

    If he worked for a larger company he might have been sent on courses every once in a while *routinely* by his own boss (not even because something’s wrong, but just as standard professional development), well, as he seems to be the owner of the company he can just send himself.

  39. Bunny said:

    LW, no. Just no.

    Now, I think the general issues with your letter have been pretty well covered by everyone, but have some specifics to help you out:

    Talk about menstruation is not sexual. In the slightest. You know what menstruation is like, for some of us? It’s foul-smelling old blood and blood clots and uterine tissue coming out of the lower half of your body for a week. It’s getting clotted blood tangles in your pubes and sticky, raw patches of skin on your inner thighs when the pad floods. It’s getting awful gas and diarrhoea for the first three days of your period, so every time you go to the bathroom you’re wiping a mess of blood and soft shit and still feeling like you need to take a shower even after using half a dozen flushable wet wipes. It’s cramps that shoot down your thighs and past your knees. It’s migraines that make you feel like vomiting. It’s waking up in a pool of dark blood and having to change the sheets and your pyjamas because you counted the days wrong and forgot to double-pad last night.

    Talk about make-up is not sexual. Especially not “I hate wearing make-up because of how it feels but I kind of feel like I have to wear *individual make-up item* because of *personal hang-up about body image*.

    Awkward, silly jokes about “watching me screw”? Might be completely accidental spoonerisms that they didn’t even realise they said. Or might be clumsy attempts by young women to learn how to talk “like a guy” while working in a male dominated field where they will probably spend the rest of their careers dealing with people who, like you, don’t think they can hack it and who, unlike you, aren’t as willing to give them a chance and watch them succeed. I know when I’m working with mostly guys, my swear ratio goes up, I tell more filthy jokes, and I tend to adopt more aggressive and stereotypically masculine body language and mannerisms, because when I don’t I often find myself being treated like less of an equal peer.

    You know who we talk about our periods with? Mostly, people we’re so comfortable with that we’d happily ask them to help us pop that awkward zit on out back we can’t quite reach. They are talking to you like you’re one of the girls. Like a trusted friend. Now, I dunno. Is it the mystique? I mean, you’ve basically admitted in your letter you don’t really see women as fully human (Aliens? Really?) so I guess you have some investment in this idea of women as creatures of mystery? So I guess the *mysterious secret rituals of menstruation and make-up* are somehow exciting or something? Do you feel like they’re letting you into some secret world of womanhood or something? Because they’re not. They’re talking to you the same way women talk to each other, and to their friends. They’re treating you like a person.

    And they’re 17, so they’re also talking to you like young adults who haven’t yet learned about the sort of limits most people put on appropriate workplace conversation. But it’s not sexual. It’s so far from non-sexual I imagine most of them would probably be amazed and confused if they ever found out you were reading sexual tension into these situations.

    • Pizkies said:

      This is an excellent comment. This is most definitely a case of “being one of the girls” rather than any kind of “scary lolita situation”.

      Those of us working in a male-dominated field are pretty used to that feeling of being “one of the guys”. It’s not mysterious or alien, and it’s usually harmless – just a consequence of a gender-majority expresing itself in the work culture. I can understand finding it strange and confusing if this is the first time you encounter a differently-gendered (or just in any way differently-cultured) environment, but there’s really no need to fixate on it. Just ignore topics you can’t contribute to, shut down genuinely inappropriate topics, and humor the rest.

      That’s really all there is to it. The mysterious “aliens” have some other friend-topics than dude-bro engineers, due to having different bodies and experiences. But friend talk is just friend talk.

  40. Marie said:

    LW, I can tell you what it was like for me as a young woman to work for someone who shows many similarities to Bill Cosby. As far as I know, he hasn’t been accused of rape, but he did many inappropriate things to his overwhelmingly young and female employees. Every time I had a one-on-one meeting with him, he’d find a way to touch my breasts, no matter how I positioned myself to avoid it. If he could, he’d find a way to force me to have my hands close ro his genitals (by making me type something on his computer while he was sitting in front of it – I wasn’t going to dictate something to my boss, was I?) At a party, once, he put his hand on my behind for about 2 seconds. I had to get angry to stop him from calling me “my little cunt” in front of collaborators. He would compliment me every time I “made the effort” to look nice (for business meetings). Every time he met me he would hug me and give me sloppy kisses on the cheeks.
    For a long time I thought he didn’t mean anything by it. After all, he was older than my father, and like any young person, I couldn’t imagine an older person ( let alone someone who was mentoring me, aka a father-figure!) as a sexual person. It was after that party where he patted me on my behind that I had to face the idea that he did it on purpose, and that he probably knew exactly what the word “cunt” meant.
    My time at that job left me with a deep, longterm depression, and I couldn’t wait to be gone. All the women who worked for this guy ended up miserable: we all stopped wearing anything feminine after a while, we developed severe health problems, and in the end he usually tried to sabotage our chances for jobs because he felt we hadn’t been submissive enough towards him (when I managed to secure a good job despite hos efforts, he openly speculated in front of me that I would get fired from my next job because my future boss was bound to be used to submissive employees).
    I don’t think this guy will ever get in trouble for what he did to us: he’s retired now and he’s still very influential in the industry I work in. But the vibe I get from your letter is very different: I get the impression that your employees are happy and comfortable around you, and that after they leave their positions at your company, they remember their time with fond memories. And they don’t sexualize you, believe me: it took me a long time to realize that my boss was consciously being sexual with me, and I doubt very much your employees suspect that you sexualize them. They’d probably not believe it if someone told them.
    I’m not saying that none of your female employees will ever accuse you of sexual harassment: there are evil, manipulative women out there, and maybe you’ll have the misfortune to cross paths with one of them. But if you have a network of former employees who have only good memories from their time with you, and who are willing to vouch for your character. That is a powerful thing that will go a long way to protect you from a false accusation.

    • Bunny said:

      I had to get angry to stop him from calling me “my little cunt” in front of collaborators.

      WHAT.

      I mean, I’m British. I use that word like it’s punctuation. But I’m still frankly gobsmacked! I’m so sorry you had to deal with *all of that awful shit you just described*, but that? Right there? That’s not just* rapey bad-touch inappropriate grooming. That’s straight up marking a claim on you in front of your peers and actively wanting everyone to think you’re sleeping together. That’s sexualising and grooming and predating on you AND actively sabotaging your career at the same time to keep you dependent. My shoulders went up past my ears reading your comment!

      *(Just? I hate that there is a scenario where I can describe all the above as “just” anything, but I couldn’t think of another way to say it)

      • Marie said:

        Thanks for your outrage on my behalf. That never ceases to feel validating.

        I’m in a much, much better place now, in a job where people are actively supportive of me. And I’m out of his reach. I’m not entirely out of the woods with regards to the depression, but I’m doing a lot better.

        • cruelmistress said:

          Consider yourself validated. Eurgh.

          The boob-touching alone. Even if it was always framed like an accident to keep you gaslit and doubting your perception of events, it got to the point you were actively trying to avoid being fondled by your boss.

          I repeat: eurgh.

          • winter said:

            Validation +1. This is all super creepy and wrong ugh what??

          • Irene said:

            The boob-touching alone.

            Yeah. That was legally a form of sexual assault.

        • piny1 said:

          Here’s some more! That is the grossest thing ever, that guy knew exactly what he was doing, he was an evil and rotten person, and I hope he rots in hell. And I hope he gets sued before that. His behavior was outrageous. Ugh. Ugh, ugh, ugh. You poor woman. I am so sorry that happened to you.

        • Really. More validation. He sounds awful. The experience too. Boy was he a horrendous disgusting harasser.

  41. Hi LW. You’re getting an earful today. It’s completely understandable if you feel defensive and misunderstood. I hope you’re able to detach a bit, think about the advice, and recognize that commenters here are angry because they identify with your employees and have their own stories about older male bosses who treated them like “aliens” and potential affairs first, people second. Them telling you how that made them feel can be a gift to you, albeit a painful one.

    I have a different kind of story to tell you. I’m close to your age, a bit younger, and I joined a male-dominated field in my early 20s. My first job was with a very small company run by a man in his late 50s. So, pretty similar to your situation. My boss “Paul” was … great. He was great. I was smart, a hard worker, wanted to do well, and I was also a naive young person with very little sense of appropriate behavior in the workplace. Paul never treated me like an alien species he couldn’t relate to, never acted like he couldn’t fathom my mysterious lady brain, never expressed surprise that I did good work. He behaved as if he was completely unaware of my gender. We had a friendly relationship — I socialized with him & his wife, and once stayed at his house while work was being done on mine! — but it was never inappropriate in any way. It never even occurred to me at the time that it could be inappropriate. Sexual feelings towards my boss, who was the same page as my parents, were the furthest thing from my mind. Thank god they were also the furthest thing from his. We just did our jobs, and along the way I learned from his example what it meant to act like a professional.

    It wasn’t all sunshine and roses. To be honest he could be a real asshole at times, but so could I. And he was the exact same kind of asshole, and great guy, to his male employees as he was to me. My field is notorious for treating women poorly, so notorious there are news articles about it almost every day. But that’s not my experience. I’ve never worked anyplace that treated women badly, and I think one of the reasons for that is my first years in the field working for Paul, where I learned that I deserve fair treatment and respect, just like my male coworkers. Do the math, think about how long ago this was, and his egalitarian workplace in this extremely hostile industry was even more impressive.

    Here’s the part where I’m going to get harsh with you. I’ve been thinking about your letter all morning. I think I’m going to write to Paul, who I haven’t spoken to in years, and thank him for mentoring me and being a good boss in those early years. I’m going to thank him for not being like you.

    You have an opportunity here to be a great boss. You can treat them like competent professionals and show them that they have the right to be seen as colleagues, not aliens with bizarre lady feelings. Lead by example. Show these talented young women what professionalism is. Show them that you see their skills and their job performance first, and their genitals not at all. Show them what a kick-ass career in your male-dominated field looks like. Show them that they have the right to aspire to that kick-ass career just as much as any man.

  42. TO_Ont said:

    Also, if your job involves working with screws and screwing screws into things, sometimes you’ll be talking about screwing, obviously. It’s just a word. I’m sure they’re aware of the second meaning, but what do you expect them to do, avoid ever talking about screws or screwing (or male and female connectors, etc?). Make up special words that don’t ‘sound funny’? (And should just they avoid those words, because they’re female, or are you suggesting changing every word in the english language that anyone has ever made a joke about?)

    Most of us have a little giggle the first time we learn some of these words, but then you just have to move on and get back to work. As you should, too! In this case, take your example from your employee, who just talked about the work that needed to be done and didn’t use ‘funny words’ as a reason to make rude jokes.

    • tinyorc said:

      This pinged with me too. Dude’s been working in this field 30+ years and he’s reaching for the smelling salts because a young woman used the word “screw” to refer to the act of screwing a part into place? C’mon.

  43. ED said:

    The level of detail here reminds me of the creeps who sometimes call our hotline– sex-grat callers, basically, with no actual basis in reality.

  44. Taiga said:

    I work in a male dominated engineering field, and I’ve worked for guys like this. Ug. You nailed it, Captain.

  45. caryatis said:

    Is there a difference between “batting eyelashes” and, you know, blinking?

    • Bunny said:

      I’m sure I’ve shared this anecdote before, but my best friend gets a LOT of this. One time, at sixth form, we were sitting outside on the grass people-watching.

      After about ten minutes of us lounging around, staring into space and idly chattering about nothing much, she goes to the canteen to get a drink, and one of the guys sitting across from us comes over to me to ask if Bestie likes him. I ask why he thinks that, and he explains that she’s been “really heavily flirting” with him all lunch, haven’t I noticed? I ask what he’s talking about and he clarifies – the whole time she and I were sitting, she’s been “sucking her fingers at him” and “keeps glancing in his direction”.

      She wasn’t sexually sucking her fingers at him. Or, indeed, looking specifically at him. , What she’d been doing, in fact, was casually picking scuzz and dirt out from under her nails with her teeth, because said scuzz was getting on her nerves but neither of us was organised enough to ever have any kind of grooming items in our bags.

    • cruelmistress said:

      I’ve… always wondered where the line is on that, truthfully.

  46. tinyorc said:

    1. Hypothetical third-parties, such as customers, are not reading elaborate sexual subtext into your innocuous interactions with your employees. I mean, seriously, a customer “caught” your employee batting her eyelashes at you? I can 100% percent guarantee you that the customer didn’t even notice your employee blinking at you. But you did, and you immediately read something sexual into the situation – “lovely young lady”, “physically entwined”, “out faces three inches apart”. You are projecting. Hard.

    2. “Almost all the girls, for some reason, get so comfortable talking to me about all sorts of things that the conversation sometimes veers into bizarre territory before I realize where we are.”

    No. Not “for some reason”. This isn’t some magic phenomenon that’s out of your control. Your female employees are comfortable talking about these things because you are signalling that chats about bras and tampons and boy troubles are A-OK with you. Your “gentle reminders” are ineffectual. If a conversation mysteriously “veers into bizarre territory”, be an adult and veer right back out of there. You have thirty odd years life experience on these teenagers and you are also their BOSS. It is your job to set the tone for acceptable workplace banter. It is your job to set clear and concrete boundaries with your employees. It is your job to shutdown anything that might feel even vaguely like flirting. These are all core responsibilities that come with having employees. Also, since you seem to predominantly hire teenagers, it’s more than likely that this is the first real job most of your employees have ever had. Consider your core responsibilities tripled.

    3. “I thanked her for her optimism, and then we immediately had a wildly funny conversation, analyzing all the other girls to try to figure out which one of them might go crazy-off-the-rails in 15-20 years and accuse me of things that never happened.”

    You had a “wildly funny” chat with one of your young female employees about which of your other young female employees would be most likely to accuse you of raping her? Seriously, what’s wrong with you? That’s not wildly funny, it’s wildly inappropriate. If you pulled this shit in a company that you do not own, you would be crazy-off-the-rails fired. I realize you are running your own business, but it’s time to start applying some actual professional standards of conduct in your workplace. Starting with yourself. Maybe it’s time to hire a HR person. I would recommend a woman around your own age.

    4. Your friends don’t want to hear the laboured details of your wacky mishaps with your “lovely young lady” employees because they are creeped out by the sexual subtext you are trying so hard to draw out, so you can be worried about it. The end.

  47. dg said:

    It sounds like when the “crush” conversation came up a few years ago you gave what was essentially a “friend” response, focused on helping guide her through maintaining her friendship with “A”, and the salacious love triangle aspect. In retrospect that’s a shame, since you could have given her a “work” response, focused on the fact that the person she had the crush on is a coworker, and helping to model good approaches to thinking about combining work relationships and romantic feelings (ie, with very great care if ever, and NEVER between people who report to each other).

  48. Amber Rose said:

    Story! I (a younger lady) work in a place that manufactures devices for measuring the chemical components of a certain thing. I have zero prior experience in something like this. There is an older guy who supervises the teams that do the builds, partly owns the company, and is indirectly my boss. He has been going out of his way to show me how the machines work and how they’re tested. I’m invited to his training classes. He stops me when I’m passing by to show me some random thing. I love this. I like this man, and I have a very high level of respect for him, both his knowledge and his patience in explaining anything to me.

    It has never even occurred to me to have a crush on him (and that anyone thinks I might freaks me out so thank you for that). I take my cues on how polite or casual I should be from how he talks to me. I do this with everyone actually.

    Maybe you should consider the indirect lessons you’re teaching your employees. Are they talking casually because you are? Are they feeling encouraged to chat because you’re chatty? Are you inappropriate at times with what you share?

  49. Lady Commenter said:

    Simon Sinek talks about culture starting from the top. Here’s the example he gives:

    A CEO and a secretary are in a room. The phone rings, the secretary answers it. When the secretary tell the CEO who is calling, the CEO starts waving their hands and whispers “Tell them I’m not here”.
    That CEO has just sanctioned lying in the company.
    “Tell them I’ll call them back” would be fine, but “Tell them I’m not here” is a lie. And so the secretary learns that it is OK to lie in this company. The people at the top have the ability to say what is and is not accepted in a corporate culture.

    When YOU bring up and ‘remind’ someone of an inappropriate conversation they had with you five (FIVE!) years ago – you are creating an atmosphere where it is ok to have inappropriate conversations. When YOU read sexual innuendo into the most basic interactions required to do the job you hired your employees to do – you are making your reaction to their femininity into their problem. When YOU thanked your employee “for the optimism” when she referred to Bill Cosby, and then had a “wildly funny conversation” about who might accuse you of inappropriate behaviour in 20 years time ….

    Where could all this inappropriate behaviour and these inappropriate conversations come from, I wonder?

    You can’t expect them not to model their behaviour on you.

    Here’s my boss, in a different field: She would never discuss sex or boyfriends with me. But she’s nice and friendly, and we talk about things that are not related to work. Interesting restaurants. Interesting shows/books/funny people. On fridays, she might send the occasional cat-gif.

    And I would never dream of discussing my romantic ups and downs with her, but I will gladly talk about books and shows and restaurants. I will make her aware of book-signings by her favourite author, or tell her about a new show I think might be her cup of tea. And I might send a cat-gif once in a while. Because that is the behaviour that has been modelled for me.

    You are the boss here, and you need to decide what is appropriate and inappropriate behaviour in the workplace. (PROTIP: joking about future rape accusations is Not Appropriate)

  50. Creeped Out said:

    I have an older friend who used to have a coworker about 25 years younger than him. They got along really well and spent breaks and lunches together. My friend repeatedly told me that everyone else at the job was convinced they were having sex. From what he described to me, it sounded like other people teased them about being close, not that everyone thought they were having sex. I wasn’t actually there, so maybe I was wrong. I don’t know.

    I told him it was just teasing, that people probably weren’t t thinking that, especially because of the age difference, but he insisted they *were* thinking that because how could they think anything else, that age didn’t matter, and he seemed quite happy about it. The coworker had a boyfriend, and my friend acknowledged that nothing would ever actually happen between them, so I couldn’t figure out why he was so fixated on the idea of everyone thinking they were having sex.

    It creeped me out at the time that he was placing so much sexual emphasis on someone that much younger than him, but I didn’t say anything because I didn’t want to hurt his feelings and worried I was overreacting.

    If something similar happened in the future, what should I say? I don’t want to make a big deal out of it since he’s a decent dude otherwise, but it’s not something I want to hear about and it seems like I should point that it’s not a good way to be thinking about women/girls.

    • bunwat said:

      Creeped out, if something similar happens in the future you might begin by asking the person why he is telling you this, and especially, if he keeps telling you in a way that makes you feel he’s fixating on it, you could ask him, “you’ve told me about this several times now, why?” Then see what he says and give it the sniff test. He may or may not tell you the truth.

      Also form your own opinion about what he’s doing based on how he reacts. Is he asking for advice, is he doing some kind of humble brag about how he’s so friends with the wimminz, is he trying to get you to tell him he should totally proposition that girl because she is secretly in love with him, is he trying to flirt with you in some bizarro world fashion?

      Also you are at liberty to say “yes, you’ve told me this several times now, and I have heard you and now I would prefer to talk about something else, thanks.”

      • Creeped Out said:

        I think out of the four explanations you brought up, the one jumps out at me the most was it was some sort of humble brag. He’s mentioned before how he understands women and gets along with them very well, which was fine and didn’t seem braggy. But the way he’d happily keep slipping in “everyone obliviously thinks we’re having sex, haha” while talking about the coworker does seem braggy now that I’m thinking about it. I really hope he wasn’t trying to get me to tell him he should totally proposition her because that would be beyond creepy.

        I like your suggestion of asking, “Why do you keep telling me this?” to get a better idea of what’s going on in his thought process, and saying, “You’ve told me this several times now and I would prefer to talk about something else” as a inoffensive way to change the subject.

    • I think I’d go with “[Friend], you’re sounding weirdly obsessed with the thought that people might think you’re having sex with her. It’s creepy. Cut it out.” Accompanied by a hefty dose of side-eye and followed by an immediate subject change (or, if your mind goes blank and you can’t think of one, just say “Now let’s talk about something else.”

      If he brings it up again, or if he tries to continue the conversation by insisting that HE DIDN’T MEAN ANYTHING BY IT and WHY ARE YOU BEING LIKE THIS or anything of that sort, give him a briefer and colder “I said, drop it.” If he still persists, try a cold “And now you’re making me uncomfortable. Let’s drop this. See you later” and walk away.

      • Creeped Out said:

        If bunwat’s suggestion on redirecting the conversation didn’t work, I like your idea to say he’s sounding “weirdly obsessed” with it and it’s “making me uncomfortable/creeped out” as a way to be more forceful about this being something I don’t want to talk/hear about. If he persisted after that and made me out to be attacking him, then we’d have a different issue to deal with.

    • tinyorc said:

      In my experience, when someone keeps harping on “everyone thinks we’re having sex, can you believe it?” or “omg, people just keep saying we’d make a perfect couple”, it’s because that’s what they (not-so) secretly want from the other person. It’s basically “say it enough times and it will somehow become true!”

      (Is there a name for this thing? There should totally be a name of this thing. It has roots in Wishful Thinking, combined with a large dose of mentionitis.)

      A good friend of mine was transparently obsessed with one of her close male friends for a long time. She used to tell loud stories about how they kept getting mistaken for a couple YET AGAIN OMG SO FUNNY THIS JUST KEEPS HAPPENING LOL!? For her, a random stranger assuming they were a couple was an external validation of her fantasy – basically, like throwing gasoline onto the Fire of Wishful Thinking. So then, she would seek more external validation by retelling the story as a HILARIOUS ANECDOTE. Listeners might offer innocuous comments a long the lines of “Well, I guess you guys do know each other really well…” which is yet more fuel for the Fire (which, as Wishful Thinking sufferers will know, really doesn’t need that much to get it blazing in the first place.) Innocuous remarks are fanned into a blazing narrative of “Yeah, everyone around us just totally thinks we should be sexing all the time!” At this point, you’re dealing with a Wishful Thinking Inferno of Doom, which requires hella fuel to keep burning, and so the person will start reminding everyone that they are definitely NOT having sex, “like, why would anyone even think that, it’s so ridiculous!? No but seriously, why do people think that?” in order to net more external validation.

      When people tease you about having sex with someone you really don’t want to have sex with, it’s not a funny joke. It’s awkward and embarrassing and it’s certainly not something you keep bringing up of your own volition.

      • Creeped Out said:

        Your description of the Wishful Thinking Inferno of Doom is a fantastic (and hilarious) metaphor.

        He did actually have a crush on her for a while, even though he said he knew nothing would ever happen between them, so the they-keep-saying-it because “that’s what they (not-so) secretly want from the other person” thing makes a lot of sense, and he might have been looking for external validation of his fantasy like your friend.

        No one ever actually teased them about having sex specifically. It was just teasing about them being close. Like, “Oh, here comes your other half,” or “I don’t want to make you late for lunch. Coworker probably really misses you.” The fact that the coworker was a teenager and he was over two decades older than her, yet thought that it was natural and obvious for everyone to automatically assume they were having sex, was what made it seem creepy to me at the time. I just can’t imagine that’s an assumption many people would make.

        I was happy to see this Captain Awkward posting and the replies because I thought I was overreacting or being prudish or something at the time. Now I see it was okay to think, “something’s a little off/creepy here” in these types of situations.

    • Creeped Out said:

      Ack! I did respond to bunwat and tinyorc too. I was responding in quick succession and I’m a first time poster, so I think the replies went to spam.

  51. JoanofAnon said:

    Ok so I only have a couple of points to add. 1. I want to echo all the other women who have said they find this creepy. I thought to myself, “Imagine if [my boss] had written this about you?” and ew. It’s gross. And I fucking *love* my boss, there has never been anything unprofessional about a second of his behaviour – and I would be disgusted and thinking about changing roles and making a complaint to upper management and probably never having a meeting alone in a room with him again. I AM BEING SERIOUS HERE. That is how I would feel. Imagine the women you work with reading this letter of yours. Please, try and give some thought to how uncomfortable these women who work for you – who you say you care about the wellbeing of – would feel if they knew you were thinking this things. Really, really think about. Hell, if necessary, think back to your boss in your first job, and imagine if that person wrote a letter like this about you. Please, try to understand. People aren’t attacking you arbitrarily over this.

    Secondly, dollars to donuts, the reason your adult male friends back away from the conversation about the teenagers you work with is because they’re worried you’re going to say something creepy and uncomfortable. Something like the things you’ve said in this letter. They’re probably trying to preserve their friendship with you by turning a blind eye to your creepiness (which is also not good behaviour from them). Just, you’ve got people in your real life thinking there’s something creepy going on, you’ve got co-workers making jokes about it, you’ve got your friends avoiding the topic of conversation, you’ve had an emotional involvement with a teenaged employee which resulted in you needing to see a therapist. This situation doesn’t just exist. You have created it and you need to take responsibility for how your behaviour has made this happen – stop blaming the fact that the competent employees you hired are young women. Older men hire young women all the damn time, and they don’t all need to write to an advice columnist about it.

  52. Anonyma said:

    Good lord. I feel so sorry for all the employees concerned.

    (Actually, one outcome from reading this letter? For a long time now I’ve been Imposter Syndrome-ing myself away from even thinking about a People Management Track at work, rather than a Technical Specialist track- “It’s a lot of responsibility”, “I wouldn’t be good at it”, “What if I do the wrong thing and hurt someone’s career?”. You know what? I might give it a shot. I’d be a better manager than a lot of people, and at least I would never do THIS.)

%d bloggers like this: