how to decline men’s help carrying things at work

A reader writes:

I’m a young (early 20s) woman, petite, and I’ve been at my current position about 8 months now. I’m generally very happy here, but I’m not sure how to deal with certain kinds of comments.

For example, part of my job requires me to carry large boxes and put large shipments into our storage room, which involves pushing carts and pallets with pallet jacks. I’m happy to do the work and it’s not difficult; I’m quite strong. Today I was unloading some boxes from a pallet, and two guys from IT walked by me in the hall. I wasn’t struggling in any way, but one of them saw me and said, “Are you sure you’re supposed to be handling that kind of equipment?” He said it in a friendly way, but I said no and (also in a friendly manner) and asked him why. He ignored the question and asked if I needed help. I told him no, I was fine, the boxes weren’t very heavy, and I’d be all right. He asked if I was sure and I said yes. Then he started picking up the boxes for me and asked if I minded if he helped me anyway. At this point, I wasn’t sure how to decline further without seeming rude, so I let him help.

I feel quite certain that if I were a tall strapping man, he would not have been so insistent. How can I deal with subtle sexism like this in the workplace without coming off as confrontational?

“I can’t let you help me with this — it’s a normal part of my job.”

Followed by, if necessary: “No, really, if I can’t do this, then I can’t do my job.”

And you say that last one in a serious tone and no smile. Inexplicably, people sometimes read a friendly tone and or a smile as “It’s okay if you ignore what I’m saying.” That doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t be friendly or smile at people — but it does mean that you shouldn’t do those things in a situation where someone has made it clear that they’re not taking you seriously.

And if that still doesn’t work, then you say (again, seriously and with no smile), “Fergus, I know you’re trying to help and I’m sure you haven’t thought of it this, but it’s really undermining to me if people think I can’t do this on my own.”

Some people will argue that that’s nicer than it needs to be — and that someone who has ignored several direct requests doesn’t deserve an “I know you’re trying to help” — but this is a colleague and helping people save face is good for your standing in the office. And frankly, you’d be doing the world (and him) a favor if you spelled out for him what the problem is what his behavior, and might decrease the chances of him repeating it with someone else in the future.

(I actually do think that a lot of men who ignore clear statements from women in these situations genuinely don’t realize why the women are taking that stance — which makes some of them more likely to get offended and huffy, the way you might if you offered someone a tissue and they threw it back in your face. I’m not saying that’s reasonable, and certainly they should think it through and figure it out on their own, but they’re up against centuries of cultural norms and those are powerful. So while you’re not obligated to explain it to them, I think it’s a kindness to all involved if you do — especially at work, where you’re going to have continued interaction.)

{ 606 comments… read them below }

  1. Alter_ego*

    I worked in the stock room of a retail store for years, and while luckily, my coworkers never tried to do things for me, since we all knew that I wouldn’t have been transferred to that position if I couldn’t handle it, oh my goodness, the customers. Men of all stripes were constantly anxious about me helping to either bring products out to their cars for them, or bring stuff in from their cars for repair. Look, dude, if you could do it yourself, then you wouldn’t have called the store to ask for someone to help you, so please don’t undermine me and my position by then insisting on carrying your stuff in anyway. I lift heavier stuff than that on to high shelves all day long. I promise, I’ve got this. What is it about being a short woman that triggers “must be treated like a child” in people’s brains?

    1. Relosa*

      Or just a woman at all. I’m a taller average sized woman, and I bartend on weekends. Our freezer (and ergo, 600-lb ice shipments) is upstairs, in the back of the restaurant, around a twisty staircase. My boss knows I’m perfectly capable and lets me work in peace. But we have a bartender who, even after seeing me haul ice at twice the rate he does more than once, STILL insists he is “surprised that [I] can even lift it at all.” They’re 40lb bags.

      1. AnonEMoose*

        I’m fairly petite, and I can still lift a 40 lb. bag if I need to…I do it carefully, so I don’t mess up my back, but I can do it.

      2. Elizabeth West*

        Tall woman here too. I sometimes get the opposite– people assume I can do it, even when I actually NEED help. I’ll ask and get, “Oh you can handle it; you look strong!” No, actually, my bad shoulder is about to break in half!

        Then again, I have never in my life had to change a tire by myself (I know how). But I think that’s just where I live.

        1. Traveler*

          Came here to say just this. I wish people would offer once and awhile instead of just assuming (men or women, I don’t care!)

          1. SometimesALurker*

            Offering in general is great, as long as you take no for an answer! Offering to someone in their own workplace, when they are doing their own job, is not great, unless you know about an injury or other reason they might welcome the offer.

      3. moodygirl86*

        Yes, just being a woman. I’m taller than average at 5″7 but slim – though stronger and fitter than I look. I have had one bloke actually try and take my shopping off me before telling me it was too heavy, even though I was balanced as I was. I politely explained that to him and he got really peeved, saying he was just being gentlemanly and implying I was a “feminazi.” What, so asking to be treated equally is tantamount to invading Poland? You learn something new every day…NOT.

        My second example isn’t sexism, but bloody hell, I hear you on someone interfering in your job duties. I’ve just finished a three week temp assignment doing some admin work. Once a week we had a manager come in, and I’d know immediately she was in because I’d find my work had been moved around and I couldn’t find anything. Yes, she was trying to help and I didn’t want her thinking I didn’t appreciate it, but I had to explain that I’d been trained on things in a very specific way and I had my own methods for “bookmarking” work at the end of a shift, so I’d know where to start the following morning. Not only that but that if she was going to take over leaving me with nothing to do, it was defeating the purpose of me being there. She took the hint, but I understand how awkward it is to be assertive in a situation like that without appearing awkward.

    2. James M.*

      Here’s one reason: some men are quite sensitive about their perceived machismo. If they think that someone else will think they’re… insufficient… they’ll say and do all kinds of things to protect the image they think they’re projecting. One scenario that triggers that thought is standing idly by, in public, while a woman does manual labor.

      It’s not smart, or correct, but it’s one of the things that makes us what we are.

      1. Phyllis*

        That reminds me of a story: Not long after my husband & I were married, I decided I wanted to mow the grass. My husband didn’t want me to because I had never mowed a lawn in my life, but I insisted. Thought it would be good exercise. Finally he relented and showed me how to crank the mower, told me how to do it, and went inside. Well, two problems. One, the mower was old and cantankerous, and two, the grass was knee-high because someone, (trying to be helpful) had put fertilizer on the grass after HE had put some on. Well, the mower kept choking out and I couldn’t get it re-started so I would have to get him to come re-start it for me. Finally he decided to sit on the step so he wouldn’t have to keep coming out. We lived on a busy street, and people were driving by and glared at him for watching me work while he sat. Finally he said “Either I have to go in, or you are going to have to let me do it. I can’t stand this!!” That was the end of my lawn mowing :-)

        1. Mabel*

          Me, too! When my partner & I owned a house, I used to really enjoy mowing the lawn with our push mower & shoveling snow – both for the exercise. Several of our very lovely neighbors kept offering to loan us their gas mowers and snow blowers. I had to explain over and over that I wanted the exercise. :)

    3. catsAreCool*

      I’m taller than average, and men offer to help me carry things, too. My job doesn’t involve carrying heavy things, so sometimes I let them. I think guys have been taught they should help when a woman is carrying something heavy.

      I think offering is nice, but insisting isn’t.

      1. jamlady*

        And that’s the key difference: offering vs. insisting. The OP’s situation would have had me rolling my eyes.

        I’m (normally) petite and in a job with a lot of physical work. However, it’s a science field with a largely liberal leaning so the only time I’ve ever had people offer to help was when we were moving boxes of samples down from storage. They were firemen and it was actually their warehouse, so I didn’t argue. Plus it was around 105 degrees that day. I will take people up on physical help if I’m not feeling up for it, so I can’t exactly get huffy about offers from men simply because I’m a small female. But turning them down and then being treated poorly afterward (whether it’s name-calling or insistence) is not okay in any situation, especially the workplace.

  2. ExceptionToTheRule*

    I deal with this all the time as well. My go-to phrase is a simple “I’ve got it. Thanks.” If they still won’t drop it, “I’ve got it. If I need help, I’ll ask. Thanks.”

    If they pick something up and start to help you anyway, that second phrase gets said while staring at them without a smile until they set down whatever they picked up.

      1. Blue Anne*

        I’m definitely going to use this in the future. Alison’s advice is great, and I know I shouldn’t be as annoyed as I am when this happens, but dammit, I’m a powerlifter, of course I can sling this box of paper over my shoulder. I think “If I need help, I’ll ask” would be just curt enough to let me feel like I’d vented and not continue to be bothered by it. :)

      2. l*

        I work with quite a few people who either don’t know how, or simply won’t ask for help. That may also be what feeds this, depending on the office culture.

        1. maggie*

          Yep, I was thinking ‘overly polite’ to ‘mama told him to always _____’. This stuff is so incredibly ingrained in our culture. On the flip, we have more women than men in our office and I used to have to wait until someone came into the kitchen to help me replace the water jug onto the cooler. I mean, I could do it myself, but then I can’t do anything with my hands for a week.

          That said, a fellow female taught me a strategy that I now use: I slide the cooler over to a nearby counter and simply flip the water over (like I am trying to drop it on the ground spout down) and it catches in the cooler opening. It’s actually really efficient and 98% painless. Not all woman weight lift and those that still need to get things done come up with some great tricks for going through life as the ‘gentle gender’. (that last phrase is said with my rolling eyes, btw.)

    1. Relosa*

      Yep, this. If they still pick up stuff, that’s when the “I know you’re trying yo help, but…” line gets used. Love mansplaining to men!

        1. kozinskey*

          It’s not sexism to explain why someone’s actions affect you negatively, which is what Alison is recommending.

          1. Dan*

            I loved Alison’s advice on this.

            The “mansplaining” comment, on the other hand, made me laugh, but I had to point out that it’s pretty sexist. In light of how much “men are sexist” talk we get here, I thought it odd that this kind of thing was tolerated.

            No matter; men are tough, we can take it ;-)

                1. Connie-Lynne*

                  I don’t think it’s sexist to name the gender in a behavior that happens nigh-exclusively from men to women, namely, ignoring someone else’s expertise because of their gender, and then sticking your foot in your mouth by explaining to them, generally incorrectly, their own field of expertise.

                  That said, I did recently hear a gender neutral term for the phenomenon, and I’ve started using it for two reasons:
                  (a) It heads off derailing discussions of “mansplaining is a sexist term!”
                  (b) It better describes the phenomenon.

                  The word is “condesplaining.”

                2. Loose Seal*

                  Thank you for the neutral term, Connie-Lynne. I’ve never liked the term mansplaining for the very reasons you mentioned.

                3. maggie*

                  I do agree with Dan that it is a sexist phrase (even if it’s meant playfully) — but I really love it’s replacement. Great job, Connie-Lynne!

                4. SystemsLady*

                  Eh, I will agree it’s borderline, but I disagree.

                  I’ll agree a small circle will often misuse the term, but I think a lot of people assume that it means “oh, those men and their condescending way of explaining stuff” (which is sexist of course!) when it really refers to a specific sexist thing that certain sexist men do.

                  So a man telling a woman “you can’t possibly carry those things” no matter what she says would call for that word; a male employee correcting his female boss, who believes she understands how his system works, on how his system functions in what she believes to be a condescending fashion would definitely not.

                  That all being said…condesplaining is a fun word :).

                5. SystemsLady*

                  And yeah, it definitely works for that situation when it’s a woman being sexist and saying “you can’t possibly lift that!”.

                6. Raptor*

                  Here’s a history on it.


                  The word came about from an essay called Men Explain Things to Me, by a woman. She was at a party and talking to a man about the books she had written, when he started to tell her about this great book he had read about (about the same subject). Well, it was her book. And a friend of hers tried to tell him this fact, only for him to ignore her and continue on about how great this book was (that he hadn’t read about). It took awhile for it to dawn on him he was talking to the author of the book of the subject he was trying to explain to her.

                  The reason mansplaining has stuck is because, when women start talking about issues that effect women, someone comes in and goes ‘but what about the men?!’ And then attempts to explain to women why it’s the women who are really being sexist by ignoring what the men are saying about this problem men face.

                  And that is mansplaining.

            1. mm-oregon*

              You’re right. There are as many bad stereotypes about men as there are about women (I’m female).

              1. Jessica*

                Like all those commercials where men are bumbling idiots and don’t know how to take care of their kids or shop or clean, which basically make it seem like women just need to do it so it’s done “right”. Thanks, advertisers, for reinforcing stereotypes that screw *everyone* over!

                1. Dan*

                  I’m always torn when I see those. I want to laugh, but I feel like I should be offended too. :-)

                2. maggie*

                  This, so much. No offense to the marketing industry but please stop dumbing down everything to make a sell. For real.

                3. SystemsLady*

                  Yup, it is cut right from the same cord as “women should do all the housework”.


                4. Raptor*

                  Oh, it’s worse than you think.. They also have the bumbling men and the women who are either mean to them about it or who are bumbling themselves (always in connection to technology). And see, we women are in on the joke. We know they know we know, and see, we’re in on the joke because we aren’t like THOSE women. And that’s funny, because it’s ‘reverse sexism’, but really it all just comes off as poorly done actual sexism.

                  And I do hate those commercials where they show women competent at kids and housework. Like it’s innate in our DNA or something. Seriously, I think they believe we’re a separate species with different instincts and drives than them.

  3. Kai*

    Oooh, I get this stuff all the time. And even when I’ve told the men in question no thanks, I’ve got it just fine, I can still feel them watching me lift and stack, as if my words weren’t confirmation enough that I don’t need help.

    The best one was when I moved some filing cabinets, and my (male) boss said “You shouldn’t do that on your own–you could hurt yourself and not be able to have babies.” YUP.

    1. Alter_ego*

      There’s this weird perception that an organ that can grow and push out a child is somehow also a delicate delicate flower. Wasn’t it until recently that women weren’t allowed to compete in Olympic ski jumping because there were concerns about the health of their precious uterus?

        1. Aunt Vixen*

          It was among them.

          “Women’s ski jumping has been around for more than 150 years but the International Olympic Committee was reluctant to include it in the Winter Games.

          “Reasons given were numerous, including that the sport was too dangerous, that it could be harmful to women’s health – particularly the reproductive organs – and that there were too few competitors.

          “Former Olympic boss Jacques Rogge said his organisation “did not want the medals to be diluted and watered down”.

          1. maggie*

            “Former Olympic boss Jacques Rogge said his organisation “did not want the medals to be diluted and watered down”.

            My monitor just got a big ‘ol hand-flipped bird. Thanks for sharing!

            1. Labyrinthine*

              I’ve never skied a day in my life but that comment made me want to learn to ski, get amazing, go to the Olympics, win gold and give a big ol’ F U to Jacques Rogge.

        2. jhhj*

          A quote from 2006 from an IOC official : “Ski-jumping is like jumping down from, let’s say, about two meters off the ground about a thousand times a year, which seems not to be appropriate for ladies from a medical point of view.” (In 2010, the same guy worried that the uteruses would explode on landing. The fact that it is protected inside the body, unlike with men, seems to be irrelevant when we want to continue to discriminate.)

          There’s a good history here:

          Women’s ski jumping was a full sport for the first time at Sochi.

        3. Alter_ego*

          There have been a lot of excuses, now that I look into it, but that was one of them. I’ll include the link in another comment, but here’s the relevant passage
          “By the 1920s, doctors and female physical educators began to understand the importance of physical activity for women. They encouraged them to get out in winter, and enjoy themselves with skating, snowshoeing and skiing. But jumping was still out of the question. The latest medical concerns focused on the jolt of landing or a possible fall; at the time, uterine stress was believed to cause sterility. “Ski-jumping is not good for the female organism,” declared Gustave Klein-Doppler in the 1926 Wintersports Yearbook.”

        4. NJ Anon*

          At oldjob which was primarily funded by females, we would joke that some one would “lose their uterus” if they did any heavy lifting. I mean, jeez, I had three kids, worked my whole life and I can’t lift a box? And can we add opening doors? I can open it just fine, thanks!

          1. Rana*

            Yeah, because kids and groceries and such are such light little bundles that take no strength to lift…

            (Seriously – one of the surprises of becoming a parent – which shouldn’t have been a surprise, really – is how physical a job it is.)

      1. SallyForth*

        My great aunt was a champion ski jumper at the same time as my grandfather (her brother) was world champion. Back 100 years ago, the women jumped tandem with the men and wore long skirts!

      2. wanderlust*

        I think this is also the reason my mother-in-law doesn’t love me running marathons. She’s afraid something will happen to my grandbaby-making uterus.

        …Little does she know that I secretly hope this is the case…

      3. Rebecca*

        Haha, this was also why women weren’t allowed to compete in marathons for a long time. I have a good running-partner/friend who I joke about with this regularly. We’ll say, “How’s your uterus doing?” on long runs. Or after a particularly hard workout, “Oh, I think my uterus fell out!”

      4. JB*

        I know it’s not an olympic sport, but where’s the outrage about the potential for damage to the reproductive organs of professional bull riders?

    2. Renegade Rose*

      When I rearranged my office this happened… Everyone was freaking out about my reproductive health. If my uterus can’t handle me moving a desk, there is no way it can handle a baby.

    3. stillLAH*

      I’ve gotten that before too! There’s a woman who works for me who won’t let me carry boxes of programs “because you’ll break your ovaries.” I just…don’t even know what to say to that.

      1. College Career Counselor*

        I did not realize my late grandmother was your employee! In addition to mis-perceptions of physical ability to do the work, sometimes I think comments like this are also rooted in out-moded conventions of “improper” or “not lady-like” work. Definitely needs to go away.

        1. AVP*

          I think it’s that people have the impression that certain tasks aren’t “ladylike” or “appropriate,” but they realize that sounds weird to say aloud, so they strain themselves coming up with implausible science reasons instead. Hint: if you need to come up with fake science excuses because what you’re saying sounds sexist, it’s probably just sexist.

          1. Jessica*

            I think that is very true. Same sexist boss (see below) would say it looked weird when I leaned back in my chair and didn’t sit up straight. What I figured out is that he didn’t like that I was sitting in a way that he only thought men should sit. It’s hard to describe in words, but I was sitting with confident, relaxed body language, not in an overly casual or slouchy way. He danced around it for a while, but then he eventually just flat-out said it looked unladylike, thus destroying any notion that he was concerned about professionalism originally.

            1. maggie*

              Hmmm, I just read this and realized I was already doing it. Screw your boss, it’s comfy!

          2. Not telling*

            There are a lot of weird ‘old wives’ tales’ from the old countries too. In Romania, a very commonly held belief is that if a woman sits on concrete (i.e., a curb or stoop) her ovaries will freeze. Or that if she sits at the corner of a table, she’ll never get married.

            I suspect some sort of derivation or interpretation of these kinds of old beliefs are the underlying reason for these ideas. People don’t always know where ideas come from even when they are saying them…they just repeat the things they’ve heard over and over themselves. Just like someone might say ‘sleep tight don’t let the bed bugs bite!’ or ‘knock on wood!’ without really thinking of the origins of the saying.

            Most of these things pop out of peoples’ mouths long before they’ve had a chance to really think about them….I doubt many people are stopping to think about the sexist things they are saying and then trying to mangle it into something slightly less sexist. They’re just commenting without really thinking.

            1. Revanche*

              Now I get why my friend’s Romanian relatives kept shuffling me to a chair….. I sit any old where and my ovaries are still intact. A fact which my abused uterus doesn’t thank me for.

              But on the subject of preposterous tales my dad has been picking up new ones like how he didn’t call for a month after his first and only grandbaby was born because the sound going into my ears would be bad for me for a month after giving birth. Because after 24+ hours of labor, the sound of a voice over the phone was going to break me. If you mean the sound of inane pseudo science would send my blood pressure skyrocketing, though, sure. Good point.

            2. Zs*

              In Hungary too. Your vagina will catch a cold (a UTI) and then you won’t have any babies if you sit on a a cold surface like concrete. And the same with the corner of the table and not getting married. Everyone believes it, not just the old ladies.

              Incidentally, uteruses can fall out. It is called a uterine prolapse. It happened to a relative of a blogger I follow.

              1. Zahra*

                I’ve heard it happen related to child birth (mostly because of directed, purple pushing), but not because of sports.

        2. stillLAH*

          After she says it, she always takes the box away because “she’s had all her babies” so, at least in her case, it doesn’t seem rooted in improper/unladylike work!

      2. AnonEMoose*

        Child-free me could have all kinds of fun with that. Starting with “Gee, if I’d known that, I could have saved a lot of $$ on that tubal ligation…” Or “Really? Well, sign me up for AAALLLL the program-carrying, then!”

        1. Jessica*

          HA! Or the partner to this directed toward the purposefully single woman… “Don’t eat too much, or you’ll be too fat to land a man!”

          “Really? I get food AND don’t have to deal with men? Score!”

          Only works when the person is a jerk. Polite, but misinformed, people never get the snark.

    4. Jessica*

      Oh my god. That is ridiculous. Because obviously, every woman’s ultimate goal is to give birth. And how would that even work? Does he think ovaries break if you lift something too heavy?

      I had a sexist boss that got all huffy when I tried to get heavy boxes from a high shelf to move them; even said the vile word, “unladylike”. I’m not petite at all, I had a good 6 inches on him, yet he insisted I not do it. Turns out that he actually couldn’t even reach them. Hmm, maybe, logistically, the tallest person should get them. I kid you not, he fell of a chair getting them down. Luckily didn’t have any injury. I’m realizing that 90% of my bad boss stories on here are about one person… glad I don’t work there anymore.

      1. Kelly L.*

        That’s so Victorian! Like how they thought your ovaries would be harmed if you thought too hard. :D

        1. Jessica*

          I know! I immediately swooned when he said that and had to be revived with smelling salts and a refreshing cocaine tonic.

            1. Jessica*

              So THAT is why I wasn’t married by 18. I’m now an old spinster of 30 years. Best get myself off to the convent so I stop shaming my family.

      2. College Career Counselor*

        Left my comment before seeing these–yep, victorian attitudes toward “ladylike” or “appropriate” behavior for women. While my grandmother was raised by her victorian parents, I don’t think your former boss has a leg (or chair) to stand on.

      3. Relosa*

        My first response anytime anyone refers to me as “unladylike” is “I never claimed to be nor would ever want to be a lady. I am a woman.”

        1. Rana*

          Word. I never realized how much strength was required to take care of small, dense humans who need to be carried and wrestled on a daily basis.

          1. fposte*

            Heh. I was just noting below that men desperate to carry women’s bags never seem desperate to carry their toddlers. Not that I blame them.

      1. NoPantsFridays*

        I like this response. I vaguely remember being told, as a teen, not to play basketball because all the jumping would “make your uterus fall out”. I thought it was a perk.

        I was also “warned” that I’d grow “too tall” – because apparently some people think playing basketball causes you to become tall, rather than tall people self-selecting into a sport in which height is advantageous.

        /off-topic comment. Oops. Sorry

    5. Panda Bandit*

      Best answer would be to drop a box on one of his body parts. You can guess which one!

    6. NoPantsFridays*

      Dontchaknow, that’s all women are good for, all else in life and health must be sacrificed for the almighty baby.

      1. Natalie*

        At which point Uterus Baby Magic ensures they can lift the baby and then toddler with no risk of injury. Man, science is amazing.

    7. Meg Danger*

      Ewww… The football coach at my high-school said girls couldn’t play on the team because if they got hit in the stomach it could damage the uterus. Another female student told me that she was hit in the stomach by a soccer ball during gym class and the same coach (he was also a phys ed instructor) said he was concerned about her uterus (she was not hurt or anything, he just saw it happen and had to say something?). I don’t know if this guy was perpetually preoccupied with teenage reproductive integrity, or if he was just a big jerk face who didn’t want girls on his sports teams.

  4. Liz*

    Great advice, Allison. As a female developer I often have to remind people (usually clients) who I am and what I can do. OP, you will probably only have to do this a few times and everyone will get it. Be confident and direct and stick to short phrases to minimize awkwardness. e.g. “I’ve got this, thanks.” and “I’d prefer to unload these myself, actually.”

  5. AdAgencyChick*

    Lifting isn’t a regular part of my job, but occasionally when there’s business travel, a male coworker will offer to help with my bags. I usually respond with, “My max deadlift is 280. I’m good, thanks.” Works like a charm. :)

    1. Cheesecake*

      Ok, i am not close to that maximum by any means, but hell yeah i lift! And i so appreciate help with my luggage when i am wearing heels.

    2. anon attorney*

      Please tell me that is pounds and not kilos! My 1RM is stuck at 100kg just now, but otherwise I use that exact phrase myself!

      1. AdAgencyChick*

        LOL, no, it ain’t kilos. But it’ll do!

        (not really…a bunch of my friends just joined the 300 club and I am STINKING JEALOUS)

    3. OriginalEmma*

      !!! That’s amazing. My max deadlift was in the mid-130s before I fell out of practice.

    4. Blue Anne*

      Yeah, I’ve started to get fewer of those comments now that it’s getting around the office that I was competition-level before I started working here. (Big 4 busy season makes it hard to even get to the gym, much less compete, sadly.)

      I haven’t broken out any comments like that at this job, but at my old admin job I did enjoy telling the stationery delivery guy that I honestly didn’t need any help because “Dude, I can bench press you.” He was a pal after that. :)

  6. SJP*

    I’m a bit torn on this, and before I get jumped on, I actually think if this is maybe a one time thing then fine, accept the help. I do get that the OP mentions he ignored her replies to stop helping but but if it’s constant thing that happens a lot then do the above but sometimes people do want to do nice things for others whether they’re male or female.
    Yes OP mentioned she doesn’t reckon that these guys would help if it were a guy but I’d bet they probably would. People do nice stuff though just cause, and often I help men and women in stuff when lifting or well, in any scenario. Not cause of their sex but cause it’s a nice thing to do…

    Don’t shrug it off as sexist because it might not be, maybe he was just really insistent cause it’s a nice thing to do and ignored the protests because they want to do something helpful..

    I dunno. I agree with equals on everything, including this, but so many women take offense at small stuff in the guise that it’s sexist when it’s not always the case.. (and I said not always, cause often times it is but, but not always)

    1. nona*

      Whether people who do this are sexist or not, LW is asking for advice to stop coworkers from undermining her ability to do her job. I’m not sure what “maybe they don’t mean it in a sexist way” adds to this.

      1. maggie*

        Everything above this comment has been related to sexism, SJP’s comment didn’t exactly come out of left field.

    2. Helka*

      Undermining people in their jobs is not ‘being nice.’ Ignoring people when they tell you to stop doing their jobs for them is not ‘being nice.’ Assuming that they’re not able to do their jobs themselves is not ‘being nice.’

      1. Helka*

        Oh, and to add, ‘I’m just trying to be nice’ is used all the friggin time as a way to undermine women who have asked a man not to do something.

        The same philosophy applies here as applies to giving compliments and other ‘nice’ gestures. Someone who genuinely wanted to be nice and make other people happy would want to know if their supposedly-nice gestures were actually causing a problem.

        1. maggiethecat*

          So true! Like how some people consider *catcalls* “just trying to be nice/friendly”. Ugh!

          1. HR Generalist*

            Right. “It’s a compliment, JEEZE”

            It’s not helpful or complimentary if I’m obviously telling you it’s unwelcome.

        1. Helka*

          And ignored the OP when she said she was fine. ‘Not ignoring someone’ is kind of a prerequisite for being nice to them.

        2. Ask a Manager* Post author

          No! They offered help repeatedly even though she said no, and then ignored her multiple no’s and picked up the boxes for her anyway. Carrying boxes is a regular part of her job. Imagine if someone insisted on doing a regular part of your job that you kept telling them you could handle.

          1. sunny-dee*

            Actually, unless there’s a typo in her letter, they asked her if she was supposed to be carrying heavy boxes like that, and she said no. Honestly, they really are just being nice — if she had a massive pallet of equipment to unload and she (mistakenly) told them that unloading it is not part of her regular job, then, they were just stepping in to help her with something they perceived to be unusual, not undermining her regular duties.

            1. Natalie*

              Based on the context and the OP’s follow up comments below, I’m fairly certain that was just a poorly phrased sentence and the OP actually said yes, it was her job.

            2. Van Wilder*

              Yeah, was that a typo or was she being sarcastic or was it really not part of her job?

            3. olives*

              I in fact did assume there was some sort of typo, or more like a think-o – I assumed there was a sentence missing that said “Here, let me help you.”

              I assume this because I’ve had this interaction before. It’s a shitty interaction. It is not something people do to men. I cannot imagine one of the box-lifting male folks at my workplace being approached by a random person not in their position and offering to unload equipment if it wasn’t their job (unless it was an unusual part of that person’s job). It’s just not normal in the workplace to arbitrarily step in and ask to help with something that isn’t part of your normal purview, as though you were more qualified to do the work that they’re doing than they are.

        3. Snarkus Aurelius*

          No means no. Relevant not just in relation to sex but in any scenario. Seriously.

        4. Connie-Lynne*

          First of all, they offered help multiple times and ignored her when she said she didn’t need help.

          Secondly, even if _this person_ only did it once, imagine what it looks like to her boss and coworkers if they constantly see her standing around while random other people do her lifting and carrying for her? It totally makes her look like a goldbricker then.

          I used to have this same problem when working as a stagehand — there would always be some dude around trying to help me carry stuff during truck packs or unloads. It was a different guy every time, but I had to be very firm about “I have this myself” to avoid being labeled lazy or not able to (literally) pull my own weight.

          A coworker (at an office job) and I once got into an argument over this, him actually defending that his need not to “rudely” allow a woman to carry heavy things trumped my need to be seen as competent in my position so that I’d get called back for future jobs.

          1. Schnauz*

            Also, people don’t always give you the benefit of the doubt that those men offered to help. Too often people attribute that to women “working their wiles” on the poor helpless men to get them to do her job for her.

            1. AlyIn Sebby*

              “Let me ask you, who is going to explain to HR how you hurt yourself doing my job, that I told I could do?”

              This is one of those weird instances where I am so glad I am not the kind of gal a lot of guys are attracted to – because they just see me a some other person, not a girl who needs to be rescued or who will be thrilled with a big strong man to help me.

              “I’ve been doing pilates for 10 + years, I can lift perfectly and look forward to the chance to be physical and burn calories at work instead of a gym. Step off my good man!”

              At an old job the office was primarily women with one male Exec. Director, one male IT guy and one of our facilities staff (the facilities boss was a woman). The ‘ladies; in the office would go with out drinking water because they were all too weak or dainty or what ever to do it.

              One day I realized it had been like 3 days with no fresh water (and we didn’t have tap drinking water). I asked the receptionist/admin coordinator what was up. “Oh the men have all been out since Monday, no one else can do it.”

              I did it, easy peasy, and she hated me from then forward for it :) :/

              “It’s in your job description, you should ask HR first.” Shut them down!

              “I was just trying to be nice!” “Demeaning my skills and job performance is nice?”

              I just use my pilates ‘excuse’ now exclusively, hee hee I know some people don’t even know what it is, but it still gets them to let me do it.

          2. Not So NewReader*

            “A coworker (at an office job) and I once got into an argument over this, him actually defending that his need not to “rudely” allow a woman to carry heavy things trumped my need to be seen as competent in my position so that I’d get called back for future jobs.”

            The ol’ my need is bigger than your need argument. I am just wondering why he is soooo needy. There is more than one way he could show other people that he is not a rude person.

          3. Mabel*

            And when you’re moving things backstage or onstage, there are usually a lot of obstacles, and only the people who know what they’re doing should do it (plus, a lot of union jobs prohibit anyone else from doing them).

      2. Lizzy*

        +1. I have seen men undermine other men trying to their jobs; I have seen women undermine other women trying to their jobs. So while we can argue back and forth about the prevalence of sexism in this scenario, the underlying truth is that no one likes to be told or hinted at that they cannot do their own job effectively.

    3. Colette*

      I don’t think I’ve ever seen a guy offer to help another guy lift something (unless it was clearly too big for one person to lift).

      1. NacSacJack*

        I have. And at the risk of exposing myself, its because I have a disability. I usually reply I’ve got it and about 9 times out of 10 I have it. So, question, when does the line between being polite and women’s liberation kick in? I have the impression a lot of the older women would prefer to be treated as such, but because I was raised to believe women are equal to men, I ignore the attitudes that men should give to women at doors, elevators and in hallways. Hello, I dont have a right hand. How the h*** do you expect me to hold the door for you. You should be holding the door for me.

        1. NoPantsFridays*

          In my old apartment building, my neighbor was an elderly guy, probably in his 70s or 80s. He would sometimes come and go the same time I did, and I would always hold the door for him. Because I knew he would have difficulty with the heavy door. It almost slammed on another tenant’s little dog once. This “man must hold door for woman” thing is pretty absurd, I’m with you there.

          1. mdv*

            I like it when people hold the door for me, but I also always hold the door for others, especially if I got there first! If you simply observe if there are people behind you, and hold it instead of letting it slam shut on them, 99% of the time, people smile or say thank you.

        2. beckythetechie*

          Believe it or not, there was a standard of behavior regarding this kind of situation in Medieval banquet seating that I think solved most of those issues with great grace. Say the host of the meal was missing an arm for whatever reason. The woman seated to his left– an honored guest, usually, sometimes his mistress– would cut his roast meat, and fill his plate as well as her own from any passed dishes.

          But what about that rich guy’s wife, sitting on his other side, who is blind? The man on her right was responsible for helping her with whatever she might need during the meal, including filling her plate and cutting her meat. The person who has the easiest time doing it helps the person who would struggle; gender had nothing to do with it.

          1. Gloria*

            I love this-what a great idea! Perhaps those “Dark Ages” were not so backwards as we’ve been led to believe, hmmm?

    4. JC*

      This is precisely Alison’s point—most men who say these things do not think they are being sexist, and are offering their help as a kindness. But can’t you see how it would be irritating for others to constantly ask you if you need help with a part of your job that you are capable of doing by yourself?

      1. Sleepyhead*

        I think that’s the thing a lot of people don’t realize when they say things like this: “…but so many women take offense at small stuff in the guise that it’s sexist when it’s not always the case.. (and I said not always, cause often times it is but, but not always).”

        The reason women so often take offense is because they’re asked these kind of questions often and it’s annoying to have to deal with them over and over and over. I’m sure the people doing the asking only thing they’re being nice and probably don’t think they do it very often, but when the person being asked gets it multiple times from lots of different people the effect adds up.

        Aside from the fact that guy the OP was dealing with had already ignored her – first asking if she should be doing that, then asking if she needed help, then asking if she was sure, then telling her he was going to ignore her responses previous and do it anyway – it’s her job and it’s a question she shouldn’t be getting in the first place.

        1. Stone Satellite*

          It’s also often sexist even when the person offering (regardless of gender) doesn’t think it’s sexist. Hello, unconscious bias, I didn’t see you there.

    5. Sadsack*

      It isn’t helpful though to ignore someone when he or she says they do not need or want the help. Maybe the guy thinks he is being helpful, but that’s why you tell him, no really, please do not help me. Just letting him do it anyway is defeating the purpose of asking him not to the first time. Stepping in to do someone else’s job for him or her is not being helpful, it is interfering. Better to nicely, but firmly, tell him to stop.

    6. Allison*

      The problem is that LW didn’t want help, and said she didn’t want help, because she can do it herself and it’s part of her job. No one should feel morally obligated to accept help just so someone can get a quick ego boost. LW insisted she didn’t want help and someone ignored her and did it anyway; regardless of gender, *that* was disrespectful, even if he had the best intentions.

    7. H*

      It may not be sexist (though I think it is some internalized, benevolent sexism) but I also think it is never appropriate to ignore someone when they say they don’t need help or ask you to stop helping. I know it’s a different situation, but I worked in a grocery store where I sometimes had to carry heavy items from the very back to the very front. Customers, always male, would stop and insist they help me carry things, sometimes trying to take them from me despite protests that I was doing just fine and that it was actually a liability and I could get in serious trouble if a manager saw a customer carrying store stock for me. This type of exchange never happened to my male coworkers.

      The liability issue probably isn’t there for the LW since these were coworkers but still, when someone says no it’s usually for a reason and should be respected.

      1. AlyIn Sebby*

        Another good catch phrase for this issue.

        Any time you can make it about something bigger than a guy trying to help a woman who must be too weak to do the task, it’s helpful.

        “Company liability policy, no can do.”

        I do a lot of lifting for my clients, most are happy to have anyone else but them there to do it. But sometimes a husband will come at the end of a long day of household organizing and insist on carrying the ‘heavy stuff’.

        “Your wife is paying me $35.00 an hour so neither of you has to lift a finger if you don’t want to. If you want to pay me AND do the heavy lifting go for it. But my rate is the same.” I say this a LOT!, so I am used to laughing about it as I say it and trying to disarm them into just chilling while I do the scut work.

        One time the guy would not let it go so I explained that his homeowners insurance would not cover him if he got hurt while my business liability policy took precedence. “If you can afford that hassle, go for it.” and disarmed he went and did something else.

    8. Sarah Nicole*

      I think the issue is exactly what the OP said, which is subtle sexism. When it comes to this type of sexism, I’ll agree that most people being this way don’t have any superior feelings to the one they’re trying to help, and they often do not know they are doing it. This is rooted in countless years of true prejudice for benevolent and malevolent reasons. This isn’t this guy’s fault, but in order for us to break through subtle sexism, we must assert ourselves. I had to do the same thing for a while (I’m in the guard, part-time military) as one of the only females in my unit. After I said these things several times and proved my ability to lift heavy crap, they stopped doing this. And I’ll say I’ve been treated less stereotypically because of it. When we are able to break through these stereotypes, things get better for us in the workplace.

      As for people who are “just trying to be nice,” you’re right. I’m sure this was the true intention. But this intention still blankets a deep-rooted problem in our society. Unfortunately being assertive is the only way to get past it. If he is truly nice, the next time she asks him to stop, he will.

      1. Heather*

        +1 million to all of this. Just because someone didn’t consciously intend for something to be sexist (or racist, etc.) doesn’t mean that it isn’t. It doesn’t make them a bad person; it just means that they need to examine the implications of what they said or did.

      2. Jessica*

        Yup, this. I wrote a comment above about my blatantly sexist boss using the word, “unladylike”. This is not like that, but the harm is still there. I like that the OP could potentially teach this person to not do this again to anyone. Sometimes, people just need a little feedback to see it from the other person’s perspective and this changes their behavior in the future.

        1. Jessica*

          That is, if they truly meant it as a nice, non-malevolent, gesture and aren’t actually a self-described “nice guy”. You know, the type that says, “Why are all women such snobby bitches? Don’t they want to date a nice guy like me?”

      3. JayemGriffin*

        “Just trying to be nice” =/= actually being nice. I might go so far as to say that if you feel the need to insist that you’re just trying to be nice, you are definitely not succeeding at being nice. If you were succeeding, you wouldn’t need to point it out.

    9. Jo*

      ‘One of them saw me and said, “Are you sure you’re supposed to be handling that kind of equipment?”’

      That was the evidence of sexism, right there. Questioning not only her ability to do her job but whether she was even supposed to be doing it. She says this is just one example of a pattern of comments she gets at work. As you noted, after she told this guy “no” multiple times, he ignored her and proceeded to handle the situation in the way he thought best. That’s disrespectful, not a nice thing to do, and it’s the kind of thing that happens to women all the time. If the intentions were truly to help, then he should have listened to her feedback about whether she found his behavior helpful. This is about behavior and its effects, not just the intent behind it.

      Pro tip: If a woman describes a man’s behavior as demeaning and sexist, believe her. If you hear a lot of women taking offense at something you think is “small stuff,” maybe you should reconsider how small it really is. Women are the experts on this. By telling this woman that her calm, reasoned assessment of an incident she personally experienced is incorrect, while your assessment from across the internet of this knuckleheaded dude’s mindset should be taken more seriously, you yourself are being sexist and disrespectful. (This is true even if you are also a woman.) And if something a man does – with or without sexist intent – fits into a larger pattern of discriminatory behavior on the part of that man or even men in general, and the behavior makes the women who experience it feel demeaned and discriminated against, it is a problem.

      1. Schnauz*

        You had me until the last paragraph. I agree that if a lot of women are telling him that this “small” thing is a problem then he should reconsider – but to just believe someone because they’re a woman and somehow an “expert” at what is sexism is the wrong kind of blanket statement to make. Not all women are experts at identifying sexist behavior or intent and therefor not all women get it right. Asking someone to turn off their own reasoning ability and healthy skepticism for a blanket “if a woman tells you it’s sexist then it always is” does no favors for us women in educating people about subtle sexisms like this. You’re more likely to turn someone off with this kind of statement.

        1. olives*

          Try it.

          Just for a bit. Try believing women who call things sexist, every time, and setting aside your ability to judge the situation.

          Does it really hurt you, specifically, that much?

          1. LBK*

            This is kind of backwards logic…as I said below, a lot of women aren’t as good at identifying benevolent sexism, particularly depending on the culture they were raised in (ie one that heavily pushes traditional gender roles, like a lot of our parents probably were). It’s not about it “hurting you, specifically, that much,” it’s about hurting women by reinforcing the idea that you can’t do those things on your own.

            1. olives*

              That’s actually not the situation at hand. This is a situation where a woman did call something sexist, and I am suggesting believing her and treating her as she is implying she would like to be treated. Whether or not there exist women who like having “benevolent sexism” applied to them is not relevant here, nor is it in most situations.

              I specifically mean to believe women who do tell you that they find a thing sexist.

              1. LBK*

                That’s fine, but my overall point is that I disagree that being woman makes you on expert on identifying sexism – I’m inclined to believe that if some women fail to recongize it sometimes, there may be other women who incorrectly recognize it sometimes. I’ve seen it happen here, where people suggest something has sexist implications when there’s zero indication of it other than one person being male and one being female.

                I don’t by any means think this is one of those situations, but I’d caution against “Always listen to women when they talk about something being sexist” as a dogma because I don’t think it’s always accurate and it discourages any kind of critical thought about the implications of your actions.

                I get your point, that often men (or other women, even) dismiss accusations of sexism as whining or blowing things out of proportion. However, I don’t think the opposite of dismissiveness – ie blindly accepting what someone else tells you – is helpful in getting people to understand the issue either.

          2. Schnauz*

            I am a woman, one who has experienced plenty of sexism. Not applying healthy skepticism and critical thought hurts us all. I’m not supporting dismissing someone else’s experience out of hand because you weren’t there to witness it, but it doesn’t hurt anyone to also not accept as gospel every word any woman utters about sexism. Especially since not every woman agrees with every other woman.

        2. LBK*

          Agreed, women are definitely not experts on sexism by default, especially benevolent sexism. Many still like it when men show selective courtesy to them because they’re women, not understanding how putting women on a pedestal isn’t much better than putting them down.

          1. Colette*

            For what it’s like for them to live as a woman.

            No one becomes an expert in an entire group’s experience simply by being a member of that group.

            1. I'm a Little Teapot*

              +1000. And no one has the right to speak for all members of her group. There are plenty of women who say utterly asinine things about women and gender and being women does not make them right. (There are, somehow, female MRAs.)

    10. Zahra*

      I get that the intent to be sexist may not be there, but the effect is there. The effect must be addressed for sexism to stop. You may not intend to have a car accident but you (and the other party) still have to deal with the consequences.

      And even if the coworkers would do the same for another man (which, according to my life experience, is extremely unlikely), ignoring a “No thanks” is incredibly rude.

    11. PurpleMonkeyDishwasher*

      I’m sorry, but she said no two or three times and he ignored her and did it anyway. That’s not “being nice,” that’s “being creepy and assuming that you can just ignore a woman’s stated boundary about something because wommenz, amiright?” It’s not a “nice thing” to do something someone has explicitly asked you not to do multiple times, it’s boundary-crossing and disrespectful.

    12. INTP*

      I think the people above me have addressed why it is, in fact, sexism, and the OP was right to not just accept it as “just being nice.”

      But even if it WEREN’T sexist, and even if these guys WERE “just being nice,” there’s another issue. As a woman with some “masculine” job duties, I guarantee she’s under scrutiny by some coworkers. If she were caught by the wrong sexist or bitter colleague (keep in mind that sexist men come in many shapes and only a minority are the “openly sexist, women shouldn’t do a man’s work” shape) allowing some IT guys to carry some things just one time, she could get a reputation as “someone who charms men into doing her hard work for her.” They won’t care that the men were pushy and insistent. They’ll see a woman with a man doing her work and assume it was by her design.

        1. INTP*

          Very true. I didn’t mean to word that in a way that implies that sexist or bitter colleagues only come in male form. People of both genders that call themselves progressive and feminist often subconsciously have sexist biases that lead to sexist reads on situations (like the assumption “that pretty girl who let the IT dudes carry her boxes uses her sexuality to manipulate others into doing her work”). Just wanted to point that out because many people seem to think that if Archie Bunker isn’t in the room, you’re safe from sexism.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        Yes, I see two issues, the people were rude AND sexist. If they had treated another man that way it would still be considered rude. You don’t tell/show people that you think they can’t do their job.

    13. Elsajeni*

      In addition to everyone else’s points about sexism and boundaries, let me add that the “help” that’s being offered here might actually be actively unhelpful! The OP’s job is to handle these large or heavy shipments — I think it’s safe to assume that she’s had some training on how to handle and move them safely, including using equipment like the pallet jacks, and that she knows where those boxes need to end up and how to organize them as she’s putting them away. I’m much less confident that a random guy who works in IT has that expertise. By “helping,” in addition to undermining the OP, he may be putting himself and the people around him at risk of injury, putting the stuff in the boxes or other company property at risk of damage, or creating more work for the OP by putting the boxes in the wrong places or something else silly that she’ll have to fix later. (I have had someone “help” me put some boxes away in the stockroom, because obviously I was just dawdling and taking too long, why am I shifting all those boxes around when I could just put this one on top! Well, because that one is full of the little bags of rocks and gravel we sell for flower arranging and weighs about a ton, as I see you have just discovered by crushing the half-empty box I was trying to move out of the way.)

      1. INTP*

        Good points. And if damage an injury happened, chances are the OP would be blamed for “letting” an untrained person do the work.

      2. Not So NewReader*

        I used to work a job where we moved heavy things all the time. The running joke was if you break into a sweat moving 300 pounds you are doing it wrong.
        I found that was true. With the right move equipment and/or good leverage, I could pretty much move whatever I needed to move. I remember pushing 900 pounds up hill in 95 degree heat.

        There are a lot of tricks to this stuff and if you do it all the time, you learn those tricks fast.
        I used to be very selective of who I let help me, because some people would work against what I was trying to do. Frankly, it was easier to do it alone, then have those people help me. I consider myself to a person of average strength, nothing extraordinary.

        If someone offered help that was not familiar with the type of lift I was doing, I would just say “No, thanks, Coworker will be along in a minute.” I would only use that deflection if it was true, though.

    14. Student*

      I think this is the kind of thing that can be hard to understand unless you’ve experienced it firsthand. It is really, really frustrating firsthand, especially if you deal with it frequently. Sometimes, it’s also counter-productive, especially if you can’t get the “helpers” to listen to you and they do the task wrong.

      Think back to when you were a child. Can you think of a case where you were perfectly capable of doing a task, but some adult felt that it was too “mature”, too “adult” for you and did it for you instead? Maybe a homework assignment your mother did for you, or your father wouldn’t let you drive someplace? I remember a grade school librarian who wouldn’t let me check out a (gardening!) book from the older kid’s section because she didn’t believe I could read that well. I had to have my parents explain to her that I could read above grade level so I could continue to check out interesting books. It was infuriating, infantilizing, and pointless “help”.

      It’s easy to say, “But they meant well!” Sure they did. Everyone knows they meant well. But the point is, they didn’t *do* well.

      That is an important point – in this situation, they didn’t actually make the OP’s job easier. Should the OP let them persist with this misguided “help”, just to feed their egos? Should we treat the IT co-workers like delicate flowers who can’t possibly handle being told that their help is misguided and unnecessary? They made the OP feel bad to make themselves feel good. The fact that their “help” was also mostly harmless this time is also an important point in favor of brushing it off as a one-time occurrence. However, it’s easy to imagine situations where “help” like this isn’t as neutral – where they put the boxes in the wrong places, or hurt themselves lifting something that’s too heavy for them. What then?

      Here’s an adult work story from me. I’m a small woman. I was working in Germany, and one task involved using the facility machine shop. One day, a guy approached me in the machine shop and told me he was in charge of the area, and I couldn’t use the machines unless I wore a hair net. Which he/the facility wouldn’t provide. Which I couldn’t find in any local shops. Men with long hair were not required to use hair nets, and he wouldn’t accept any other alternatives from me that I offered (hat, putting hair under my shirt, tying it in a bun etc.).

      So, I asked a male colleague to do the work for me while I watched and directed. Machine Shop Guy witnessed this and deemed it far more acceptable than me running the big bad machines all by my delicate feminine self. My male colleague had no experience on these machines, though, so I had to teach him as I went. I had years of experience on the same type of machines. I was setting a machine up for male colleague to drill some holes, and a part had gotten stuck. I was carefully, slowly doing the machine adjustment, because I knew the part would fly loose as soon as I got past the jam. Male colleague watched me slowly, carefully working through the jam and said, “Let me do it. I’ll do it faster.” I told him I had it. “Let me do it; it’s clearly too hard for you.” So, I stepped back and tried to warn him it’d fly loose once it was unjammed.

      He gave it a casual tug, and it didn’t move. So, he grabbed on and pulled as hard as he could. It came flying loose and sent him back into a nearby wall. Unfortunately, this was a glass wall (I don’t know why anyone would put a giant glass wall in a machine shop). The wall cracked over several feet. My co-worker ripped his elbow open on the glass. The part never got completed. Because two well-meaning guys just wanted to “help” me and “protect” me and be “nice” to me, and this blinded them to the fact that they were simply making things more difficult and dangerous for all of us.

      1. olives*

        I like your adult-to-child analogy – it works because it’s something everyone can empathize with and everyone has experienced at some level and some point.

      2. blackcat*

        Machine shops can be weird places. The one that I trained in (as part of my undergrad degree) was lead by a machinist who far and away preferred instructing women on the machines. He would declare this frequently. He said that women would watch carefully, ask questions when they didn’t understand, and never try to force a machine to do something that it was resisting. In 20 years, he claimed he had never seen a woman get hurt in his shop or break a machine. Whereas the young men who came through frequently broke things and/or injured themselves, because they weren’t “respecting the machines” (his words). While his generalizations were based on his experience, they still made me feel weird (though his generalization may have been more accurate for the 18-22 age bracket, the age of most students in there).

        Far and away, what I most appreciated, were all of his solid step stools. As a petite woman, I have been in many a male-dominated lab where I couldn’t reach things I needed. That machinist always kept a step stool near anything where someone my height might have that problem. He also had gloves in all sizes–another problem I’ve had.

      3. I'm a Little Teapot*

        A librarian *wouldn’t check out* an older kids’ book to you because she didn’t think you could read well enough?!

        She’s a terrible librarian. Actually, she’s an unethical librarian.

        1. Zs*

          that happened to me too. in my case it was a fiction story but it was only one year above my grade level (I was 7 and the book was recommended for 8 year olds. I had already read all the books for my age at the library.)

        2. Jan*

          I know. In fact, a good librarian/teacher or whatever would have been thrilled that you wanted something more difficult to pore over!

          I hate it when people try and discourage you from doing things, with remarks like “Well it won’t be easy you know…” Or “Well I tried that and I didn’t like it/get on with it.” As if they’re giving you a really original, insightful piece of advice. 1) their taste/experience is no rule for mine and 2) do they really think that if something’s challenging or not easy to achieve you just shouldn’t bother? That’s terrible advice.

    15. Ann without an e*

      OP I wonder if this was an attempt at getting you notice he exists. Next time say, “Thanks I got it,” and maybe introduce yourself, make sure to shake his hand firmly, but not over grip competitive. That way you’ve acknowledged his existence and forced hit to acknowledge yours.

    16. AnotherHRPro*

      So, if this example was you, SJP, and instead of lifting boxes it was a normal part of your job – let’s say competing a report – how would you feel if someone insisted on doing that part of your job for you? Even if they are just trying to “help”. I would hate having someone step in and do part of my job without my asking for help and even refusing it.

      The intent may be kind, but that doesn’t make the behavior right.

    17. DaBlonde*

      We should also consider the OP’s job and the helper’s job. Transporting and unloading these shipments is the OP’s job, the helper was from IT. I wouldn’t want to hear that my files didn’t get backed up, or my new coworker’s workstation didn’t get set up today because the IT person was in the back unloading boxes. It’s not his job.

  7. YandO*

    I am a young petite woman. I am a feminist.

    I do not have any problem excepting help from men or women. When the UPS guy comes, I hold the door for him. I don’t do it because I think he is not capable of doing it himself, I do it because I think it’s polite.

    When I worked as an admin and had to carry heavy trays full of glasses/drinks into a conference room for a meeting, I often asked one of the guys to help me.

    In the OP’s situation, I would have accepted help because it was coming from obviously kind place.

    With all that said, when I say “no”, I mean “no” and I expect you to listen to me. I find it incredibly rude and condescending to assume I don’t mean what I say.

    1. nona*

      Said it better than I could. I’d accept help, because most people are just being polite and I would do the same for them. The insistence on helping someone who doesn’t need it is what has been a problem for LW.

    2. Liz*

      I think you are missing that unloading these boxes are actually the OP’s responsibility as part of her job. This is not the same as holding the door open for someone in daily life. This is something she is in charge of and these people are doing her job for her against her wishes — not okay, even if they have kind intentions.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Exactly. She saying carrying these boxes is a regular part of her job. It would be like if someone came over to your desk and tried to help you with your typing.

        1. Cheesecake*

          But it is not OP’s direct colleague who carries boxes instead of her on a daily bases. These are IT guys. I am not sure how often they come down there. If not, i’d let it go.

          1. allisonallisonallisonetc*

            Why is she the one who needs to let it go? IT guy should have let it go the first time she said she didn’t need help after his condescending comment.

          2. NoPantsFridays*

            They are IT guys and presumably rarely come by the OP, which to me is even more reason to make sure they aren’t doing her job. I wouldn’t want untrained employees from a completely different department doing my job, and getting stuck with the blame/liability should something go wrong or they make a mistake.

        2. Ann O'Nemity*

          Yes, this is the part that’s important.

          For some reason, some of the guys at my work get very uncomfortable if they see me replacing the water jug on the cooler in the break room. They will literally run over to help! Although I’m perfectly capable of lifting the jug and feel a little indignant about the whole thing, I’m willing to let it go… because it’s not an essential part of my job.

          1. plain_jane*

            ha! I used to work with those guys. And yet somehow they never replaced the water jug by themselves. They apparently were waiting for someone to come and ask them to be big strong men and I was ruining the plan by just doing it.

            1. Judy*

              I’m working with them now. If you didn’t want me to lift it, why didn’t you replace it when you saw it empty. I’ve figured out who else is willing to change the water bottle, because one week when two certain people were out of the office, I changed it every time. And twice had people offer to do it for me. It’s 5 gallons, maybe 25 pounds. Not that hard.

        3. YandO*

          Do IT guys know/understand what is part of her job and what is not?

          When I worked in a large office, most people had no clue what I did all day. They’d have no idea what is and isn’t part of my job.

          I think the guy should have backed off immediately after she said “I don’t need help”, but I am not willing to say he was in the wrong for offering.

          1. Helka*

            He was not in the wrong for offering (once). He was in the wrong for asking if she was supposed (!!!) to be doing that, he was in the wrong for brushing her off when she said she was and that she didn’t need help, and he was in the wrong for just starting to lift things after being told not to.

          2. Persephone Mulberry*

            “Do you need help with that?” or “Can I give you a hand with that?” = a kind and thoughtful offer
            “Are you sure you’re supposed to be handling that kind of equipment?” = rude and condescending
            “Can I help you with that?” No, I’ve got it. “Are you sure?” = rude and condescending

        4. NacSacJack*

          +1 Actually had a interviewer ask me how many wpm I could type. I was applying to be a software engineer and had been working in the biz for 8 years. What he think I did, type with my nose???

          1. Ife*

            I had a computer science professor who followed the “two-finger hunt and peck” strategy. So… :)

            1. Jessa*

              My grandfather was probably the fastest typist I know, and I typed well over 80 on his manual Olivetti. He used two fingers and made me insane because I still, after he’s been gone for over 30 years, cannot figure out how he could beat me in a typing test on that machine. Some people just can do that crazy two finger thing and be great at it.

        5. eemmzz*

          I use to work with a manager that would hijack people’s PCs for hours. It was so frustrating! I can understand how the OP sort of feels. Just because it is physical work doesn’t make it any different

      2. JMegan*

        This is it, exactly. It stops being kind when the offer to help is politely declined, and the person insists on helping anyway.

        I can’t remember if I read it here or elsewhere, but I recently came across the idea that sexism (or racism, etc) is not usually a single act – it’s a single act within the context of thousands of other acts. In this case, the context is the coworker’s idea that the OP couldn’t *possibly* be lifting all those boxes by herself, and not only that, but the coworker knows better than the OP does what she is capable of doing.

        Just because the coworker doesn’t intend his actions to be sexist, doesn’t mean that they are not sexist. He would deny it to the ends of the earth, but I guarantee he wouldn’t have imposed himself on another man like that. He might have offered his help, but he would have accepted a “no thank you, I’ve got it” if that had been the response from the other man.

        1. Alter_ego*

          they’re typically called microagressions. It’s not that one guy, in that moment, telling you that smiling would make you look prettier. It’s the 400 guys before him who have also said it, making it clear that you should be walking through the world trying to look prettier for the sake of a bunch of strangers.

          1. OriginalEmma*

            Exactly. It’s being the individual recipient of a *pattern* of benevolent and malevolent sexist behaviors from different people, at different times, in different locations.

            1. JMegan*

              I like the concept of “benevolent sexist behaviours.” A behaviour doesn’t have to be ill-intentioned to be sexist. It’s the outcome that’s important, not the intent.

        2. Nashira*

          Right. Intent isn’t a magical protection against inadvertently doing something bigoted. These guys stepped on the OP’s foot. They didn’t mean to, I’m sure, but they still need to stop stepping on her foot, you know?

          I know these are classic social justice sayings and analogies, but sometimes the oldies are goodies…

      3. Anonathon*

        Exactly. Just because it’s physical labor doesn’t make it different from any other part of a job. I have a hard time believing the IT guys would be thankful the OP started volunteering to fix software issues, no matter how well-intentioned she was.

        1. eee*

          right? and not just her volunteering to fix it–but wondering due to his appearance and gender whether he was even supposed to be doing an IT task. I 100% don’t have a problem with someone offering to help when I’m carrying something heavy (unlike many other women on this thread I have virtually no upper body strength and am incredibly clumsy), but if someone were to ask me “are you sure you’re supposed to be handling that?” I would be incredibly offended. It not only assumes that the person may not be suitable for the task, it questions whether they know what they’re doing. To continue the reversal, it would be as if she walked into his office (again, knowing nothing about him), wrinkled her brow and asked “are you sure you’re supposed to be coding?” Which, again, how can that reasonably be interpreted in any way other than “it seems to me like you might not be suited for that task.”

    3. Colette*

      There’s a difference between accepting help for something that’s not part of your job, and accepting help for the core function of your job. If someone wants to help you with a core function of your job, they usually don’t believe you can handle it yourself. That’s not a belief you want to encourage.

    4. Cheesecake*

      I agree with you. I would also accepted and move on. It doesn’t seem like guys are her direct colleagues who come down every day to help and don’t let OP do the job. They just wanted to help. But, and again – totally agree, i find it rude that they didn’t listen. I thought it is so clear OP doesn’t need help and means it.

      1. The Cosmic Avenger*

        Not really. YandO mentioned how ignoring someone’s objections completely negates any good intentions you might have, and you completely ignored that part. That’s crucial. That’s not a matter of degree, that’s a game-changer.

    5. Enjay*

      I completely agree. I’m polite, always. If I see an admin person with a huge task and offer to help, it’s not because I think she can’t handle it, it’s that I think the burden can be shared. If the UPS guy is struggling trying to juggle a bunch of packages, I ask if I can help.

      People are too quick to be offended.

      1. Helka*

        The point isn’t the offer to help. The point is ignoring the OP when she said she had it. Do you snatch the packages out of the UPS guy’s hands if he tells you he’s got them?

      2. Ask a Manager* Post author

        But why is it “too quick to be offended” when she wasn’t concerned until after her third no, they picked up the boxes for her that she’d clearly told them not to carry? This is about ignoring someone’s clear and multiple no’s and doing their job for them anyway. It’s not about being offended by a single offer of help.

        1. Cheesecake*

          It was rude, but it happened once and it was coming from good place. And i don’t agree that OP is quick to be offended, but i wouldn’t be so concerned about one occasion. Multiple – yes. Coming from direct colleague – straight to the boss

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            Her letter sounds as if this is one example of an ongoing problem. I doubt she would have written in if this were a single incident (and the opening to her letter supports that).

            1. Alter_ego*

              Yeah, I got the impression that this was one example of a series of incidents, given for the sake of clarity.

          2. LizB*

            “it was coming from a good place”

            It might have been coming from a place of genuine kindness, but the guy’s initial comments (“Are you sure you’re supposed to be doing that?”) and refusal to take no for an answer make me think it also came at least partially from a place of “Small Women Shouldn’t Have Jobs Lifting Heavy Things,” which is not such a great place.

          3. JB*

            You don’t know it was coming from a good place because you don’t know why they offered. And their reaction indicates that it wasn’t coming from a good place, it was coming from a point of view that women, or certainly petite women, aren’t capable of doing this kind of job.

            1. Jessa*

              It doesn’t matter why. Intention is not magic. The woman is being paid to do job x. The guy is being paid to do job y. If they wanted the guy to do job x they would have put it in his job description.

          4. aebhel*

            If it was coming from a good place, he would have backed off when it became apparent that his help was not needed, not wanted, and not appreciated.

            That kind of makes me think it was coming from a ‘let me show off for the lady’ kind of place, which is not a good one.

          5. Lunchy*

            But why does she need to allow it to happen even once? That lets them know this behavior is acceptable, and they’ll do it again, saying, ‘But you needed our help last time.’
            What do you do when someone is treating you in an unacceptable way, or doing something that is just plain unacceptable? Put your foot down and let them know it will not be tolerated.

        2. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

          I also didn’t get a sense that the LW was offended at all. She asked for advice in handling a situation that she wants to change. She was actually quite calm and clear about what was happening and what she wants to see happen differently.

      3. Sadsack*

        Do you insist on helping after the UPS person says no and take the packages away from him anyway?

      4. Connie-Lynne*

        You’re so right. People are way too quick to be offended on behalf of a group of men potentially “coming from a nice place,” and far too quickly calling the LW impolite for wanting to have her “no” respected.

        1. Snork Maiden*

          Ha! You said this far more succinctly than I could. If one is taking offense to the reactions from their “compliments”, “offers to help”, or “expressions of romantic interest”, it is not necessarily the other party that is “too sensitive”.

      5. Stephanie*

        To be fair, that’s also the UPS guy’s job. He’s been trained on how to carry the packages properly and has specific procedures in place should he break something, get injured, etc. I’d imagine, too, there might be some liability issues if you did offer to assist and got injured.

        1. Jessa*

          Exactly, but so is it for the OP who has a job to move those boxes. Why is it offering UPS is obviously “liability” and not offering OP?

          1. Stephanie*

            I could have phrased that better. UPS guy has workers comp, company insurance, and all that if he throws his back out moving some 150 lb rug. You do that helping him and have nothing as the company policy wouldn’t cover a non-employee.

            I was thinking in OP’s case, that if the IT guy were to injure himself helping out, it might bring up a headache’s worth of issues in regard to workers comp, especially if OP does something that requires a specific license or training.

    6. Natalie*

      I mean, I think it’s fine for you if this doesn’t bother you. But it *does* bother the OP, and she wrote in asking for advice on how to correct it without damaging her relationships with her co-workers. I guess I don’t understand how saying “maybe you should just not care” is at all helpful.

      1. allisonallisonallisonetc*

        And even if the guy was offering just to be kind (it’s clear he wasn’t) and he makes the same offer to men (doubt it), she can still tell him no! It’s not rude to respectfully turn down an offer of kindness, she doesn’t even need to be bothered by it.

    7. Jo*

      I think you’ve also missed that he opened with condescension, not an offer of help. He asked, “Are you sure you’re supposed to be doing that?”

      If somebody opened with, “Would you like some help with that?” I’d respond in a friendly way. This was not like that.

    8. some1*

      “In the OP’s situation, I would have accepted help because it was coming from obviously kind place.”

      Let’s assume the help was coming from a kind place, fine.

      She didn’t want his help, though, so she doesn’t have to accept it whether he was being kind or not. As a petite feminist, it really rankles me when I am told by other women and men that I have to accept something from a man (help carrying something, a compliment, a drink at the bar, a kiss at the end of a date) if I don’t want to because the man’s a nice guy.

      1. allisonallisonallisonetc*

        YES! I made a similar comment just above in reply to someone else that she doesn’t have to accept the help for any reason if she doesn’t want it. And tying it to dating is spot on. Sometimes I just don’t want something (physical help/compliment/drink/date/kiss/whatever) even if the person is in fact genuinely nice.

        1. some1*

          Yeah, and I included it because I feel like we as women are socialized from a very young age to accept all kinds of things from boys/guys/men because of how nice it is of them to offer — we can acknowledge that the offer is nice or kind and still be allowed to say no.

          1. Not So NewReader*

            I can remember being shocked as a teen. My friend’s mother told her that she should never say no when a guy asked her to dance. It was rude.
            I had never heard of such a thing, so when I told this one guy NO, my friend’s jaw fell to the floor.
            The guy was decent enough to just say “okay” and move on.

            I thought that was pretty confusing. I am not going to tell someone yes, when I mean no. I kind of felt bad for my friend.

            1. fposte*

              We were officially taught that in Social Dancing. However, I think, looking back, that may have been more about not allowing middle-school at a school-sanctioned extracurricular to use the opportunity to crush unpopular classmates.

            2. UK Nerd*

              This is proper etiquette for formal dances. There are exceptions: you may decline if you intend to sit out that dance, or if you have already agreed to dance that dance with someone else. It’s also a rule that a gentleman must ask every lady in his party to dance with him at least once, and must not monopolise a popular lady but allow others the opportunity to dance with her.

              Applying this kind of formal etiquette to teenage discos is insane.

    9. OriginalEmma*

      You don’t go into the UPS truck and start carrying in boxes, do you? You’re performing a courteous side behavior for the driver. That’s not what’s happening here.

    10. INTP*

      When your UPS guy tries to open a door for himself, do you ask “Are you sure you’re supposed to be doing that?” If you see him struggling with a bunch of boxes, do you ask him if you’re sure if he’s supposed to be carrying those boxes?

      When someone rejects your help multiple times, do you ignore them and just start doing it anyways?

  8. Former Diet Coke Addict*

    It would be a nice thing if it was occasional, or out of the ordinary, in which case it may be fair to accept help graciously when freely offered. But this is the kind of thing that sows resentment in the office and sets up incorrect assumptions–“Lucretia is supposed to handle shipping and three times this week I’ve seen Fergus from IT helping her. What is going on? Can she not do the work herself?” And then suddenly there’s a much bigger problem involved.

    Politeness and offers to help are terrific in the regular course of things, but it’s no more appropriate here than it would be for people to constantly offer help with any other part of a job thinking at first glance the person was incapable.

  9. Lily in NYC*

    I’m a shrimp and get this a lot. I’m always lugging stuff around and guys offer to help. I actually think it’s a nice gesture and I simply say “thank you, but I’m stronger than I look” and start rambling about my summer jobs on farms in HS when I’d have to carry huge sacks of potatoes. Then they get bored and wander away.

    1. Aunt Vixen*

      Small residential college of which I am the student president, so when annual photo time comes around I get a chair in the front row with the dons instead of having to stand on the risers with everyone else. Photos accomplished, it starts to rain, and everyone pitches in to get the chairs indoors. Senior emeritus fellow sees me toting a chair and says “You don’t need to do that, love, there’s plenty of strong men about.”

      I say, perfectly cheerfully, “That’s all right – there’s also plenty of strong women!” And bring my chair inside.

      That evening at dinner he happens to be across the table from me, and says to the much younger professor next to him, “You should have heard this one this afternoon! She’s hauling furniture about the place and I said there were plenty of strong chaps who could do it, and she says there are also plenty of strong girls!”

      I say, “I think what I said was there were also plenty of strong women.”

      He never did get it, really, but everyone else who heard the conversation gave me a nod and a good-for-you.

    2. MinB*

      That’s my go-to, too. When someone decides that because I’m a short woman I can’t lift things on my own, I pull out my job history – I worked in a warehouse for a while. Granted, that was 8 years ago and only for a few months, but it seems to tone down some of the protesting that I shouldn’t be lifting that.

      I’m in education administration. Part of my job is to set up classroom spaces, including lugging around AV equipment, tables, and stacks of chairs. I do this at least 6 times a week. I’ve developed a flow to how I set things up and any time someone grabs the end of a table to “help,” that’s thrown off, making the whole thing more awkward, time consuming, and potentially dangerous.

  10. Swarley*

    As a man working in the south, I find a different sort of problem. I’ve actually had women make snide comments to me because I didn’t get up to open the door for them (I’m not a doorman, I just happen to sit next to one of our main office doors).

    I think Alison’s advice is spot on. I do think that there are a lot of cultural norms and expectations that come into play here. Although in my case it may just be assumed entitlement.

    1. Anonymous Educator*

      I don’t want to excuse the men’s behavior, because I think the guy who took the boxes away way crossed a line, but you can still fault people for behavior while also understanding where the behavior comes from. Men do not, in a cultural vacuum, become benevolently sexist. They often are shamed into it or encouraged into it from a young age.

      I’m sure even if you’re not in the South, you’ve probably seen situations in which some older adult (either male or female) shames some strapping young men for sitting around if women are carrying heavy objects around (no equal shaming if the women are washing dishes or cooking, of course). Likewise, I’ve seen many situations growing up in which an adult (either male or female) will need help moving things and ask “Are there any men who can help me move these?” Why not ask for any “strong people” or “helpful people” instead of “men”?

      I definitely believe the IT guy in this scenario is wrong and acting badly. At the same time, his behavior didn’t come out of nowhere.

      1. Elysian*

        Likewise, I’ve seen many situations growing up in which an adult (either male or female) will need help moving things and ask “Are there any men who can help me move these?” Why not ask for any “strong people” or “helpful people” instead of “men”?

        My mother-in-law is so guilty of this. I’ll be standing right there and she’ll ask me to go get my husband to help her. I want to yell, “You should know I lift more than him.” but I just smile and let her go about thinking I’m helpless for the sake of family unity.

        1. NoPantsFridays*

          My own mother does this. She’ll ask for my dad to lift something. My dad, who has shoulder, neck, and back issues and has been advised by his doctor and his physical therapist to limit how much he lifts. She’ll do this even if I’m right there and the object to be lifted weighs maybe 20 lbs. She could pick it up herself but believes she *shouldn’t*!

        2. fposte*

          Yes, I think that happens more often than it should. At least with your MIL there may be family codes involved that it’s too much to undo, but in a workplace, just ask for somebody to help.

      2. Connie-Lynne*

        Oh yeah. Once our boardgaming group started having babies, I would get SUCH stinkeye from two moms for grabbing a beer and playing games at boardgaming day instead of helping watch the children. My husband got no such stinkeye.

        Sorry, ladies, but I and my husband chose not to have kids, and in fact I gave the one I did have to a nice pair of artists. I’m not at boardgame day to help you watch your children, I’m at boardgame day to play boardgames.

        1. Natalie*

          This reminds me of the classic Thanksgiving women in the kitchen/men watching the game. Screw you, I like football better than cooking with 20 people with way too many opinions about stuffing.

          1. Connie-Lynne*

            Heh, I prefer cooking to football and generally chase people out of the kitchen on Thanksgiving. :) I’m happy to sit on my butt not-watching football if they wanna do the dishes though!

            1. VintageLydia USA*

              Yeah cooking is easy. My husband does the cleaning afterward. I usually don’t make a mess in the kitchen for normal dinners but big holiday dinners I have way too much going on to effectively clean as I go, especially in the last hour. I don’t even look in the kitchen after I sit down to eat. That’s someone else’s job because I’ve been working for literally days up to that moment.

        2. esra*

          Oh man, right? I keep getting both men and women trying to dump their kids on me at get togethers. I am single. I am childless. I do not want to hold your baby while you enjoy the party.

        3. Revanche*

          Hah! I’m with you – we’re not obligated to serve as childminders, particularly without consent. I hate it when relatives assume they can just dump their kids on me.
          That also reminds me of a company picnic when I was tired and pregnant. I grabbed a drink and shot the breeze with the husbands while my husband trotted off with the wives and kids to the playground. This is our division of labor: I’m going to bear the kid, he’s gonna do all the other physical crap. I dare anyone to give me a stink eye.

      3. Myrin*

        Ugh, the “strong men” thing. I used to weight lift and am pretty strong when it comes to lifting things regardless. I’m also small but don’t look fragile so I don’t usually encounter that kind of talk (thankfully) but we had a situation a few years ago at uni. Big lecture hall, 150 students, the professor needed four people to carry the four heavy stacks of paper down from his office. But obviously the call was made for “four strong men”. I totally would have gone to help in a heartbeat, but that put me off (I seriously felt bad being a woman helping out when they asked for men). Well, jokes on them because only three guys could be bothered to help so the professor’s female assistant had to help with the last stack.

        1. Schnauz*

          Yeah, similarly at my workplace a few years ago a man needed a jump for his dead battery. Just wandered around the floor “do you know any guys who have jumper cables”? Nope, I sure don’t. I didn’t feel bad at all, when about 45 min later he and another male coworker came around asking for “anyone” had cables and I chimed in then.

          1. aliascelli*

            A while back I had sportsball tickets to spare and asked a female colleague where one of our male coworkers sat so I could offer them to him. He didn’t want them, she did, and I (a woman! who likes sportsball!) felt very sheepish.

            1. Schnauz*

              lol, oh yes, unconscious bias raises its head. I do that too. Well, and it’s not like some stereotypes aren’t backed by some reality.

      4. AnonAnalyst*

        YES. I met my partner when we were coworkers at a previous job, and I had advised him during our working relationship that I was capable of handling this type of thing myself on multiple occasions.

        So imagine my delight when I met his mother after we had been dating for awhile and she announced that she had taught him well that he always had to help women with things such as lifting items and opening doors! She was particularly proud of this.

        I usually struggle with this type of thing. In his case, he usually sees it as being helpful (and to be fair, he would and has offered to help men with lifting/carrying things too), and his mother really thought she was instilling good manners in him. So I hesitate to come down too hard on people who offer, although I will usually refuse and add something like, “nope, I’m capable of doing it myself, but I’ll let you know if something changes!”

        This guy totally crossed the line, though. Badgering people to accept your help is bad form. As is doing it anyway once that person has refused. To be honest, if I were OP I think I would have been livid with this guy once he started moving things anyway after I had clearly indicated that I could do it myself.

      5. Elizabeth West*

        I say, “Can someone please help me?” That lets anyone who wants to (and is capable of it–I don’t want you to get hurt if you have a bad back) step in and it can be anyone.

    2. Nikki T*

      What? They expect you to GET UP and open the door? A hundred times a day while you’re trying to work?

      This is why we can’t have nice things….

      1. NoPantsFridays*

        I know, this is unbelievable. I’m flabbergasted. That’s extreme entitlement.

  11. Erica B*

    I have a co-worker who is Korean who insists he help with certain things involving labor…. and door opening and such. It’s one of those things that is slightly awkward, and I know it’s a cultural thing for him, so over time I have let it go. Often I do decline his offers for help (because it is a part of my job) but the door business was getting ridiculous because he would jog to reach the door before me, if he wants to run for that, so be it. I’m happy to walk. I also don’t ever expect men to always open a door for me either, perfectly happy to open a door. I say thank you to anyone who holds a door open, just like people say it to me when I do it.

    1. Lamb*

      Ah the insistent door-holders! At OldJob I would have to swipe to unlock the door and I still had a few male clients who refused to let me hold the door for them, the door which I had just unlocked and swung open. I was stuck swiping, opening, and then doing a physically awkward handoff as I went through so they wouldn’t be locked out. (Like you I accepted that that was just how they operated; this was not the issue I wanted to spend our time discussing)

      1. Elizabeth West*

        We hold the break room door for each other all the time here at my work, for and by both men and women. The door is heavy and often people are carrying dishes of food back to their desks. They put a foot grab at the bottom, which is nice if no one is around.

      2. Jessa*

        Except that if they have their own card, you’re supposed to lock them out and make them use it, and if they have a visitor’s tag, well you’re stuck. Two people are not supposed to go through on one card.

        1. Stone Satellite*

          That’s just one possible policy. Holding badged doors for coworkers is accepted at my company and we do it all the time, I’m just responsible for verifying that they are in fact wearing their badge when I let them in. Things would take forever if we all had to close and re-open every door and my company is pretty sensitive to not wasting people’s time when trusting the employees is a reasonable tradeoff.

    2. T.*

      I had an intern who was on an exchange from Italy and had similar issues with him running to open doors or take boxes out of my arms. It irked me at first, but I also realized it was likely a cultural thing and tried to let the door opening go (cause hey, it’s a nice thing to do and doesn’t mean I can’t do my job). But like the OP, carrying boxes is also a regular part of my job, so I let him know I was perfectly capable of carrying them myself, and instead I would just point him to the pile and say he could grab his own box if he wanted to help.

    3. Mephyle*

      This was a long time ago, so I guess my older work colleague must have been born in the 1920s at the latest. He, too was one of those obligatory door-holders, even if he had to pretty much push the ‘lady’ out of his way to get to the door first.

    4. Hlyssande*

      My boss does this to and it honestly weirds me out. If I get there first and open the door, he (being very tall) reaches over me and grabs the edge to hold it open while I go through. I know he does it to pretty much every woman ever but the odd intimacy of it bothers me.

  12. Finbar*

    Isn’t it just common courtesy to ask our coworkers (all of them, regardless of what they’ve got going on between their legs) if they need help with something physically taxing?

    Let’s not get so caught up in being politically correct that we lose all sense of courtesy and consideration for our fellow humans.

    No. We mustn’t patronize our colleagues — which we do when we insist that they don’t really know exactly what they’re capable of. But, gosh, I hope we never lose touch with common decency and concern for our colleagues.

    1. Anonymous Educator*

      But the situation described in this letter is not “common decency and concern for our colleagues.” Common decency and concern would be offering once to help, and then leaving it alone.

      1. catsAreCool*

        “Common decency and concern would be offering once to help, and then leaving it alone.” This!

    2. Jo*

      He approached her not with decency or concern, but with a condescending insult disguised under a concerned tone: “Are you sure you’re supposed to be doing that?”

      That is incorrect behavior. Not politically incorrect. Just plain incorrect and rude, regardless of the gender dynamics at play. The addition of the gender dynamic takes the behavior over from rude to sexist.

    3. Alter_ego*

      But if lifting things is your job, then someone else doing that means that they’re doing your job for you. which isn’t desirable both because it says “I don’t think you can do your job” and because if someone else is doing your job for you, your boss is going to start questioning why they’re paying you to do it.

    4. Snork Maiden*

      I agree, we should never lose touch with common decency and concern for colleagues. Which is why, after the first “No, thank you, I have this”, you should drop the issue.

    5. Karowen*

      But the difference was that asking once (by saying “Do you need help?”) is polite. Asking multiple times – or asking even once with that horrid phrasing of “Are you sure you’re supposed to be handling that kind of equipment?” – and then ignoring the response is rude.

    6. Heather*

      “Politically correct” is a derisive description of “respecting the way another person would like to be treated.”

      1. nona*

        It’s also code for “normal, polite behavior that I’ll pretend is new and weird so I can get out of it.”

        1. HR Gorilla*

          You wouldn’t last through dinner at my parents’ house, then: that phrase gets trotted out on the regular. *Highly* annoying.

    7. Gwen*

      …no? There are several people at my work whose job involves moving things. I’ll grab the door for them if I can, and if they were obviously struggling, I would ask if they needed a hand. But no, I don’t ask our mailroom guy if he needs help with packages that he’s carrying with no issue, because that’s his job and he’s perfectly capable of it. Ditto for a (female) assistant carrying a tray or pushing a cart.

      1. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

        Right! And if I were visibly struggling with finishing a lesson plan (which is a key part of my job), my colleagues would certainly reach out to help me. But if they just walked past my desk and saw me writing a lesson plan, they wouldn’t just jump right in and ask if I needed help. Or rather, they would – if they believed that I was going to screw it up. That’s what’s happening here – he’s worried that she’ll screw it (or herself?) up. Yuck.

    8. INTP*

      Not when it’s their jobs, and certainly not when they’ve already declined your help. You don’t just grab a sponge and start helping the janitor scrub toilets whether he/she wants you to or not. You don’t grab boxes away from the UPS guy even when he tells you no, that he needs to carry them. That’s all different from helping your fellow desk job colleague who happens to need to carry some heavy boxes one day. It’s more like if the janitor was walking by as you were struggling with a document and grabbed your mouse away and said “Hey, let me spellcheck this for you.”

      And it’s doubly sensitive because this is a woman doing physical labor. If she’s still in the process of proving herself to her boss or colleagues, you could actually harm her reputation by making her look like she is incapable of (or too lazy for) her own job without assistance. Her male coworkers aren’t going to see those guys and assume she said “no” 3 times and they grabbed the boxes away from her anyways.

    9. Panda Bandit*

      But when you ask multiple times, and they decline every time, and then you grab their stuff and start hauling it anyway, that shows you have a lack of courtesy and consideration for your fellow human right there.

    10. fposte*

      I’m with you in supporting common decency and helpful actions.

      Asking if somebody should be doing their job? Not common decency.
      Ignoring what they want when they’ve made their wishes clear several times? Not helpful.

      I think you’re so locked into an underlying point–maybe that it’s okay for men to help women sometimes?–that you’re missing the fact that what you’re describing isn’t what’s actually happening to the OP.

      1. NoPantsFridays*

        Yeah, in my universe, it’s not considered “common decency” to ask other people if they really should be doing their jobs, and to offer to do said jobs for them.

    11. aebhel*

      Sure, and if he had just asked if she needed help I doubt it would have been an issue. But since that’s not actually what happened here, I’m not sure why you think this is a good opportunity to moan about the evils of political correctness and the demise of courtesy.

  13. Anonymous Educator*

    Then he started picking up the boxes for me and asked if I minded if he helped me anyway. At this point, I wasn’t sure how to decline further without seeming rude, so I let him help.

    This, to me, is the real problem with the situation. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with offering anyone of any gender help carrying boxes. There’s not even anything wrong with asking a second time “Are you sure?”

    When you just take the boxes away regardless, that takes away agency, and it’s just condescending and obnoxious. I offer help to anyone carrying large/heavy stuff, regardless of her/his gender, but I never insist. If the person says “No, I’m good,” that’s it. Just pick up on social cues. Don’t trample over other people with good intentions.

    1. Allison*

      This. Offering help is fine, asking if they’re sure is fine, but even if someone’s intentions really good, they can still cross a line with their actions. If that person wanted you to help, they would have accepted it.

    2. OhNo*

      Exactly. If you’re going to ignore the answer, why ask the question in the first place? Refusing to listen to the OP’s repeated “no, thank you”s is exactly what you said: condescending, obnoxious, and taking away her agency.

    3. Not So NewReader*

      I don’t think I would be worried about being rude at this point. “Yes, I do mind. Please set that box down.”

      My rule of thumb is to match the person talking to me. If you have the brass to do something after I told you not to, then I have the brass to let you know one last time “stop. now.”.

      OP, my suggestion is to match the person you are talking with. Insist people get equally emphatic answers.

  14. Allison*

    Excuse me LW, are you me?

    Well, of course you aren’t, because my current job doesn’t require heavy lifting, but I did do lifting in other jobs. At my movie theater gig, guys would always freak out when they saw me lifting heavy boxes or trying to take out the trash and they’d insist on doing it for me. The thing is, they might have wanted to help, but I actually like the satisfaction that comes from accomplishing “male” coded tasks. It’s kind of empowering, especially because I’m petite as well as female.

    Look, I’m not one to refuse help I actually need. My dad put in my air conditioner for me, and I didn’t feel weird about it because I’m not *that* strong and sometimes I do need someone stronger to help me. If someone offered to help carry something for me, I might accept or politely decline, depending on whether a) I actually want help, and b) whether I actually want this person involved. If a man is holding a door for me, that’s one thing. A man carrying my stuff and walking along with me might be feel weird if I don’t know him, and any time a man helps with something other than a door I wonder what his true intentions are. Is he really just being nice? Does he like to play the hero to small, helpless little damsels in distress? Or is he expecting something in return? And if so, will he be angry when he doesn’t get what he’s really after? I know, I know, not all men are “like that,” but it’s not always a risk I’m willing to take.

    And, going back to the letter above, if a man insisted on doing my job for me after I’ve politely declined his help, I would absolutely be pissed. I feel peeved any time someone implies I’m not equipped to do my job and they should step in to do it instead, whether it involves heavy lifting or more computer-based tasks.

    The point is, if I’d rather do something myself and don’t want help, I’m going to say no, and I’m going to expect that person to respect that decline and back off, not insist on helping or do it anyway. I’m not going to accept help I don’t want just so someone can fulfill his good deed of the day.

    1. ArtsNerd*

      “The thing is, they might have wanted to help, but I actually like the satisfaction that comes from accomplishing ‘male’ coded tasks. It’s kind of empowering, especially because I’m petite as well as female.”
      HEAR, HEAR. (Me too.)

      I’ve had to grab my bags back from someone snatching them off my body in a misguided attempt to help me in the past. Guess what? Well-intended or not, HE was the one who was totally rude. I’m not obligated to graciously accept invasive and condescending gestures from people who assume they know better than I do what my capabilities are.

      However, I’m so used to politely-but-insistently turning down similar assistance I don’t need as part of my old jobs (and in my everyday life) that I accidentally turned down multiple offers of assistance when my car was stuck in ice last winter. By the time the third person stopped, I was finally aware enough to say “Yes, please! Thanks!”

      1. NoPantsFridays*

        The bag thing really gets me. It doesn’t have much to do with the actual weight, in my observation.

        I lift my 16 lb cat (yes, I know, we’re on it lol) and her 40 lb box of litter, and carry them up/down stairs on a regular basis. I think I can handle a 10 lb bag.

        Once I was carrying a pylon across a yard, it weighed maybe 5 lbs, I was actually swinging it around pretty easily. A male employee of a client (not a regular coworker) offered to carry it, and I was like “Nah, it’s not very heavy, I got it.” He asked again, and I repeated the same answer another 2 or 3 times, before he actually pulled the pylon out of my hand and said, “I should carry that.” Uh, ok, bro, you’re really showing off there. You really schooled me by carrying this 5 lb pylon!

        1. fposte*

          And another “it’s cultural, not physical” point–hauling around a heavy toddler never seems to elicit that reaction.

    2. alma*

      The differentiation of male-coded tasks is a good one. Honestly, the most strenuous lifting I used to do was as a waitress — think big trays with sizzly plates and bowls full of hot soup — but noooooobody ever asked me if they could carry my tray. I’d rather change the water jug at work or carry heavy boxes 100 times than have to go back to slinging those trays!

      Or I think of my mom, who was nurse for 30+ years. She and the other nurses were often on their own for lifting heavy patients (there were orderlies who could help with some things, but not all).

      Both waitressing and nursing are still considered “feminine” tasks. So they don’t get you Man Points, even if they are more physically stressful than carrying a box or opening a door.

      1. A.K. Climpson*

        I think this is incredibly important, particularly when people try to reduce this situation to “just someone trying to help someone else.” This is a man trying to help a woman with a male-coded task that we consider some indication of masculinity (see: many conversations about weight-lifting). I think it’s a fair bet that this guy doesn’t insist on helping cleaning or janitorial staff at the company do their jobs; if he does, I’d wonder how he has any time to do his own job with all the assisting. Those jobs can be very physically demanding, but like nursing and waitressing, are coded female.

        Cleaning and service jobs are also particularly coded lower-class female, which is part of a different conversation about what kinds of women get “benevolent” sexism at all.

        1. alma*

          Yes. I’m glad you brought up class. I was thinking about that as I wrote my post but wasn’t sure quite how to put it into words.

  15. LizB*

    To me, the biggest issue here is that the guy insisted on helping anyway after the OP had explicitly declined his help. That’s not cool. If I’m carrying five different things and someone offers to help me, I’ll probably accept; if I’m carrying one thing and someone offers, I’ll probably say “no thanks,” and then I’ll expect them to let me get on with it instead of trying to take it out of my hands. Or a non-carrying example: if I’m working on a big report and I’m swamped, I may accept a coworker’s offer of help or proofreading; but if I say I don’t need help, I don’t want to see their draft of Section X appear in my email an hour later. It’s completely undermining, and says two things: a), your coworker doesn’t trust that you can do this part of your job adequately, and b), they won’t listen to explicit requests from you because they think they know your abilities better than you do. The OP’s situation is even more loaded because of the genders and task involved, but even if you don’t see any potential for sexism, it’s still a problem.

  16. Kate*

    On the flip side what if you do need help carrying something occasionally? I am not very strong and some times I do need help. How bad does that look?

    1. Kelly L.*

      Then you wouldn’t apply for a job where that was the job. There are usually mentions in the job description of “Must be able to lift X pounds,” so you could self-select out of applying for it. And if you had a job where that wasn’t part of the ordinary work, but one day you needed to lift something randomly, then there wouldn’t be anything wrong with asking for help.

    2. Anonymous Educator*

      It doesn’t look bad at all.

      Okay scenarios

      1. I’m carrying something heavy. Someone asks to help me carry it. I say “no.” Other person is okay with that.

      2. I’m carrying something heavy. Someone asks to help me carry it. I say “thanks” and take her up on the offer.

      Not okay scenarios

      1. I’m carrying something heavy. Someone asks to help me carry it. I say “no.” Other person keeps asking me after I keep repeatedly say “no.”

      2. I’m carrying something heavy. Someone asks to help me carry it. I say “no” repeatedly. Other person yanks the heavy object away from me.

    3. LizB*

      I don’t think it looks bad at all, unless lifting heavy things is a central responsibility of your position, like it is for the OP, and you have to ask for help with it every single time. If lifting is something that comes up infrequently (e.g. the one time a coworker gave me a new bookcase for my office), or you need to lift an unusually heavy load (e.g. when the load of departmental mail I had to carry up the stairs happened to include a big box of textbooks in addition to the usual letters), there’s no problem asking for help. The only way it would look bad is if you were consistently unable to do a major part of your job without help.

    4. Mockingjay*

      Offering to help and asking for help are two different things.

      The first should be (unfortunately for the OP, it wasn’t) a simple courtesy among coworkers. You offer to help them with THEIR task, they decline or accept. And you are not obligated to offer.

      The second is when you require assistance to accomplish YOUR assigned task or a regular duty, such as a physical limitation (can’t lift boxes this week due to a pinched nerve), or too large of a task to complete alone on time (we’ve all been there).

    5. Kathryn*

      If its not part of your job, and you’re in a reasonable workplace, asking for help is probably fine, as long as you can take no for an answer (since outside of work responsbilities of carrying things can be closer to the personal errand side of the scale which can weird people out)

      I’m very pregnant currently and my office mates have been helping me carry/move things as needed – because they can do it and I, quite frankly, can’t really right now. (Or technically, really, really shouldn’t.) But my job is solidly in a “knowledge worker” category and no one is asking if I should still be handling sensitive data, running meetings, or making decisions about my team. The core parts of my job are mine and I’m respected and expected to do them.

      If carrying things is part of your core responsibilities and you can’t always do it, you may need anything from some really good ergnomics support, formal accomedations or a new job.

      Coming up to *anyone* and openly doubting their ability to do their job is not “polite” or “nice” or “coming from a good place” – its insulting and rude. (Seriously, think about a part of your job, imagine someone coming up to you and asking “Are you sure you’re supposed to be handling that?” and then doing it for you anyway after you told them that you were very certain you had it under control.)

    6. Gwen*

      The only thing I would say is PLEASE don’t ask if “any guys” can help you carry something. Nothing infuriates me more than being asked if I need a man to help me with something. I quite possibly may need a person who is stronger than me to help, but the assumption that that person must be male drives me bonkers.

    7. INTP*

      It’s fine as long as that’s not part of your job description. No one is going to fault a desk worker for not being able to change the water cooler. (Unless it’s the rare case where the only people strong enough to do it are 1-2 guys in the office and they get pissed and start talking about how sexist it is. But hopefully you don’t work with the idiots I used to.)

    8. Student*

      If this is a regular part of your job, I would strongly encourage you to request the equipment you need to make this possible for you to do. Buy a cart with wheels to carry heavy loads over longer distances. Buy a step-stool or ladder if you need to reach high places regularly. If you need to move heavy stuff vertically (rack-mounting large servers), and it’s heavy enough that this is painful or requires two people, maybe you need a lift or jack of some sort. At every job where I’ve bought a hauling-cart or a step-stool, other people have immediately begun using it to make these tasks easier.

      People who move heavy stuff all the time use tools that are appropriate for the job. We have a lot of teamsters who haul equipment for us at my job. Sure, they carry one-off heavy stuff around occasionally. However, most of the time, they use a cart to help them carry things. They use palate jacks, they use carry straps, they use carts, and they use jacks. Using tools allows them to do their job for longer without as much damage to their body. It lets them keep working at some slightly reduced capacity when they have an injury.

      1. Connie-Lynne*

        Oh my god, rack lifts are so cool.

        So, so much better than trying to climb a ladder to get that 8-HD server into the top slot in the rack.

    9. aebhel*

      I imagine you don’t have a job carrying heavy things, though. If lifting and moving heavy stuff is an integral part of your job, then you should be able to do it without help. That doesn’t mean you have to change the 40lb office water cooler bottle if you can’t lift it.

      This isn’t really about women needing to be super-strong. It’s about men being willing to accept that a woman is (a) capable of doing her own job and (b) capable of determining whether or not she needs help.

  17. Rin*

    I get this all the time. Every week the same guy asks if he can help me with something that is not particularly physically taxing (maybe it looks like it is), and every week I say no. I want to say, “When I need help, I’ll ask for it,” but in my head I’m like, “Have I ever said yes? Leave me alone. This is my job.” He always offers to help with a lot of things, but get the hint. I carry around a 30 pond toddler all day and I used to carry 15 chickens and trays of pop with one arm (separately, of course).

    1. Snork Maiden*

      I read this as “15 chickens and trays of their poop” and was duly impressed with the strength of your stomach.

      1. ArtsNerd*

        Hah, your comment had me go back and re-read for the correct phrasing! I just assumed the chickens were defecating in their trays a lot (which might also have been true.)

          1. Snork Maiden*

            Ha! Having worked in a chicken barn, my friend assures me carrying 15 cooked chickens is vastly preferable over the, uh, live variety.

      2. INTP*

        I read the same and was in awe that she could make 15 live, squirming, pecking chickens stay put under her arm.

  18. Economist*

    I think that the IT guy was trying to chat up the OP. The interaction may have been more about being friendly with the OP than trying to take away the OP’s job tasks.

    1. some1*

      I think that occurred to everyone, but it’s irrelevant. Guys aren’t absolved from being condescending and sexist when they are trying to hit on you.

      1. allisonallisonallisonetc*

        Also, repeatedly ignoring my clear responses to your questions is decidedly UNfriendly no matter what the context is.

      2. Economist*

        I agree, and I agree with the advice to have a firm reply. My point was just that the offer to help may have a different intent than someone who thinks that women can’t lift heavy boxes. So, be firm but don’t be mad at the offers.

        1. OP*

          OP here! I’m kind of confused by your logic: he was hitting on me, not being sexist, therefore I shouldn’t be mad at the multiple insistent offers to help despite being clearly told no? Again, the disconnect between intent and effect is the problem: whether or not my response is justified isn’t determined by what you speculate was going on in his head. It’s determined by what he did. I have no idea if he was hitting on me or not (though I didn’t get that vibe), but even if he was, that doesn’t excuse his behavior.

          1. Economist*

            Hi OP. My point, which clearly I didn’t fully articulate, is that I find it useful to separate out, at least in my mind, sexist behavior from other inappropriate/unwanted/rude behavior. Everyone is right in that a firm response is warranted whatever the intent because it’s the behavior that counts, not the intent, and several commenters have provided excellent suggestions. I just find it useful for my own information to know if a coworker is a jerk to everyone or just to me or just to women. Or, if someone is determined to “help” despite protestations–same firm response but this may be different than someone who is sexist, and useful information to know in working with that coworker. I’ve learned in my 30+ year career to not assume sexism, as sometimes people just act like jerks in an equal opportunity way. Wishing you the best! And, be firm!

            1. allisonallisonallisonetc*

              You do realize that he could be both sexist and hitting on her, right? In fact, I’d argue that a guy ignoring a woman’s “no”s in an attempt to hit on her is pretty clearly sexist.

              1. I'm a Little Teapot*


                (Though Economist made a good point about figuring out whether he’s a jerk to everyone or just to women, or whether he’s sexist or obnoxiously overeager to “help” anyone.)

      1. some1*

        Right? He’s clearly very mature if he’s going the route of “I’m insulting you because I want you.”. Next he’ll be pulling her pigtails and pushing her off the monkey bars.

    2. Jenna*

      That’s an entirely different kettle of fish.

      I have to say though, any man who ignored a “no” from me is not getting any closer to me than work absolutely requires. I’m not inclined to be alone with guys who ignore boundaries. So, with me that tactic would have been completely unproductive, if his goal was to get close to me.

      1. kozinskey*

        Yeah, what gets me about this letter is that “no” doesn’t mean “no” to this coworker. I think offering to help can come from a good place, but I’m not so sure about ignoring OP when she said she didn’t need help. There’s definitely some level of ignoring boundaries going on.

    3. DarcyPennell*

      You may be right, but implying that someone can’t do their job & insisting on doing it for them seems like an ineffective way to hit in them.

    4. Student*

      The other-other subtext is that the OP’s repeated rejection of IT guy’s help is also a repeated rebuff of this tactic to chat her up. As in, their attempt to chat her up is currently unwelcome.

      Really, guys are not delicate flowers. We shouldn’t have to tiptoe around a rejection of an offer to help as if it might send these IT guys into a suicidal depression.

      1. Loose Seal*

        And if it does send someone into a depression, that is still not the fault of the person saying no.

        If I had understood that when I was 20, I wouldn’t have continued dating a guy seven months after I tried to break up with him.

  19. OriginalEmma*

    It’s also about perception. If others see her being helped performing a core part of her job, for a core activity that culturally is seen as inappropriate for women, then that could be troublesome for her. All it takes is a coworker or passerby to mention to another coworker, or even a manager, that Jane Doe had the IT guys carrying her boxes and she might be brought in for a conversation about her fitness to do her job.

    She would be in the awkward position of defending herself against a situation that wasn’t her doing.

  20. Mike C.*

    Just a reminder to everyone – make sure when lifting you use your knees rather than your back, don’t make any jerking motions and if you need more than one person to help you obtain that help first. Male or female, incorrect lifting techniques are a great way to cause serious and painful injuries.

  21. the_scientist*

    Ugh, this is getting me right in the feels today. I do a volunteer gig (leaving out the details for purposes of anonymity) where I’m basically a volunteer pre-hospital care provider in a very specific context. This is hard physical labour that does involve extractions, angled rescues, lifting patients etc. I am young-ish (late 20s, certainly well below the age of my fellow volunteers), female (this is an overwhelming male organization- to the point where they don’t carry female-sized uniforms), and petite. I am also new to this organization, although I was an EMT for about 7 years previously, so I’m not really a “rookie” by any stretch. Since joining this organization earlier this year I have been the recipient of condescending, “well-meaning” “help” from the many middle-aged men I volunteer with who think I’m incapable of physically doing the work required and not qualified enough to handle situations on my own and use my clinical judgement to determine what assistance I need. The organization itself is so male-dominated that, like I said above, they don’t make uniforms to fit women….and don’t seem particularly concerned about it. It’s unbelievably infuriating to be constantly undermined in this manner, and this is just a volunteer thing! It’s made me realize how unbelievably lucky I am to work in an organization that supports and encourages women in STEM. I can’t even imagine if this was my whole working life.

    Because I’m new to the organization and it stresses positive relations with members of the public/ patients, it’s tricky to say “thanks, I’ve got this” in front of a member of the public. But I guess I’m going to have to start doing it (I also love “if I need your help, I’ll ask”), because just this weekend, someone literally pushed me out of the way to take over my scene (that was 100% under control and didn’t require a takeover).

    So no real suggestions, but I feel you, OP. Oh boy, do I ever.

    1. kozinskey*

      I hope you took the person who pushed you out of your scene aside later. I get that it’s important to put on a good face for the public, but that was definitely inappropriate.

      1. the_scientist*

        I unfortunately didn’t get the chance to talk to him privately- it was 110% inappropriate. The guy has a reputation for being a know-it-all/ superhero- wannabe, so I’m sure he’d brush of my legitimate concern as “just being helpful, gosh, why are you being so emotional about this”. I’m sure it also doesn’t help that his daughter is around my age, so I’m sure he sees his behaviour as (barf) “fatherly concern” or whatever.

        And as to Persephone’s comment, they all know my background but don’t respect it or believe me despite the fact that my skills meet and typically exceed the organization’s requirements, and I’ve never had a situation where I didn’t know what to do/ reacted in a way that would indicate I was unsure of myself.

  22. Joey*

    So does this mean it’s better for guys not to help or offer to help women at work with “manly” things like heavy lifting, using tools, etc. unless they’d also ask a man in the same scenario?

    Or is it okay to ask as long as youre not insisting?

    Because I struggle sometimes with whether or not to ask or help. For ex, when I see women in the breakroom using the faucet when the water cooler is empty and I’m not going to drink water will they be offended if I change out the water jug eventhough its clear I’m doing it for them?

    1. IT Kat*

      Asking once is fine – if they say they got it, nod and drop it.

      I think that’s the big thing here – pushing after a refusal. It’s the failure to take that “no” as a NO that is the issue.

      Also, a good limitus test – using your example of changing the water jug – would you do the same thing if it was a guy at the faucet? If the answer is no, then maybe you want to rethink your motivations.

      (Disclaimer: There are cultural differences that may be in play here, like certain countries or even certain sections of the USA, like the South. But I say this as a woman who changes the water jug in the cooler myself, so…)

      1. Jessa*

        Yeh it has nothing to do with offering to help. It’s all about the NO and how the guy didn’t hear it (and it wouldn’t have mattered if it was a guy or a woman either,) the fact is any time someone won’t take no for an answer, there’s something wrong going on. Offering is okay – although if you keep offering and they keep saying no on different occasions, maybe saying “hey I know you’ve got this, but if you need help in the future just ask,” and stopping asking, might be a good idea. And anything that presumes a person cannot do their job (unless you’re their boss and you see they cannot actually DO their job) is straight out of line.

    2. H*

      Ask once, and back off if they say no. Easy peasy.

      And back off graciously. Don’t say snarky things, don’t say “welll if you insist” and don’t make bizarre comments about “women’s lib.” Just say “ok.”

    3. JMegan*

      I think it’s always reasonable to offer. “Would you like some help with that?” is polite in most situations, especially if the person appears to be struggling. But the key is to ask once, and to accept “no thanks, I’ve got it” as an answer. So it’s really incumbent on everyone to be polite, and things should work out just fine.

    4. Anonymous Educator*

      So does this mean it’s better for guys not to help or offer to help women at work with “manly” things like heavy lifting, using tools, etc. unless they’d also ask a man in the same scenario?

      Yes. If you wouldn’t ask a man in the same scenario, don’t ask a woman.

      Or, if you need to differentiate, differentiate by criteria that makes sense. A scrawny, short dude is more likely to need help carrying things than a body-builder woman.

      1. Natalie*

        Also, ask if someone is actually struggling, rather than assuming they will struggle because they are female.

      2. OhNo*

        My criteria is always this: watch for a second. Do they appear to be struggling in any way? Is there any swearing, muttering, fumbling, or evidence of frustration with the task? If so, offer to help. If not, don’t.

        Or, if some part of you simply can’t stand to let it go, make a simple statement, like “Let me know if you’d like a hand” or something similar. Using a statement instead of a question means that you’re not pushing your help on the other person, and you’re not demanding a response of any kind, you’re just making yourself passively available if they choose to seek assistance.

      3. Joey*

        isnt that the problem though? Going off people that don’t look like they have the strength to lift.

        1. VintageLydia USA*

          No, you watch for if someone is STRUGGLING. It’s hard for a lot of people to see women’s strength because even dedicated weight lifters can look kinda soft unless they’re flexing (or on steroids.) So even if a woman is small (as I was when it was my job to lift 40-60 lbs bags often and repeatedly) it doesn’t mean they’re not capable. If she’s losing her balance or about to drop something or if she can’t reach and doesn’t have a stool nearby, THEN you ask if she needs help. And if you think about it, you’re likely not going to offer your help to a man unless you see these signs. Gender flipping the situation isn’t always a helpful exercise but I think it’s useful in this situation.

          Although none of this is relevant to the OP’s situation where this is a core duty of her job, unlike replacing a water jug which is rarely an assigned task. If she’s seen letting someone else do a core duty of her job, willingly or not, it can really hurt her image and reputation.

          1. Oryx*

            “It’s hard for a lot of people to see women’s strength because even dedicated weight lifters can look kinda soft unless they’re flexing (or on steroids.)”

            This. I know lots of women who are BEASTS in terms of strength, but you’d never know it simply by looking at them. Especially if they are in, say, business clothes.

        2. Elizabeth West*

          What VintageLydia said. People sometimes assume I can lift stuff because I’m a tall woman and not scrawny. But my shoulder is completely blown thanks to the combination of a skating injury and repeated heavy lifting at Exjob, so I often need help.

          You will know, because I will either ask you for help or obviously be dropping the damn thing. If I can lift it, however, I will do it on my own and you won’t see me struggling.

    5. Natalie*

      Definitely don’t ask multiple times, or insist on doing something after someone has declined. Don’t offer to help people with lifting or physical labor if it’s a core part of your job.

      In the case of the water jug, I think you probably could have just swapped it out without saying anything about it. She might not have been able to lift it, or she might have been in a hurry, not known where the extra jugs are, or prefers tap water for some reason. As long as you don’t say “there you go, little lady!” I doubt she’d even notice.

      1. Zahra*

        Or she could even be lazy and be the type that doesn’t start another pot of coffee when she empties it. Me? Unless I need water, I’d have let her deal with her non-action. If she isn’t capable of changing the water bottle, she can ask.

      2. KerryOwl*

        As long as you don’t say “there you go, little lady!” I doubt she’d even notice.

        Ha, in my head it was “no need to thank me, ladies.”

      3. Natalie*

        “Don’t offer to help people with lifting or physical labor if it’s a core part of your job.”

        Bleh, that should be “if it’s a core part of THEIR job”. Sort of important.

    6. ArtsNerd*

      In general, definitely hold off offering assistance with tool usage(!) and lifting things unless you’re reading trepidation or difficulty in their words, body language, etc. Or, as you mentioned, you’d offer the same assistance to a guy in the same situation (“Hey, I actually do woodworking as a side job; are you interested in learning some new techniques with that saw?”)

      Then, you can ask if they want help. Read their body language, and back off if they say no.

      In regards to switching out the water jug: if you’re happy to do it, then go ahead and do it. Don’t make a big show of doing it for the ladies. Just because it’s a communal thing that helps everyone, like replacing paper in the copier or the toilet paper when it runs out.

    7. plain_jane*

      I don’t see why gender comes into play for the water cooler. If it is empty, change it out. Even if there isn’t anyone in the breakroom.

      Think of it as good karma for the day.

      1. olives*

        Yeah, I had trouble getting my head around this one. It strikes me as an almost passive aggressive thing – not that it’s particularly aggressive, but just that the idea of changing a water cooler jug just because you see somebody getting water a different way gives me images in my head of a dude doing this and then turning and smiling with his triumphant gaze, intimating “FOR YOU!” with his eyes.

        And if it were me I’d as a result be totally mystified why this dude was staring at me.

        Basically, it would not be “obvious” that you were “doing it for her”. This is just…not how actions work.

        1. Snork Maiden*

          Frankly I would be very creeped out! This guy is getting way too intense over…a water jug.

    8. LizB*

      I’ll deviate a little bit from the other commenters and say that it’s okay to ask once if you have a reason to offer your help other than the fact that the person is a woman doing a “manly” task. Are they huffing and puffing under their heavy load? Do they have fifteen huge boxes to transport? Are they staring at a wrench in utter confusion, visibly scratching their head? Then go ahead. But if the person seems to be doing just fine at their task, you don’t have to ask. A personal litmus test of “If I saw a man doing this task in this way, would I be offering to help them?” might be a good one.

      I’ll also add that you should offer help in the same way you’d offer help to a guy — “Can I help you with that?” — and not make weird comments about “Whoa, that’s a heavy load, little lady!” or “Are you sure you know how to use that power drill?” This is probably a no-brainer, but you’d be amazed at the condescending comments women get from guys who were “just trying to be polite.” If you’re trying to be polite, ask your question in a polite way!

      As for replacing the water cooler jug, I think you’re overthinking that one. If the jug is empty, anyone who notices and is capable should replace it (unless you have some set rota at your workplace). You wouldn’t be replacing it because poor weak women can’t lift heavy things, you would be replacing it because the water has run out, and a woman happened to bring it to your attention. That’s not a problem unless you make some weird remark about “Big strong man here with your water delivery!”

    9. CMart*

      I know you asked with good intentions, but “using tools” = “manly” things just raised my hackles something fierce. I get that it’s stereotypically “manly”, but anyone with half a brain should realize that “using tools” is just a thing that competent people do.

      If you see someone struggling with something, male or female, it’s polite to offer assistance. If you see an opportunity to help in a small way (like grabbing a door), then feel free. Do that for anyone.

      Asking *anyone* if they need help is just fine. Ignoring them when they decline is not fine. Only asking women if they need help is problematic at best. It perpetuates the cycle of “women need help doing things” and “men aren’t allowed to ask for help”. Ask men and women alike, if you truly feel like helping.

      Re: the water cooler–you’re probably going to want to use it eventually, yeah? If it needs changing, someone should change it (probably the person who emptied it, but Lord knows the eternal struggle in THAT department). If you saw a male coworker drinking from the faucet, would you also change it for him? Or would you just assume he’s being lazy?

      I don’t ask to be accusatory, these are just things to reflect upon.

      1. Joey*

        The water jug thing is particularly interesting to me because a handful of women have asked occasionally if I wouldnt mind switching it out I’m assuming because it’s a bit heavy and awkward. Of course I don’t keep track of who has previously asked for help, but I’m always a bit concerned whether offering(or not) will come off sexist or rude.

        1. aebhel*

          I don’t really think so. I’m a woman, and I’m one of about three people at my workplace who will change the water jug, because most of the people working here are older and have trouble with lifting it by themselves. If the water jug is empty and you’re physically capable, you change it.

          1. blackcat*

            Yep. I was the smallest employee in my last workplace, and also the youngest. I also thought the water jug was silly, since it’s not filtered that much more than tap. I’d just fill up my own bottle at the tap.

            I had no problem lifting the 7.5 gallon jugs, however, so I regularly replaced it. It was a small thing I could do to make other people’s lives easier. 7.5 gallons actually weights quite a lot (why we didn’t get 5 gallon ones, I have no idea), and I’m sure it just wasn’t possible for many folks. Our admin assist generally kept that area clean and stocked, but she was 70 at the time and in no shape to lift the jugs.

            My boss once witnessed me doing this (apparently, the aa had asked him to deal with it since her office adjoined his). He didn’t offer to help–my back was to the door so I didn’t see him come in, and if he had offered help, he might have surprised me and thrown me off balance. Instead, he waited until I was done and then commented “That thing has to weigh at least half as much as you.” I thought for a second and said “Yes. It’s about 60% of my body weight.” He responded “Short people should never be underestimated.” and walked away. He is only about 5’5″. I think my scrappiness was a trait he appreciated.

        2. Lamb*

          In the specific situation that you originally describe (enter the break room to find an empty water jug and a coworker getting water from the sink), if you wanted to help but were worried the coworker might take offense, couldn’t you just drink some water after changing the jug so that it’s *not* clearly something you’re doing on that coworker’s behalf? This solution only really works for a water cooler (without an assigned jug-changing rota) because the jug does have to be changed and it is not anyone’s job(OP’s coworker couldn’t just come unload her boxes and make it ok by grabbing something out of one of them)

        3. Not So NewReader*

          Speaking as someone who changed a lot of water bottles, I started thinking why am I the only person here who can do this????
          I see nothing wrong with saying, “I haven’t changed that in a while, I feel I should take my turn at it.” Or something similar, but only if everyone is supposed to be taking turns.
          And don’t ask mid-flip. When I turned that bottle over I was going to complete the task. I was not going to pass the bottle to someone else in the middle of the lift.

    10. Allison*

      Offering help is fine. OFFERING help is fine. Insisting on helping when someone says “no” is the problem here.

      If you think someone needs help with the water cooler, there is literally nothing wrong with offering help with the water cooler. Now, if you saw someone trying to change the water cooler, stepped in, physically took the jug away from them and said “here, let me do that, it’s much too heavy for you,” that’s not okay.

    11. nona*

      “So does this mean it’s better for guys not to help or offer to help women at work with “manly” things like heavy lifting, using tools, etc. unless they’d also ask a man in the same scenario?”

      This doesn’t mean anything outside of the specific situation that LW is in.

      Just be polite like you would for anybody else.

    12. Anastasia Beaverhausen*

      I think there’s nothing wrong with offering help (to a woman or a man), it’s the insisting after having your offer turned down that’s the problem in this letter.

    13. eee*

      I work in an all-women office, and it’s wonderful, and chock-full of examples of how to not be sexist. Basically, assume everyone’s equipped to handle whatever they’re currently doing, unless they make clear signs otherwise.

      When a co-worker is changing a water jug, do they appear to be struggling, or are looking around trying to make eye contact with someone? Sure, offer once “hey, do you want any help?” Otherwise, don’t offer.

      When a co-worker is setting up a new bookshelf, assume she can do it herself. Only offer to help if she appears to be visibly struggling, or seems to be really frustrated. Also, only offer to help if you have reason to believe you’d really be better at it than her; don’t just assume she’s clueless and any knowledge you have is superior.

      And, a more relevant example, since none of our jobs include putting together bookshelves or changing the water jug. A co-worker is having trouble with a piece of software that I’ve used before. She seems really frustrated, and is loudly complaining that she can’t get it to work. Offer one time to help, and a follow up “okay, well if you ever want help from me I’ll be happy to help how I can!” Don’t, for any reason, just assume that she’s going to have trouble with the software. Unless you have actual reasons (i.e. being told by your shared boss) to believe she’s worrying about a task that doesn’t belong to her, do not suggest it. Do not, for any reason, assume that she needs help unless she is clearly showing that she’s having a lot of problems.

      tldr; assume everyone is getting along just fine unless they clearly demonstrate otherwise, and even then, ask whether they want your help before automatically offering. Obvious disclaimers like “if you think someone’s bookshelf is about to fall on them and injure them, you can stop it from falling on them without asking” apply.

      the problem with the faucet example is that it seems like you’re assuming that the reason she hasn’t changed the jug is because she isn’t physically able. maybe she hasn’t changed the jugs because she always drinks tap water, or maybe she’s just lazy and doesn’t want to bother to change the jug! If a guy were filling up his cup by tapwater, would you automatically assume “poor Tim probably isn’t strong enough to change the water jug, and he’s too proud to ask for help”? By all means, change the jug, because it’s a nice thing to do, but your leap from “woman using faucet” to “she must need someone stronger to change it” is the problem.

      1. Jessa*

        Yeh maybe she doesn’t like the cold of the water that comes out of the bottle (I know when my teeth are bothering me I don’t want iced anything, and the bottle at my last office came out REALLY cold.)

    14. aebhel*

      If it’s part of her job and she isn’t visibly struggling with it, yeah, don’t.

      Offering to change out the water jug isn’t really the same thing.

    15. INTP*

      I would say yes, it is better not to offer help that you wouldn’t offer a man in the same scenario. I can’t really think of a reason why the genders would be differentiated here. If you see someone visibly struggling with an item that you have reason to believe you can carry more easily, it’s fine to offer help, whether they are male or female. Or if someone is clearly avoiding a task like changing the water cooler, I think it’s fine to do it, whether they’re male or female. (You don’t need to offer to change the water cooler if they aren’t doing it since presumably that is okay for anyone to do at anytime, and you’re also doing it for the people who will come to get water later.) But don’t offer a woman help just because she happens to be carrying something – only if she’s struggling so much that you would offer a man help if he were struggling similarly.

      1. Jessa*

        Well on the avoiding the task, I’d really like to know they can’t do it. There are people who avoid tasks because they’re lazy. Is the person taking on other tasks? There are people that avoid ALL those tasks because they’re just lazy and they try to be somewhere else when the copier is out of paper or toner, or the loo is out of paper towels, or whatever. And I mean even in large companies when the response to “we are out of thing,” is to call facilities or the person in charge of thing.

        Unless there’s a reason (accommodation, etc.) there are certain occasional tasks in an office that should be done by the person that uses the last whatever.

        And in the case of accommodation I’d think that the response would still be “ask designated helper person to do this thing, or notify boss thing needs to be done,” not ignore thing and let the next person who needs it do it, no matter how inconvenient it is for them to have to do it at the last minute.

    16. Windchime*

      “Manly things” like using tools? Really? This is a perfect example of the kind of sexist thought that women are up against every day.

      I didn’t realize that using tools was a man thing. Guess I’d better get rid of my cordless drill and jigsaw.

      1. Zillah*

        I took Joey’s use of the word “manly” as just identifying the gendered stereotypes involved in the dynamic, not saying that he thought using tools was inherently super manly.

    17. Elizabeth West*

      I typically use the tap, not the cooler, so I probably wouldn’t notice if the bottle were empty anyway.

      If you notice the water bottle is empty and you change it because it’s empty, not because a woman might need to use it, that’ s not sexist. It’s polite.

      Basically, I go by this—I assume the adult person can handle it themselves, unless they’re obviously struggling. Then I offer. If I ask and the person says “No thank you,” I drop it.

    18. Mephyle*

      In the case of the water jug, I (woman) don’t see anything offensive about just changing it yourself. It isn’t even evident that you’re not going to drink water, so I’m not sure why that would be a concern.
      The offensive thing would be to insist on grabbing it from a woman who is already in the process of carrying it herself – very different, and not a very safe thing to do.

  23. IT Kat*

    I work in IT and get this a lot because female. There was one point when I was up on a ladder, working on some wiring and the CEO came by and asked if I was okay and told me 3 times to be careful.

    For comparison, I was on the 3rd step of an 10′ ladder. I was maybe 2′ off the ground. And he’s walked by my male coworker doing this before and never gave him a second glance.

    What to do about it is the hard part – and I have used Allison’s advice before, and trust me, it works. “No thanks, I got it” said in a neutral matter-of-fact voice, no smile, works wonders.

    What also works wonders is picking up a 100-lb server casually and wandering off with it after refusing an offer of help. I will forever treasure the look on that guy’s face as he attempted to pick up the second one anyway… and failed.

    1. Connie-Lynne*

      I learned a great way to balance ladders on my shoulder and now I can carry super-huge ladders around one-handed NO PROBLEM. Like grabbing the server, it always impresses the heck out of people and generally gets all but the most dedicated to stop offering to help carry things.

    2. blackcat*

      In my science teaching days, one of my trying-to-be-manly, 17 year old boy students did something similar. After school, I was moving boxes that were clearly quite heavy by lifting them and putting them onto a cart. As I recall, there were 3 boxes. I lifted one, and this kid REALLY INSISTED that he lift the next one for me. He was able to lift it with great effort. After dropping it a bit too hard on the cart, he asked “What is in there?! Lead bricks?!”

      Me: “Yes. That’s exactly what’s in these boxes. Lead blocks. I told you it was heavy.”

        1. blackcat*

          All of my funny stories come from teaching. Teenagers not thinking things through provide endless comedic material.

  24. Annony*

    I can totally relate. I’m the only woman on my team. Our job involves photo and video shoots, so we are always carrying equipment around. No matter how reasonable the load I’m carrying is, my boss always asks me if I need help—sometimes going as far as taking what I’m carrying from me anyway if I say no. It’s embarrassing.

  25. OhNo*

    I’m afraid I don’t have any good advice for getting people to stop assuming you can’t lift things or on politely declining their help, OP, but I do have a lot of advice for distraction techniques. I’m disabled, so I often have to use some of these tricks to keep people from trying to push my wheelchair or “assist” me in some way.

    If you see them going to pick up a box, or if they seem headed in that direction, redirect them to another task: Hold the door, call the elevator, stop the dolly from rolling away, hold this box/bag/my purse for just a second so it’s out of the way… just pick some small task that gets them out of your way, even if you don’t really need it done.

    Have an excuse ready for why they can’t/shouldn’t touch the box: Only position X people are authorized to move the copy paper according to the union, that’s extremely fragile and expensive and if they touch it they would be liable for damages if it breaks, that’s actually filled with radioactive poison and you don’t have the proper protective equipment.

    Distract them with conversation: Ask them to do or get or explain something related to their job and do yours while they’re busy talking, tell them that you actually like doing task X because it’s a good workout/calming/helps assuage your anger at all the sexist people you work with, or (my favorite) just ask why. “Why are you offering to help, Bob, do you think I can’t do it on my own?” Even when said in a friendly tone, this line is usually enough to have most men backpedaling in a hurry.

    1. Jenna*

      I hear about people “assisting” by moving someone’s wheelchair without permission, and I just….
      People really don’t stop and THINK, do they, sometimes?
      To me, that would be about as intrusive as someone behind me grabbing my arms and repositioning where I am standing. It isn’t that I don’t know that there are people who do that(it happened to meonce, but, I was a kid, and female, and I was too startled to say anything to the adult about it), but, still. Intrusive. It requires an obliviousness to other people’s boundaries that I just find mystifying.

      1. OhNo*

        That’s exactly how I describe it to people when they ask why it makes me upset. Imagine that a complete stranger suddenly walked up behind you, picked you up and threw you over their shoulder, and hauled you off to wherever they think you want to go, without asking you or even speaking to you first. That is what you are doing to people in wheelchairs if you push them without their permission. It’s invasive, it’s obnoxious, and it’s absolutely terrifying for the person in the chair.

        1. Jessa*

          OMG yes. This. It’s scarey as hell. And gods help if they do not know what they’re doing. My equipment is very expensive. Seriously you break my stuff I’m gonna call a cop. I will have you arrested for assault. People need to cut that garbage out. It’s really scarey when some guy does it, you have no idea if he’s a nice guy being an idiot or someone really dangerous taking advantage of the fact you’re in a chair. And they act all condescending if you loudly call them on “do not TOUCH me or my chair.” How they’re “only trying to help,” and “don’t be so sensitive.”

          It goes along with talking over my head to the person with me. Um, no, I’m down here in the chair dammit. Luckily my friends are all “excuse me I’m not buying this thing, she is.” I do not understand people like that.

          My blind friend gets that garbage all the time, people trying to drag her places. Thanks so much for messing up her mental map of where she physically is in relation to where she’s going.

      2. I'm a Little Teapot*

        I once had someone grab my arms and reposition me – a customer, when I was working retail and we were the only people in the store. It scared the hell out of me. Thanks for the vivid and useful analogy.

      3. Anony Mouse*

        Something similar also happened to me as a kid. I was standing by a shelf (so it’s not like I was blocking the aisle) and someone picked me up and set me aside like I was a box in his way, then just walked away, all without a word or a backward glance. Because my being small and a child meant it was OK to manhandle me and I didn’t deserve the courtesy of an “excuse me”? He didn’t even get anything from the shelf I was standing by, so I don’t understand why he felt it was necessary. Being grabbed and picked up from behind with no warning is scary and something I’m still afraid of today (especially given I’m small even now).

    2. alma*

      The “help” offered to people with disabilities came to my mind as well. My aunt is extremely unsteady on her feet and uses a walker. She HATES it when people take her arm to try to help her, because they consciously or subconsciously “pull” her in the direction they think she wants to go. She can’t move her feet that fast, and it disastrously unbalances her.

      As an able-bodied relative I have certainly had the impulse to take her arm when she seems to be struggling, but she’s made it clear that it’s counterproductive. So I keep my hands to myself.

      It’s not hard. And it’s not political correctness. It’s being a person with enough of a tiny modicum of humility that I understand my urges, no matter how well intended, do not trump what the recipient has TOLD me in plain words she needs.

      1. Judy*

        That’s why you always offer your arm to someone who is having trouble walking, not take their arm. That way they are using you to steady themselves rather than you trying to steady them.

      2. INTP*

        That’s interesting regarding the walker. My grandma also has poor balance, and we are frankly disinclined to trust her on whether she needs help or not (because she has a history of insisting she can do things and falling – she got a severe head injury trying to take the garbage out – not because of the disability alone). I will keep that in mind and remember that whatever help I feel I need to provide, not to grab her arm, and not to subconsciously lead her when she willingly takes my arm.

      3. OhNo*

        Seriously, the arm thing is so weird. Especially for people who can’t walk or have trouble walking – we often depend on our arms to help hold us upright and move around. I’ve had people (almost always strangers) try to “help” lift me when I am transferring out of my wheelchair, and they always try to grab my arms and pull. Then I have to say, very firmly: “Let. Me. Go. I am using my arms right now, stop grabbing me. You’re going to make me fall.”

        And seriously, if people are going to offer their arm to help someone – go at that person’s pace! If you rush them or pull on them, you get exactly the result you described. Someone’s going to get unbalanced and possibly fall and get hurt.

      4. Finny*

        Reminds me of going through airport security with my white cane, which they are not allowed to take from me, though they wand me and it after, and having someone grab the end of my cane and start towing me along with it, without asking. That is not how you guide a blind person!

    3. Serin*

      I got to watch an interesting interaction in the dentist’s waiting room this week: a man came through with a white cane in one hand and the other hand holding a younger man’s arm. When they met the nurse at the door, the younger man spoke up (from a few steps further away than would be typical) and said, “Offer him your left arm, and I’ll hold the door.”

      I wondered how often he’d done that, to have his instructions so concisely worked out.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        Sighted guide. Keep your elbow bent. People will hold just above your elbow. Keep your elbow out from your side a little, because no one wants to brush you inappropriately.
        When I came to a narrow area, I would put my elbow behind my back (as best I could) and say “this is narrow here”.

        Fortunately, the people I have done this with are more graceful than me and they have been very forgiving.
        You don’t have to do it very long to catch on. And a lot of times, the person you are assisting can answer your questions on how best to handle things that come up.

        1. beckythetechie*

          Question: If I’m assisting someone without a sighted guide or an assistance animal, is it appropriate to offer explanations of space and directions? The primary situation that brought this up was a blind customer joining me at a counter. I think I said something to the effect of “We’ll have to take care of that at the computer terminal that’s in front of you and about four feet to your right.” It seemed like a good way to get the customer oriented without offering an arm or letting him try to triangulate by my voice and with his cane/groping around, but it could be taken as condescending or rude too I would imagine.

  26. Karen*

    An initial offer of help, from a coworker of either gender, is always kind, even when not needed. I think we should make that clear. I certainly don’t assume ‘pushiness’ or any other sinister intention when someone wants to help me.

    But when that person keeps pressing after being told ‘no,’ it becomes frustrating. As usual, Alison’s advice is spot on.

    1. Hlyssande*

      If someone’s offering for help in a sincere fashion, they probably shouldn’t start off with a condescending ‘Are you sure you should be doing that?’ question.

  27. Elysian*

    I used to work for a theater, and would have to set up speakers and other heavy equipment, or unload trucks wit someone else’s equipment. One time we seriously got a contract from a performer that said they required “4 strong men” to help unload the truck, and we got some crap from them when we told them that our female employees are equally capable of unloading the truck and we weren’t going to schedule based on their gender preferences. On another occasion, I was setting up a speaker system and rather old performer came over and tried to take a speaker from me, which was already over my head, and I almost dropped it on him because he shifted the weight trying to take it from me. Luckily I didn’t drop it and it was all well, but I had to take a breather after that because I wanted to rip that guy a new one. Let me do my job. It’s my job.

    I never did come up with a good response for this kind of crap, because most of the time it happened in the moment – like when I was already holding the speaker and they refused to take my polite “no” for the answer. Mostly I just raised my voice and tried to be more adamant that they were making it worse and not helping, but that didn’t usually do anything.

    1. Aunt Vixen*

      I once saw someone try to help a woman who was carrying a double bass in a hard-sided rolling case up a flight of stairs by starting to lift the bottom end of it (to take half the weight, right, so they could carry it together). I have seldom heard anything like the panic in her voice when she said “Oh my god, please don’t” and then a calmer “thank you, but it’s fine, I’ve got it.” Luckily the “helper” didn’t insist. Hopefully he learned that a person whose job it is to play a fifty thousand-dollar instrument knows how to transport it safely (for it and herself, of course)–and a random extra individual does not. Holy mackerel.

      1. Elizabeth West*

        Oh crap, I can only imagine what would have happened if he dropped it! 0_0

        Someone in Paddington Station helped me like this with a small roller bag, but I suspect it was because he wanted me out of his way and my wheels were going BANG! BANG! BANG! up each step. I guess I was struggling a bit, now that I think about it. But the station was so crowded that I had no chance to adjust and grab it by the handle until I made it to the landing. I was grateful and thanked him–I felt bad because that must have been annoying.

    2. beckythetechie*

      I learned to clench my teeth. There’s a major difference between a regular old “Don’t do that,” and a teeth clenched, tense “Don’t do that.” The second one even long-time “professionals” will pause at when they hear.

  28. OP*

    Hi everyone! OP here. Thanks for the advice – I’ve got an arsenal of phrases that will hopefully work better the next time.

    To clarify for some of the people asking questions: I was in a high-traffic hallway where I am often seen doing this kind of work by many people at my workplace. I often get offers of help (opening doors when I’m pushing a cart, etc.) from security guards and many other coworkers. I know my limits and when the help would be useful, I accept it happily.

    That is not the sort of instance I’m talking about here. This man opened with a condescending remark doubting my capabilities, and he *insisted* on helping even after I had told him no multiple times. Additionally, by offering to help, because the storage room has only one door, he was blocking my way and prevented me from unloading the rest of the boxes as quickly. His “help” came off as rude and demeaning.

    I realize that he (like everyone who offers help) probably thought he was being kind and polite, but – to respond to the commenters who say I’m overreacting – as with many forms of discrimination, one of the main problems comes from the disconnect between what the person consciously intended and how it was received. Using the intent as the litmus test for how the situation should be perceived is dismissive of the effect, and while it might be true that people have only good (conscious) intentions, pointing that out isn’t helpful to solving the problem.

    1. JMegan*

      Using the intent as the litmus test for how the situation should be perceived is dismissive of the effect, and while it might be true that people have only good (conscious) intentions, pointing that out isn’t helpful to solving the problem.

      This needs to be stitched on a sampler somewhere. Brilliantly put.

      1. RVA Cat*

        Regardless of his intent, he was interfering with your work. I would suggest you bring this up with your manager and go from there.

        There is also the fact that his “help”/interference was potentially creating a safety issue. Not only was he blocking the only exit, since *his* job does not involve heavy lifting, he is exposing the company to liability if he gets hurt. They do not want to get into a worker’s comp battle with him if he throws his back out or smashes his foot doing this.

        I agree there is definitely some sexism at play here. It’s also possible he’s clueless that he’s coming across that way. I hate to play into the “IT nerd” stereotype but this dude needs to work on his social skills.

    2. Jo*

      Holy wow, I love the way you think! Wonderfully put. That last bit will be so useful to me in future conversations.

    3. PurpleMonkeyDishwasher*

      So well said, OP.

      Also, side note, I’m not so convinced his intent was all that rosy – I mean, he opens with a demeaning remark, then deliberately ignores your repeatedly stated boundary, then gets in your way… to me the whole thing smacks of “I’m a big strong man and I need to show this little girl how it’s done,” which is gross. So while his intent’s irrelevant, as you’ve so eloquently explained, I’m not actually inclined to give the guy the benefit of the doubt that his intent was any good to start with.

      1. RVA Cat*

        What’s even grosser would be if he thought this would somehow impress you and this was his ham-fisted/borderline creepy way to flirt.

        His flagrant disregard for your boundaries is setting off some Gift of Fear alarms for me. Do not trust this guy. Do not put yourself in a situation where you are alone with him (fixing your computer, etc.). He sounds like the sort of person who will be inappropriate and then try to throw you under the bus.

    4. Not So NewReader*

      Oh boy. I think I would have told him, “You can’t stand there in that spot. You are blocking my path.”

      I was wondering if you had a pallet jack. I have moved my hand or put both hands on the handle to indicate “I have this” along with saying the words.
      Another thing I have done is just shrugged and said. “I am so used to this. I need this done very quickly so it is best that I do it myself.”
      OR “No, these go in a certain order (or configuration) and it would take too long to describe.” (Works if you have more than one box/item.)
      Sometimes you can casually body-block them. Not always possible, but if you can get between the pallet and the spot where you are putting stuff, you might be able to block their access to the pile.

      OR “I have already answered your question. If I need help I will be sure to holler. Please step to one side, I need to get this done.”

      Good luck. I think after a few times they will stop asking. It might help to act like you are hurrying, or lost in thought or not particularly paying attention. For example: “Oh, no thanks. This is my job.” But say it like you are not really noticing them, you are just thinking about your work. Perhaps combine it with positioning yourself between them and the boxes. If they say something further, give them a look that says “Oh, are you STILL here?” as if you expected them to have left by now. “I must caution you to step back because I am going to start moving this and I must have the area cleared.”

    5. I'm a Little Teapot*

      There’s a difference, too, between people’s real intentions and the ones they’re willing to admit to. His condescending remark and refusal to take no for an answer don’t sound like good intentions to me; he might have *claimed* he was just being polite, but actually intended a subtle insult. Some people do deliberately couch insults in “polite” language so that they can both get away with insulting someone *and* get to insult her again for “taking things the wrong way” or “getting all bent out of shape.”

  29. Anonathon*

    Gah, this is the worst. (Well, not really, but it’s totally frustrating) In college, I worked for the Housing Department and helped underclassman move in to the dorms. Without fail, the students’ fathers didn’t want to hand me heavy suitcases. I once had a parent load up my male co-worker with boxes and then say, “Here’s a nice light one for you!” (He handed me a desk lamp.) Um, why would I have this job if I couldn’t lift heavy things? That is the entire purpose of the gig. I’m not totally clueless.

    Was he being deliberately sexist? I doubt it. He probably thought he was being thoughtful. But it reinforces the notion that “women can’t carry heavy things,” which in turn implies “women are not intended to do physical labor” and/or “women don’t understand their own physical limits.” Again, not intentional (in most cases). But the men in the OP’s office need to step back and realize that she knows her own abilities better than they do.

    1. eee*

      ack, I’ve also worked doing manual labor and this is the worst part–it makes your male co-workers resent you somewhat, and it also means that who gets tasked with the big cool stuff? The guys. Even if there’s no underlying assumption in your boss’s head that automatically big task = big man, when they think back about who’s done big impressive stuff, it’s the guys.

      1. Elizabeth West*

        I used to work third shift in a factory that made wire display racks for retail businesses. One night, the guy who ran the machine that made big wall grids was out sick and they needed someone to run it. I said I could. My boss was all, “You think you can handle this? Maybe we should put Dude on this.” I not only handled it; I welded twice the amount the usual guy did in eight hours and filled the pallet.

        That didn’t stop people from being dicks when I wanted to get a forklift license. Legally, they couldn’t stop me from getting one, but one old guy who was friends with the shift boss did not think women should drive the forklift. He dragged his feet on doing hands-on training and he convinced the boss to never assign that duty to me. So the license ended up being completely useless. In fact, that whole place was a sexist nightmare. >:(

    2. beckythetechie*

      I had a rather funny “deliberately sexist or not?” moment with my choir director in college while setting up a performance space. Dr. B called through the assembled singers and stage hands (of which I was both) “I need a couple strong guys to help move this harpsichord.” Said harpsichord is in excess of 200 years old, incredibly fragile, and weighs at least 90 pounds. None of the male singers moved for a count of three, presumably because Dr. B is so protective of his harpsichord, so my female coworker at the theater/band geek and I looked at each other, walked over, picked it up the harpsichord, then looked at Dr. B to see where he wanted it. He stopped, smirked, got a little red in the cheeks and said, “Or I could just have two people willing to actually do the job. Thank you, ladies. We need it downstage right.” One of the tenors followed us a minute later with the stand looking really sheepish.

  30. HR Manager*

    I think a short “Thank you, but I’ve got it” should suffice. If need be, clarify that since you have to do this as part of your job, you’d like to make sure you do this yourself. I don’t think it would or should be taken rudely to clarify.

    With that being said – are you sure sexism or something is undercutting those offers of help? I’m short and female. I’ve had many offer to help when I’m lifting somethings, and sometimes I take it and sometimes I don’t. Sometimes it’s just easier than the back and forth exchange of yes, no, I insist…dang, ok. I’ve never felt this was because people feel a driven need to protect or help me because of my gender, or some nefarious plot to create a perception that I need constant help. I’m super-short — people are just trying to be nice or they have a genuine interest in my not tumbling down or cracking my head open with something falling on me.

      1. HR Manager*

        Because there are occasions when this is based on the “woman” shouldn’t lift mentality or other embedded “societal norms” that do spring from old-fashioned sexism. But in today’s modern society, I think it just as likely to be seen as good manners and being helpful and friendly. Either way it’s a 50-50 chance which could be good or bad for us.

        My preference is – absent of any other signs that I should take it as condescending, patronizing, or anything else – to assume for the better and give the person the benefit of the doubt.

        1. alma*

          You are portraying this as “just offering a helping hand” when OP’s description of the man’s actions went well beyond that. After she refused his help: He asked if I was sure and I said yes. Then he started picking up the boxes for me and asked if I minded if he helped me anyway.

          I… honestly don’t know how you can give the benefit of the doubt at that point? OP unambiguously stated “I am certain, please don’t do X,” and he went and did X and TOLD her he was going to do it anyway in direct contradiction of what she requested. That’s rude as hell even before you get into the question of sexism.

        2. OP*

          HR Manager, you say that absent of any other signs, you tend to assume the best. Of course that’s a great idea, but there *were* signs of sexism in this case – namely that, upon seeing me, he asked if I was supposed to be handling that type of equipment (a pallet jack, for what it’s worth). He and I hadnt met before, so this was not based on any knowledge of me other than what I looked like. The statement’s assumption that it was questionable for me to be using larger heavier equipment is a sign of sexism.

          Referring to your original comment, I was neither near steps nor struggling, and in fact was unloading the boxes from the pallet jack, not even moving it at the time, so fear for my safety would not have been reasonable on his part.

          Offering help once (without the comment about my competency) would have been “good manners and being helpful and friendly.” Insisting on helping after being told not to was not.

    1. Eden*

      Are you sure sexism is not behind their offers? Just because you haven’t interpreted it that way doesn’t mean it isn’t.

      1. HR Manager*

        There have been no repercussions on my career, there have been no other comments on other occasions, nor have I ever felt ‘held back’ because of my gender. I do not choose to always look for the negative in things, to find some reason to find fault with someone, or to take offense even when no offense was intended. No human is perfect and I understand someone sexist can’t be wiped away with merely being “imperfect” but I’m not going to castigate people when I’m not offended. Someone offering a hand does not a glass-ceiling make.

        1. Elizabeth West*

          I can only assume your coworkers are not doing what the OP’s coworker did. This isn’t about looking for the negative. You didn’t have to look far to find it in this example. Go back and read it again, because I think you’re missing the point.

          IT IS RUDE to force your unwanted help on someone else.
          IT IS SEXIST to do it because you perceive the person incapable due to their (traditionally seen as weaker) sex.
          IT IS NEGATIVE to treat your coworkers as though they are incompetent.

          1. Not So NewReader*

            I think OP was asking she should how to handle it, not how she should think about it.
            She wants an action plan.

            IF she is wrong, (I doubt that she is wrong) then the men will realize they were offensive and apologize once OP explains it or tells them to stop.

            While I do understand trying to figure out why people behave the way they do, the fact remains that we must deal with the actual behavior that is unfolding in front of us. If people honestly had not thought through what they were implying, they will become embarrassed by it and apologize. Their sincerity will show in the uniqueness of what they think of to say.

            The only way for this to happen is for OP to put the ball in their court. Which means she needs an action plan.

          2. HR Manager*

            I completely agree with you and Saur below that the OPs situation was different because she repeated that she was OK with it, and yet the person did not listen. That the person did not listen is the part that should be construed as offensive, and whether sexism should be read into that is up in the air for me – I don’t know the culture and environment there to say one way or the other. I can say that if a taller woman did that to me repeatedly I would still find it offensive (and I do know many taller woman who think constant short jokes are ok).

            What I’m responding to is the litany of that responses on this thread who come across as ready to jump down any male’s throat for offering a hand to help with manual labor or who are acting offended because someone offered to open a door — with no other context other than they are trying to offer help. That is way off-base, and I stand by my comment that opening your own door is not where we will ever win the battle for woman’s right for equal pay and equal opportunity. I think there are far more systemic detrimental things going on in companies that hurt women’s opportunity for equal pay and opportunity than that.

            1. Elizabeth West*

              I haven’t seen one single post on this thread where anyone attacked a man for holding a door, unless he shoved someone else out of the way to do it or used derogatory language whilst doing it. THAT is what people are objecting to, not the actual holding of the door. I think most of us would hold a door for anyone if their hands were full, etc. It’s just polite and we all seem to be a polite bunch.

              I’m sorry if I seemed harsh; it’s just that your response struck me as “I have never had it happen to me, so I don’t assume it is a thing.” Well, it is a thing. Why else would the IT guy say to her, “Should you be handling that equipment?” in the first place? Would he say that to a man? I highly doubt it. I really, truly, doubt it. When you combine it with his subsequent behavior, it smacks of sexism. And protectionism, which is a form of benevolent sexism.

        2. Saurs*

          Congratulations, how wonderful for you.

          Please stop implying that the OP or the commentariat are looking for problems, trying to find faults with other people, or are deliberately trying to feel offended.

          Someone offering a hand does not a glass-ceiling make.

          That’s true. A glass ceiling is primary made up of wage gaps, a lack of reproductive rights, homosocial male-only trades and professions, white male affirmative action, sexist microaggressions built into a culture, “pink” “ghettos,” and unequal political representation.

          1. HR Manager*

            I’m sorry you feel that way, but there are women who do not feel offended when someone holds a door open for them. It’s not an attempt to invalidate what others may perceive, but it is a valid counterbalance to what is coming across as an absolute skew towards one direction here in this thread. And isn’t that the point here to share opposing views or opinions? One story always has multiple viewpoints, correct? Using sarcarm to shut down another viewpoint because it doesn’t agree with yours or the others doesn’t seem productive or in the spirit of the these conversations.

  31. Complicated*

    As to the LW’s broad point of how do you combat benevolent sexism, I think this whole area is sometimes really complicated.

    I am a junior employee in a male-dominated field. I’m in the South. We recently had an assignment where my boss and I were on location for several weeks. Lots of people from different areas of the country were also present for this assignment. Most of the “bosses” were middle aged men and the juniors were mostly women.

    It got to a point where it seemed like there was a constant chivalry contest. It’s customary in my field for the more junior people to haul stuff around, but all these men were making sure to carry all the boxes, run ahead to open doors, etc. I would always just say, “I got it! I lift weights!” Usually this was enough, but sometimes the man would be very insistent, and it just wasn’t worth being viewed as unfriendly in front of all these people. Double true because they can help me in my career.

    My field is also quite status conscious so there’s a certain element of performance to it all. Like, younger men do it so their bosses won’t think they’re rude. Other people at boss level do it to show each other that they have good manners.

    I’m not sure there’s always a good solution because sometimes you don’t want to be seen as Not A Team Player. But the benevolent sexism can be uncomfortable and makes women look or feel weak in a profession that values strength. It feels like a constant tightrope between wanting to get further in my career, which requires being friendly and generally well liked vs being a feminist who thinks some of these things, while coming from a nice place, aren’t helpful in the long run.

    1. ThursdaysGeek*

      I’ve realized in reading these that I’ve perhaps been helping teach teens boys (and girls) to avoid this ‘benevolent sexism’. I’m short and over 50 years old, and work with teens at our church. I will sometimes threaten a kid to ‘take them out’, and then physically put them over my shoulders and carry them out of the building. I can lift about 160lbs that way, which means I can carry most of them. If they see some little old lady can lift and carry them, they might realize that people have skills that aren’t obvious, and will not be so quick to assume when they are older. At least, I hope so.

      1. Judy*

        “As has been pointed out earlier in the Discworld chonicles, entire agricultural economies have been based on the lifting power of little old ladies in black dresses.” – Terry Pratchett, Lords and Ladies, footnote 20.

  32. BadPlanning*

    If just doing, “Thanks, I got it.” doesn’t start to deter people, do you think citing “the rules” would help. I’m thinking

    IT Guy: Oh yeah, those look heavy, can I help?
    OP: Thanks, I’ve got it.
    IT Guy: Are you sure? I can help you.
    OP: “Thanks for offering, but the dock rules says you can’t help on this task.”
    IT Guy: Oh I don’t mind, here let me get that one.
    OP: “Really, if my boss sees you lifting these boxes, I will get in trouble and if you hurt yourself, oh man, I’ll probably get fired.”

  33. VintageLydia USA*

    I used to work retail and specifically stocking. I was usually the manager on duty so was responsible for delegation and I would ALWAYS give myself the heavier pallets to work on (it was a pet supply store so huge bags of dog food and litter, anywhere from 40-60 lbs a bag.) Partly because I had other duties/paperwork and the heavier pallets were the quickest to get through (a whole LARGE section done in under an hour vs. the 2-3 hours to work on two pallets of smaller bags and a couple racks of other toys and supplies.) But also because it was really great for my own self esteem to lift these huge bags of food that even the manly men on my team had issues with, repeatedly, several days a week. Again, though, it helped that I was the manager and any lip I got about it could be quickly shut down without stepping on any toes. Before I was management it took some convincing to let whoever was manager to let me do it.

    Just letting you know I’ve been there. You gotta be firm and don’t be afraid to add a (professional) edge to your tone that clearly says “don’t you dare ask again.” This guys didn’t even offer in a nice and polite “looking out for fellow coworkers” way. He made an assumption, a really unflattering one, that you were doing something you weren’t even *allowed* to do. He was shockingly rude from the beginning (and please explain to me how he was “just being nice” with his opening line. I’d really love to know how his assumption that not only could she not do the work, but she was breaking some sort of rule by doing her own damn job was “just being nice.”) You’re allowed to be at least a *little* rude back so long as your tone is still polite. “No, really, this is my job. If I need help, I’ll ask.”

    Sorry the longer I typed the angrier I got. Some of y’all have a weird idea of what “just being nice” is if “Are you sure you’re supposed to be handling that kind of equipment?” is being nice.

  34. Stephanie*

    Late to this. I work at a UPS/FedEx/DHL warehouse and run into this all the time. We have to be able to lift up to 70 lbs. I am one of probably a half-dozen females (out of like 200 drivers and other workers) and used to get offers of help allllll the time. What finally ended it for me was just saying firmly “Thanks, I’ve got it. I’ll come find someone if I do need help.” After they saw me lifting 65-lb boxes enough times, they stopped asking.

    (Caveat: if it really is too heavy, do find someone. You can seriously injure yourself. But the IT guy is probably not the assistance you need.)

    1. Elizabeth West*

      At Exjob, we would FedEx stuff that was over 70 lbs all the time but it was cheaper than doing it freight. I helped my FedEx driver carry stuff out a lot (usually if he asked). He’d get one end and I’d get the other. Or I’d hold the door for him. I was glad to help because these boxes were very long and very awkward and he was grateful. It also helped him timewise, and it got me off the damn front desk for a few minutes (and usually outside for a breath of fresh air).

  35. YandO*

    I am a female in male dominated field. I have an incredibly sexist boss. He will only hire women so his alpha male status is not threatened. What kind of sexism is that?

    I have worked hard to learn to pick my battles. You pay me less because I am a woman? You better believe it I will fight you.

    You lift up a heavy box for me? Nah, it’s just not worth it to me. I used to be offended at the small stuff and then I decided it is better for my sanity to only address problems I can fix. My paycheck? My position? My employer? Fixable.

    That IT guy’s attitude? Maybe fixable, but not my problem.

    If it *keeps* happening with the same person, I would walk up to their desk and ask him “are you sure you are supposed to be doing that? Let me help you” *start pounding on the keyboard*

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I put this down below but am also pasting it up here so that people see it before the problem continues:

      Y’all, I don’t have an issue with YanO’s comment here, and I think some of the responses to it are coming dangerously close to signaling that there’s only one acceptable type of comment to leave here. So I’m going to ask that people be more welcoming of opinions that aren’t exactly the same as yours. It’s totally cool to say “I feel like that misses X about this situation, and here is why” — but the responses to this haven’t been that. I don’t want an echo chamber here, but some of these responses are exactly what will create one.

      Thank you.

        1. Natalie*

          Your two comments together come across as pretty dismissive. The OP has decided that this bothers her enough to try and address it. Why does she need to know that you wouldn’t be bothered by it, unless you are intending to communicate to her that she shouldn’t be bothered by it because it’s not “that important”?

        2. YandO*

          I did not know I am only allowed to comment if I agree with AAM or OP

          OP knows her situation best. I only share my views. That’s all.

          1. NerdGirl*

            “I did not know I am only allowed to comment if I agree with AAM or OP”

            Agree with this thought for sure…especially lately.

            1. BostonBaby*

              I haven’t commented on this because this really is the sense I’m getting from this thread right now. We are all entitled to our opinions, but people are getting very attacky to the dissenting opinions lately. YandO never told the OP what to do, just her experience and what she would do, just like many other commenters here.

              Honestly I really hate when sexist issues come up on this blog. I am a woman and I get where everyone is coming from and have had similar experiences, but this site gets very hostile when it comes to discussing feminist issues and I don’t think it does anyone any favors.

              Yes it gets tiring to explain why something is bothersome over and over, but if I was a man coming from a place of honest ignorance basically being told I’m an idiot for not immediately understanding why my intended kindness was perceived as sexist…well many of the comments here would help. They would just make me afraid to interact with woman at all. I totally get Dan and many other men’s constant battle of “should I do what I think is polite and courteous, or will I be yelled at for being a sexist pig?”

              But that is just my opinion, I don’t speak for anyone else.

              And honestly this particular thread has gotten so hostile that I have hesitated sense this was posted to comment for fear of being bashed. We are constantly trying to make this a welcome atmosphere for learning and growing in our careers, why does that get thrown out the window when it comes to men commenting on sexism?

    2. Joey*

      Is it possible he’s just trying to take advantage of all of the highly qualified women candidates that others are passing over?

      Sorry but hiring women in a male dominated industry seems like it’s what he should be trying to do, not perpetuate the problem by hiring more men.

      1. YandO*

        Boss and wife own small business. 2-3 employees. Wife has specifically said “boss does not want to hire men”

        Industry is male dominated. This office is not.

    3. literateliz*

      And yet, you’re picking THIS battle. Hmm.

      Your proposed solution is kind of over the top, as well. Since we agree that the IT guy in question is being condescending and rude, I think it’s far better to respond firmly but politely the FIRST time it happens, rather than acting as if nothing is wrong and then becoming totally aggro when the behavior is repeated.

    4. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Y’all, I don’t have an issue with YanO’s comment here, and I think some of the responses are coming dangerously close to signaling that there’s only one acceptable type of comment to leave here. So I’m going to ask that people be more welcoming of opinions that aren’t exactly the same as yours. It’s totally cool to say “I feel like that misses X about this situation, and here is why” — but the responses to this haven’t been that. I don’t want an echo chamber here, but some of these responses are exactly what will create one.

      Thank you.

      1. BostonBaby*

        Thank you Alison for stepping in and saying something. I really love how the commenters here are usually open to discussion and can respectfully disagree and really talk about different sides of issues. But lately I feel like we are losing that quality. And that would just be sad.

    5. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I’ll also add: I know that these issues can be heated and contentious and are very, very personal to many people. However, when commenting here, if you’re feeling heated or irritated, please take that as a flag to be especially thoughtful about how you interact with others here. I get that you might be frustrated by the larger context of this stuff, but if the result is that you’re making my virtual living room an unwelcoming place for other guests, that’s a problem. So this is a request to put extra effort into being kind to others in this discussion if you choose to participate in it here.

      1. Dan*

        Thanks Alison. I love the idea of the virtual living room. I walked away from this thread yesterday because I was getting pretty bent out of shape – unfortunately, I probably didn’t walk away soon enough. The idea of keeping the virtual living room a welcoming place for all guests would have kept my attitude in check.

        I’ll keep that in mind in the future.

        By the way, the “Notify me of follow-up comments by email” check box just below the comment box doesn’t seem to be working for me.

  36. Kateyjl*

    Along with the “I’ve got this”, I’d throw in a “I’ve been trained to do this properly”. IT guys assumes a lot of liability for helping outside of his position.

  37. Leslie Knope's Waffle*

    Piggybacking off of the original question…

    Like the OP, I’m a petite woman in her early 30s. I often have to lift/pack large boxes for my job and many times, men will offer to carry them for me. When I push back and say, “Thanks for your offer, but I’ve got it,” they often respond with, “I just wouldn’t feel right about having a woman carry something so heavy – I INSIST.” Sometimes they’re “forcefully polite” about it, if that makes sense.


    1. YandO*

      “I would not feel right to ask you to do MY job. I insist that you don’t judge my abilities based on my gender”

      Keep holding the box and walk away.

    2. Natalie*

      “I just wouldn’t feel right about having a woman carry something so heavy”

      “Well, that sucks for you.”

      (I may not have the most professional attitude about this.)

      1. Snork Maiden*

        “I just wouldn’t feel right about having a woman carry something so heavy”
        “Unfortunately, I do not share your views.”
        (I may not be 100% professional either)

    3. fposte*

      I feel for them being caught in mixed expectation currents there, but really?

      “Sorry, you don’t get to insist. It’s my job. I don’t screw with your job; please don’t screw with mine.”

      1. NoPantsFridays*

        Yes, “I insist on doing my job” while actually at work is not rude… that’s why we’re at work!

    4. Rayner*

      Refuse to give it to them.


      “I’ll pass. Excuse me!” And physically move the box/handle/device away from them.

      Or, “No thank you. Please excuse me!”

      Although it sounds like they’re being polite when they insist, they’re actually being very rude. It feels wrong to reject that, but it’s the right thing for you instead of for them.

      1. Joey*

        Most men I know who are apt to behave this way would find this response effective yet the least confrontational of the other comments.

    5. beckythetechie*

      “Your feelings are not my concern; doing my job is. Please excuse me.” By insisting that how they feel is more important than how you do your job, they’ve decided their feelings are more important than yours, which is a basis for a lot of gender-linked horsepucky in social situations.

  38. Jake*

    As a man, I implore you to spell it out that clearly. I’ll freely admit that I wouldn’t have understood until the “undermining” part.

    That being said upon the second request not to help I’d have shrugged and walked away, but I could easily see a well meaning person doing what he did without realizing the implications of his actions.

    We are a generation of men that have been raised where the societal norms are both, “treat women equally” and “being a gentleman means ‘helping’ women with ‘manly’ work.”

    I guess my point is that this easily falls into the ignorance category, not the malice category, so the best way to approach it is as clearly and seriously as possible.

    1. some1*

      “We are a generation of men that have been raised where the societal norms are both, ‘treat women equally’ and ‘being a gentleman means ‘helping’ women with ‘manly’ work.”

      I think this is an important point, but to add onto this, there are plenty of women in the workforce that also believe a man should carry something heavy instead of women. It’s more common among older women, but it’s not unheard of for women in their 20s or 30’s to be of that opinion.

      1. Ben Around*

        As a man with chronic lower-back issues, I had to smile at this. In every place I worked in the days before I became self-employed, I had female co-workers who would see me go through weeks-long stretches of barely being able to walk because of back pain … and then at other times would ask me to do any heavy lifting around the office, and would seem truly surprised when I would point out that I couldn’t risk doing so. And this was true regardless of age — women 30 years my junior would make that request.

        1. Myrin*

          Which is why I (a woman) am always happy to offer help to a guy who’s obviously struggling. I’ve had both reactions of “No, I got this!” when he very obviously didn’t but I walked on regardless because well, not my business then, and “Oh yes, thank you!” in a delighted tone.

          1. Ben Around*

            Believe me, “Oh, yes, thank you” would have been my response anytime my back was in full spasm mode!

    2. KerryOwl*

      Okay, but now that you’ve read and thought about this scenario, you’re no longer ignorant, right? We have one less dude to educate? Because maybe some of the onus is on you to be cognizant of these things. Of treating people like people, and not delicate flowers.

      1. Snork Maiden*

        +100. There are so many good points in this comment section, I’d feel terrible if people insisted on not evaluating their own behaviour or assumptions after reading them.

      2. Dan*

        As Jake is pointing out above, men often have to figure out if a woman is going to be upset because he’s being sexist or upset because he’s not being a gentleman. It’s kind of annoying.

        1. ThursdaysGeek*

          That’s very true. There is a double standard as well as some women having some expectations (I can lift that) and others having different (a man would offer to help). It’s hard to know, since people can’t read other’s minds. So we need to clearly say what we expect, and accept the answers given. But I have a lot of sympathy for a guy trying to navigate this.

        2. KerryOwl*

          But you ask once and get a “no thank you” and then you back off. I think the most important thing to take away from this whole discussion — as has been said many times — is to respect what people say to you and to really hear them when they tell you what their boundaries are. That’s the important part. A “well meaning person” does not ignore what people say because it’s not what he wants or expects to hear. A well meaning person respects “no.”

          1. Myrin*

            Very true. I technically get the dilemma Dan is describing but… I don’t really think it is one? If a woman expects “gentlemanly” (ugh, hate that word) behaviour and you ask “Can I help you?”, she will be happy. If a woman is doing a thing on her own and you ask “Can I help you?” she won’t take offence at that simple question but just decline. It’s a win-win.

            1. Jake*

              It’s not even remotely that simple.

              Do you know how many times I’ve asked if somebody needs help with something, been told no, then been chastised by the asker for not helping at a later date? This isn’t a one time or one person deal, it was a near constant battle for roughly 5 years of my life between my mother, step mother, teachers and high school classmates.

              I’ve removed the offenders from my life since then, but to act like this isn’t commonplace is unfair.

              1. fposte*

                I think this is unfortunately true, as with a lot of ingrained stuff about what we ask for and what we want, some of it gendered, some of it not, and some people are particularly prone to that. (My dad had that as well–a nice man, but boy howdy, we were supposed to guess what he’d meant, not take him at his word.)

                But it’s kind of like women negotiating for a higher salary–nobody can make sure it’s safe for us to do it or for us not to do it, and it almost certainly won’t always be on either side. We have to decide which kind of behavior is likeliest to work for us in the situation and for our overall views of ourselves as people.

              2. Elizabeth West*

                Given the old-fashioned sentiments that still exist where I live currently, I can totally understand where you’re coming from. I will definitely make sure I remember this and do my best to mitigate it next time I see someone pull this stuff. I’ll do the same if I get to have a kid, when bringing him (or her) up.

        3. Sadsack*

          FWIW, I don’t expect people to behave like ladies or gentlemen. One can be courteous, kind, helpful, professional, you name it, regardless of gender.

        4. fposte*

          Yup. I agree with that. Unfortunately, as with the “damned if you do” stuff women face, there’s no get out of damnation free card. I would suggest, though, that insisting you do something that’s part of a woman’s job is probably a good thing to skip, and a woman who gets annoyed with you for not doing her job for her is probably not somebody whose opinion you should worry much about.

        5. Jessa*

          I can’t see any scenario where someone just asks “can I help?” as falling on the “non gentlemanly” axis of behaviour, unless they do it 100 times and always get told no. On the other hand the OP’s coworker’s comment about “are you sure you can do this?” That’s way out.

      3. Jake*

        That is accurate. I know better now, but without the explanation, I wouldn’t have. I take full blame for that.

    3. Ann Furthermore*

      It’s been interesting to read these comments because my job does not require any kind of heavy lifting, so I’ve never experienced this. If I’m carrying something heavy or large, I’m glad to accept help, and if someone gets the door for me I always say thank you. And I try to do the same in return for people. For example, I’ll always ask someone (regardless of gender), “Hey, can I get the door for you?” if they’re carrying something big and would have to stop and balance it somehow in order to grab the door handle. It’s just common courtesy.

      One time I came out of the office with a HUGE armload of stuff. I had my purse, computer bag, and lunch bag, and I was also carrying a large box of binders full of training materials for a class I was going to lead the next day in another building. It wasn’t terribly heavy, which is why I didn’t think I needed to make 2 trips, but as I was carrying everything I realized it was an awkward, bulky bunch of stuff to be carrying all at once. And on this particular day, I was wearing a dress with platform heels.

      I came out of the building, walking slowly, and stepping carefully, making my way to my car. There was a guy standing there yapping on his cell phone who watched all this but did not offer to help me. I kind of gave him the side-eye, because I would have offered to help someone carrying that much stuff, regardless of gender, but I didn’t say anything.

      When I got home I told my husband what happened, and asked him what his take on it was, and he immediately responded with, “He’s a d-bag.”

      1. fposte*

        Really? I don’t know that I’d have thought to help you either, though, unless you asked. Would your husband think the same of women not helping or was his view that the guy had more obligation to help?

        1. Snork Maiden*

          I agree, if you need help with something, please just ask. If we all did this perhaps it might cut down on people insisting they know our needs better than we do.

          1. Ann Furthermore*

            Very good point. I did not know this person, so asking out of the blue would have felt presumptuous. I guess it does go both ways.

        2. Kelly L.*

          Same here, especially since he was clearly busy (on the phone), and I’d have no way of knowing if it was important or not.

          1. Ann Furthermore*

            It is entirely possible that he was in the middle of something important. In his place, unless I absolutely could not get off the phone, I’d ask whoever I was talking with to hang on for a minute, ask the person if they needed help, and if they said yes, tell the person I’d call them back, or even just ask them to wait, if it would only take a couple minutes.

        3. Sadsack*

          That’s a good point, considering the load was not heavy, just cumbersome. I probably would not have offered help unless she actually dropped something, then I would definitely help. Plus, the guy was on his cell phone, involved in conversation, and was probably not paying attention to her, even if he was looking right at her.

          1. fposte*

            Though it interestingly suggests, combined with what some of the male commenters are saying, that men would judge other men harshly for not helping in a situation where women might consider men to be interfering.

        4. Ann Furthermore*

          My hubby is definitely a gentleman in the most traditional sense of the word, but I think he would have been annoyed if it had been a woman standing there watching too. He’s a really big dude, and also sort of freakishly strong, so he’s always the first to offer a hand when it looks like someone (male or female) needs help. He’s more careful when approaching women, because he’s aware that being such a big guy can make him seem intimidating, but he always offers nonetheless.

  39. BritCred*

    I can understand and appreciate a “need a hand or you ok with those?” but once someone says “I’m fine thanks…” then back off! especially when its their job and you work with them! I’d definately consider that if this does continue that you do ask management to get him to back off. May seem heavy handed but it is something that is impeding your work.

    I do get this all the time with DIY etc – which actually I’m pretty good at and want to get better. And I’m actually usually better at lifting and shifting stuff than most of the men that I know!

    Strangely the one I struggle with is the one I get very few offers of help for – “oh hold this light thing still well I do X” – muscle issues mean I can carry something for longer (and heavier) than I can hold in one position for!

  40. Calla*

    Reading through the comments made me recall a guy friend I had in high school. He absolutely INSISTED on getting any doors for the women around him to the point of ridiculous and condescending. This was the guy who would run in front of you and open the door and hold it open, despite protests. He would run out of the car and around the side to open the car door. In fact, I distinctly remember one situation where I started to open the car door myself and he came rushing around, closed it, and then opened it himself. (We weren’t dating, btw, since I’m gay, and he did this to other girls he wasn’t dating too.)

    It’s one thing to hold the door open for someone directly behind you or someone who is carrying something large, just like it’s one thing to offer help. It’s entirely different to insist on going to great lengths (which REPEATEDLY asking and then doing it anyway is) to “help” someone when you know it’s against their wishes because they’ve told you *multiple* times they appreciate the offer but are perfectly capable of doing it themselves. You’re not helping anymore, you’re being a condescending nuisance!

    1. Natalie*

      Ugh, I used to work with someone like that. It was always crazy awkward in the elevator – he wouldn’t go in before any of us female co-workers, so of course he ended up standing at the front of the elevator. Then he didn’t want to get off the elevator before any of us. DUDE! You can’t have it both ways.

      1. Elysian*

        This happens to me ALL THE TIME with one of my coworkers. It is so awkward for me, and everyone else, because he goes so far out of the way. I wish I could get him to stop, but it isn’t worth the battle, it will just silently irk me every time it happens.

    2. Cath in Canada*

      I knew someone like that when we both lived in a massive university residence that seemed to have hundreds of sets of fire doors in it. You couldn’t hold a normal conversation with him while walking through the building because he’d be constantly either running ahead of you to hold the door for you or catching up from behind you after the last set. When I’d say “thanks, but you really don’t need to hold every single one!”, he’d huff and puff and go red in the face. Ah, English public schoolboys!

  41. Carin*

    I used to work shipping and receiving at a bookstore. There, I was treated normally, no one assumed I couldn’t do my job, and only once or twice did I need anyone’s help with lifting something heavy. I regularly carried around boxes that were 50 lbs. Two years later, I worked in an office, where the man running the office regularly insisted on helping me and a female co-worker with any box, including little boxes filled with 10 paperbacks (they weighed about 7 lbs., less than my cat.) I eventually got him to stop it (with me) and I was greatly amused when his female assistant was replaced by a male assistant. And the boss never helped him carry boxes. Even though the male assistant had a bad back. So then I started carrying all of his boxes for him.

    1. NoPantsFridays*

      lol, I compare the weight of objects I lift to the weight of my cat. I have two, one is only about 7 or 8 lbs but the other is absolutely huge, admittedly in all dimensions, so weighs around 16 lbs. I have an office desk job, so I very rarely have to lift something heavy, but I’ve had people offer assistance with 5 lb boxes or even empty cardboard boxes. Really?! I think my coat is heavier!

      1. maggiethecat*

        95 lb retriever here that refuses to get in the car by himself… if only people at work could see me then!

        1. LCL*

          I bought an inflatable that is designed to be towed behind a boat. Think a round disk, 1′ high by 4′ diameter. I set it up behind the rear of the SUV, doggie jumps right in. If anybody knows of a smaller inflatable that will fit in the car, let me know.

  42. Katie the Fed*

    I’m hesitant to weigh in on this – but it’s ALWAYS inappropriate to make assumptions about someone’s capabilities, physical or otherwise. Assume they’re capable unless they indicate otherwise.

    I recently experienced a very humbling health event that left me in a wheelchair temporarily and I’m amazed by the number of people who seem to think I’m brain damaged or otherwise incapable. It’s humiliating. I’m actually glad I went through it because I’ve probably done it too without realizing.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      I can’t tell if you are still going through this or not— if yes, I wish you a speedy recovery! For every person who treats you shabby, there are many people who think you’re awesome. They just don’t say it out loud though.

  43. Not Dead Yet*

    I just want to thank everyone for sharing their thoughts on this.. As a woman born in the ’50’s, I was raised in the era when this was the standard for simple manners. While I can still lift and tote with the best of them (and do!), it never occurred to me to see it as anything else than a man hearing his mother’s voice in his head when he offers to lift something for me. I started this thread thinking that it wasn’t a big deal. However, reading the thoughtful responses has changed my way of seeing it. Indeed, I am also seeing it from the viewpoint of an older employee, who is quite fit and capable of carrying my own weight. I have often had to firmly decline offers of assistance from kind-hearted younger employees (male and female) who assume that my old bones will break if I continue with the strenuous activity in which I am engaged.

    1. Dan*

      I started this thread thinking that it wasn’t a big deal. However, reading the thoughtful responses has changed my way of seeing it.

      Please don’t go to the dark side. Most of the time good manners are just good manners and not someone trying to undermine you.

      1. VintageLydia USA*

        But the situation described in the OP is very much undermining the way holding the door for someone with full hands is not. You realize that, right?

        1. Dan*

          Yes I do. And Alison’s suggested response to the situation was perfect. On the other hand, a depressingly large number of the comments above would have us ignore our manners for the sake of not seeming sexist. You see that right?

          1. NoPantsFridays*

            I’m not sure what you mean, honestly. Most of the “manners” I was taught already are sexist, so ignoring them is best.

          2. Calla*

            I do not, because I actually read the comments. Most of the comments said it’s not rude to offer help if it looks like someone needs it, but it IS wrong to assume someone needs it just because they are a woman and then to ignore her response and do it anyway against her wishes.

          3. Zillah*

            Nope. The litmus test many people have talked about is, don’t offer for a woman if you wouldn’t offer for a man as well. That’s not erasing manners in any sense of the word.

            1. fposte*

              I’m not disagreeing, but I also think it’s worth acknowledging that it’s difficult for somebody to consciously behave in a way he was raised to believe makes him a bad person and is going to get him called a d-bag by people like Ann Furthermore’s husband.

              1. Zillah*

                Absolutely. This is a good example of how contrary to popular belief, sexism doesn’t just hurt women.

          4. fposte*

            I’m going to ask you to specify which comment as well, Dan.

            I do understand that this is a big deal for a lot of men, that there are things you’re expected to do if you’re a decent man. But I think reasonable and intelligent men can negotiate this without being offensive, and Joey’s got some good discussion upthread about just that. “Hey, can I give you a hand?” and taking no for an answer would seem like reasonable ways to meet the standard for both your upbringing and my right to do my job, right?

          5. Poster formerly known as Jane Doe*

            Please, please, ignore your manners. What we’re trying to tell you is that they’re not actually good manners, after all.

      2. AW*

        “Are you sure you’re supposed to be handling that kind of equipment?” – In what universe is this good manners?

    2. Not So NewReader*

      “Indeed, I am also seeing it from the viewpoint of an older employee, who is quite fit and capable of carrying my own weight. I have often had to firmly decline offers of assistance from kind-hearted younger employees (male and female) who assume that my old bones will break if I continue with the strenuous activity in which I am engaged.”

      Thank you for saying this. I cannot tell you how many times I was told at Previous Job that a person my age should not be doing all those lifts. My age? Really? I was 50, that is not the same as one foot in the grave, honestly. I understand some people go by “respect your elders”. But that does not mean “do their work for them”.
      I much prefer “respect your fellow human being” and “I’ll take my turn at that, you did it the last time”.

      I worked with a woman that was 80 something. Granted at that age, there are limits for some folks. But, I would ask and not assume. And I never asked twice. I answered her questions when she asked. Otherwise, she did her job and I did mine.

  44. SerfinUSA*

    I’ve done plenty of warehouse work in my youth, and enjoyed one job at a fastener company. A lot of my tasks didn’t involve heavy lifting, but eventually I realized the lifting I did do was a bit too much for me at that time. I talked it over with my bosses and let them know I should probably let them replace me with someone more physically capable. They didn’t want to lose my inventory management skills, and offered to have me just do that and to ask the bigger men (I was the only female warehouse worker) to do the lifting.

    Um yeah, no thinks. It was kindly meant, but would have put me in an awkward position, esp when I was at a stage in life where being seen as competent was important to establishing my adult path.

  45. Editrix*

    On the (fairly rare) days I wear a dress, I feel like I get 4–5 times more offers of help and doors held open for me. Anyone else noticed anything similar?

    1. Phlox*

      Absolutely. I can tell an immediate difference in my 90% male workplace in how some coworkers treat me if I change from work clothes (grease stained work pants, etc of a mechanic) to a dress at the end of shift. Hello, same person as I was 5 minutes ago, I don’t lose my muscle strength suddenly when I put on a dress!

  46. I'm just so done with this!!!!*

    Good God! This is what we’re complaining about now? He helped me put some boxes away and I’m all offended? Judging by the comments I know that I am nearly alone in my opinion but frankly I would have just let it go and thought “Well now that I’ve got that done, what other task can I move on to?”

    Listen, I get it. Women routinely get the crappy end of the stick. I’m not denying this. I’ve seen it first hand, marched in the parade, bought the t-shirt…but we don’t know anything about this IT guy’s motives. We don’t know how he would have reacted had the OP been a man…because she’s not a man. We don’t know if he would have done the same thing or walked on by or even stood there mocking a man. WE JUST DON’T KNOW! I see so many comments here that go on and on about how some man done them wrong in some capacity in life. I have stories to curl all y’all hair, but if I chose to paint all men with the “they’re the enemy” brush you all seem to dig out then I’d be sitting at home, alone with a cat like so many of you seem to be doing.

    1. Colette*

      Have you actually read and understood the comments here? Can you think of any reasons why it might be a problem to insist on doing a coworker’s job?

    2. NoPantsFridays*

      But we do know that he did her job for her, against her objections.

      Honestly, few of us are at home, most of us post from work. Slow day, here.

      But you say you are just so done with this so I expect you will not be posting again, right? Right. Ok, bye.

    3. Calla*

      That’s two cats, thank you very much. I’m not afraid of your shrill man-hating cat-lady feminist stereotype, I own it.

    4. H*

      If you think this is only about someone helping someone else put boxes away, then you clearly have not taken the time to read the whole letter. Read it again.

    5. Sadsack*

      A coworker stepped in and OP’s job for her, in plain view of anyone who came by, completely ignoring her stating that she can do it. That is the issue here. I agree that we do not know IT Guy’s motives, but most of the comments here are based on his actions.

    6. AW*

      We don’t know how he would have reacted had the OP been a man

      Doesn’t matter. It’s irrelevant.

    7. AnonEMoose*

      Actually, I’ll be sitting at home with my 2 cats. And my husband. Who is my husband partly because he respected my boundaries from the moment we met.

    8. Natalie*

      Weirdly, people are able to find one situation sexist and annoying and also find other situations more outrageous, more sexist, more serious. It’s really great, you should try it sometime!

    9. PurpleMonkeyDishwasher*

      Did you miss the part where the guy opened with a snarky/hostile comment asking LW if she “should be” doing her own job? Because that’s a pretty huge clue that dude is not “just trying to be kind” but was instead approaching the interaction from a place of assuming that LW couldn’t/shouldn’t be doing the work she’s been hired to do. Sure, fine, maybe he thinks she shouldn’t do her own work because she’s short or because of some other random attribute and he would’ve been similarly boundary-crossing and rude to a man with that same attribute, or he might’ve been even worse to a man, but that doesn’t actually change anything at all – IT guy was condescending, violated the LW’s stated boundaries, and interfered with the LW’s ability to do her job. Those three things are not okay, no matter what the gender of the person they’re coming from or the gender of the person they’re directed to.

      It’s true that many of us have read this particular constellation of behaviors, when coming from a man directed to a woman – particularly a young, petite woman – as having roots in sexism, whether conscious or unconscious on the man’s part, but the sexism angle merely offers an explanation for why IT guy might’ve been under the misguided impression that deliberately undermining a co-worker and interfering with her job duties after being expressly told not to is in any way okay. It’s certainly not a situation that I’d be excusing if it was between two coworkers of the same gender, or if the genders in the story were reversed. IT guy (and others, sounds like) are deliberately undermining LW’s efforts to perform a core function of her job, a function she’s capable of doing and has expressly asked them not to participate in. THAT’S the problem. And it IS a problem, one that has nothing to do with “men are the enemy” and everything to do with people who deliberately violate stated boundaries being tools.

      Also, I don’t think anyone anywhere other than you in this comment have painted “all men as the enemy,” but those are some stellar straw-man construction skills you’ve got there.

    10. Panda Bandit*

      No one said men are the enemy. You need to work on your reading comprehension and/or get your vision checked.

    11. Lamb*

      Your assessment of the situation is about as accurate as if someone had written in “My coworker is a big cruel gossip, how do I avoid listening to all the negativity while remaining professional?” And you said “Good god! Is this what we’re complaining about now? My coworker talks to me?”
      The usual AAM test of “Is this thing that bothers you a professional problem you need to fix or something that bothers you personally but you need to just accept that it’s part of the job?” is does it interfere with you doing your job? OP stated up thread that the IT guy slowed her down and blocked her way. It passes the test regardless of what he would have done to a male coworker.
      P.S. No cat, just a dog, a lot of herps, a husband and our human offspring. Turns out a woman who believes she is a full human being CAN get married and have babies, she just has to find a man who thinks she’s a person too.

      1. beckythetechie*

        Oooh, you have herps (asks the woman with over a dozen snakes in her living room)?

    12. beckythetechie*

      His motives became irrelevant when he decided not to listen to the woman saying “Stop doing that.”

  47. Former Cable Rep*

    If Fergus the IT guy gets hurt helping OP do her job, the company is down an IT guy while Fergus recovers, so it’s not only about how it looks to others if Fergus is doing OP’s job for her. OP probably had some safety training for this position that Fergus missed out on, and is in much less danger hurting herself. Plus, not to belittle her contributions to the work place, if OP were injured they would have less trouble finding a temp to fill in for her than they would for Fergus.

    We had something similar to this when I worked for a department store, commissioned sales guys thinking they were being gallant trying to take heavy loads away from female stock workers. If I recall correctly, it was Loss Prevention who came by to tell them to knock it off. If the store lost a commissioned sales person due to injury the store lost money, stock workers were hired for their ability to do the job and given specialized training to minimize injuries.

  48. AW*

    Intent is not magic.

    Intent is *not* magic.

    Intent is not magic.

    Even if the co-worker’s intentions had been good (Pro-Tip: Always question the intentions of people who insist on violating a stated boundary) his actions, and the results of his actions, are sexist. A woman coworker was unable to do her job herself because a male coworker, who is her boss in any way, decided that she shouldn’t be lifting things. That is sexist.

    To quote a metafilter comment re-posted by Captain Awkard:
    “If you step on my foot, you need to get off my foot.

    If you step on my foot without meaning to, you need to get off my foot.

    If you step on my foot without realizing it, you need to get off my foot.

    If everyone in your culture steps on feet, your culture is horrible, and you need to get off my foot.

    If you have foot-stepping disease, and it makes you unaware you’re stepping on feet, you need to get off my foot.

    If an event has rules designed to keep people from stepping on feet, you need to follow them. If you think that even with the rules, you won’t be able to avoid stepping on people’s feet, absent yourself from the event until you work something out.

    If you’re a serial foot-stepper, and you feel you’re entitled to step on people’s feet because you’re just that awesome and they’re not really people anyway, you’re a bad person and you don’t get to use any of those excuses, limited as they are. And moreover, you need to get off my foot.”

    It doesn’t matter why he stepped on her foot. He needs to get off of her foot.

  49. Nobody*

    This kind of thing happens to me all the time, but it’s complicated by the fact that some of my female coworkers like and expect the men to do the heavy lifting. The heavy lifting jobs are usually assigned to men, but when certain women are assigned, they ask men to do it for them. Now the men are conditioned to believe that women can’t do it, and they assume that I can’t do it because I’m a woman, even though I am perfectly capable of doing anything that is part of my job requirements.

    One time, I was walking somewhere with a man, and I was carrying a few items. The man asked me if I needed help, and I cheerfully said, “No thanks, I got it!” He asked two more times along the way, and finally said, “Look, if you don’t let me carry something, everybody who sees us is going to think I’m a rude jerk for making the woman carry everything.”

  50. Purr purr purr*

    This always makes me so uncomfortable! In my old job I used to have to carry boxes of rocks. Some of the heaviest weighed 140lb (needless to say, I was strong!) but to me they didn’t feel too heavy, just normal. I’d have men volunteer to help little old me and absolutely insist so then I was always like, ‘Sure, you can help,’ and then amuse myself by watching them try to pick up a box before walking off muttering about how they had something important to do. I did used to get really angry though when the guys from another department were offloading equipment from a supply plane and I went to help (we were all supposed to pitch in with that task) and they’d treat me like a little lady and say, ‘No, it’s too heavy for you.’ They were bags of concrete weighing 40lb, significantly lighter than my rocks, and then they’d pass me a bag of toilet roll to carry or something ridiculous like that! (Also, I used to get annoyed with the kitchen staff for giving me tiny portions of food and giving the guys huge portions of food. I need fuel for carrying those boxes!)

    So I get it, the guys are trying to be nice to the women but there’s a general assumption that women are weak and they’re strong and I find it insulting because it’s such a stereotype. I have nothing to add really other than to say I truly do sympathise OP!

  51. Poster formerly known as Jane Doe*

    Oooh well. I have a recent story that I am very compelled to share here now!

    Recently at work, I was moving from my current desk up to a desk in our mezzanine, which required going up a short set of stairs. Here’s what happened, pretty much verbatim:

    Female Coworker: Jane, if you are going to move your file cabinet upstairs, I am sure you can get one of these big strong guys to help you.

    Me: Oh, It weighs maybe 25 lbs, I think I’ve got it!

    Female Coworker: Okaaaaaaaaaaaaay if you say so!

    5 minutes later, as I am easily carrying said file cabinet up the stairs….

    Male Coworker: Do you want me to help you with that?

    Me: No thanks, I’ve got it! (With a genuinely polite tone and smile on my face)

    Male Coworker: Ok, well I will just stand here and watch you when you fall then.

    AHHHHHHHHHH. STOP THE MADNESS. This is particularly ridiculous because I’m a weightlifter in my spare time – but it did serve as a reminder that how females treat each other and make assumptions about abilities is also part of our societal problems – it’s not all on the guy, although this one in particular was rude and uncalled for.

    I don’t love being a female in this world, I’ll say that.

  52. beckythetechie*

    I handled this by stating the problem directly. “If (General Manager) thinks I can do this job just fine without help, I don’t understand why you don’t, or why you think you have to intervene. You’re not helping. Please stop. If I need help, I will ask.”

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