my coworker is planning a “CEOs & Office Hoes” party

A reader writes:

I am interning at a fairly large nonprofit, one of six interns at the moment. It’s been a great experience so far and I’m learning a lot from my manager, who is in charge of all the interns. However, I was wondering if you could share your thoughts on a problem I’m having. It’s quite a cliquey dynamic, which hasn’t been a problem for the most part, as we all enjoy hanging out together. The problem is with a birthday party happening for one intern, “Josh.” Josh’s party is themed “CEOs & Office Hoes.” I was invited to this party, as were all the other interns, but I am the only one who has declined the invitation.

This theme is really offensive to me, as we are working together in an office and I think this is really demeaning to women in general, who are expected to dress like sluts at this party, while the guys wear suits. At the moment, this party is the talk of the office amongst the interns and it’s making me really uncomfortable, especially the three other female interns who have spent time discussing what they are going to wear. I don’t think this kind of discussion is appropriate in a work setting and it’s making it really hard for me to concentrate on my work, as well as they are obviously not focussing on their work while they are having these discussions.

Would it be appropriate for me to approach our manager about this? She has been really great about listening to our concerns previously. I don’t want to get anyone into trouble, as everyone is generally nice and I know that I obviously can’t control what types of parties other people do or do not throw. But I should also have the right to be able to work in an environment where I don’t have to listen to people talk about something which I find demeaning to women. Thoughts?

Yeah, you’re right, and your coworkers are mishandling this — probably due to the fact that they’re new to the workforce and don’t realize that the rules are different for stuff like this than they might be outside of work. They also probably figure that if someone doesn’t like it, they can just not attend — not realizing that sexualized crap like this will still contribute to a hostile workplace (in the legal sense) for people who find it objectionable.

I’d go talk discreetly with your manager. If she’s even a halfway decent manager, she’s going to want to know about this, know that it’s making you uncomfortable, and take the opportunity to explain to other interns how this stuff is perceived in a work settings.

Also, regarding that cliquey dynamic while it might seem generally okay to you, aside from this, it’s almost certainly keeping you from reaping all the benefits of your internship, which would ideally include getting more acclimated to professional norms unlike the ones being advanced by your fellow interns, as well as working with people outside your own age group and experience level. If you’re not already, start making a point of getting to know other people in your workplace. Ask your manager to go to coffee so you can pick her brain. Ask other people there who do the type of work you’d like to do in five years or 10 years if you can do the same with them. Break away a little from the intern clique — I think you’ll have a more useful experience if you do.

Read an update to this letter here.

{ 439 comments… read them below }

  1. Aunt Vixen*


    Why why WHY do people continue to think this kind of crap is a good idea? Anyone? Bueller?

    1. Ruffingit*

      Probably because these particular interns see their clique as an extension of their college frat house lifestyle and truly don’t realize this is beyond NOT OK! I hope the manager will clue them in so they are not the cause of a hostile work environment suit in the near future.

      1. Laura*

        Exactly. I know people are shocked but this is a COMMON party theme in college and there is NO rule that women can’t be the CEOs. Unfortunately, many college girls don’t dress in suits at these parties because they want to dress like a hooch!

        Alison, to play devil’s advocate, is it really worth going to the manager? Letter writer was invited to a party she doesn’t agree with, after hours. Can’t she not go? The others, who are talking about it constantly at work are not putting their internship to good use. She should just focus on work and get ahead.

        Again, this is an extremely common party type (probably the most common theme party I’ve heard of in college). I don’t agree with it, but these kids are immature. It is happening in the confines of their own home. It is not mandatory. Why report it? Would you ask the letter write to a report a “4/20 themed party?”

        It is inappropriate for work (and life!) but my attitude is the intern should just focus on being better than these losers.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          She said she’s uncomfortable hearing the discussion of it. There’s legal liability for the company here. So yeah, I think she should absolutely alert the manager, who will probably be grateful to know.

    1. AMG*

      Mine just exploded as I read down the list and realized that everone assumes the men are the only CEOs. WTF!? I know, I know, that’s not the point–the point is that the entire party is gross, but really?

      1. Laura*

        I assumed it because the letter-writer stated it was an expectation of the party-giver:

        “…women…are expected to dress like sluts at this party, while the guys wear suits.”

          1. Elysian*

            Most of my surprise here is that people here apparently haven’t heard of this theme.

      2. AVP*

        Still, I love the idea of all the women showing up in suits.

        Dude: “I don’t think you guys got the point of this party.”

        Girl in suit: “What do you mean? Are you saying…that girls…can’t be the CEOs?”

        1. LBK*

          Seriously, that was my exact reaction – if I were a guy with a female friend that was attending, I think I’d have her wear a suit and I’d show up in just a necktie and tighty whities and maybe my work shoes. Oh, sorry, was this not what you guys intended with that name?

        2. Sean*

          That was my first thought. Some woman needs to show up wearing a suit. It would also be great if a guy showed up wearing a dress, complete with accessories like giant hoop earrings and ten tons of makeup. Platform shoes would also be great, if he felt he could manage them.

          Not like any of this is likely, or even a remedy for the actual problem, which is that this party needs to not happen in this format.

          1. Gwen Soul*

            But why does being a hoe require female clothing? Doesn’t address the actaul issue.

            1. Mints*

              Yeah, boys like slutty costumes too. This is why “toga party” is so popular–everyone gets to be naked!

        3. Megan*

          I dressed as a professor at a schoolgirls/professors frat party once. Glasses on a chain, pencil skirt, sky high heels, sweater, the whole nine.

          I was the only girl NOT in a plaid mini. LAME.

      3. Observer*

        Actually, that IS part of the point.

        I’m trying to figure out which is most offensive – the “hoes” part or the “only men are ceos’ part. On the other hand, the two really go together.

        1. Chinook*

          I am with you – there is no part of that party theme that is not offensive – not only the women = hoes and CEO = straight male, but also that CEOs want hoes (i.e. pay for sex) which is both illegal AND implies that they don’t want/have some type of partner that would find that a deal breaker.

          And that deconstruction comes after thinking about it for only 2 minutes.

  2. Katie the Fed*


    No no no no.

    My head just exploded.

    Yeah, definitely clue your manager in. This kind of thing could reflect REALLY badly on the company. I guarantee you someone will be dumb enough to post pictures of it, and all it takes is a few of those to land on Gawker and you’ve got one massive PR disaster (at best) and hostile workplace claim (at worst).

    Good for OP for sitting this one out. When this blows up (and it will) you want to be as far away from the fallout as possible. You have common sense, which is clearly lacking in anyone else thinking this is a good idea.

    Sweet googly moogly, I can’t even. What are they thinking?!

    1. Stephanie*

      Hmmm, this sounds more like a Jezebel article with an overwrought article that still kind of misses the mark.

    2. LJL*

      They’re not thinking. I’m sure that soon they will, and I hope that when they do they’ll cringe, but at this point, they’re no thinking.

    3. Jamie*

      I think the whole thing is gross, but I doubt the press is going to be interested in sexist private parties – or frats and sororities would be all over the news every day.

      They aren’t having it at work, and as there are only 6 interns it can’t exclusively be the people who work there – so it’s a sleezy theme for a party, but not tied to a non-profit.

      Alison is right of course, about how it being discussed at work is an issue the manager needs to know about – but this isn’t newsworthy.

      1. A.*

        Gawker Media actually DOES pick up sexist/racist fraternity and sorority parties quite often. If parties like this are tied to specific, well-known organizations, it can absolutely become a news item on one of their sites (particularly Jezebel, where they are specifically dedicated to finding parties/trends like these).

        I think you’re right that it’s unlikely/impossibl that this party would be connected to the organization, but in a slightly different circumstance where it would be directly tied to, say, all of the employees, the news coverage truly could be a worry these days.

        1. Katie the Fed*

          It’s unlikely, but what if they’re interning somewhere politically sensitive. Like, I don’t know, the NRA or something.

          I am probably overly cautious about my social media presence but this just seems like a bad idea all around.

      2. Stephanie*

        They pick them up if they’re really blatant and publicized crazily. Gawker picked up a frat party at the local university here since it was all over social media, involved blackface, and was over MLK Weekend.

        It does happen frequently, but those stories are really good clickbait.

        1. Jamie*

          Yes, if they stupidly mentioned the name of the non-profit in a way it was easy to find I would agree it was a danger.

          I’m just thinking this isn’t the kind of party you have with 6 people so it’s more likely just a college aged party with a slutty theme which are a dime a dozen.

    4. Kate*

      As a somewhat recent grad, I can confirm that parties with this theme are kind of A Thing and not really newsworthy. It doesn’t reflect exactly great on the company, but I wouldn’t be surprised if nothing ever came of it. Not that it isn’t utterly tasteless on multiple levels, of course, and a behavior to be soundly nipped in the bud.

  3. Purr purr purr*

    Ugh, I cannot believe that there is someone out there who thought this theme would be OK, no matter how young this ‘Josh’ may be. It just proves you can’t teach common sense!

    1. AVP*

      Ugh, when I was in college the hot Christmas party theme was “Santa and his Ho-Ho-Ho’s.” Common female reaction: “So…you guys get to wear full pants and shirts and even some padding? And we’re supposed to dress like those girls from the Love Actually music video and get drunk and sleep with you?” Um no.

      1. Katie the Fed*

        yeah – Pimps n’ ho’s was a big them at my (very white/middle class) university. Classy.

        1. Artemesia*

          Well the classic British party is Vicars and Tarts which just suggests the theme of distinguished men and those little sluts who are hired to amuse them is timeless.

          1. Rachel*

            i was invited to a valentine party this year where the theme was “tarts and moar tarts” “because vicars are boring.” equal opportunity slutting it up, and pies as a food theme. but this was amongst friends, not coworkers. i’d never tell anyone i worked with that i go to that kind of party, much less invite them. D:

          2. LondonI*

            By the end of university I was sick of it. ‘Pimps and Prostitutes’, ‘Vicars and Tarts’, ‘Doctors and Nurses’ (where the women were expected to dress up in teeny sexy nurses uniforms while the blokes worse long white coats). Apart from one toga party in the first year, there was not a single fancy dress party where the women were not expected to dress up like sluts.

          3. UK Nerd*

            My grandmother used to throw Vicars and Tarts parties. Of course, knowing my grandmother, I wouldn’t be in the least bit surprised if half the women showed up in cassocks and half the men in stockings. Alas, I’ve yet to locate any photographic evidence.

            To me, the Vicars and Tarts party has a slightly different dynamic to CEOs and Office Hoes, since tarts aren’t supposed to entertain vicars, but to make them uncomfortable. But it’s still entirely inappropriate for a work party.

        2. Stephanie*

          My (majority white, private, selective) alma mater has residential colleges (think of the Harry Potter houses). Each runs its own orientation week, or O-Week for short. The themes are usually involve a play on a word with an ‘O’ sound (mine was Carmen SandiegO-Week).

          One residential college chose Hustle and FlOWeek (yeah, this was the mid 2000s) and wrote their orientation booklet in Ebonics. There were references to drug dealing, imprisonment, and out-of-wedlock birth. And the upperclassmen advisors were dressed in ‘do-rags and white tees in the pictures.

          This went over about as well as one would expect.

          1. ArtsNerd*

            Hah! Didn’t expect to see my undergrad referenced on AAM so explicitly. Glad I graduated before that went down, but there were plenty of questionable party themes (I chose to sit out that side of campus culture entirely.)

                1. the gold digger*

                  Whoa! None of that was going on in the ’80s, although there was the Weiss Night of Decadence, but that was equal opportunity offensive.

                  It seems so much tamer now – no gazilchers hurling flaming baseballs from Lovett to Sid. Oh, the good ol’ days.

                  BTW, when Hustle and Flow was released, I was living in Memphis. The kids who worked at the movie theater were wearing promo t-shirts that said, “It’s hard out there for a pimp.”

                  I asked one 15 year old what his mom thought about his wearing something like that. He shrugged and said that she wanted one for herself.

                  Lovett ’85

                2. ArtsNerd*

                  EOL ’07. At least they weren’t projecting porn on the side of my dorm anymore by the time I matriculated. (And clearly we know people in common, though I was super antisocial about campus activities outside of RDT.)

                3. Stephanie*

                  @ ArtsNerd

                  Ya, we totally know the some people. A good friend of mine was in RDT.

                  (And thanks, everyone, for the brief threadjack. Small world!)

                4. ADE*

                  Not an alum of your school but I have friends who were in WRC.

                  How completely tasteless for a school that should be sensitive to these kinds of issues Gah…..

                5. Stephanie*


                  Eh, you’d be surprised. I would not say stuff like that happened all the time, but it did happen periodically. Someone would propose something like that orientation week theme, it’d go unchecked until there was a giant blowup. Then you’d get the usual argument of “Y’all are just being too sensitive” versus “This is incredibly inappropriate.”

                6. the gold digger*

                  Alison, I bet that with just three (identified) Rice alums, we might have the highest proportion of AAM readers to alumni out there. There are only about 51,000 living alumni.

                7. Bluebell*

                  Delurking just to say that I’m Lovett ’86. Read the blog all the time but don’t usually comment. I remember Weiss N.O.D.

                8. the gold digger*

                  Not to take this post completely off-topic, but Bluebell, my junior year and your sophomore year, I lived on the second floor with Heather, Anita, and Rene. We were next door to John and Todd. I worked at Cohen House and was an English major. My boyfriend was in Sid. Find me on LinkedIn (if we are not already connected).

          2. Katie the Fed*

            I wish you could see the look on my face right now.

            I’m feeling very cringey.

            1. Stephanie*

              So the black alumni association ended up finding out and pitched a fit and the theme was changed. Unhappy alumni=no donations.

              For me, I would have found it less objectionable if it was just rap-themed (although that is still a slippery slope given the demographics), since rap’s so mainstream now. It was just when you had groups named “Baby Daddies” and “25 to Life” and “Pimps and Hoes” that it was too much, especially when you had black new students who were required to participate.

        3. Amy*

          I don’t think you intended this, but conflating white and middle class is offensive on its own.

          1. TheSnarkyB*

            Oh lord. This isn’t a matter of conflating- she’s using them together to paint a picture of lacking racial and socioeconomic diversity.
            Just like when people talk about “old white men” in power. They’re obviously not conflating being white with being male. OR old.

      2. thenoiseinspace*

        At mine, people had BTL’s – “black tie lingerie.” Guys in suits and girls in nothing but lingerie – “but like, only the nice stuff, you know? Like classy stuff.” Ick.

        1. Zillah*

          Ick indeed.

          I’ll be damned if I’m going to walk around in public wearing next to nothing – well, in general, but especially when guys are dressing in suits. FFS. Talk about perpetuating sexist ideas and stereotypes. I’m not sure how this is a good idea.

  4. Brett*

    And at a non-profit? Which presumably has donors? This is just such a horrible idea.

    1. Jamie*

      She said she was invited, as were the other interns. Nothing indicates this is happening at work.

      1. TNTT*

        +1 this – she was invited to a coworker’s party and doesn’t want to go. why get the manager involved?

        1. Jamie*

          Oh, I think the manager should get involved that this is being openly discussed at work.

          I read Brett as assuming the party would be at work and tied to the non-profit – so I just don’t think there is a PR issue here unless they go out of their way to post pics and name the non-profit.

          It’s still a horrible idea because it’s not okay to talk about sexually themed parties at work.

  5. Muriel Heslop*

    So I’m not the only one whose head exploded? Ugh!

    I’ve had interns that I can imagine planning this and thinking it was “sooooo fun!” I would be so glad that someone actually came to me with concerns so the situation could be addressed. And if one my interns asked me to coffee to pick my brain? I’d be thrilled.

    I would love to see all of the girls turn up in suits.

  6. iseeshiny*

    Wow, yeah, that’s super inappropriate. At that age I was too scared of the opinions of my peers (and not enough of my bosses) – I probably would have gone dressed as a CEO to keep from rocking the boat, but it’s probably better to say something now.

  7. Shell*

    I first read it as the company was throwing Josh a party and themed it like that and I just about died in my seat.

    I’m glad I misread, but…oh no, no no no no. This is such a bad idea.

    1. Zillah*

      Me too, and I was really horrified. It’s still bad, but at least it’s “just” bad on the part of a few interns and not the entire company.

      OP, definitely speak with your manager. This is not okay for them to talk about in the office (and it’s a really messed up idea in general – if I knew someone having a ‘CEOs and Office Hos’ birthday party I would definitely think much less of them).

    2. Leah*

      I was unclear as to whether Josh was an intern or an employee at first. I really don’t know which would be worse! Of all the stupid things I’ve heard of interns doing (it only gets worse in grad school because everyone can legally drink), this takes the cake. Worse than the time that the girl who always dressed inappropriately at the office (and then made a HUGE stink about being cold!) got drunk at the end of the summer intern party and tried to throw herself at a very senior staff member, oblivious to the fact that his husband was standing next to him.

  8. Artemesia*

    Head meet keyboard. But I will have to say I am not surprised. I know of an intern situation that blew up and nearly cost a University its entree to business in a major city. I can’t specify details which were worse than this, but with a similarly tin ear.

    When this thing goes viral as it might, the organization is going to be smeared — and this is presumably an organization that relies on community good will for fund raising. The manager absolutely needs to know about this and shut it down.

    And the OP needs to be making real efforts to break out of this intern ghetto since she is apparently grouped with a pack of unprofessional clods.

    1. BCW*

      Really? You think one themed party would go viral? In every college there are these parties every weekend. They only go viral when they are SO racist that you can’t not acknowledge it.

      1. The Real Ash*

        It depends. This is a non-profit group, so depending on what it supports, this could be incredibly insensitive (i.e. if it was a sex assault support group, or human trafficking group, something along those lines). It could also be really bad press for them in general.

        1. BCW*

          Its clearly been a long time since you have been on a college campus. This doesn’t even come close to that.

          1. The Real Ash*

            Oh, so that makes it OK! It’s not as bad as other things, so this is fine to do.

            1. A.*

              He didn’t say that it was okay; it didn’t seem like he was value judging at all. He’s speaking about the likelihood of it going viral. And I actually agree that colleges do much, much worse than this every weekend without getting picked up by online sources, so it’s highly unlikely that a private party like this would be picked up by an online source either.

              If it were directly tied to the nonprofit (particularly if it was a feminist nonprofit, etc), that would be another story. Then I would think they could be at risk for virality. But it sounds like it’s a party that people are planning at work, but is not actually connected to the nonprofit excepting the interns.

              1. Rat Racer*

                Seconding Katie here: I don’t get why it makes sense to compare college parties to work parties. At all. And if all interns from said non-profit will be there together, someone might easily think that the company was sponsoring (if not complicit in) this event.

                On the other hand, I never did a Big 5 Management Consulting firm internship, but I was under the impression that those interns threw wild crazy parties that were more or less sponsored by the internship managers. So maybe I’m just unaware of a particular slice of corporate culture…

                1. Lora*

                  This is true. High finance is also chock-full of questionable after-hours events. I have been to a couple of em, and quickly whispered to my date, “um, how long do we have to stay here?”

                  And yeah…I make “not impressed” faces when the BCG/McKinsey-ites come around with their PowerPoint slides. You know the reaction you’d get if you asked someone at a cocktail party what they do for a living, and they said, “I make illegal underage porn using Afghani orphans”? THAT is the face I make. Like, “excuse me for a bit, I just need to take a bath in Clorox and vomit…for a few hours”.

                  That’s what a lot of us are saying, I think–yes, you may HAVE these parties, you may attend these parties if that is a life choice you wish to make, but people will judge you as nasty for it. That is their prerogative. And when you are a lowly intern, pretty much you are there for the purpose of getting a good reference at the end of the experience. Probably you should not throw your intern-efforts down the toilet with a combination of a poor choice of party themes and talking them up at work.

                  But hey, maybe Josh has a ton of other internships under his belt, as it were, and losing the recommendation from this one, and having informal requests of “hey do you know this Josh kid?” responded to with “er, yeah, he was kind of an immature skank when he was here” is A-OK with him. You never know I suppose.

          2. Katie the Fed*

            But they’re not in college anymore. Or at least they’re not in this capacity – they’re interns and therefore employees of this organization. Part of an internship is learning that what flies at college doesn’t fly in the work world.

          3. LondonI*

            I agree. I (personally) never encountered a university fancy dress party that was racist but almost all of them entailed the women dressing up as sluts. A CEOs and Hoes party would have been just part of the same theme. For reference: I attended a London university in the early noughties.
            The only difference here is that this is a workplace ‘do’. However, given that it has been organised by interns (as opposed to the actual CEO) I seriously doubt it would go viral.

        2. TL*

          Ha. My college threw tons of parties like this. Either pimps’n’hoes type themes or pantless parties.

      2. Leah*

        Viral could be limited to their work sphere. It doesn’t have to be on Gawker for their funders or other organizations to see it. I worked in a really specialized sector of the non-profit word and we knew all the gossip of the other organizations that did related work. It rarely ended well.

      3. LBK*

        Yeah, these parties or similar stuff where the guys wear a funny costume/fancy clothes and the girls wear basically underwear were pretty common among frats when I was in college. Not saying they’re not sexist or a bad idea but you’d have to be pretty buried in the sand to think something like this would be newsworthy when there’s probably hundreds of them happening every weekend across the US.

      4. Stephanie*

        Depending on the prominence of the nonprofit, this one might go viral. But you’re right that these happen all the time at colleges and only make the news when they’re so over-the-top racist/sexist/whatever and really conspicuously displayed.

      5. Artemesia*

        CEOs and Hoes sponsored by your local (goodly charity) — this can cause quite a local flap if it is a slow news day.

        1. Zillah*

          It doesn’t seem like it’s sponsored, though – just that the intern is having a birthday party and invited his fellow interns. It doesn’t seem like the nonprofit is involved beyond having these interns as interns.

          1. TheSnarkyB*

            I think Artemesia’s point was more about what the headline – not the facts – would be.
            And I totally agree. This could absolutely go mini-viral in a small/niche field or if the non-profit is a big name. Or if the story was helped along by unhappy employees who didn’t go to mgmt.

  9. CanadianWriter*

    Is he getting his party ideas from the local high school? CEOs and Office Ho’s is giving me awful flashbacks of grade nine. Gross.

    1. KrisL*

      Agreed, except I think it’s more like junior high.

      It also bugs me that some of the women are participating and apparently think this is a good idea.

  10. Meg Murry*

    I also would decline to attend and distance yourself a little from the other interns.
    If the other women that are interning with you start talking about what they are going to wear again, I would probably just say “wear a suit and be a CEO a la Marissa Mayer. Problem solved. Now lets get back to work – how is project XYZ going?.”

  11. Nanc*

    First, have you tried telling your co workers the idle chit-chat is distracting you? Give it a shot. That gives you more ammo when you do see your manager–you have tried to shut it down. Start the conversation by saying you’re having problems concentrating at times because co workers/co interns are discussing this party and you have a hard time tuning out. Ideally your manager would have a talk about keeping personal life conversations for breaks and lunches. If she seems reluctant (which is doubtful as you mentioned she’s been supportive) you can raise the issue of the party theme and express concern that your donors and clients may overhear and be upset.

    1. Zillah*

      Honestly, I’d say that something like this shouldn’t even be talked about during breaks and lunches. Breaks and lunches may be free time, but there’s a level of decorum that I think still needs to be practiced. You generally wouldn’t be able to watch porn or talk explicitly about your sex life during breaks and lunches – I think that this should be off-limits, too. It’s highly sexualized and clearly making the OP uncomfortable.

      1. Nanc*

        Eh, I disagree in trying to stop the conversation, although I agree it is skeevy for the workplace. First, unless she’s required to take lunch an breaks with the other interns, she has the option of getting away from the conversation. Great time to offer to buy someone coffee and pick their brains about the business. Second, lunch and break times are often full of conversations I’d rather not hear, your prolapsed anus after the birth of your youngest (yes, it happened an I was across a large room and could still hear the details) , your dog’s explosive bowl movements, the drunk chick you nailed last weekend, verbal recaps of TV shows I don’t watch, etc. I can politely ask the speakers to take it down a notch or find another topic to discuss while everyone’s eating, but if they don’t want to I can always go somewhere else. Again, if she’s force to take breaks and eat lunch with the interns, yeah, it’s a problem and something should be said. On the other hand, having the interns discuss the party in the company break/lunch area is going to bring it to the attention of the higher ups and it becomes a workplace teachable moment.

        I feel for the writer–I’ve had dozens of interns over many years and while I haven’t had that particular conversation, I’ve had some that are just indescribable.

        1. Zillah*

          Right – but there’s a difference (and a legal difference) between stuff you don’t wan’t to hear about and stuff that’s sexualized. I may not like someone watching a football game on their laptop during lunch (or whatever), but it’s not illegal. Watching porn, on the other hand, creates an environment that probably is illegal.

          Sure, the LW can avoid it… but she shouldn’t have to.

        2. Amtelope*

          Nobody at my job talks about “nailing drunk chicks,” and I’m pretty sure that kind of conversation would get shut down really quickly by the managers. I don’t think it’s unreasonable to expect that talk about sex, or talk about parties themed around “hoes,” is going to stay out of the workplace. There’s a difference between boring small talk or (mildly TMI discussion of illnesses) and talk about anything sex-related, which I think 100% does not belong at work.

          1. Nanc*

            I’m not disagreeing it doesn’t belong at work. And there’s no way of knowing if it’s happening on breaks and lunches. However, it is happening in the office and it’s distracting the writer from her work and that’s the initial conversation with the manager. Additional ammo is the nature of the non-work related conversation. And just because someone doesn’t say something at your job doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen other places.

            1. TheSnarkyB*

              I think what you’ve said here is the central point of disagreement:
              “it’s distracting the writer from her work and that’s the initial conversation with the manager. ”
              Actually, that’s not the initial conversation. The OP should bury the lede by starting with the “distraction factor.” That would show poor judgment about what’s important here and what’s really wrong with the situation. And since the distraction isn’t the biggest problem here, there’s no imperative that the OP try to shut this down herself or put her opinions out there- she shouldn’t have to, and this should go far above her head/far up the ranks anyway. This should be taken straight to a manager.

  12. Celeste*

    Definitely speak up, but understand that you are surrounded by some people who are still immature and probably won’t get it.

    I’m actually kind of sad that the other young women are going along with it.

    1. Nutcase*

      I’m very sad that any of them are going along with it. Sexism is a problem that both men and women have to work at eliminating and neither gender can do it alone. Its sad that things like this have become so normalized that some women will go along with being demeaned just to fit in and not be labelled as a killjoy (among other reasons I’m sure, and many more complicated than this). In my experience at university my anger and disgust at the blatant misogyny of the frequent pimps and hoes parties was rarely shared among many of my peers because it was just so normal to them.

    2. OhNo*

      It may have a lot to do with the “cliquey” environment the OP mentioned. It was my experience at college that if you were part of a tight clique or group, and one person was excited about something dumb/sexist/racist/etc., everyone had to at least pretend to be excited about it or risk being ostracized.

      It may be a faint hope, but if the manager sits all the interns down and explains why the discussions aren’t appropriate for work and (hopefully) why the theme is offensive, then maybe some of the other women will throw off the herd mentality and refuse to go (or go in suits as CEOs, as other comments have mentioned).

  13. MW77*

    I definitely agree that you want to stay as far away from this as you can. It’s horrible. And the following suggestion is just as sexist and inappropriate, but I wonder how they would react to asking if the party could be changed to “CEOs and Gigalos” party. Women in suits and guys in speedos.

      1. Observer*

        Which is kind of the point. No one is going to change the theme that way, but it just might get them thinking.

      1. Purr purr purr*

        I actually wrote that if I was forced to go, I’d go as a CEO in my earlier comment. I deleted that part out because I would never allow myself to be forced to go to an event that ridiculous!

  14. LouG*

    I would love if all of the women showed up in nice, normal suits and went as female CEOs.

    1. Kristen*

      This is what I came to say! I totally agree that OP should sit it out, but I’d be so tempted to tell the other girls I would be attending in a tasteful thrift store power suit.

  15. cecilhungry*

    This reminds me of the college Greek Life scene, when all theme parties had to have rhyming, sexist themes: “Golf Pros & Tennis Hos,” “Bass Pros & Fishing Hos,” the theme mentioned here, etc. (although I did laugh at “Librarians and Barbarians” because it made NO SENSE). My sorority flat out refused to have any themes like that, and would always change it to something with the same general outlook, but a neutral name (“Country Club,” “Business Executives,” etc). There were of course still girls who dressed scantily, but it didn’t feel like a prereq to go. I always went for the cleverest and/or funniest interpretation possible, and had a good time.

    But yeah, my original point is that this sounds like some people who just graduated and haven’t completely mastered that office life =/= college life, and why exactly this theme is super problematic.

    1. some1*

      Just as an FYI, lots of Country Clubs are sexist, racist, anti-Semitic (not to mention classist), so I don’t think your sorority’s idea was much better.

      1. Observer*

        Yes, but it’s not part of their DEFINITION. And it’s not about powerful A’s and demeaned B’s.

    2. Brett*

      Google “Conan the Librarian” from the movie UHF. That might be the source of Librarians and Barbarians :)

    3. Ellie H.*

      I have to admit I find “Librarians and Barbarians” vaguely cute, plus it inverts the typical stereotype of the male counterpart being costumed in a more dignified way.

        1. Mints*

          I would actually really dig this theme. It doesn’t come across gendered, and you could do a low-key costume as librarian or go full on cave/wo/men

          And generally, (I was thinking this but didn’t know where to post it), there’s nothing wrong with a generally slutty theme outside of work, like “toga party” but what makes this (CEOs and Hoes) theme gross is that it’s set up so the male party goers get to be dressed pretty normally while the female party goers are pressured or encouraged to be eye candy

        2. Ellie H.*

          I totally agree, I was just thinking of what the most common stereotype most people would first think of would be (the female librarian). There are so many fun ideas w/this theme.

    4. Natalie*

      “Librarians and Barbarians”

      Because it rhymes! We had “Sexpots and Despots” at my college for the exact same reason. And in case anyone is wondering, it wasn’t particularly gendered – a lot of men came as sexpots and a lot of women as despots. But this was a school that had regular Genderfuck parties, so…

  16. Case of the Mondays*

    While I agree this is super gross, I’m not sure if this is something where management will intervene. It is the interns planning an outside of work party. There is no company or management outside of work party involved and there is no interns throwing the party in the office involved. I’m just not sure it rises to a level of action.

    1. MT*

      Also depending on the state, interns are not employees in the legal sense. There have been court cases recently that have stated that hostile workplace laws don’t apply to unpaid interns.

      1. H. Vane*

        Wait, really? So if I get an unpaid intern, I can sexually harrass them? That seems odd.

        1. MT*

          depends on the state. New York state had to pass a law this year granting unpaid interns that protection after the court found them not to be employees.

            1. MT*

              unpaid internships are unbelievable. There are soo many things wrong with them and they should be banned.

        2. Observer*

          Not exactly. For one thing, there are often other statutes at play. And secondly, in many states and /or other jurisdictions, there are specific protections for interns. So, while sometimes people can get away with it, I wouldn’t count on it. I suspect your lawyer would agree.

    2. Sunflower*

      Yea beyond telling them they can’t talk about it at work, I’m not really sure what management can or will do. As long as the company name isn’t directly associated with the party, I’m not sure what they can do

    3. ser4ph1m*

      They’re interns, they’re there to learn about how to work well in an office environment. Publicizing and inviting work colleagues to an event like this, it’s something they need to be talked to about.

      1. MT*

        I’m torn. I feel that behaviour outside of work, is none of the employers business. They are not discussing anything illegal. While the company has the right to limit the employees speech while on site, it becomes a slippery slope. Inviting co-workers(intern group) to an outside party has nothing to do with the company. When I started my first job, me and 5 other fresh college grads spent 2 months in hotel rooms training around the country together. Every night some or the entire group would leave work and go out and stir up trouble. Thats what young adults do with a little freedom and money in their pocket. This outside behavior has nothing to do with the company.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Actually, it’s a legal liability issue for the company, because of hostile workplace laws, sexual harassment laws, etc. The manager has every right (in some contexts, an obligation) to tell him not to discuss it at work, or even with coworkers at all (since the company’s obligation under harassment laws extends to off-duty conduct from one employee toward another).

          1. Anon Accountant*

            I honestly didn’t know that a company’s obligation under harassment laws extends to off-duty behavior between employees?

            I’d have thought it only pertained to while at work events, on the clock, or while using company resources. Please disregard my above commentary.

            Learned something new today.

      2. Anon Accountant*

        I’m unclear if the other interns were invited while on the clock or via organization email, inter-office mail, etc.

        If Josh has made friends with these people and they get together outside of work and he issued the invites off the clock and not using employer resources then I don’t think there’s much else the organization can do besides instruct them to not discuss such topics at the organization and explain how it’s offensive.

        In my opinion there can be a slippery slope if management talks to Josh about inviting work colleagues to an event like this. Exception if he invited them while at an organizational event, via organizational resources (email, inter-office mail) or while on the clock.

    4. Bwmn*

      To add to this, given the nature/culture of the nonprofit – the manager may not exactly be thrilled to be asked to intervene, particularly if the OP hasn’t spoken up and said anything. I’ve worked at nonprofits with very conservative HR standards, but my recent positions in the field of international development definitely have office cultures that are a bit more “blue”. And in some cases, a lot more.

      There are many nonprofits where the office culture fits within a very conservative HR model….but before I’d talk to the manager I’d seriously think about the overall office culture. Some nonprofit sectors, particularly those that involve international postings – can really become a mix of people’s personal and professional worlds. And I’ve found the “harsher” the nonprofit’s issue, often the more dark and adult office humor/conversation can get.

      Depending on the state and the laws regarding interns – Alison is very right about the manager perhaps being obligated to do something and sexual harassment issues. But depending on the nonprofit sector’s culture and the manager, her response may not be so shocked/horrified and more irritatingly obligated.

  17. BCW*

    Well, I know whats coming here, but I’m going to chime in anyway. I fully respect your desire to not attend this party. If you are offended by the theme, fine. I’m really curious what is bothering you about them talking about it though. If a fellow intern was just talking about a scandalous outfit she wore to a bar Friday night, would that bother you as well? Regardless though, I will even go so far as to say its fine to not want to be in the conversation. BUT, what I don’t agree with is going to your manager because you don’t like what someone is doing outside of work. I think it should be more framed about that they are discussing outside of work activities while on the clock, not that you object to this particular activity. But, know that in that situation, you still open it up to a lot because people do tend to discuss their weekend plans, etc.

    If someone is anti-smoking/drinking/any other adult activity that is legal, does that mean they shouldn’t discuss it at work? I’ve discussed my weekends, which included drinking, at work among people who don’t drink. I guess I just don’t see the line.

    Also, these are interns. These kids are in college. Some college themed parties (even adult themed parties) can be juvenile. Again though, this makes me think that people care too much about what people are doing while off the clock.

    Finally, I fell like this is the type of co-worker that would also be offended if they were the only intern NOT invited to the party. The others are in kind of a no win situation here.

    1. CTO*

      I think one difference between this particular party and other kinds of extracurricular talk is the opportunity for sexual harassment complaints. Any talk about “office hoes” in the workplace should be taken seriously by HR. It’s a lot less likely that someone would be able to make some sort of harassment case out of a coworker talking about how wasted he got last night because that’s not racist/sexist/ageist/etc.

      The particular combination of “offensive sexual innuendo” and “workplace” is what makes this particularly troublesome for the company.

      1. BCW*

        Again, I’m perfectly fine with saying “don’t discuss your weekend shenanigans while at work”. But I don’t know how much more there is to say just because of the party theme.

    2. Sunflower*

      I might also be in the minority but I agree with BCW. The worst thing I see happening here is the interns becomes the laughing stock of the organization- not that that’s not a big deal but if you really want to make them rethink the party, maybe mention that to them. I definitely went to my fair share of ‘Y & X’ parties in college and lord the pictures make me cringe but it was a party and while it may be sexist, the girls are still going along with it willingly and they aren’t children being forced to do anything.

      Unless Josh plans on calling his party ‘YourOrgs CEO’s and Office Hoes’ party, I really don’t see where the manager has the authority to tell them what to do outside of work

      1. some1*

        Women can participate in this willingly just like you can willingly call another woman a ho. But if you call her a ho at work or someone overhears, your employer is allowed to act on that. And should.

      2. Katie the Fed*

        So, a couple of my employees invited me to come play Cards Against Humanity with them. I love the game and really wanted to. But the reality is – I can’t do whatever I want outside of work with people from work and expect it won’t affect my job. Because what happens the day I (or my organization) get accused of harrassment, hostile work environment, or something else? Someone could easily testify that I’ve demonstrated sexist/racist/otherwise offensive views previously, as demonstrated at that event. And now my organization and I have increased our liability.

    3. Ask a Manager* Post author

      This isn’t really about people’s personal takes on it; it’s about the company’s legal liability. There’s very clear liability here for sexual harassment issues, speaking in a legal sense. The company has every right — and in many cases a legal obligation — to direct employees not to engage in this kind of discussion at work, and not to invite coworkers to sexually themed events, even events that take place outside of work hours.

      Harassment laws don’t come into play when the topic is smoking or drinking. They do come into play when the topic is sexualized.

      1. BCW*

        Ok, makes sense. But here is a serious question, not trying to stir the pot. If someone is having a beach/pool/boat party is that possible harassment, or is it just that the words “office hoes” are in it? I mean I don’t necessarily think if all these interns are at a pool wearing bikini’s it will be any less sexual will it? If these same girls were talking about the “hot bikini” they were planning to wear is that a problem?

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          It’s the “hoes” angle that’s the issue.

          It’s calling women whores (which is what “hoes” is short for) and directly them to dress provocatively toward that end.

        2. Kay*

          Not a lawyer, but I think that pool parties are not inherently sexual the way the word “hoes” is. Plus, people can choose to wear “hot bikinis” or they can wear one-piece swimsuits and cover-ups.

          1. ArtsNerd*

            Yup, if the theme of the party was explicitly for women to wear sexy bikinis, it would be a harassment issue, but a regular pool / boat / beach party – no.

            1. Lora*

              This. In regards to Katie’s CAH game–I occasionally have Game Night themed parties for friends and colleagues. We have often several games going at once: Texas Hold Em, chess, Pictionary, Settlers of Catan, etc. I have a bookshelf full of board games for folks to pick from, the only constant is “there will be a $20 buy-in game of Hold Em for anyone who wants to play”. If someone grabs the Cards Against Humanity box and gets enough people to play, awesome, they can have fun with that, but if they would rather poker or Risk, they are welcome to play something else.

              1. Katie the Fed*

                Yeah, colleagues I’d be ok with – but with people working for me I’m more cautious.

          2. Jamie*

            I should think they aren’t inherently sexual – otherwise I’m going to have to rethink my entire childhood of family pool parties at my aunt and uncle’s house with my gramma and elventy million cousins.

            1. ArtsNerd*

              Yeah, the implication that “swimsuit activity” = sexual makes me uncomfortable. I’m sensitive about being sexualized when I’m just going about my everyday business (or in this case, bland summer leisure activities.)

        3. Joey*

          It’s the degrading theme based on sex that is a problem. Think about it as if it were race based.

      2. LBK*

        Thank you for pointing this out, since I was struggling to pinpoint the main issue here as well. It isn’t just that they’re all talking about a party, or that they’re discussing risque outfits at work, it’s that they’re all talking about a heavily sexualized party that involves many coworkers.

        Look at it this way – if these weren’t all college students and someone just organized a party that would involve the women wearing lingerie and invited a number of coworkers, would your reaction be the same? That’s how this should be treated, because the relationship of these students outside of their office is irrelevant to how they should conduct themselves in the office.

        1. Jamie*

          I think they should be treated exactly the same way in the instances you mentioned.

          You can invite your co-workers to a Tupperware or Pampered Chef party*, but you can’t invite them to a lingerie party or one selling sex toys. You can invite them for a BBQ, but not an orgy.

          It comes down to not propositioning people at work to attend sexual events. Some people just do not want to be asked to participate in their coworkers sexual activity … make that most people.

          *although if you work with me and issue such an invitation I will hate you for the rest of our time together and will wait until I’m at my most cranky to audit your department.

      3. Anon Accountant*

        This reminds me of when a coworker invited her female coworkers to a “casual clothes” party. This confused me and it turns out it was a passion party where she was a part-time rep for an adult toys company and was hosting a party to make sales/expand her customer base.

        Our manager, who was also invited, quickly addressed her inviting coworkers to this type of party. Not to mention the lack of judgment in inviting her manager.

        1. MT*

          If i was the their manager, i would be more upset that someone was working their 2nd job while at work.

        2. Malissa*

          I got invited to one of those by a coworker. Ugh! I responded with a no, I don’t need to know what toys everybody has in their drawers.

    4. Malissa*

      You make a good point. People shouldn’t care about what people do off the clock. But when inappropriate things happen off the clock, they can and do get linked back to the company. Then it becomes the company’s problem. Especially in a non-profit environment where donor can get a whiff of something and go, “they let their interns do that?!?”
      Examples include teachers that get fired for posting a picture of themselves on facebook with a drink in their hand.
      The BP ex-CEO who still took a vacation while the oil spill was happening.
      This is why somebody at the company should at the very least try to squash this idea.

      1. BCW*

        Agreed, it can happen. But SHOULD it happen. I’ve done plenty of things I don’t want linked to my company, but I don’t think that means that as an adult I can’t do them. Bachelor parties come to mind. Should I not be able to attend that because it could possibly (small possibility) get linked to my company?

        1. LBK*

          It’s about the discussion and connection to coworkers. One of my coworkers is a very close friend of mine that I often attend parties with or go on vacations with, so we’ve certainly shared in some unsavory activities outside of work. We don’t discuss the details of these events at work because it’s not appropriate.

        2. Malissa*

          That is a risk that you have to calculate for yourself. While a person is free to choose how they want to act, they are not free to choose how other will react.

    5. BCW*

      Also, I want to reiterate. I understand the issue of discussing certain things at work that aren’t appropriate. If I was friends with my co-workers and invited them to my bachelor party, I get that the goings on shouldn’t be discussed at work (or anywhere really). BUT I don’t think its anyone’s place to say that Josh shouldn’t be having the party. Now to me its a bit more questionable if he shouldn’t invite people from work. Thats just me. But in the bachelor party, should I not invite my guy friends to that? If my birthday parties get a bit crazy, can I not invite people from work? If I invite everyone in my department except the one person I think wouldn’t enjoy it, am I then being too exclusionary? I think there is a lot of grey here, and people are so appalled by the theme, that its ignoring some other issues.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Here’s one of the tricky parts about the law in this area: It’s only harassment if the conduct is unwelcome. That leaves you in the position of having to judge whether someone you invite will find some of what takes place offensive or unwelcome. Making this harder, plenty of people smile and go along with thing they find offensive becaue they don’t feel comfortable calling it out on the spot. But they could legitimately report it later and cause an issue.

        1. Joey*

          In case that’s misinterpreted, it only can be harassment if its unwelcome. But just because its unwelcome doesn’t make it harassment in and of itself if we’re talking about harassment in the legal sense.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            Yes, absolutely — unwelcome on its own isn’t enough to make it harassment.

            The tricky part is just that if something is unwelcome or not, and someone could even change their mind about how they feel about something down the road.

          2. Jamie*

            It’s important to remember that the behavior isn’t just about the person acting and the recipient. If someone is making vulgar suggestions to someone at work and they are all on board with that – encouraging – it’s still my job to make sure it stops because other people in the office have a right not to be subjected to it.

            In the case of this party, if every person invited was cool with it it’s certainly not harassment legally. But if I have to hear details of slutty outfits or any kind of sexual behavior and it doesn’t stop after being told to knock it off – I’m going to deal with it. Because it’s inappropriate in the workplace and no one should have to hear about other people’s sexual intentions or exploits.

            Just like two people can’t lock themselves in the supply closet and have sex just because they both welcome it doesn’t mean it won’t get them both fired.

        2. Bwmn*

          I have to say, this question really stumped me because I’ve worked in a nonprofits with a variety of office cultures both in terms of ‘acceptable conversation’ and HR enforcement. My experience in international development type nonprofits – particularly those where people live in remote parts of the world with their coworkers, is that the culture (provided these aren’t religious orgs) can veer strongly into blue/non-PC territory.

          While I totally get the dynamic of professionalism and the organization’s obligation to act – I’m curious how you feel about potential blow back to the OP. I had one boss tell me that in our field as we see dark things, the only way to respond is with a dark sense of humor. With this boss, if the law obligated a response – I believe this boss would respond. But I wouldn’t exactly see him strongly advocating for the OP as a reference.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            I’ve worked in cultures that were very blue-humor-heavy as well (more often than not, in fact). That doesn’t preclude taking it seriously when someone complains, and in each of those cultures, something like this would absolutely be addressed if someone complained about it (and actually even without a complaint, given the “whore” reference). It’s not just blue humor — it’s disgustingly sexist too.

            For that matter, I also worked with a boss who refused to take concerns about sexualized humor/conversation seriously — but he wasn’t deterred from giving glowing references to people who deserved it, even if they’d pushed back on the adult-rated talk. The issue with the boss you’re talking about was that he sucked in much bigger ways; retaliating against someone for speaking up when they’re uncomfortable takes things to a whole new level of awful.

            1. Bwmn*

              I guess I wasn’t so much thinking of a poor reference, but in regards to someone who say wanted a reference prior to going to Peace Corps. If the manager didn’t think the applying intern was “Peace Corps material” above and beyond workplace performance – he was more than happy to be less supportive/more lukewarm.

              And yes. I’ve had absolutely dreadful managers in nonprofits. But this one was better than the manager who felt that no one would take death threats or sexual harassment seriously from her since she was an older woman and therefore “obviously” not serious.

          2. Zillah*

            But I think that there’s a big difference between “dark humor” and what we’re talking about here. How does a “CEOs and Office Hos”-themed party qualify as “dark humor”? I just don’t see it, nor do I see any indication that the nonprofit deals with particularly dark things.

            Honestly, I’d think pretty poorly of a manager who based their reference for someone on whether or not they complained about their coworkers having conversations about highly sexualized activities – especially something that explicitly involves the word “whore” – at work. That line of thinking is often used to dissuade women from complaining about sexual harassment.

      2. Tara*

        The problem is that if he’s inviting his female coworkers, he is essentially saying, “So take all your clothes off and come to my party”. It’s one step shy of a sexual proposition, and that’s definitely not ok in a professional environment.

        1. BCW*

          Have you never been to a bar? Hooters? Tilted Kilt? You can dress “slutty” and still be fully clothed. How that makes it sexual proposition is beyond me. Now is it possible that they will all get drunk and he will hit on one? Yes. But I think you are reaching here

    6. Apple22Over7*

      I agree. If the OP needs to bring this up, she should frame it squarely as “idle chit-chat is distracting me from completing my work” and not “I’m offended by the theme of a non-work party I’ve declined an invitation to”.

      I can understand feeling uncomfortable hearing co-workers discussing how “slutty” their outfits will be for the party, or whatever, but what parties people throw in their own time, on their own dime, is none of my business, whether I agree with the theme or not. I’d put it in the mental box marked “ignore and move on”, in much the same way I do with a lot of discussions/conversations I don’t like hearing – Joan and Mandy discussing the latest sermon given by their church minister, or how Bob’s infected toenail isn’t responding well to treatment, or how Kevin’s son + daughter-in-law are having trouble conceiving.. As long as they don’t include me in the conversation, I let it go. If they do try to include me, I (politely) say I’m not interested/I’m too busy to talk/whatever and leave them to it. Life’s too short to try and regulate other people’s conversations.

      1. Student*

        The difference here is that this intern co-worker asked the OP to come over to his house sans clothing. He is trying to get several women from the office to compete for his attention on his birthday, for sex.

        Several of the women sadly seem to think this is a good idea, and are discussing, in the office, how they will compete for sex with the party host.

        Yes, everyone is verbally tap-dancing around the whole “compete with each other to have sex with the host” thing. But that is very clearly the party host intern’s goal, and the goal of the participating women. And this poor OP got asked to compete for this guy’s sexual attention, possibly at work, and she has to hear about it all day at work.

        If these other interns want to do that at a party, they are presumably adults and that is their prerogative. However, they can go chat about it outside of work and stop the sexualized, objectifying, offensive conversation at work. It would be similarly stupid (and maybe illegal) for them to discuss a party to make fun of Hispanics, or the local Klan rally, or their swinger’s club, or their BDSM habit, or their porn collection, or their perfectly-vanilla-boring sex life with their spouse, at work. No one wants to arrest these idiots for having this dumb party, but it is completely work-unacceptable behavior and they deserve to get fired if they don’t shape up immediately after one warning.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          The difference here is that this intern co-worker asked the OP to come over to his house sans clothing. He is trying to get several women from the office to compete for his attention on his birthday, for sex.

          Several of the women sadly seem to think this is a good idea, and are discussing, in the office, how they will compete for sex with the party host.

          Wait, what? There’s nothing supporting this in the letter. While I agree the party is degrading and disgusting, there’s nothing to indicate that women will be competing for sex with the host, or that he intends that to be the effect.

        2. BCW*

          Ha, that may be the biggest jump yet on here. Where did you get competing for sex? So now this party is an orgy? Come on.

    7. Stephanie*

      I see your point and mostly agree. I think it could just get messy if the interns post this to social media (like labeling a photo “CEOs and Hoes party with my Teapot Inc. intern cohort!”) and it becomes a horrible PR nightmare for the company. Also, they’re discussing it at work.

  18. Chocolate Teapot*

    I would be tempted to turn up in a sharp pinstripe suit brandishing a garden implement, possibly with its own ID lanyard.

    1. Nutcase*

      Trouble is I’d be too tempted to then smack the birthday boy over the head with it.


    Ugh!! Such bad judgement by her co-workers. But I also have to say that by declining the invite then going to the manager, you are probably going to be ostracized by the other interns & talked about behind your back. The co-workers sound about that mature. CYA.

  20. BCW*

    I’m also curious what EXACTLY people think the manager should do here? I mean, if you want people to keep their personal discussions to a minimum, then thats fine, and I’m all for that. However, if my manager tried to tell me what kind of party I can or can’t throw or attend, I would think that is severely overstepping their bounds.

    1. CTO*

      But the manager CAN tell her employees not to have certain kinds of conversations in the workplace. That’s the issue at hand here (or at least part of it).

    2. Xay*

      I agree with you, I don’t think there is a lot that the manager can you. The party is tacky and immature and the interns probably shouldn’t be talking about it at work for the same reasons that most people don’t discuss parties that they are throwing at work. That said, it’s really none of the manager’s business what the interns do outside of business hours and offsite as long as they aren’t representing the nonprofit.

    3. Anon Accountant*

      I think that’s the extent of what management can do. A discussion about why the workplace is the wrong place to discuss this type of party and as to how others can be offended at it.

    4. Ask a Manager* Post author

      The manager should talk to Josh and explain why this kind of thing is inappropriate to discuss at work and why it opens the company to legal liability for harassment issues. She should direct him to cut it out, immediately. And since he himself has made it a topic that’s up for discussion, it wouldn’t hurt for her to throw in something additional about why the idea is disgusting and juvenile, and why it will reflect poorly on him in the office as as well.

      1. Bwmn*

        But it sounds like the ongoing discussion isn’t coming from Josh but rather the 3 interns who are attending.

        1. Grace*

          The manager does need to get involved because of the legal liability issues which are too many to count, including from the people having to hear about it.

    5. Malissa*

      I would say that parties of this type are inappropriate for many reasons. The sexual theme. The sexist theme. The fact that fall-out from these parties can affect your working relationship with your peers and superiors in a negative way. The fact that is was discussed at work now and due to the sexual nature of the party if may create an unwanted liability for the company.
      But mostly I would say that if they weren’t discussing this at work I would have no reason to talk to them in the first place.
      These are obviously not full-grown brains yet and they need to be told that this is wrong.

    6. Esra*

      If I were the manager, I’d say what they do on their own time is up to them, but that they can’t talk about/invite people to this kind of party on work time and that it’s generally an inappropriate subject for the office.

    7. Katie the Fed*

      Management could theoretically fire someone for inappropriate off-work conduct that indicates poor judgement or sexism. So really the manager is doing them a favor by talking to them.

      1. BCW*

        Yes. And a manager can fire you because they don’t like the color of your shoes. Doesnt mean its right. Poor judgment and sexism has shades of grey. Some people consider strip clubs sexist. Should a guy be fired for that? Some would say my drunken exploits from the weekend are poor judgment, but if I break no laws, should I be fired?

        1. Jamie*

          These are interns – isn’t part of the point of an internship helping them learn the mores of the workplace?

          It’s doing them a favor to let them know how this is seen by management and how it will hurt their reputations and can cost them their jobs.

          Because in the real world if you’re an actual employee and you’re known for throwing parties with imply you see men as CEOS and women as whores good luck getting promoted to management – or having anyone trust your judgement.

    8. LBK*

      I don’t think any serious discipline is required. I might go over the legal liability parts of it so the company is covered, and then just throw in “From the perspective of your own perception in the office, just think twice about the kind of stuff you discuss here” and leave it at that. I completely agree that I’d be pissed if my manager tried to control my personal/private life, but there’s nothing wrong with giving someone a heads up about making sure the two stay separate so it doesn’t hurt you at work.

      Look at it this way – if you were discussing your latest drunken exploits from the weekend and people were judging you for it, do you think you’d appreciate a heads up from your manager that maybe keep it down and keep your personal life personal?

    9. Joey*

      Personally Id use it as a learning experience for all of the interns since most if them didn’t seem to realize how it affects their reputation at work. A ceo’s and hoes party with co workers ? C’mon. Donald silver is a perfect example of how behavior outside of work absolutely impacts your job if anyone finds out, especially when it shapes people’s perceptions of your views.

  21. Confuzzled*

    This reminds me of that one story a few months ago on here regarding an office Halloween party where the employees would often dress in black-face, and somehow NO ONE knew that that was inappropriate. I often wonder how people can be so clueless to how their actions are perceived, and what is socially appropriate!

    1. MARGARET*

      This really stumps me too. How can people be so obtuse to common social norms? I just don’t get it! Can anyone explain why this happens so much these days?

      1. Katie the Fed*

        ESPECIALLY in an era when everyone has cell phone cameras and there are ALWAYS pictures. Always.

        1. Confuzzled*

          Exactly! ugh I’m just so baffled. I’d be horrified hearing about a CEOs and Hoes party at my job. Poor OP

  22. TheExchequer*

    It’s the year 2014, right? Right?!?

    My head started hurting from the title of the post alone. Ugh.

    1. Jeanne*

      Thank you. I was thinking what decade are we in? Why are women automatically sluts at a party? Why are women ok with this? I agree with those who are wondering what a manager can do. She cannot stop the party. But maybe she can start a new tradition at the company. She can have seminars with the interns. Teach them about expected workplace behavior. (We’ve seen that we can’t expect college kids to already know how to be professional.) Teach them how treating each other as equals and with RESPECT will go a long way. Not everyone will listen but for each intern who learns she will make a lasting impact in their lives.

      1. OhNo*

        Jeanne, that’s a fantastic idea. Having a seminar for new interns (especially if this is a company that hires a lot of them, which it sounds like it might be) would be a great way to give them a warning about what kind of behavior is expected in the office.

        Then, if this kind of thing happens again, the manager can cite the seminar in a “remember what we said about inappropriate discussion in the office? this is one of them” kind of way.

      2. Lora*


        I am…I guess in many ways happy that this is truly the first time I heard about this sort of thing? Maybe I am old? My undergrad school did not have fraternities & sororities as there were too many cases of alcohol poisoning and their insurance told them no more. Grad school university had fraternities, but I was too old for that sort of thing.

        However, if an intern came in babbling about how the birthday party was a [gross, -ist] themed party and this person and that person did blah blah blah and [creepy stuff], s/he would not get necessarily disciplined by me, or not even necessarily a talking-to, but much side-eye and judging about lack of maturity and decorum. And would then be given the less-responsible, less-visible projects, because I would get the feeling I could not trust this person to have good judgment. And Intern would get a very mediocre reference from me, should s/he elect to list me as a reference. Depending on how much s/he played up the event or talked about it in mixed company, I might even elect to tell the intern, “you probably don’t want to use me as a reference, sorry.”

        So no, Intern Josh wouldn’t necessarily get punished, per se…but it wouldn’t do wonders for his career, either, and he might have been better off reference-wise working part-time at a job that does not require so much decorum.

        If he was having a birthday party at a strip club, I probably wouldn’t bat an eyelash, provided it was framed as “oh, the guys took me out to a, um, a nudie bar for my birthday” and left it at that. It’s the talking it up, gonna be on social media type of thing that I find bothersome. Do what you want to do in your private life, but keep it to yourself and separate from your professional life.

  23. Nutcase*

    Even not at work this would not be okay! I… BOOOM! That was my head exploding.

  24. Sunflower*

    After re-reading the letter, I’m a little confused. Does LW want to talk to the manager because she wants them to stop talking about it at work or because she doesn’t want the party to happen? 2 TOTALLY different things IMO

    1. BCW*

      Those were kind of my points above. To me it seems like both. To stop talking about it, I’m fine with. To go to the manager because its happening is too much

    2. alma*

      LW’s comment at the end that “I know that I obviously can’t control what types of parties other people do or do not throw. But I should also have the right to be able to work in an environment where I don’t have to listen to people talk about something which I find demeaning to women” pretty clearly indicates the former, IMO.

  25. Us, Too*


    “I won’t be able to make it because my suit’s at the cleaners and I really have no desire to see Josh wearing a banana hammock”.

    But that would be crossing the same line, probably.

  26. MR*

    I’m pretty sure all of the other interns forgot that they were at their internship, and not at their fraternity/sorority house. Stay away from this!

    Also, excellent unsolicited advice by Alison in the last paragraph. This is stuff I wish I knew in my internship, and it may have come in handy. Take advantage of this internship and learn from others in the workplace…you never know what may happen as a result!

  27. Observer*

    One more point. If there are 6 interns who are all a group, that means that it is PROBABLY a school related internship. In that case, there should be an intern adviser or someone who the interns could talk to.

    The intern adviser is definitely someone to talk to. He probably won’t be able to stop the party, but he is in a position to speak more broadly to these students about workplace norm, etc.

  28. Lizabeth*

    Can we get a follow-up on this one??? I’m dying to hear what ends up happening…

  29. Not So NewReader*

    I had to go back and re-read. Okay so Josh is having a birthday party and everyone dresses up as a CEO or an Office ‘Hoe’. There are six interns, four of whom are women. This means there is one other guy, what is he doing in the midst of all this. Is the party just six people or are more coming?

    I can’t even see the university caring about this and it’s their internship program. Unless, as another poster said, something goes wrong and it becomes nationwide news.

    I really think the bulk of this one is on Josh’s shoulders. He has a work place confused with a frat house. I don’t see how the internship has helped him learn about the work world. But, Josh did not write in here.

    I wondered if OP could go back to the university and request that her next internship be different. (I don’t want to say be adult-like, but that is where I am going.) OP could say that she did not get much exposure to other workers, she did not have an opportunity to work independently and because the focus was on this party not the work she feels that she needs something more serious the next time.
    Maybe this is her last internship, can’t tell.

    But this is definitely not representative of work places and I really feel that OP got short changed on this one.

    OP, there have been times where I was the lone-voice saying “Uh, this isn’t right.” (My examples are too specific and I can’t use them.) And it’s a tough spot to live in. If nothing else comes out of this experience, you have gotten used to the sound of your own voice standing alone. And you have already started to draw your lines. It’s a good idea to draw boundary lines and hold them. These are your take-aways.

    I would just redirect the conversation to the work, if you can. If one of the other interns says something about pooping on the party, just say “I am here to work, not plan parties.” Yeah, this won’t make you popular, but it’s important to be careful of who you hang out with. I am not saying be a snob. I am saying if you want to be successful, hang out with other people who want that or are actually successful. It makes a difference in life. If these people are not your best buds, that may not be a loss.

    1. LBK*

      I really think the bulk of this one is on Josh’s shoulders. He has a work place confused with a frat house. I don’t see how the internship has helped him learn about the work world. But, Josh did not write in here.

      I don’t think this is intended as a work party in any way (a 6-person party would be pretty lame, or at least weirdly small to have such a racy theme). I think it’s just a party, and he wanted to invite other students that he knows, including his friends that he met through the internship, not realizing that other things like harassment laws can come into play because they’re coworkers.

  30. Ms. Anonymity*

    I think everyone is too politically correct these days. It’s a silly party with a stupid theme. And for the record, I’ve been to similarly themed parties before, with a mix of men as sluts and women as power figures, and I’m sure I’m not the only one. It shouldn’t be blown out of proportion and made into this men vs. women thing. If I was the OP and felt offended about the supposed attire for the ladies, I’d show up to the party in a suit! It would spark some interesting conversation and possibly cause some of the other attendees to think about these types of situations in a different light. I just don’t think it’s anything to get super upset over. Also, I would raise my concerns to my fellow interns. Point out that this could look really bad for the business, if word, or photos got out, and suggest that they keep it under wraps if it’s going to happen.

    1. Del*

      So men as power figures and women as sluts… and you don’t think it should be “made” into a men vs women thing? I’m having a little trouble seeing how it in any way could be seen as not. Subversion is great but refusing to recognize the intent is ostrich behavior, plain and simple.

      1. Ms. Anonymity*

        I think it’s all about how you perceive it. I don’t think for a second anyone is going around and assigning a dress code specifically to men vs. women. That’s not generally how things work. If the OP is assuming that’s “Josh’s” take, then that’s on her. Besides, just because “Josh” has that opinion doesn’t mean I have to follow along like a puppy on a leash. As I said, I’d show up with a suit on to a party, where the OP admits she likes the people attending, and party down. People don’t always have to view things through my rose colored glasses. Being a big kid means I can acknowledge that and move on without taking everything as a personal offense.

        1. Zillah*

          I think that the OP, who has heard far more about the party than we have, is probably qualified to judge what is or isn’t the expectation of a gendered dress code. It’s not “on her” if that’s how he’s been presenting it, nor would it be an unreasonable assumption – I have almost never heard men referred to as “hos.”

      2. BCW*

        This is why I see it like that. The intent of these parties is FUN, not to make a statement about gender politics in the workplace. If some sorority or group of girls wanted to throw a party (with free booze for the guys) where the guys had to wear underwear or something more risque, I think thats their choice. A good amount of guys would probably go. You know why? They are going to have fun. Clearly many people on here find it offensive and sexist. Clearly many college aged girls don’t. And no one knows the intent of the people throwing it. But its as I’ve said before, just because some people find it offensive, doesn’t mean everyone has to share that view. If the group being demeaned is fine, then why are you upset for them. Some racial jokes about blacks I can find funny, others may not. But don’t tell me that I should be offended.

        1. LBK*

          Eh, I think there’s a difference between saying “This doesn’t offend me” and “This shouldn’t offend you.” I hope you can at least understand why some of the commenters here find the idea offensive and aren’t just playing it off as a fun theme, especially given that this site skews heavily towards the social justice/feminist crowd (which I know may sound like a dig but I don’t mean it to be).

        2. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Of course it’s their choice. But it’s other people’s choice to find it offensive and judge them accordingly. And in the case of an employer, it’s their choice (and maybe their obligation) to shut it down to the extent that it involves coworkers or work.

          1. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

            And it’s perfectly reasonable for this to color everyone’s opinions of everyone else. If I was the manager here, in addition to negotiating the harassment issues, it would absolutely affect my perception of the various people involved.

            As a manager, here’s what I now know about Josh (e.g.): He’s a great writer, a little bit iffy on deadlines, interested in working in policy, and sexist. Am I going to hire him out of the internship? Not if I can help it.

            1. BCW*

              Wow. Thats a HUGE jump to assume he’s sexist. You can have your opinion, but I just think thats a crazy amount. If you want to say he was a part of a somewhat sexist party, ok. That doesn’t mean he himself is a sexist person. We know so little about this except the theme of the party.

              1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                It’s pretty reasonable to assume that someone who thinks it’s okay to confine women to “hoes” in his party theme while the men are “CEOs” isn’t a paragon of gender egalitarianism.

              2. Katie the Fed*

                He’s having a party where teh men come as CEOs and the women – his coworkers – come as hoes. Do we need to explain why that’s sexist?

                At BEST he has terrible judgement and is severely lacking in maturity.

                At worst he’s a sexist jerk.

                Either way – he won’t be working for me.

              3. some1*

                We know the LW finds it sexist and degrading. Just because you don’t doesn’t mean her opinion is invalid.

              4. Zillah*

                I might agree if this was just a party has was attending, but he’s throwing it. Maybe he’s not loudly railing against women voting and telling them to get back in the kitchen, but the theme of the party definitely indicates a distinct lack of respect for women. I would also assume someone throwing a party like this is sexist and not someone I want to work with.

              5. Ask a Manager* Post author

                It occurs to me to add: I suspect this comes down to how you define “a sexist.” I’m not saying I think he’s someone who advocates to pay women less for equal work or who wants to stop women from voting or having leadership positions or working outside the home. But you know, these days very few people take those positions (in the U.S., at least). The kind of sexism that’s being called out here is the kind that condones objectifying women sexually or seeing them first as decorative/unserious.

                I think you might argue this party theme is just a joke, and of course it’s intended to be. But the kind of attitude that allows someone to do that is the same attitude that leads some people to subconsciously prefer men for leadership roles (even though they might never consciously think they do that), or give them more professional opportunities, or reward assertive behavior that they discourage in women, or to judge women differently than men for their sexual choices, or to assume that women should be flattered to be the target of any and all male interest, and on and on.

                1. Karyn*

                  Thank you for this. Too often, we discuss blatant sexism (e.g., opponents of equal pay, opponents of voting rights, etc.) and generally, that kind of sexism is rare in the U.S., at least from my experience. So it leads to a false belief that sexism has died out. But there is a more subversive sexism that pervades society, and this party is a prime example. Just because it’s not the most blatant example doesn’t mean it doesn’t have sexist flavors, and I think it’s important to recognize that.

            2. Joey*

              You would define him as a sexist based on one action? Regardless of what he’s done beyond that? I could certainly see you suspecting that he’s sexist, but doesn’t it take more than a one time occurrence to really define someone as a sexist?

              Does this mean if I tell a sexist joke I know deserve to be labeled a sexist?

              1. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*


                Because it’s not just that you told the joke. It’s that you thought the joke was worth telling. It’s that you knew that it might hurt people and decided to tell it anyway (or that you didn’t know it would hurt people, which suggests a profound lack of empathy). It’s that you didn’t consider (or didn’t care about) how the joke would affect how others think about you. Telling the joke gives me a lot of information about you, and I’m going to use it when I make judgments about who you are.

                (As an aside: I wish I knew how to combat (in myself as well as others) this sense that it’s somehow wrong to draw conclusions about each other based on the information we have. It comes up all the time in conversations like these. It’s at the heart of the “But free speech!” argument. We can say/think/believe/do whatever we want. But we can’t control how people are going to receive what we say or do, and it’s just not reasonable to object to that.)

                We all grow up in the smog of sexism (to borrow a metaphor from Beverly Tatum) – it’s just out there, I get it. But that doesn’t mean that I’m not going to hold it against you if you don’t try to overcome it.

                1. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

                  Also: People are obviously complex. It’s possible Josh is throwing the sexist party but also volunteers at the rape crisis center and organizes students on campus around pay equity. But it’s not surprising that that seems unlikely. And if it were true, it would make me really curious about the weird disconnect between his political actions and personal choices.

                2. BCW*

                  So you draw NO distinction between what is clearly a joke and behaviors? That seems a bit extreme to me. I have definitely made plenty of racially tinged jokes toward my friends of various races, I don’t think that makes me racist. I don’t think if I make a blond joke, or even a gendered joke toward a female friend that it makes me sexist either. I’d question whether there is anyone who hasn’t made some kind of joke based on a specific group of people, I don’t know that it makes the bigoted in any way

                3. Blue Anne*

                  BCW, telling a sexist joke *is* a behaviour.

                  Thinking that sexism is funny is a behaviour.

                  If you told me a sexist joke, and I told you I didn’t think it was funny, I thought it was sexist, and you apologized and didn’t tell me jokes like that again… okay. Fair enough. That would probably not colour my view of you too much.

                  But ANYTHING beyond that. Continuing to tell those jokes. Defending reasons for telling those jokes even after it’s clear people aren’t comfortable with them. Throwing parties with a “funny” sexist theme. Yeah. That’s a behaviour I’m going to take notice of.

        3. alma*

          Racism and sexism have their parallels, but they aren’t identical. “I wasn’t offended by this racist thing so you shouldn’t be offended by this sexist thing” is a non sequitur, and it would be equally so if it were the other way around and a white woman were telling you to calm down and stop overreacting about a racist incident because a totally unrelated sexist incident didn’t bother her.

          1. BCW*

            I get that, I’m drawing the parallel because I don’t know what its like to be a woman and deal with sexism, but I know what its like to be black and deal with racism. I’m not telling people they shouldn’t be offended by this party, but I do have a problem with people acting like these girls going to the party have no respect for themselves because they aren’t offended. And I also think the intent should matter, which I know is like a horrible thing to say on this blog, but its true. I doubt the guys throwing this party are trying to be gross. They are trying to see skimpy dressed girls. I don’t see anything inherently wrong with that.

            1. some1*

              . They are trying to see skimpy dressed girls. I don’t see anything inherently wrong with that.


              They aren’t just trying to skimpy dressed girls, they are trying to see their coworkers like that. And the LW has every right not to be cool with that. No one forced Josh to pick this theme and invite his coworkers.

            2. Sawrs*

              BCW, you seem very concerned that Josh is being persecuted here and by the OP, and suggested in a comment above that she is agitating for him to be fired. I don’t see any evidence of that.

              They are trying to see skimpy dressed girls. I don’t see anything inherently wrong with that.

              What I do see evidence of is a woman who would rather not play the part as eye-candy for a boy, and would prefer that he and her fellow co-workers stop using sexist language in front of her. He has his entire personal life outside of work to watch “girls” and call them “hoes.” Is that okay with you?

            3. KellyK*

              They are trying to see skimpy dressed girls. I don’t see anything inherently wrong with that.

              Not skimpy dressed girls in general. Skimpy dressed coworkers. They want their female coworkers to dress up for their entertainment. There are scantily clad women all over magazines, TV, movies, and catalogs, even without getting into strip clubs or porn. It’s not the job of their female coworkers to be their eye candy.

        4. Smilingswan*

          I’m sure many of the college girls who claim to not find it offensive actually do. They go along with it though, because they are young and naive, and want to be liked.

          1. the invisible one*

            Want to be liked, don’t want to be told they’re overreacting, don’t want to be told they have no sense of humour, don’t want to be told they’re a party pooper, don’t want to be told they’re no fun, don’t want to be ostracized…

            I went along with a lot of stuff in university that I wish I hadn’t. And I did it all with a (nervous rictus) smile on my face and a (appeasement) laugh in my voice. Oh classmates and social circle, please don’t exclude me… I wonder if any of them ever realized that I was not actually having fun a bunch of the time. I know that I didn’t have enough skill to see if there were others who were not having fun, so I don’t hold it against any of them who didn’t notice. I just wish I’d been willing to walk away when the events turned from fun to not-fun.

            1. LondonI*

              Yeah, I was the same at these parties. In the beginning I never even noticed that it was ALWAYS the women who were expected to dress in a skimpy, overly sexualised way. I went along and ‘had fun.’
              ‘School disco’ is also popular in the UK, where guys simply throw on their old school ties while women are expected to wear school uniforms a la Britney Spears circa 1999. At one such ‘fun’ party, even after my enthusiasm for these events had already started to wane, a total stranger took the opportunity to grope me quickly between the legs before disappearing into the crowd.
              On another occasion, following a ‘Pimps and Prostitutes’ party, I found myself with five other similarly scantily-dressed girls and one ‘pimp’ walking around a fairly rough part of the city at night. As expected, we commanded a lot of unwanted attention. I felt very vulnerable and disproportionately dependent for my safety on the one ‘pimp’ in the crowd.
              I spent a long time going along with this stuff – and I’m not usually one to bow to peer pressure – because it was ‘fun’ and the ‘done thing’. I never really questioned it.
              But just because a practice is considered fun, just because women go along with it, just because people want to fit in and not be labelled spoilsports, does not mean that the practice is not, at heart, deeply offensive.

        5. Broke Philosopher*

          Not sure if someone already addressed this, but I’m not sure that “choice” is the relevant factor here. Sure, women make “choices” to do things that are demeaning to them or bolster sexist structures all the time. They are real choices; I’m not denying that. However, women’s choices in these situations are constrained by existing power structures and social dynamics. So women do make the choice to go to parties that are incredibly sexist, but it’s not because women, on the whole, are totally down with sexism. There’s other stuff going on that influence those choices, and I think a fair number of women would refrain from such parties if the context around them were different. Just the fact that there are a ton of parties in which women are supposed to show up scantily clad for the amusement of fully-dressed men, but there really aren’t any (or are very, very few) of the reverse is telling. It’s just not as simple as “it’s a choice–go or don’t go.”

    2. Zahra*

      Ah, the PC card. Let me repeat what I saw in a tweet recently:

      “The greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was convincing people that basic decency was ‘political correctness’ & they should be ‘sick of it’.”

  31. BCW*

    I REALLY think some of you are overreacting and/or very naive. Look, if you think the theme is tasteless/sexist/whatever, thats your opinion and I respect it. However I think we are kind of assuming a lot. I don’t think Josh is going around the office saying “Can’t wait to see you hoe’s on Saturday”. In fact, it sounds like the only ones discussing the party in the office are the other women going, who clearly aren’t offended by the idea. I also think for everyone acting like this is this huge atrocity against humanity, eh, its a party. I’ve been to plenty of these in my time. I have also gone to parties and bar crawls as an adult where the women HAPPILY dress as slutty as they can. No one is forcing anyone to attend these parties or to dress any way they want. They are doing it of their own free will. To me, it seems like the OP is taking her offense at the party theme and applying it toward the women discussing their outfits. Is it really impacting her work?

    Also, to assume this will be “bad press” for the organization is a HUGE leap. I assume if its a super small town, with one non profit and one small college, its possible. However, this could be NYC for all we know. Do you really think a party thrown by an intern at NYU, with what is a common variation of a college them party, is going to bring shame upon an entire organization? Now yes there is a lot of room between small town and New York, but I think its a lot less likely that this will be a PR nightmare for something that a few interns attend. I’d bet every day plenty of interns at reputable companies get caught breaking the law, and you never hear about it.

    Even for this blog, I’m surprised at how up in arms people are about a COLLEGE PARTY. Again, if the manager threw this party in the office, sure, I could see it. But its really not that big of a deal to me.

    1. Amtelope*

      But you can’t invite people to a party that’s themed around “hoes” and ask them to “dress slutty” when those people are your coworkers. If these people were just talking about the party with their friends, who they happened to work with, that would be one thing. But they invited their coworkers to an “office hoes” party, and it turned out they offended someone by doing that, which should not have come as a huge surprise to them. This is not the kind of party you invite office friends to. That’s really inappropriate and can easily come off as harassment.

      1. BCW*

        How do you know these people don’t already go to school together? I’m not saying they do or don’t, but we don’t know the nature of their relationship. For all we know Josh is dating one of them, and the other is her best friend. Without getting into an argument about office dating, the point is that we don’t know what exactly the relationships are. And the OP probably doesn’t either since it sounds like she doesn’t really hang with them, which is fine. But people do become friends outside of work, so its hard to just make a blanket statement that you shouldn’t invite co-workers to things.

        1. Ellie H.*

          She said she’s friends with them too; I’ve been friends with people who did things that demonstrated incredibly poor judgment in college. So I don’t think it’s necessarily the case that the party is limited to just a few people who are already friends outside of work – it’s something that “Josh” included a group of his colleagues, who are all friendly with each other, in.

        2. Amtelope*

          Whether or not they were already friends, they also invited the OP, who doesn’t seem to be their friend outside the office (or presumably she’d be handling this by talking to them, not through work channels), and who was offended. The moment invitations for sexy parties go past people who you’re friends with outside of work to other co-workers, I think you’ve crossed the line. And I don’t think even discussion of this kind of party really belongs in the workplace — better to err on the side of not offending people when it comes to talking about “hoes” or sexual themes.

      2. anonnypants*

        Yep. I’m a member of a local group who runs around drinking beer & singing lewd songs. It’s legal, there’s nothing wrong with it, but I still go to great pains to keep it totally and completely separate from my work life. I don’t let myself get tagged in pictures, and I try not to mention it around nonmembers (90% of my friends are from this group so it’s not hard). I’m pretty careful about who I introduce into the group, because it would not be super difficult to be made uncomfortable or offended, and I don’t really want my employers/coworkers thinking of me in that way. It’s the same principle.

        1. Stephanie*

          Yeah, I used to do comedy stuff outside work and never invited colleagues for the same reason.

      3. LBK*

        I completely disagree that you can’t do that with coworkers. You probably shouldn’t discuss it in the office but if you and your coworkers are good friends and none of you takes issue with it, who cares?

        The reason it’s a problem in this case is a) one of the people who has been invited takes issue with it, and b) it’s being discussed so much in the office. I honestly don’t see an issue with having a sexually-themed party with people you work with, AGAIN assuming everyone involved is genuinely on board.

        1. Jamie*

          You’re drawing an important distinction, but lumping it in with co-workers.

          Good friends are totally different than coworkers – even friendly co-workers. I have good friends with whom I work, we’ve worked together for years, and we’ve had very personal conversations about our lives and relationships that would be totally inappropriate to speak openly about in the workplace. Not because it’s sexual, but personal and people who aren’t close to us would be uncomfortable hearing it.

          So we don’t talk about stuff like that at work. We’re friends. And yes, if I were getting married and had a goofy bachelorette party I’d invite them – because they are my friends, not my co-workers.

          Good friends means you know a great deal more about what kind of invitations they would and wouldn’t be okay with than someone you like who you know primarily as a co-worker. You have to have different boundaries with people you don’t know that well.

          So there is nothing wrong with what you’re talking about, if you know your good friends well. But that doesn’t make it okay to do with everyone.

          Just like there are things you can do/say to your SO which would be wildly inappropriate or illegal to do/say to a stranger or coworker without getting consent first.

          Boundaries are different depending on the nature and depth of the relationship. And sex is an area where you’d really better be sure you’re both on the same page regarding the relationship before you go issuing invitations or engaging in explicit conversation.

          1. BCW*

            I’m guessing you are a bit older right? When you are in your early 20s, your definition of “Friends” is much different than in your 30s and 40s. Example, I currently have “friends” and I have “drinking buddies”. 10 years ago, I would have called them all friends. So its a bit harsh to say that someone is or isn’t a friend based on YOUR definition. Josh may see these people as his friends more than co-workers. I’ve had people like that who I met at work, but ended up being great friends.

            1. Jamie*

              People of all ages understand the differences between friends, casual buddies, etc.

              If you are not personally close enough to someone to know with 100% certainty how they will react to a sexually themed party and you guess incorrectly, as he did, then there can be consequences to that. They are in their 20’s – not toddlers.

              Regardless of whether or not you feel it’s okay to issue sexually themed invitations at work, the reality is in the broader workplace this will behavior will hurt him and the women discussing their outfits in the office.

              Because clearly not everyone feels the way you do about it, and many people in the position to affect people’s careers, feel very differently.

              Even if you are completely in support of their right to do whatever, do you think that this behavior is generally consequence free in many offices? Because they are in for a rude awakening if they get hired somewhere and a manager over hears and that are shocked to find themselves in HR and/or out the door.

              So – morality aside – if internships are supposed to in part teach office mores why wouldn’t the manager talking to them about this be beneficial? So they know how to modify their discussion in the workplace so they don’t hurt themselves down the road?

              No one is talking about throwing them in jail – but if you saw someone starting on a path which you know will hurt their career at some point you don’t give them a heads up?

              1. Wakeen's Teapots Ltd.*


                The absolute bottom line is: companies get sued and people lose their jobs over stuff like this. The job loss can be swift, not full of conversation and warnings but immediate, with no recourse. Leave immediately, we’ll pack up your things and mail them to you.

                It’s naive to think that any of the reaction to this workplace conversation is overreaction.

                Remedy is the easiest thing on the planet…just keep your mouth shut about women as hoes at work.

                1. Mints*

                  Agreed, josh clearly misread his “friend” the LW, because LW is pretty outraged. If he’s going to throw sexist themed parties, he needs to keep it under wraps for his own sake. He seems unaware at how badly it’s received

              2. BCW*

                Well, maybe then the OP misused the word friend. If these co-workers were her friends, as she claims, she could just have a conversation and not run to the boss because she is having a problem.

            2. CA Anon*

              I’m in my mid-20s and I’m right there with Jamie about how I classify friends and coworkers. When I was a teenager, I felt the same way about the other kids I went to school with. It’s not an age thing.

            3. Zillah*

              I’m in my mid-twenties, and I don’t have any trouble distinguishing between friends, acquaintances, coworkers, classmates, etc. That’s true of many people my age that I know.

        2. Smilingswan*

          But how do you know they are genuinely on board? Some people will pretend they are just to fit in or avoid rocking the boat. You almost never really know how others feel.

          1. LBK*

            As Jamie mentioned above, I think it’s about the closeness of the relationship. If you don’t know the person well enough to be sure whether they’re really on board, you don’t know them well enough to invite them in the first place. In a context like this I would only invite someone who I knew would be willing to be open with me about how comfortable they were with it.

    2. LBK*

      I think the reason people are taking a college party so seriously is that how you act and how workplace issues are handled at college internships is supposed to prepare you for the working world, so a lot of people are probably thinking that this should be treated as if it weren’t just a college party, that way Josh doesn’t assume this is normal once he’s no longer just an intern.

    3. Del*

      “Overreacting” and “naïve” go very poorly with “respect.” You can disagree without insulting the people you are disagreeing with.

      1. BCW*

        I think I can respect your opinion, but think you are overreacting. It happens with my mom all of the time. I’ll agree that the word naive may have been strong though. I think what I thought was naive was the thought of how this is such an isolated incident.

        1. H. Vane*

          I don’t think anyone thought this was an isolated incident. I just think most of us think it’s extremely ill-advised and could have very negative effects on the coworkers’ careers and the company.

          Just because a lot of people think it’s ok doesn’t mean it is, especially when it’s taken out of its normal sphere (college) and tossed into the workplace.

      1. BCW*

        When I think of interns, I think of college students. Its possible they could be out of college, but all of my internships were during summer break.

        1. Katie the Fed*

          In this role, they’re interns. When they’re at college, they’re students.

            1. H. Vane*

              Nope. Not in this instince. People don’t get free passes at work just because they attend university, and they shouldn’t. They’re all adults and should show judgement and restraint in their actions when they are in the professional world.

    4. Wakeen's Teapots Ltd.*

      You can’t talk about women as hoes at work, especially women you are working with.

      It’s not just that it is wrong. It’s that you can’t. The liability for allowing an environment that refers to women who are working in your place of business as whores and prostitutes is enormous.

      If I didn’t terminated somebody immediately for doing it, it would be one strike and done.

      That these people are interns is all the more important that the message is received by them immediately so they aren’t daft enough to repeat same on an actual job they will actually lose.

    5. CA Anon*

      Telling women that they’re “overreacting” when they’re offended by sexist behavior is a common silencing technique. Please stop doing that.

      1. BCW*

        Yes. Gaslighting, Gift of Fear, yada yada yada, I’m a sexist jerk. I’ve heard it all. Whatever. I’m not trying to silence you, I’m expressing my opinion. In fact, you are trying to silence me by asking me to stop saying these things. As I have said, I understand why you don’t like the party theme. I can understand why some may find it sexist. However, what I think is overreacting is the reach that this party should have for Josh at work, especially if Josh isn’t the one talking about it. Sometimes people DO overreact to things. I don’t think just the mere mention of that is bad.

        1. CA Anon*

          I’m not saying you can’t disagree with AAM, I’m asking that you refrain from using common silencing techniques on women who disagree with you.

          Say that you think the party is harmless–that’s your opinion about the situation. Don’t say that we’re “overreacting” by finding it offensive–that’s telling us that our opinions don’t matter.

          1. BCW*

            So I’m genuinely curious. Do you think there is no such thing as an over reaction? Because I know I have overreacted to things. People I love, like my mom have overreacted to things. It happens. However, if you think that no one ever overreacts, then we just have a huge difference of opinion. As I’ve tried to express, I don’t think your opinion of the party is over reacting. I think the thought of the work implications is an overreaction.

            1. CA Anon*

              I think people can overreact. I don’t think it’s appropriate to tell someone else that they’re overreacting because it makes them feel as if their feelings aren’t valid or don’t matter.

              I also think that it’s especially problematic for a member of the dominant or privileged group (in this case, men) to tell a member of the marginalized group (in this case, women) that their feelings on the subject (in this case, sexism in the workplace) don’t matter.

              As a black person, how would you feel if I (as a white person) said that you were overreacting to something that you felt was horribly racist? I can disagree that it’s racist, but ultimately I’m going to defer to your feelings on the matter because you’re the member of the marginalized group, not me.

              1. BCW*

                So you can think someone is overreacting, but just shouldn’t say it? Fair enough I guess. I think things happen. I’ve definitely told other black friends of mine that they were overreacting to perceived racism. My thought is there different people have different levels of sensitivity. 2 people could see the exact same situation very differently. No one is right or wrong. But I don’t think bringing up the other possibility that their immediate reaction may not be justified. Sometimes people shouldn’t just go on the assumption that something is automatically malicious. I don’t think pointing that out is wrong. You may not like the term overreacting, and yes, I could say it a different way, but my overall point would still be the same.

                1. CA Anon*

                  You’ve told other black friends they’re overreacting, but how would you feel if a white person said the same thing to you? There’s a big different there.

              2. Ask a Manager* Post author

                I’d say that if you’re a member of the dominant or privileged group in a situation, and you’re hearing someone outside that group react in a way that seems unwarranted to you, the best reaction is to make a sincere attempt to learn more about how they experience it. Or if you’re not inclined to do that, at least to recognize that they’re bringing a different set of experiences than you are, that they’re better equipped to understand those experiences than you are, and not to tell them that they’re overreacting :)

        2. Bingo Caller*

          So not only silencing but actively belittling and dismissing now? *locates sexism bingo card* Please do continue, I’m on for a full house here!

            1. CA Anon*

              Honestly, I read “Gaslighting, Gift of Fear, yada yada yada, I’m a sexist jerk. I’ve heard it all. Whatever.” as pretty belittling. I ignored that in my reply because I wanted to address the substance of his argument/question, but it did come off as very dismissive (at least to me).

            2. Esra*

              Gaslighting, Gift of Fear, yada yada yada, I’m a sexist jerk. I’ve heard it all. Whatever.

              That read as pretty belittling and dismissive, to me at least.

            3. LizB*

              Count me in as another person who found the lines quoted by CA Anon and Esra to be extremely dismissive. (But apparently multiple women saying they find something sexist is “group think,” so I guess you’ll have to take my opinion with a grain of salt.)

              1. BCW*

                What exactly was dismissive? The “whatever” statement? Or the fact that I brought up 3 statements that I’ve heard on here more times than I can count? I don’t think its dismissive to proactively defend the arguments that will probably be thrown at me. In fact, in healthy debate, its a pretty logical thing to do.

                1. CA Anon*

                  That “yadda yadda” statement is the rhetorical equivalent of rolling your eyes. It’s disingenuous to call it “debate”.

                2. BCW*

                  I consider it to me more like saying etcetera than rolling your eyes, but take it as you will

                3. LizB*

                  Well, for one thing, neither gaslighting nor The Gift of Fear are even remotely relevant to this particular example of sexism. They both have to do with predators/abusive relationships; this letter is about the denigration of women in the workplace/a potentially hostile work environment. Nobody was ever going to tell you to read The Gift of Fear in response to this letter unless we got off on a tangent about how the OP’s coworker creeps her out for reasons she can’t articulate. When you just throw those phrases out there like they’re meaningless feminist buzzwords (complete with a “yada yada yada” to emphasize how meaningless they are — putting them in the same category with literal gibberish), it shows me that you clearly haven’t bothered to learn anything about what they actually are, despite apparently having been made aware of them countless times. This adds to the overall impression that I get from all your comments that you don’t consider sexism to be a serious issue, and that you don’t really listen to the people who disagree with you on that. I know we’re all faceless internet nobodies whose opinions you don’t value at all, but for some of us, sexism isn’t just an abstract intellectual topic; it’s a very real and painful part of our daily lives. We can still have a civil discussion about it, but it would be nice if you would realize that that discussion is not occurring in a vacuum, and think about why those of use who disagree with you hold our particular positions, and how our experiences may be informing our opinions.

                  And yes, the “whatever” was also very dismissive. I don’t think there’s a way to use that phrase without sounding like a disgruntled, eye-rolling 14-year-old.

                4. BCW*

                  Liz, I actually understand all of those things far more than you give me credit for. Just because I understand the references, doesn’t mean I have to agree with them just because a woman says it. I know that the gift of fear has no real relevance here, but I explained why I brought it up. I would though argue on the tangent that people were going on with the fact that I said someone overreacted, and how it is trying to silence women, that the gaslighting reference isn’t as far fetched as you think. I do consider sexism a serious issue, as I do racism, homophobia, and all kinds of discrimination based on a group of people. But that doesn’t mean we have to agree on what constitutes that. Among these groups there are different opinions on what constitutes those things. I think you are dismissive of my POV just because its different than yours with your diatribe about how clueless I am (like that reference?) . Yes, frankly you are a faceless internet person whose opinion I don’t value. But as I mentioned, no one whose opinion I do value has ever called me sexist. I may be the most vocal at times on this board, but its not just me. Let there be a gender issue and someone, man or woman, say how they don’t agree with the mob that its sexist, and we are then said that we are ignoring or part of the problem, solely on the basis that we see the same situation differently. We don’t have to agree on everything, but your moral grandstanding is a bit much

          1. BCW*

            I’m not dismissing your opinions, I’m saying no matter what I argue, or how polite I am, I hear the same things on this board when I have a dissenting opinion. I’m either being called sexist because I see things different. I”m gaslighting because I have the nerve to think that the action didn’t warrant the level of outrage it received. Or that I need to understand the book “The Gift of Fear”. So I was sarcastically just beating people to the punch. Essentially saying bring a new argument because I’ve heard them all. So yes I was being sarcastic. You could say I was being snarky. But I don’t think I was being dismissive.

            1. Forrest*

              No offense but if you constantly hear it when you jump into these types of convos here maybe you should analyze yourself.

            2. Esra*

              Wait, so you’re making the same arguments, but getting tired of hearing the same responses?

              I have seen that you often have a dissenting opinion, but a lot of the time the people who disagree seem to respond politely.

              1. BCW*

                whenever there is a gender issue, and I dare bring up another point of view, thats when the same arguments get made. So yes, maybe if by “the same argument” you mean that I don’t jump to the conclusion that the man in question is a sexist, then maybe so.

                1. Esra*

                  Generally when that happens, the crowd is either split between whether or not it was sexist, saying it wasn’t sexist, or saying it was. If there are 50 women saying “Yea… that sounds pretty sexist.” and a man is like, “What, no. You’re all oversensitive.”, you’ve got to raise an eyebrow.

                  I’m as left-leaning as they come, and Canadian to boot, so often times I find AAM to be more conservative than I am and American employee protections to be awful. But even when I’ve voiced this, and been disagreed with, I’ve found people’s disagreements to be pretty polite and well expressed. When I read your comments that start out “Everyone is going to jump on me for this, but…” I’m not sure exactly what you’re looking for. Are you looking for people to stop expressing their disagreement? If they disagree for the same reasons they’ve disagreed before, can they not state that? Do you just want a ‘thank you for the differing opinion’?

                2. BCW*

                  I wrote this earlier this week (or maybe last). A couple of times I have commented under a different name. Same thoughts, same writing style, whatever. However, when it says BCW, I think certain people are more likely to respond with a bit more anger than if I used the other name. So, what that tells me is that there is a bit of a preconceived notion that is keeping people from really listening to my points. They see my name and they are ready to pounce. So maybe you have generated more good will than I have on here. But it happens.

                3. Esra*

                  I guess. I don’t think I comment enough for that to be the case, and I always comment under the same name, but I trust that you’ve had a different experience.

            3. MJH*

              Look, BCW, I agreed with you upthread when you said the employer doesn’t have much recourse and probably shouldn’t tell Josh what kind of parties he can throw outside of work (although Alison explained why they can). But you have completely lost me with your snark, your dismissiveness, and your male privilege (OMG PRIVILEGE. I used a BUZZWORD).

              Anyway, many women have expressed their thoughts. Perhaps you should listen instead of digging in.

        3. Tinker*

          “Yes. Gaslighting, Gift of Fear, yada yada yada, I’m a sexist jerk. I’ve heard it all. Whatever.”

          I realize that this is a frustrating subject — it is for me also, particularly as I don’t want to contribute to going down rabbit holes that aren’t suitable for this blog — but that’s a pretty disrespectful way of expressing disagreement.

          It also kind of doubles down on the attitude hinted at by your use of “naive” and “overreacting”, as well as the parallels you draw with your mother’s behavior.

          You express concern in many of your posts that you expect to receive a poor reception — I think you may find that statements like this are implicated among the causes for that reaction.

          1. CA Anon*

            Thanks for saying this. I didn’t want to get into it because I wanted him to actually read what I wrote about the substance of his argument. But yeah, his tone is really problematic for all the reasons you mentioned.

          2. BCW*

            What parallels are you referring to with my mothers behavior? I said that I can respect her opinion, yet think she is overreacting. I used her because she is the person in this world that I respect the most, not because she is a woman. I could have used anyone in my life.

        4. Katie the Fed*

          “I’m a sexist jerk. I’ve heard it all.”

          BCW – can I ask you a serious question? If so many people are drawing the same conclusion and you find yourself the frequent recipient of comments like this – why wouldn’t you take a look at yourself and wonder if you’re the one who may be off base on these issues? I mean, if everyone is telling me something, chances are they’re onto something about either who I am, or how I’m presenting myself.

          1. BCW*

            The reason I take a bit less stock in it, is because I only hear those statements based on things I say on this board. I’ve never been called that in daily life by friends or co-workers. And this statement will sound bad, but being that I don’t know any of you in the real world, your opinions of me don’t matter much. This a very progressive, feminist board, and there is nothing inherently wrong with that. Let me be clear, I think ALL people should be looked at and treated as equal. No matter the race, religion, sexual orientation, or gender. But I think on this board my opinions often get shot down because I’m a guy and don’t see things in the same way that many of the women do.

            Let me put it a different way, I have plenty of white friends. We can have civil discussions and even disagreements about race relations. I can disagree without saying or thinking he or she is racist. Now if that same person went to an NAACP meeting and presented some of those same arguments, the reaction would be very different. Now was the intent or statement different? No. But being in a large group of people who make it their goal to end discrimination, which is good, those same people, especially with group think, could take very innocent differences of opinion and make my friend look like a racist.

            1. Katie the Fed*

              Thanks for answering.

              It’s interesting because I have actually never thought of this board as progressive or feminist. I don’t think I would ever have used those words to describe the community here.

              1. BCW*

                Really? Someone else actually mentioned that above as well. It’s not to the Jezebel level of feminism, but I think it definitely skews that way.

                1. Katie the Fed*

                  If you define feminist as “the belief that women are people and deserve to be treated the same as everyone else” then yes it’s probably feminist.

                  I wonder if the problems women continue to face in terms of workplace advancement, unequal pay, and more lead more women than men to seek out the advice here in general. I know I found this board because I was a new manager completely clueless about how to perform my new job. I also have no female mentors at work because there are so few in upper manager, or any idea what “right” looks like when it comes to good female managers, so I liked that there was a competent, reasonable woman manager here dispatching advice.

                2. BCW*

                  I think this board probably has a higher percentage of college educated, professional women then many internet boards would. If you took a poll on here as to how many consider themselves feminist, I bet it would be a large majority. But its not just thinking that men and women are equal. Back to the race analogy (since thats one I can relate to). I think most people think all races deserve equal treatment, but some blogs/boards are clearly more “pro black” than others, wouldn’t you agree? So I think its fair to say that this is more of a “pro women in the workplace” blog. There isn’t anything wrong with it, in fact, its great. But sometimes group think can take over if there is a dissenting view.

            2. Ask a Manager* Post author

              I also think that discussions like this go very differently when you’re having them with friends, who know you as a full person, like you, and have good will toward you, than having them with people who don’t know you.

              I actually think it’s highly likely that plenty of the people who take issue with some of your arguments here would like you in real life, and that as a result the feel of these conversations (not the substance, but the feel) would probably be a little different as a result. I mean, I have friends who think very differently from me on a wide range of issues, but we know and like each other, and so there’s more good will given on both sides.

            3. Zahra*

              Actually, I rarely have these kinds of discussions with male friends (or even my husband). They generally have no notion of what I am referring to, will say that I am overreacting and overall dismiss my concerns. Even new acquaintances don’t get that kind of discussions. I’m just fed up trying to teach color to the blind. I’d rather have these discussions with people who seem inclined to want to learn about sexism.

      2. PJ*

        +1. “You’re overreacting” = I disagree with your reaction, therefore it’s inappropriate.

      3. Mishsmom*

        it didn’t seem like BCW was silencing anyone. imho it is valid to think someone else is overreacting and to say it. jumping on that someone and saying they can’t say that can be interpreted as silencing them. it seems to me BCW has been very polite whith their disagreeing here and i don’t think we should jump all over him or her.

        1. CA Anon*

          He may not intent to silence anyone, but that argument is often used for that purpose by others. That argument doesn’t exist in a vacuum, it has history. We should acknowledge that *even if BCW didn’t mean it that way* it can still silence marginalized voices because they’ve been told that they’re overreacting over and over for years to get them to shut up.

    6. Grace*

      Any employment attorney – plaintiff or defense – would tell the employer to shut down Josh and his cohorts post-haste because of the liability issues, including for third-party sexual harassment claims. (I have spent years working in litigation, including employment class-actions.) The employer should be training all of their employees and interns about sexual harassment and other forms of unlawful discrimination, and making everybody sign on the dotted line.

    7. Observer*

      OK, I live in NYC and I know the non-profit circuit reasonably well. And, YES this could make the organization look quite bad among its funders, other orgs in their networ and / or constituency, depending on who they are.

      Even as a college party, a theme that denigrates women this much – women are sluts and men are powerful and respectable – should be off the radar. That is isn’t doesn’t make it ok – it just means that too many people are going to college while still overgrown children.

      But, this is not a college party. It’s a party thrown for workmates. TOTALLY inappropriate in the workplace.

      1. BCW*

        Well I read it that it was a college party (more or less) that the intern invited their workmates to

  32. Grey*

    Five exploded heads and counting. I don’t recall this much carnage in a single comment thread.

    1. Wakeen's Teapots Ltd.*

      I’m still collecting the brain matter and stuffing it back in through my ears…. I can’t afford to spare this much.

      1. Wakeen's Teapots Ltd.*

        I am nearly caught up to the rest of the planet. I’m on 3:6. Pretty soon I will get ALL the jokes.

        1. Katie the Fed*

          I actually haven’t watched it yet, but I always laugh because people post about the bloodbaths at weddings on FB. Why are these people still attending weddings? Send your regrets and a gift and keep your head firmly attached to your body!

          1. Wakeen's Teapots Ltd.*

            Oh, we’ll take it to open thread this week if I can get on before there’s 1200 posts (and also somehow remain spoiler free. )

  33. Totally Normal Person*

    I had a lot of fun in my 20s. But, I am also so glad that time in my life is over. That is all.

  34. Mike B.*

    Everything worth saying has been said about the actual situation, I’m sure. I’m just once again puzzled by the level of detail the OP provided–this situation and her identity must be immediately recognizable to anyone involved. Alison is not exactly toiling in obscurity here; lots of people read AAM.

    1. Jamie*

      This is not an original theme – a quick google showed this goes back a couple of years now with the same title – so this could be happening anywhere.

    2. Student*

      I am shocked that you think the OP ought to be embarrassed for this to be made public and recognized. If anyone ought to be embarrassed, it’s the person hosting the party. The OP should be proud to expose this kind of nonsense, not worried and hiding behind anonymity.

      1. Hummingbird*

        I don’t think Mike B. means that the OP should be embarrassed about someone else throwing this party. But if someone from the OP’s company reads this blog and knows about the party, they may put two and two together and know who wrote in, especially from what I gather the OP is in the small group (of 1?) not attending (out of those invited). So while she is seeking advice, it could fuel someone into bullying in an already “cliquey dynamic.” Majority rules, and if Josh’s party is in the majority, the OP might suddenly become an employee that doesn’t fit in.

        At least that’s how I interpreted Mike B.’s comment.

  35. soitgoes*

    It’s not clear from the email who is hosting the party and where it’s happening. The “real” employees and management at the company might not even know about it. Is it something that’s just going on with the intern group, maybe at a local bar or someone’s apartment? idk, I can’t imagine a company-wide and management-endorsed event playing out that way.

      1. soitgoes*

        My thoughts were more along the lines of….the management can’t control the themes of parties that happen outside of the office, among a group of friends who just happen to be interns at the same place. It’s annoying that they’re talking about slut-wear at the office, but that’s as far as it goes. If you invite a few coworkers to your birthday party at your favorite wine bar, are you suddenly on the hook for keeping in line with proper office decorum at your own party?

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          In terms of potential sexual harassment/hostile workplace issues, yes, actually you are.

          Those laws apply to off-the-clock behavior around coworkers, as do many company policies.

          1. BCW*

            See, I think there are issues with that as well. I completely would agree with it pertaining to work sponsored off the clock behaviors. However if I host a party at my home and co-workers come, I think its ridiculous that what I choose to do there could come back to bite me with a harassment claim.

            1. CA Anon*

              That’s not how the law sees it, though. You may disagree with the merits of that law, but that doesn’t make the potential liability any less real.

            2. Smilingswan*

              It may be ridiculous, but that doesn’t change the facts. We can debate how things should be all day, but that doesn’t solve the problem at hand or help the OP. In this situation, it’s a liability, and management should be made aware. End of story.

            3. MJH*

              You don’t think if you hit on a coworker at a party, she tells you she’s not interested, and you try again, with a bit of additional drunken groping, that shouldn’t come back to bite you at work? Because I strongly disagree.

  36. Student*

    I’m so sad that the other women interns are going along with this, and that none of the men interns are objecting either. It’s just such blatant objectification.

    I’m well aware that this kind of thing goes on widely in college and that lots of women contribute willingly to it. It still makes me sad, every time, that there are so many women who believe their only social worth lies in appealing to guys.

  37. Anon*

    I went to a conference about ten years ago with a casino night where people dressed up, and there was a contingent where one manager and two of his subordinates, who were also managers, (female) were dressed as a pimp and his Ho’s. I thought it was pretty inappropriate but I guess no one else did…and there were people all the way up the management chain there.

    1. Observer*

      Well, you have no idea what happened later. Even 10 years ago, this is the kind of thing that would DEFINITELY have been used in a discrimination / hostile workplace suit. Good heavens, don’t people THINK?! It’s not like you are describing some kids who have been allowed to never grow up.

  38. Mishsmom*

    one never knows what will or will not go viral so just in case, one should err on the side of caution.

    1. Mishsmom*

      and of course i think this party is beyond a bad idea – but LOVE the idea of the women showing up in suits!!

  39. Observer*

    In thinking about this, I had another thought that others have somewhat referred to, and that’s the effect on people’s careers.

    If I were an employer who is worried about these issues (maybe there is a history or I know I have sensitive staff, etc.) I’m going to be worried about hiring this guy if I knew he did this. You see, if he winds up working with a woman who complains about him, and claims that her problems are because he is sexist, this kind of background is going to be something that will work against him, big time. And, against the employer as well, unless I can really prove that SHE is the problem AND that we’ve deal with all other problems like this in the same way. And realistically speaking, the bar is going to be higher than with a “regular” guy who’s never done anything out of the ordinary.

    For his sake, I hope he’s not posting on this on social media.

  40. Anonnipus*

    Well it’s totally understandable that this discussion would bother you, I strongly disagree with the idea that anyone has “the right” to be protected from speech they find offensive.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Actually, federal laws actually do protect people from certain types of offensive speech and behavior in the workplace, if that speech or behavior is based on race, sex, religion, ethnicity, or another protected class. Employers have a legal obligation to provide a work environment free of harassment or discrimination based on those categories.

      1. Belinda Gomez-Maldonado*

        I think that going to the manager about other interns having private conversationas about a private event is problematic. Even if the manager agrees with the OP’s concerns, the manager’s choices of action are very limited. Appealing to an authority figure to make it all stop! will just put the manager in a position where she has no power other than telling the other interns that they can’t discuss something during work.

        1. Katie the Fed*

          “Appealing to an authority figure to make it all stop! will just put the manager in a position where she has no power other than telling the other interns that they can’t discuss something during work.”

          The manager is already in that position – she’s a manager. It’s her responsibility to tell people that they can’t say/do things that contribute to a hostile work environment. She doesn’t have to take disciplinary action, but she can say something like:
          “Hey guys – you need to stop talking about this CEO and Hoes party at work. It goes against this organization’s committment to diversity and is making people uncomfortable, as I’ve received complaints. And while we’re on the subject, you might want to rethink the optics of having a party of this nature with a bunch of colleagues when you’re trying to get started in your professional careers.”

  41. One of the Annes*

    I know this is beside the point (and someone may have already brought this up; I didn’t read through all the comments), but unless the party organizer was intending for people to dress up like gardening implements, the spelling is ho (plural = hos). Makes it all the more asinine.

  42. Noah*

    I’m totally split about this one.

    First, as a manager, it is wildly inappropriate to discuss this at work or with coworkers. Especially when you are not friends enough to know which coworkers would be offended. I would totally shut down discussion of this type of party if I walked into the breakroom and heard my employees discussing it.

    The other side is that I attended a party with this exact theme in the last year. Like many others have mentioned, my girlfriend and I flipped the theme around. I had rumpled up hair, lipstick on my half untucked shirt, and looked like, well you know. My girlfriend had a put together suit on and looked like an awesome CEO. Many of the other women there were dressed scantily, but yeah it was a fun time. However, only a few coworkers were there, among lots of other friends, and it was not discussed at the office.

    I’m just not willing to jump on the “Josh is sexist” bandwagon. He seems immature and unknowingly unable to separate work from school. However, a good manager would tell the interns exactly why it is inappropriate and discuss possible consequences. If it did hit the news that a group of interns held this party it would not be good for the organization.

    1. Laura*

      I’m with you here – the big thing is not the party theme, but the fact that it’s being discussed at work. Those who are discussing it at work (which may or may not include Josh, I’m not sure) need to be informed of that – it’s something they really ought to learn, and an internship is about learning about the workplace.

      Also, if Josh knows the LW only from work (that is, they don’t know each other from school), inviting the LW as a “fellow intern” was also a bad move. (Work friends who haven’t become huge outside-of-work friends are not a good candidate for this sort of invite.) If Josh knows the LW from school as well, he may have thought of it as a “school friends” thing.

      Note that I’m not saying this means he’s horrible. I’m saying that if true, it means he has poor judgement about what belongs in the workplace, and his manager should help him understand that. Not “write him up” or “fire him” but “educate him” because that’s part of what an internship is about.

      (I would personally be HUGELY offended by the party, but again, Josh didn’t invite me, so my personal reaction is irrelevant to whether he made a good, bad, or neutral decision in having the party and inviting who he invited. The LW’s reaction makes it clear there’s a bad decision in there somewhere in here…but if the invites occurred off work time and Josh knew the LW before the internship, it’s possible that particular bad decision doesn’t actually intersect the office setting.)

  43. Kiwi*

    Inappapropriate sexualisation of women (e.g. in an office context) contributes to the objectification and dehumanisation of women.
    Objectification and dehumanisation of women in all cultures can and does lead to the rape and murder of women.

    If a Klan-themed party being discussed in work that OP was objecting to, I can’t imagine a single justification on the grounds of “it’s in his own personal time”.

    Why then that very justification for a party that strongly suggests that professional women are really nothing but hoes for the Men In Charge? Klan suggests violence. Hoes suggests violence. Both threatening, demeaning and wildly inappropriate in the 21st century professional (or, might I suggest, any) setting.

    1. BCW*

      Let me say where I see the difference. If it was a Klan themed party as you are suggesting, for it to be even slightly equal it would require black people to want to attend this party wearing a noose around their neck, since in the party we are talking about the women are going along with it. I don’t really see that happening. For as demeaning as you seem to think this is, women dressing slutty isn’t limited to these themed parties. In fact, I know plenty of college educated women in their 30s who love the chance to wear their slutty outfits out, and they will tell you this. But the women are excited to go to this party. No black person would go to a Klan themed party, so your example is faulty

  44. Kiwi*

    I just want to add that I am so tired of sexism apologists – especially the women.

    As long as women continue to justify, forgive, explain, defend, minimise, understand, giggle along with and apologise for sexism and outright misogyny, women will continue to be a very definite #2 to men’s #1 (pun intended).

  45. BCW*

    This is a serious question, so bear with me. There is really no way to not sound snarky, but I assure you, I’m trying to fully grasp everything.

    If a guy throws a party encouraging women to dress slutty, he’s sexist? If a woman goes to said party, she is participating in this sexism and demeaning herself? But, if someone comments about how she looks slutty, then its slut shaming? It seems like very circular logic. What that says to me is that a woman can dress how she wants and shouldn’t be judged for it, but if a guy throwing a party to encourage that, then its demeaning and sexist? So is it only sexist if a guy is involved or if a person doesn’t like the theme? What about girls who dress slutty on weekends or have a sexy whatever costume for Halloween? Is a guy sexist for commenting? Is she participating is society wide sexism? I’m seriously confused on where the line is between a woman being able to express her sexuality as she pleases and demeaning herself is, and how men fit into that. I’d like a serious response if possible.

    1. Katie the Fed*

      “If a guy throws a party encouraging women to dress slutty, he’s sexist?”

      That’s an oversimplification though. This isn’t just where women are encouraged to dress slutty, it’s:

      – COWORKERS are encouraged to dress slutty
      – Not just slutty, but as “hoes” which is a whole other kettle of demeaning fish
      – The men are supposed to dress in professional attire, because the idea of women as CEOs is not in this equation apparently

      As far are the women participating, that’s their choice. I don’t believe it’s a wise choice, but that’s on them. In general I think it’s pretty gauche to make demeaning comments about anyone’s appearance or body.

      1. BCW*

        Well, I’m trying to take the co-worker thing out of it since I have already acknowledged that talking about it at work isn’t appropriate. But many people have a general problem with the theme. But take out the word ho’s, because realistically the women going are considering, slutty, hoeish, and sexy as roughly the same thing, its just semantics. The same principal would apply if it was Naughty Nurses or something.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Hmmm, taking the coworker thing out makes it a whole different question than the situation in the letter. Taking the coworker out, I think many of us would just roll our eyes at it, but that’s not the situation we’re discussing here.

          1. BCW*

            I respect that. This question for me was more about understanding where certain lines are. I know its a workplace blog, but all of this discussing made me really wonder. It seems so hard to get it, when as you see in the reactions to this questions, it can vary so much from woman to woman. How is a guy supposed to know how to navigate this?

            1. en pointe*

              Ha, I’m interested in how a girl is supposed to navigate this! I’m really interested in reading all these replies because I do go to parties like this (my school even runs them) and I find them fun. I’ve never felt like I was demeaning myself or anything; I more feel that my choices are my business.

              So, yeah I appreciate the discussion on where the lines are, and how the different genders get judged (and how they should be judged), and how to navigate that.

    2. Laura*

      Hmmm. To answer your question, ‘maybe’ – if he thinks the guys should be all formal and the girls all slutty, there’s a certain element of sexism there, yes – assuming all women ought to be slutty is different than assuming some will want to, especially if you’re encouraging the guys not to. If he’s encouraging everyone to come wild, or he’s saying ‘dress slutty if you want to’, then no, definitely not.

      If a woman wants to dress slutty or have a sexy whatever, that’s great. If she’s doing it because she feels it’s “expected” then I feel bad for her. (And our society *does* teach women to give in on those things. Some would anyway because they like it. Some of us don’t give in, even with that training. But some learn they might as well do it because it’s ‘expected’ and they don’t want to be rejected. Which is one reason why phrasing it that the women are *supposed* to come dressed sluttily is problematic.)

      If for a moment we assume a neutral environment where any women dressed provocatively (moving away from ‘sluttily’ as a word for a moment, because some will object to it) did so willingly, then a man admiring such an outfit is probably not out of line – provided he’s not acting like he wants to grab the woman too openly or otherwise sending scary signals, but is just wolf-whistling or commenting. Normally, a comment about how ‘slutty’ she is (in literally that word) would be over the edge for a lot of women even if dressed provocatively, although if you’re at a party using that term or ‘ho’ in the title, I think the expectation would be a little different since at that point you’re commenting on her adherence to the theme as well.

    3. Laura*

      Now, things that make me consider this particular letter a bad situation relative to that:

      * “Hoes”. That’s not just ‘provocatively’ or ‘sluttily’ – that’s “people who sell sex for a living” – which is a whole different theme and implies at least the pretense that the woman’s available for sex, with or without a fee. A lot more women are going to find that term demeaning than if they were just going to a party with a more neutral way of expressing ‘dress for men to stare at you’.

      * CEOs and office hoes. Along with the stated expectation that men dress as CEOs – I’m assuming based on the letter that it was stated; if it was just assumed, it’s not quite as bad. I _love_ the suggestions of subverting this and reversing it. The idea that men will be powerful CEOs and women will sell their sex for a living (and not be powerful CEOs) is INCREDIBLY sexist.

      * The invitations being given to fellow interns, *if* they didn’t already know each other prior to the job, is a violation of workplace norms. You don’t invite people you met on the job to your sexy party, unless you’ve known each other a LONG darned time and gotten into a deep friendship where you know them well. If in fact the LW met Josh through this internship, Josh needs to learn about this norm.

      * If the prior point applies, or if he somehow tied the invitation to the workplace (issued it there, said ‘since we’re all interning together’ when asking, etc.), this particular theme is especially bad – he’s saying to female business colleagues that their only value is their sexuality and how alluring they can make themselves. The men will be CEOs, the women will be whores. Almost _any other_ equivalent “guys dress nice, women dress sexy” theme would have been an improvement, because of this factor.

      * Whoever is discussing it in the workplace (definitely the women, not sure about Josh) is being unprofessional and making the LW uncomfortable. Depending on how many other coworkers are around, coworkers outside of the internship group may be uncomfortable. This is not appropriate work conversation, and the manager should address that. Moreover, LW _declined the invitation_ – which means the group *really* should have guessed that someone might not be interested, IMO. (Knowing cliqueish behavior, it’s possible they’re discussing it so much to try to make the LW feel like they are missing out, for all I know. Also possible they’re not. Since we don’t have mind-reading, I’ll just hope their motives are the more innocent excitement.)

    4. KellyK*

      Personally, I think the line between dressing how you please and demeaning yourself is totally subjective because it’s about internal reasoning. A miniskirt that Suzy wears because she likes how it looks and she feels confident and sexy isn’t demeaning. A miniskirt Jenny wears because Josh invited her to a CEOs and Hoes party and she doesn’t want to make waves or be “uncool” or “no fun,” is demeaning.

      When a man expects women to dress for their (the men’s) amusement or gratification is when it becomes demeaning.

      And yes, a guy throwing a party encouraging women to dress “slutty” is being sexist. He’s saying to his female friends, “I’d like you to serve as scantily clad decorative objects for my enjoyment.”

      1. BCW*

        Thanks for your response. I respect your opinion, but to me its somewhat illogical that the exact same outfit can be demeaning or not depending on where she is wearing it. Assuming she already owns the miniskirt and it wasn’t demeaning when she purchased it, if she chooses to wear it to a themed party, I don’t see how it automatically becomes demeaning at that point. I think the sexy outfit can be for a man’s amusement (she has a thing for Jim and wants him to notice her) and her own desire to be sexy in general. They aren’t mutually exclusive.

        If you think the party is sexist, thats your right. I don’t agree because I see it as a costume party, but I’m not going to argue that. It just seems like you kind of want to call things sexist and demeaning only when it fits a certain narrative.

        1. Forrest*

          But intent does matter. Women aren’t exempt from being sexist or taking part in sexist things simply because they’re a woman.

          I’m sure you can understand the difference between dressing for oneself and dressing for someone else. That’s the problem.

          1. BCW*

            But my point is you can do both. I could feel like a stud in a perfectly tailored suit. I could also be trying to get with a certain girl because I feel like a stud. Why can’t a woman dress sexy because she likes it AND because she wants a guy?

            And I find it funny how many times I’ve been told intent doesn’t matter on this very blog when it comes to a guy being sexist or someone being racist, but when its a woman doing what she wants, then intent matters?

            1. Forrest*

              I’m sorry but are you attributing others comments to me? Because I would argue that intent does matter regardless of the gender of the person. Just because others consistantly say otherwise doesn’t mean I have too.

              And sure you can have both. But its not always both. And I’m certainly free to say its demeaning for women if another woman, despite her actual comfort level, thinks the only way to attract a man is to dress like a stereotypical “slut.”

              1. BCW*

                Ok. So I’ll turn this around then. The guys throwing the party didn’t do so with the intent to be sexist. They did it probably because its a popular party theme that they know girls will attend and dress provocatively for, and everyone will have fun and get drunk. I don’t think its necessarily sexist, except for maybe the fact that the word hos was in the title. They guys probably don’t either. You do. So why doesn’t their intent matter?

            2. Jess*

              Because when someone is being sexist or racist, it hurts other people. When a woman is dressing how she wants, it doesn’t.

              If you step on my foot, even if you didn’t mean to, you should still go “Oh, I’m sorry, my bad!” and get off my foot. If you step on the ground next to my foot, who cares? That’s the difference between telling a woman to dress provocatively for your own amusement (stepping on my foot) and wearing shorty-shorts because you want to (stepping on your own little patch of ground, away from anyone else’s business).

    5. Zahra*

      “If a guy throws a party encouraging women to dress slutty, he’s sexist?”

      Yep, this is sexist behavior. you could draw a fine line between “displaying sexist behavior” and “being sexist”, but the margin isn’t that great.

      ” If a woman goes to said party, she is participating in this sexism and demeaning herself?”

      Yep. Women are not excluded from exhibiting sexist behavior by the magic of their genitals. Moreover, sexism is a thing that we have been thought to live with and accept most of our lives. Just as being sexually harassed by male coworkers in the 70s was normal and expected, some behavior that seem normal now will make us cringe in a few years. So, yes, a woman can participate in sexism and demean herself. They sometimes do play into it to get personal advantages (the old sleep your way to the top has changed, but it’s the most blatant example I could find in a pinch).

      ” But, if someone comments about how she looks slutty, then its slut shaming?”
      That’s the one part I haven’t been able to understand fully yet. I know about slut shaming in the context of number of sexual partners, or of sexual aggression, but I’m not sure how I should react to this. Obviously, it makes me incredibly uncomfortable to see a woman dress “slutty” to please a man.

      1. LBK*

        Obviously, it makes me incredibly uncomfortable to see a woman dress “slutty” to please a man.

        This is actually a sexist reaction. It plays into the idea that women should be reserved and shouldn’t show sexual desire.

        I think the perfect example is (seriously) Beyonce. She wrote some extremely sexual songs on her latest album that are all about her active, happy sex life with her monogamous husband who she loves. The idea is that a woman doesn’t HAVE to be sexual to please a man, but she can choose to if she wants. Her sexuality is within her control and no one else’s.

        1. Forrest*

          I think there’s a difference between showing sexual desire through one’s clothing and dressing to please a man. For the first one, she’s keeping her autonomy. For the second, she’s surrendering to the guy – its not about what she finds sexy but what she thinks the guy finds sexy.

          1. LBK*

            Why is it wrong to do something your partner finds sexy in order to please them, as long as you’re doing it out of choice?

              1. LBK*

                You’re connecting things that aren’t connected: autonomy and pleasing another person. I can autonomously choose to put on cute underwear that my boyfriend will like. That doesn’t mean I’ve succumbed to the societal pressure of doing what men want, it means I like my boyfriend and I sometimes want to do fun things he’ll enjoy.

                1. Forrest*

                  I’ll just copy and paste:

                  Sure, but if her choices lead to problems in my life (ie maintaining a sexist social structure) I’m allowed to say so.

                  Feminism is about equality between the genders. Its not about praising every woman’s choices, especially is that choice makes it harder for other women to gain equality.

                2. LBK*

                  You don’t have to praise every woman’s choice. You don’t have to do anything related to any woman’s choice except your own. That’s the whole point. Why does the choice of another woman have any impact on what you do?

                  I understand what you’re saying, that when people see women making these choices, they feel pressured into making the same choices, or men see women making these choices and expect the women in their life to make the same choices. But I don’t think that’s the fault of the women making the choices, nor do I think it’s their responsibility to change how they live their lives in order to help other people gain equality. That’s just as bad as doing something because sexist pressure makes you.

                3. Forrest*

                  “Why does the choice of another woman have any impact on what you do?”

                  Why does the choice of women to partake in things that maintain a sexist society have anything to do with me? I’m going to go with because I’m a woman.

                  I think we’re going in circles. People’s choices don’t exist in a bubble. Sure, if someone wants to dress like an Executive Hoe I’m not going to force them to do otherwise. I’d explain why I think its harmful but in the end its their choice. Just like its my choice to think they are demeaning themselves and trading in their autonomy in order to please a guy. Which, in my opinion makes me think that the woman in question doesn’t think that highly of the guy to begin with either.

                4. LBK*

                  I get what you’re saying in a general sense – that reinforcing a sexist stereotype and a sexist societal structure makes it easier for that to continue, and that as a woman you don’t like to see that happen.

                  My point is that this doesn’t get solved by going the complete opposite direction and having all women stop doing things that are currently considered playing into sexism. It gets solved by having people make their own choices based on their own lives, rather than based on societal expectations. That works BOTH ways – rather than doing something because it’s what society expects OR because it’s the opposite of what society expects.

                  People’s choices SHOULD exist in a bubble. A woman choosing to wear a sexual outfit to a party doesn’t prevent you, personally, in your life, from not doing the same. Sexism doesn’t stop by getting people to recognize when it occurs, it stops by getting people to recognize when it occurs and then make their own decision anyway.

          2. en pointe*

            Ok, but what if she WANTS to surrender to the guy? I would think that’s her business.

            Isn’t the point of autonomy that you have the freedom to make your own choices? I’m not trying to be adversarial; I just don’t understand why others get to decide she’s wrong to surrender to the guy, if that’s what she wants to do.

            1. LBK*

              Yes! This, exactly, 100%. There is a huge difference between “My male partner told me he likes/wants me to do something so I am doing it because he said so” and “I know my male partner likes something so I do it for him because I want to.”

            2. Forrest*

              Sure, but if her choices lead to problems in my life (ie maintaining a sexist social structure) I’m allowed to say so.

              Feminism is about equality between the genders. Its not about praising every woman’s choices, especially is that choice makes it harder for other women to gain equality.

              1. en pointe*

                Oh, I don’t think you need to praise any woman’s choices, just not pathologise them.

                I guess this is really interesting to me because, of course, I support feminism and the idea of gender equality, but at the same time I’m hugely vested in my right/responsibility to make my own sexual choices, regardless of gender.

                I’m probably not articulating this very well, but I feel like the stance you take kind of puts the two into conflict. Like, women should surrender some level of personal choice for the sake of the feminist movement. Isn’t that just another form of control based on gender?

                1. Forrest*

                  I don’t think they have to surrender because of the feminist movement. But I do think they should be honest with themselves and admit they’re probably not helping and actually may be hindering other women.

                2. LBK*

                  So what would you have them do? If a woman purely, genuinely chooses to change her last name when she gets married, what should she be doing differently so that she isn’t hindering other women?

                3. Forrest*

                  Self awareness that she’s doing something that some would consider sexist would be a start.

                  Look, I’ll probably change my name when I get married since I don’t like the idea of children and grandchildren having epically long last names. But I’m not going to be insulted when someone points out that I’m helping to maintain the status quo that women change their names, guys don’t.

                  Same as if I was a stripper. I can strip because I want to embrace my sexuality while still acknowledging that I’m helping to maintain the idea that women are just sex symbols.

                  I think people acknowledging that their choices don’t exist in bubbles would go a long way.

            3. Zahra*

              Well, technically, women aren’t obligated to change their name when getting married. Still, when 90+% of them do and a marginal proportion of men does, freedom of choice becomes rather overrated IMO. (TBH, I prefer how it works in my province: No one changes their name. True equal opportunity.)

              When, upon having children, women are the overwhelming majority of the parents who decide to abandon their careers (temporarily or permanently), there’s something wrong somewhere. They do so because their salary are usually the lowest of both parents, but the fact that women are less paid than men is a problem, and part of the justification from employers is that women are not as committed to their careers than men. This penalizes all women, not just the ones who choose to stop working.

              If freedom of choice means most women surrender to sexism, the feminist movement still has a long road ahead.

              1. LBK*

                But can’t you see how this is inherently a sexist attitude? You’re basically saying that the women who DO make these choices of their own free will – to become SAHPs, to change their names – that they should stop doing that for a while so the people who are only doing these things due to societal/sexist pressure get some time to sort it out and gain the ability to make choices. That’s bullshit.

        2. Zahra*

          But for all her talk about feminism, Beyonce plays to the male gaze to continue making a living (for example, her video clips, even the “I luh ya papi” clip, which is close, but not the complete female equivalent of a “Blurred Lines” style clip). She decides how much she gives into it, but she still does it. And I understand her. I totally would too in her position.

          For what it’s worth, my objection is more about making oneself into a object to cater to the male gaze. Of course, women don’t have to be reserved and do feel (and therefore should show) sexual desire. How is it that men can do all that without undressing as much?

          1. LBK*

            How is it that men can do all that without undressing as much?

            Well, that’s exactly the point. Men and women aren’t held to the same standard of how they dress relating to how much they want to have sex, which is the problem.

    6. LBK*

      I’m no expert at the subject and I agree the rhetoric can be confusing, but here’s my take on it: the crux of the feminist aspect of female sexuality is that a woman’s sexuality is within her control. This applies to both her appearance and her sexual activity. This means:

      -a woman is not obligated to dress sexually to appease a man
      -conversely, a woman is free to dress sexually to appease a man if she chooses
      -a woman who does not dress sexually is still free to experience sexual activity
      -a woman who does dress sexual is still free to choose not to experience sexual activity

      Essentially, appearance and desire can be as connected or disconnected as the woman chooses. Two really common themes when discussion of a woman’s appearance that comes up are “Well she chose to dress sexually, so that must mean she wants sex” and the reverse, “If she wants to get a man she should put on makeup and wear something revealing.” Both of these statements tie appearance and sexual desire directly, which is a connection that isn’t usually applied to men, or at least not to the same standard. A guy might be expected to work out or wear decent clothes, but he’s not expected to overtly show off his body in order to express a desire for sex.

      This probably isn’t the best, most detailed explanation but I hope it at least sheds a little light.

      1. BCW*

        Ok, so based on your first 2 points, I don’t see how women dressing up for this party is wrong and how the guy is sexist. She isn’t “obligated” to dress that way, she is choosing to. Maybe my problem is more the judgment that others are throwing on the party throwers and attendees, when what it comes down to is the woman’s choice. Is she is choosing to dress sexy for whatever reason (to feel good, for attention, to hook up) I don’t see how its bad because she is doing what she wants with her body and sexuality right?

        1. Forrest*

          But a lot of them aren’t “choosing” they’re being pressured too. As other women have explained on this thread when they attended these kind of parties.

          Now, sure you can say that’s on the woman and not the guy. But the way to avoid these kind of things is to not through parties with sexually charged themes to being with. Call it a costume party rather than CEOs and Hos. And that’s on the guy just as much as the woman. After all, no one’s forcing him to hold a highly sexually charged party to begin with.

          1. BCW*

            Well, I see that as kind of BS how they aren’t choosing to attend a party. If my friends are attending a party that I have no interest in the theme or the group that will be in attendance, I just don’t go. No one is forcing you to go. If you feel that much of a need to “fit in” you either need a group of friends who are more like minded, or you need to have a better sense of self worth. In fact, I’d argue that whenever I have been at these types of parties, people would rather someone not be there than be in the corner looking bored or angry the whole time. The “pressure” is coming from within, not from the guys throwing it.

            I’m actually not even really arguing the theme of the party anymore, but you seem to not want people (except Josh and his friends) to have to take responsibility for their choices

            1. Forrest*

              I’m not sure why you’re getting that. My whole argument has been that Josh and his gang can manage to throw a theme party that doesn’t offend anyone. Trust me, its possible.

        2. LBK*

          I think the sexism is in the host’s implication that the men are the CEOs and the women are the hoes. If it were truly just expected that people dress as whichever of the two categories they wanted regardless of their gender, that would be different, but I assume we all know that’s not what’s intended. I also agree that there’s nothing inherently wrong with guys wanting to see women in revealing outfits. I mean, I think it’s pretty well established that humans in general desire and like sex. It’s the combination of a) reinforcement of the stereotype that men hold the roles of power, therefore they’re the CEOs and b) implication that women are to be sexualized and men are not.

          Obviously, it is also completely up to each party invitee how they want to dress and whether they want to attend in the first place. I don’t agree with the people who are saying that any girls who choose to attend and dress sexually are wrong or are playing into sexist societal pressures – some probably are, but I agree with you that some girls will choose to attend and dress up because they want to, and I think that’s their prerogative. But I think the reason a lot of people here are concerned about this type of party is that societially, we’re not at a point yet where everyone is comfortable with how sexuality is expressed, especially female sexuality, so a theme like these perpetuates the pressures for those women who AREN’T yet comfortable owning their sexuality and their appearance.

          Basically, the women who genuinely want to go and want to dress up aren’t the problem with the party. It’s the women who WILL feel pressured into going and WILL feel pressured into dressing up, and conversely the men who won’t recognize that a girl who attends this party doesn’t necessarily want to have sex with them. Those two groups of people are still too present in our society for this kind of gender dynamic to be comfortably played out at a casual party.

          1. LBK*

            Oh, and because I didn’t really make it clear, I’m sure there will also be men at this party who understand this dynamic – that not every girl who comes to the party in a revealing outfit wants to have sex. I think they’re probably the majority, too, but the other group still exists in an uncomfortably high percentage.

          2. LBK*

            Oh, and here’s one other point: I don’t even think it matters that there are different costumes expected for different genders. I wouldn’t see an issue with a party where the men all where green and the women all wear blue. It’s the fact that it’s framed in a way that reinforces sexist pressures that are very real and present in the workplace and in interpersonal relationships.

    7. Jess*

      “If a guy throws a party encouraging women to dress slutty, he’s sexist?”
      Yep, pretty much – unless it’s a party where EVERYONE is dressing slutty, regardless of gender. From your other responses you seem to be big on “just because X said or did a sexist thing doesn’t mean he’s sexist!” but I’m not sure what you think sexism is if not engaging in speech and actions that demean women? I honestly don’t understand how you are defining sexism. Treating women like they are only there for your sexual entertainment and pleasure is sexism, as is calling your co-workers – even if they are also your friends! – whores.

      “If a woman goes to said party, she is participating in this sexism and demeaning herself? But, if someone comments about how she looks slutty, then its slut shaming?”
      *sigh* I know you want a simple answer here but it’s a really complicated question. For starters, yes, women should be able to dress however they want and not be called names for it, the end. I would not call any women participating in this party sluts. They have the right to dress how they want. However, there is HUGE societal pressure on women to show that they are grownup, liberated, fun, etc. by being aggressively sexual. I would never go to a party like this now, but I might have when I was 21, and I probably would have really enjoyed it. And I was an outspoken feminist then, too. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t play into a sexist culture where men are encouraged to think of women as objects to be used instead of people. The main problem here is that the men are being encouraged to go fully clothed, as powerful figures, and the women as prostitutes. A toga party would still be inappropriate to discuss at work because it would be sexUAL, but not because it was sexIST.

      “What that says to me is that a woman can dress how she wants and shouldn’t be judged for it, but if a guy throwing a party to encourage that, then its demeaning and sexist?”
      Yes. I don’t understand what’s hard to grasp here. A woman can make her own choice about what to wear. It’s not a man’s business. And AGAIN, it’s not about being slutty, it’s about being a PROSTITUTE while the men are fully dressed.

      “So is it only sexist if a guy is involved or if a person doesn’t like the theme?”
      It’s sexist if it’s unequal. That’s what sexism is.

      “What about girls who dress slutty on weekends or have a sexy whatever costume for Halloween? Is a guy sexist for commenting?”
      What are you doing, going up to a girl in a miniskirt on Saturday and saying “Wow, good job being a slut!”? Seriously, I’m asking. What kind of comment would you find appropriate here?

      “Is she participating is society wide sexism? I’m seriously confused on where the line is between a woman being able to express her sexuality as she pleases and demeaning herself is, and how men fit into that.”
      Here’s the thing: not all women agree. I know you think everyone disagreeing with you is engaging in “group think” but I assure you there are women in this comment thread who think the girls attending the party ARE demeaning themselves, and women who think they aren’t. Some women would say that they are expressing their sexual liberation by dressing skimpily; others would say that they are playing right into the patriarchy’s hands. All *I* can say in this case is that I personally think they have the right to dress however they want and attend whatever parties they want, but it’s unwise to do so in a professional context, and that the letter writer has the right not to listen to something she finds demeaning at work. That’s the opinion of ONE feminist; ask ten more and you’ll find ten more opinions. That’s part of the point: letting women make their own choices and have their own opinions.

      How do men fit into that?
      1. Don’t call your co-workers “hoes,” even jokingly.
      2. Don’t throw parties where there’s one dress code for men and another one for women, particularly where the women are supposed to dress skimpily for the men’s enjoyment.
      3. On the other end of the scale, don’t call women sluts, or any other gendered slur, for dressing or acting how they please.
      4. If you go into a comment thread and 50 women say something is sexist, instead of dismissing everything they say as “group think,” ask yourself why they might consider it sexist.

    8. Laura*

      I think you’re really fixated on this idea of what line someone has to cross to be officially considered a Sexist Person. Perhaps a better way to think of sexism is as a behavior, not as a personal characteristic. Jay Smooth has a great take on this with respect to racism:

      It’s a lot easier to examine individual behaviors and choices and label those as sexist without feeling like you’re unfairly smearing someone’s entire character.

      But I also wish you’d recognize that by discussing sexism in this way, as this label a person gets (ie Sexist/Not Sexist), that sets the bar for what gets labelled as sexism impossibly high, because you’re so worried about smearing someone’s character for one choice or behavior. Calling out sexism is a lot less risky if you can just say, “hey, I know you probably didn’t mean it this way, but that thing you just did came off as a bit sexist.”

      TL;DR: Sexism is a behavior, not a personal characteristic.

  46. Steph*

    This reminds me of an incident a while ago involving tech startup Hacker Hideout throwing a party with the theme ‘Hackers and Hookers’. It wasn’t just employees throwing a party, but an actual company sponsored event -_-

    And then there’s the video games industry… The IGDA (International Game Developer’s Association) actually threw a party at one point with go-go dancers and topless models in body paint. Keep in mind this is an organization that is meant to support professionals in the games industry.

    1. Zahra*

      Yeah, the tech/games industry is one of the holdouts of the “Boys will be boys” mentality. I’d love to work in games, but I’m not sure I want to put up with all that crap. #1reasonwhy shows pretty well why women hesitate to get involved in that kind of industry, even though we are 30% of the market in MMOs, about 15-20% in FPS games, and 50% in gaming in general.

  47. Ask a Manager* Post author

    Y’all, I’m shutting down comments on this one because the discussion has gone so far afield from the OP’s question and what will be useful to her and anyone else in a similar situation.

    The issues being discussed here are fascinating ones to me personally and obviously to others too, but they’re also not the point of the site, and if the comments on this post are taken over by that discussion, the actual discussion of the letter is drowned out and the site’s mission is diluted and compromised — and people are driven away because it’s not what they come here for. (And I know that, because they’re increasingly telling me that.) Thanks for understanding that.

    And BCW, I’m going to ask for your help with this specifically. You’ve got more than 50 comments on this thread, and while I’m sure you didn’t intend it, it ended up derailing the conversation significantly. I welcome your presence here, but I want to ask you to be more mindful about reining in lengthy discussions like this that aren’t directly on the point of the letter, so that the site remains helpful to people who seek it out for workplace advice, rather than the type of debate this turned into. Thank you.

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