6 casually sexist things to stop saying at work

Have you ever referred to a group of adult women at work as “girls”? Suggested to an employee that she soften her approach so she doesn’t come across as pushy? Reflexively asked only women to take notes at meetings? If so, you have a lot of company. Despite major advances in gender equality in the workplace, old pieces of sexism continue to linger.

Here are six common sexist remarks regularly heard at work.

(And to be clear: You’re not a bad person for saying these things. We’re all guilty of letting these kinds of terms sneak into our language. The idea is to spot them, understand their impact and try to eliminate them from your vocabulary.)

1. “You probably won’t come back to work after the baby is born.” People rarely say this to men, but women about to go on maternity leave hear it regularly. Of course, there are women who end up not returning to their jobs after their maternity leave is up, but many, many women who plan to return do so. Lumping women together is problematic, and these kinds of statements can have repercussions for women who are treated as if they’ll be taking themselves out of the workforce.

2. “Jane, can you take notes at the meeting?” It may be perfectly appropriate to ask Jane to take notes if she’s an admin or the most junior person present. But too often, women are the ones asked to take notes – or plan parties, get coffee, order lunch or do other caretaking tasks – even when men in the same role or at the same level are present. It’s also true that women often tend to volunteer themselves for these tasks while men don’t, so it’s especially important for managers to make sure that this type of work is distributed evenly and doesn’t end up exclusively performed by women.

3. “Girl” or “girls.” It’s still common to hear phrases at work, such as “the PR girl” or “the girls are all at lunch.” But you rarely hear the “the PR boy” or “the boys are in the conference room.” Referring to adult women as “girls” isn’t generally intended to be infantilizing or patronizing. But language has power, and girls are rarely taken as seriously as women. And it’s worth noting that women can be the worst offenders on this one.

If this one seems minor to you, consider that sexism doesn’t have to be open bigotry to have an impact. Some of the most damaging sexism is subtle, the sort of thing that creeps into our language and impacts how we think without us even realizing it. If you’re unconvinced, think about women who are universally recognized as having gravitas and power – say, Hillary Clinton or Angela Merkel – and ask whether you’d refer to them as “girls.” If not, then ask yourself why it’s okay to refer to other women that way.

4. “You need to soften your emails and take a gentler approach in meetings.” It’s possible that this is genuinely good feedback. But it’s been well-documented that women hear this kind of feedback far, far more frequently than men do. In fact, research shows that women are often told that they’re being abrasive, aggressive or rude when the same behaviors in men are perceived as assertiveness or strong leadership.

5. “Office Mom.” This term is often used to describe the woman in the office who remembers birthdays, notices when people aren’t feeling well, organizes potlucks and generally mothers fellow employees. These are lovely traits. But notice that you rarely hear about an “office Dad.” And the reality is that people don’t get high-profile projects, win promotions or build their professional reputations by planning office parties or remembering their coworkers’ birthdays. Recognize your coworkers for their professional achievements. Don’t put them in an “office Mom” ghetto.

6. “The pretty new marketing assistant.” Complimentary or not, assessing people’s looks at work is demeaning and takes the focus off of their professional contributions. It’s not about compliments to their appearance; it’s about having people make your looks A Thing in a professional context where you need to be taken seriously and be known for your brain, and it’s about routinely being treated as a decorative object / having your looks assessed (by this boss, by strangers on the street, by lots of people in lots of contexts). That’s very different from “compliments.”

{ 658 comments… read them below }

    1. Kobayashi*

      I concur. Girls doesn’t bother me too much, depending on age, but it is inappropriate when referring to mature adults (and I graduated from a women’s college where the term was absolutely hated, so it could be a case of my being a little too tired of hearing about that). I pretty much see anyone under 30 as a kid, which I’m sure those under 30 might not appreciate, having been there at one time….but then I got old :) I absolutely hate the term “big girl panties” though – and too many women use it.

    2. Weekday Warrior*

      Except to describe the ones I’m actually wearing. :) Seriously though, I’ve usually heard this as “big girl (or big boy) pants”. Either, way, agree it could be dropped!

    3. Former Diet Coke Addict*

      Loathe this. I loathe it. Along with “big girl job,” I cannot stand it.

      My office is three women, and my boss refers to all of us as “the girls.” When there was a man working with us, it was “the girls and Man’s Name.” Even in emails, it was “Girls and MN,” and it drives me completely bonkers.

      1. Mallory Janis Ian*

        It kind of would make me want to reply, “Janice, Evelyn, The Boy, and I are going out to lunch; we’ll be back soon.”

      2. Mallory Janis Ian*

        Plus I still get a laugh about the story Artemesia told about asking a man on a plane if he was a ‘career boy’ in response to his asking if she was a ‘career girl’.

        1. BeenThere*

          Oh that’s so good! I must have missed that story.

          I’m a huge fan of reflecting back the language to make the person think.

    4. Jake*

      I’ve heard big boy pants (and used it up until a couple years ago when I left a job where all my coworkers were male), but I’ve never heard of big girl pants or panties!

      That seems crazy.

      1. De Minimis*

        My former boss had a sign in her office referring to big girl panties….always made me think of AAM’s dislike of the term.

    5. JMegan*

      I actually used that phrase just today! I don’t love it, but couldn’t come up with a good idiomatic equivalent for “doing a grown up thing which will probably be awkward but which really needs to be done.”

      I feel like all the phrases used to express that concept are gendered (and usually gendered male, sigh.) “Man up,” “Grow a pair,” etc. If anyone has a suggestions for a non-gendered term along these lines, I would happily use it instead!

        1. Just A Girl*

          The internet suggested “dragon up”, which I’ve adopted in my personal life and with select co-workers I know it will amuse.

        2. TL -*

          Cowboy up (somewhat gendered, though you can say cowgirl up just as easily, though I think it refers more to the position than the gender.)

          1. Paige*

            As a horse person, “cowgirl up” has always had extremely positive connotations of “toughening up” and being brave. But I wouldn’t be surprised if many people outside the field got it.

      1. Shell*

        Since “spineless” is a term and non-gendered, I’ve always used “grow a spine” instead of “man up” or “grow a pair”.

        1. BeenThere*

          Spineless, is precisely the word I used to describe one of my former managers. I love it for being non-gendered!

        1. JMegan*

          I like “grown up pants” and also “grow a spine” above. I should mention that my situation is a) not work-related, and b) referring to myself, so I can be a bit harder on myself than I might be on another person. Thanks for the suggestions!

          1. Anna*

            I don’t like grow a spine. It is somewhat gendered in that we tend to refer to men as spineless if they can’t do difficult things, but that’s not really my issue. It implies a lot more about a person than they have to do something difficult; it’s more of a judgment on someone’s personality. I think “grown up pants” is a nice genderless alternative than “grow a spine” or “grow up”. To me those two are more of a comment on the person’s personality rather than an individual difficult task that must be done.

            1. Dynamic Beige*

              While I agree that telling someone to grow a spine isn’t especially the nicest way to say it, “don’t be a doormat” etc.

              “Never grow a wishbone, daughter, where your backbone ought to be.” – Clementine Paddleford

      2. Sunshine*

        Ditto. If/when I use these terms, I usually swap them around for the sake of comedy, (telling a guy to put on his big girl pants or telling a woman to grow a pair). I don’t do it often, and only when I know my audience, but my office skews to the less polished/professional scale.

        1. Student*

          When you do that, you are (intentionally or not) insulting the targeted person by suggesting they behave like the opposite gender and policing gender norms. For a man, it’s a direct insult to his perceived masculinity, a comment that conveys “you are acting like a little girl” and all the sexist, cultural garbage that saying covers. For a woman, it’s a direct insult to her femininity, a kind of gender-policing that conveys to her that you think she’s acting too angry/direct/in charge. It’s pretty insulting to be on the receiving end of comments like that, even (perhaps especially) when they are intended by the commenter to be “funny”.

          1. Gabriela*

            I get what you’re saying here, but I don’t think that’s the case with what Sunshine is doing. Telling a grown man to put on his big girl pants is intentionally subverting the gender norms, not reinforcing them. Either way, they are both inappropriate for many work contexts, but maybe not Sunshine’s as noted by “my office skews to the less polished/professional scale” and “…I know my audience”.

            1. Sunshine*

              Thanks, Gabriela. All of this, exactly. But Student does make valid points. Thanks for the insight!

            2. Honeybee*

              I think it can be read either way – telling a man to put on big-girl pant(ie)s can be read as implying that he is stereotypically feminine (aka weak). Telling a woman to “grow a pair” can be interpreted as implying that she is not sufficiently masculine (aka, too stereotypically feminine) and that she needs to become more aggressively masculine to succeed at the task.

              I think avoiding gendered insults altogether is the way to go.

      3. Kelly L.*

        I use “grit my teeth and” sometimes. Or “adulting,” if the audience is pretty web-savvy.

        1. OhNo*

          I use “adulting” all the time! Even among the less web-savvy, the second I say that word, they immediately know what I mean. I guess that is a universal concept!

        1. simonthegrey*

          I won’t lie, my friend and I have started (just between the two of us, and just because we have a similar weird sense of humor) saying “vaj up” in place of “sack up” since the latter is very common to hear around here.

      4. knitcrazybooknut*

        I’ve had friends use the term “adulting”, as in, “I’m adulting today, so I better get it done!”

        1. Honeybee*

          I say the same thing except I say Be An Adult, all caps. Around my office everyone uses this terminology lol.

      5. Talvi*

        While not ungendered, there is a scene in Big Hero 6 where GoGo tells Hiro to “woman up”.

        (Personally, I like the “dragon up” suggested above!)

    6. Stranger than fiction*

      But didn’t that one originally come from “big boy pants”? Which is reverse sexism I suppose but it is used both ways to basically convey to just get over whatever it is and do the right thing.

      1. Dynamic Beige*

        I think so. I think it used to be that boys wore knickers/knee length trousers until they were old enough (whenever that was) for long pants.

        But, I just gotta say that I hate the word panties. Just hate. My mother used to sometimes say “don’t be a panty waste” which is how I interpreted it because I didn’t have a clue what a pantywaist was, except that I knew it was Not Good.

    7. Kassy*

      I am potty-training my two-year-old and am using “big girl panties” quite literally, but I still catch myself when I say it… “I can’t say that, that’s bad! Wait…nope…it’s okay.”

      1. AnotherAlison*

        Heh, I was going to say that I didn’t even use this term when referring to my boys and potty training. It was always “underwear”, never “big boy pants”. Of course, my kids predate when I started hearing this phrase all the time, but it sounds too childish to use with a preschooler to me, never mind an adult!

    8. So Very Anonymous*

      I hate hate HATE this phrase and want it banned from all workplaces unless someone is describing their two-year-old’s toilet training (and even then, I pretty much don’t want any details).* I especially hate it when someone uses it about herself re management issues — you’re a grownup, you’re getting paid to handle these things, talk about yourself as if you were a grownup.

      (*I have a two-year-old niece. But I’m not getting updates on her progress at work).

      1. Connie-Lynne*

        Oh my god, I totally gave a potty training g update on my three year old niece to a coworker the other day and he high fived me.

        1. So Very Anonymous*

          You know, it does totally depend on how well you know someone; I realized after I wrote that that I had probably indeed just updated someone (who has recently-small children) on my niece’s progress. But I’m not sure if niece has reached the point of “big girl panties” or not ;)

  1. Minion*

    All excellent points, but I have to admit…I’m not wondering what the “Office Dad” would look like.
    He’s the guy who tells really terrible, cringe-inducing corny jokes then laughs like it’s the funniest thing he’s ever heard?
    Or does he warn off all the new male employees who may put the moves on the female staff? Like, “If I catch you flirting with my little Jane, here, you’ll have to deal with me!” He stops to laugh, says, “Just kidding.” Then, “Seriously. I’m watching you. I don’t mind going back to prison.”
    Maybe he wears dorky t-shirts, shows co-workers baby pictures of other co-workers or goes out of his way to embarrass his “kids”.
    You call in sick and he tells you to rub some dirt on it and get your butt in your chair in an hour?

    Okay…dad stereotypes galore. But funny to picture, still. At least it is in my head.

    1. Interviewer*

      If you gripe about the project you’re working on in Excel, he tells you a long, boring story about how he used to handwrite spreadsheets and calculate them manually on an abacus, while walking uphill in the snow, both ways.

      1. Chinook*

        “If you gripe about the project you’re working on in Excel, he tells you a long, boring story about how he used to handwrite spreadsheets and calculate them manually on an abacus, while walking uphill in the snow, both ways.”

        Oh man…I do work with that guy. Only he mentioned also sleeping on his desk at one of the remote stations when we complained about our commutes.. Office Dad does exist!

        1. Cynical*

          So basically, if Office Mom encompassing numerous positive and widely loved traits is not an endearing way to thank nice coworkers for their behaviour, but rather “casual sexism”, I figure the potential Office Dad being defined by a slew of annoyances, gripes and overt signs of hostility is proof of male privilege?

    2. Violetta*

      I’ve had an office dad! I feel like I have to qualify that it was not weird or creepy haha, he has kids my age and we would joke around about it. I’ve moved to a different division and he still signs emails to me “Work Dad”

      Traits: Fed the entire office chocolate, always volunteers for coffee runs as an excuse to buy more chocolate, talks about WWI history a lot

      1. hermit crab*

        Similarly, I have a Work Uncle! Traits: brings in baked goods that he’s very proud of, emails funny animal pictures/photos of his cat, continues telling not-that-funny stories long past the point when you want to turn back to your actual work.

      2. Not So NewReader*

        I think that I met this guy. He does not put up with BS, but if you have a real problem he will help, even though it’s not in his job description. He does it because he just enjoys increasing his general pool of knowledge.

    3. OriginalEmma*

      One of my old coworkers may have been an Office Dad and it was great. He had the corny jokes, effusive adoration for his wife (he would always preface any stories about her with “My lovely wife Jane did…” or “My beautiful wife Jane said…”), diehard Broncos fan and unflappably pleasant. I loved working with him.

      Seriously. Down with Office Mom, Up with Office Dad for 2016.

      1. OhNo*

        Agreed. I’d love to see more Office Dads. Although considering that the department I work in is all-female, I do kind of wonder who among us would be the Office Dad…

        I’ll have to put my name in for consideration. I have so many terrible jokes just begging to be shared.

        1. Jaydee*

          It’s personality more than gender. My boss is a woman but she can tell a “handwritten spreadsheets/abacus/uphill both ways in the snow” story with the best of them.

      2. CV*

        heh. I had a professor in university that referred to his wife as “the Beloved”.
        “It is the Beloved’s birthday next week…”

    4. Arielle*

      I work in an office of mostly women in our 20s and 30s and we totally have an office dad. He’s the age of most of our dads and has a white beard. We go to him for car advice and teach him about the internet. :)

    5. neverjaunty*

      Yes! And he insists on turning the office thermostat down to 68 because “this business isn’t made of money, you know”.

    6. Meg Murry*

      At one of my earliest jobs most of the employees at my level were in our early 20s (or even late teens – it was a factory job and hired a lot of people straight from college) and our boss was a man in his 50s. He was a really nice guy, and was really kind to us but expected a lot of us. As one of my co-workers said: “Man, I hate having to go tell Tim I screwed XYZ up. It feels like letting down my dad or something.”

      And actually, I would say that’s another casually sexist/ageist thing to avoid – don’t treat co-workers differently because of big difference in age. At another job when I was in my mid twenties, I was asked to train a coworker who was my father’s age, and he had a daughter my age. He had worked in a parallel industry to ours, so even though he had a lot of work experience, I had to teach him how to do tasks and procedures that were specific to our industry or customer, and it did not go well at all for quite a while, because he just could not get past the idea that he had to respect what I said and listen to me (and I wasn’t very good at standing up for myself yet). After an incident in which he screwed up a major order after telling me “don’t worry your pretty little head about it, I’ve got this” he got a major dressing down and I got told to put my foot down with him and he started realizing that I really did know what I was talking about. So yes, moral of the story – I don’t care if someone is the same age as your son/daughter/mother/father/grandfather – treat them with the respect due to a coworker, not as you would a family member.

      1. Alienor*

        At almost 45, I’m starting to experience that from the other end of the spectrum. I would love to wave a magic wand and make the interns and new grads in my office stop talking to me like I’m their elementary-school teacher or their friend’s mom. In return, I promise not to say “23? You’re just a baby!” or any of the other things that annoyed me when I was their age.

    7. Squeegee Beckenheim*

      I’ve had a couple office dads! My current one likes to ask me about my snow tires and always has nail clippers if I need to borrow them (I’m not a serial work nail cutter, I just occasionally break one trying to pry something open or whatever), just like my actual dad. My last job had a real dad (he mainly liked to talk to me about Big Bang Theory, but he would also be excited to trade Excel tips and give me pep talks when I was down) and a fake dad (my boss) who wanted to be like my dad but mostly just creeped me out. He asked if he could give me a hug on my last day.

    8. Rebecca in Dallas*

      Haha, we totally have an office dad! He tells corny jokes (and repeats them often), only knows how to bake brownies so that’s what he brings to any potluck, gives good advice. An office dad is not bad to have around!

    9. Chinook*

      “All excellent points, but I have to admit…I’m not wondering what the “Office Dad” would look like.
      He’s the guy who tells really terrible, cringe-inducing corny jokes then laughs like it’s the funniest thing he’s ever heard?
      Or does he warn off all the new male employees who may put the moves on the female staff? Like, “If I catch you flirting with my little Jane, here, you’ll have to deal with me!” He stops to laugh, says, “Just kidding.” Then, “Seriously. I’m watching you. I don’t mind going back to prison.””

      Umm, by that description, I work with two “office dads” and this definitely comes with their age (as in I don’t know if the guys may age would do this when they get close to retirement like these guys). But, then again, last week when I was training a room full of guys, I did refer to them as boys because they were goofing off a little.

    10. Student*

      He’s That Guy who keeps turning the thermostat down, and also turning the lights off when people are still around.

    11. Barefoot Librarian*

      My previous library totally had an office dad!! He somehow managed to always look busy but avoid any of the dirty work, would tell the worst corny (and occasionally mildly racist) jokes, referred to the women in the office as “girls” (he was not in a senior position either), and on the few occasions we collaboratively taught a class, he would go on these long tangents that inevitably ended with something about sports, his kids, or his childhood (riding to school in the snow, uphill both ways). It was funny at times, but oh so annoying too.

    12. afiendishthingy*

      He ALWAYS remembers to change the wall clocks for Daylight’s Savings. And he makes really good time to the office retreat – I hope you went to the bathroom before you left because we are NOT STOPPING DAMMIT.

  2. Qwerty*

    I think the problem with girls is that it’s become the female equivalent of guys, but still applies to female people under 18. So while men have boys, guys, men, women have girls, girls and women. There are times when I wouldn’t address a group of men as “men”, I’d call them “guys”. There’s no good female equivalent to that. I know women who get upset at “ladies”, which is my preference, and no one says “gals”. We need a new word.

    1. NJ Anon*

      We use “guys” for males or females. How about something that doesn’t describe gender like “folks?”

      On another note, my report referred to me as her “office mom.” Not because I am warm and fuzzy but more because I am a mentor to her. It didn’t really bother me. No one else refers to me that way. But I have been told I have the “crying” chair in my office.

      1. Kairi*

        I jokingly refer to my boss as my “office mom” because when she gave me a tour of the office on my first day, people asked if I was her daughter. I also see her as a mentor, so the term definitely has multiple contexts.

      2. Qwerty*

        The situation I’m thinking of is as follows:

        My husband has a group of guy friends. There are five of them total. They’re all married. They have a standing date every four months to all get together and do an activity. So an email to 10 people (the five guys plus their wives) will go out that reads:

        “The guys have decided to go bowling at Gutterball Lanes on Saturday at noon, followed by drinks at a TBD location.

        Are the girls getting together and doing anything?”

        I’m not sure what to substitute for “girls” there, since we called the boys “guys”.

        We do often refer to ourselves as boys and girls sometimes, though it’s not consistent.

      3. A Bug!*

        I think “my office mom” is a different sort of label than “the office mom,” but I might have a chat with the person about how she uses it to others, not for how it would affect people’s opinions of you* but because it could make people take her less seriously. That is, I think it’s better compared to #3 in the article (“girl” vs. “woman”), in that by calling you her office mom, she’s infantilizing herself.

        *If the coworker were male I think it would bring the problem back to being the issue with “office mom” generally, mind you. In that context it would imply less of a teaching relationship and more of a caretaking relationship.

      4. Bailey Quarters*

        This is why I use “folks.” If it’s a single-gender group, I use “ladies” or “gentlemen.”

    2. 12345678910112 do do do*

      Folk? I have some trouble pronouncing it, but it seems like an appropriate substitute.

    3. Faith*

      Non-native English speaker here (currently living in the South). What is upsetting/offensive about “ladies”? I’ve seen this term used so many times, both in professional and social situations. It never even occurred to me that someone might be upset by it.

      1. fposte*

        Historically “ladies” is more a social term than a professional one, and that becomes especially apparent when the women are being called “ladies” but the men are being called “men,” not “gentlemen.”

        I go for the neuter “guys” myself.

          1. Almond Milk Latte*

            Depending on your regional lingo, it could be, but that’d also count on your audience 100% interpreting it the same way.

          2. fposte*

            It is in many regional dialects, including mine. Given its utility, I vote for making that broader.

            1. OhNo*

              Also, I think the perception of “guys” as genderless may be an age thing. At least among the people I know, everyone under 30 uses “guys” as a neutral term, and the people that view it as gendered tend to be over 30 (although there are still plenty of people above 30 who use as neuter, too).

              Is “guys” on of those terms that is changing meaning with the new generation, like “your welcome” changed to “no problem” among younger people?

              1. Random citizen*

                When I’m not using “y’all,” I usually address groups of people as “guys,” regardless of gender, but you’re right, I do tend to do that more with people under 30. In the singular, I still use it only for males (does anyone use it as gender neutral in the single? I’m curious now…), but in the plural, “Hey, guys” covers pretty much any group outside of the executive circle.

                1. OhNo*

                  I actually alternate between “dude” and “man” as my gender-neutral singular, which is kind of silly because both are definitely coded masculine. I’ve gotten no objections thus far, but I wish there was a better term I could use!

                2. Alienor*

                  I wouldn’t use it in the singular to describe a female person – if I said “Look at that dude over there” or “That guy bumped into me,” I would always mean someone male. I would say “Dude, what are you even doing?” to someone female, but thinking about it, probably only to someone my age or younger – I would (and have) said it to my 17-year-old daughter, but not to my 65-year-old mother or my 90-year-old grandma.

              2. Anxa*

                I think it’s in part generational, but I wouldn’t say that younger people perceive guys as more genderless.

                I’m about 30 and I grew up considering guys to be gender-neutral when referring to my peer group (in certain contexts). But I’m working on phasing that out as younger people have pointed out that it can be uncomfortable for people who don’t fit neatly into a gender binary or are trans to be referred to under the ‘guys’ umbrella.

              3. mondegreen*

                I’m a woman under 30 and used to use “guys” but have gradually shifted to “everyone” (“Hello All:” as a salutation) or, informally, “y’all.” A few people in my general age group pointed out that they didn’t read “guys” as gender-neutral.

                This is probably a regional thing: I spent significant portions of my childhood on the US West Coast, and the people who see a casual use of “guys” as gendered seem to come largely from the South/East.

                1. Windchime*

                  I’m in my 50’s and from the northwest. “Guys” is a very gender neutral thing here when paired with “you”, as in “What do you guys want to do?”. It’s the NW equivalent of “y’all”, which is seen as a Southern thing. If you’re not Southern and you say “y’all” here, you’re likely to get the side-eye.

                  But if I said, “There were a couple of guys standing around”, then most people would take that to mean men. I think that the female equivalent would be “gals”, but that seems a little folksy or something.

                  Side note: My daughter-in-law frequently calls me “dude”. As in, “Dude, no way”. It hits my ear funny but because she is of a younger generation, I know she means it in a gender-neutral way.

                2. Mindy*

                  Thank-you for “everyone”! When I refer to my employees to people they serve I have always called them ladies for lack of a better word. “Have the ladies been polite, giving you enough choices?” etc. Mostly I do this to let the clients know that I respect my employees and they should too, but I always feel a little sexiest. From now on it will be “everyone”. Thanks you for the obvious!

              4. Alienor*

                I’m well over 30 and use “guys” to refer to mixed groups, as in “Hey, guys, quiet down” or “Have you guys heard about this?” I also use “dude” as neutral in some contexts (Female friend: “So I did [mildly shocking thing]. Me: “Dude! Seriously?”) but that’s probably a function of living on the West Coast for a long time.

                1. Not So NewReader*

                  Yep, I am over 50. I can remember saying “So, you guys, what do you think…” and similar contexts. That was the 70s. The previous decade, I remember referring to someone’s child as a “kid” was an insult. “Kid” implied someone that was up to no good and probably would never amount to anything in life.

                2. afiendishthingy*

                  My two (female) best friends in college used to refer to each other as “the Dude.” Actually 10 years later we are all still friends and sometimes it’s still kind of weird for me to hear any of us call each other by name and not just “Hey dude”.

            2. JB (not in Houston)*

              Here’s my issue with that. I use “guys” to refer to a mixed group of people, and I might say “Hey, guys, can you help with this?” when addressing a group of women. But I would not say “oh, the guys decided not to join us tonight” if I’m referring to a group of -just- women. Other people in this part of the US seem to do it the same. So I’ve seen it for a mixed group and a group of just men, but not a group of just women. So here, it’s still a gendered term with no equivalent for women. Is that different in your part of the country?

        1. Artemesia*

          Ladies is a social and a class category. And nowhere is that truer than in the south where black women were not referred to as ‘ladies.’ Paired with ‘gentlemen’ it is not entirely awful but it usually hints at subordination — attending to gender rather than job status.

          The south has contributed a perfectly marvelous way around this issue with groups — it is you’all the appropriate form of genderless address to a mixed group of people. It is more neutral than ‘you guys’ and also has a little more elegance — ‘you guys’ always seems a tad adolescent. I now live in the north but have carried ‘you’all’ with me. It doesn’t solve the issue of what to refer to people in third person as — but folks, everyone, team members — there are so many ways to mention people without calling them ladies or girls. But you’all solves the direct address problem.

          1. simonthegrey*

            And if it is a big group, you follow my Alabama mom’s language and refer to “all y’all!”

        2. Broke Law Student*

          I don’t know if someone has said this already, but I’ve never seen “guy” used as neuter–if I say “I met a guy last night,” I don’t think anyone would think I meant a woman. So it’s only “neuter” in the plural in the sense that masculine is taken as default. So I still use it in the plural for men and women, but I don’t actually think it’s a purely neutral term and wish we had a better one.

      2. Minion*

        I’m not entirely sure that I’m right about this, but maybe it’s the assumption that being a “lady” also means being “ladylike” which has a whole other connotation. Growing up, for me, being ladylike meant I didn’t wear pants like boys, I didn’t play with boy’s toys, I didn’t sit with my legs all sprawled out, I didn’t go to boyfriend’s houses or call boys or ask them out on dates. I didn’t talk about things that weren’t ladylike and I shouldn’t pursue jobs when I grew up that weren’t ladylike, like being a cop or a truck driver.
        So, maybe the word “lady” is associated with those kinds of repressive ideals.

        1. Kelly L.*

          Yeah, “ladies” is kind of a cross between the “ladylike” connotation where it sounds like you want them to crook their pinkie, and the “ladies’ night” connotation where it sounds like the hopping new singles bar. The counterpart of man is woman, not lady.

          But I like “hi all” and “hi everyone” and the neuter “guys.”

          1. Minion*

            I don’t know that I’m in favor of neutering guys….let’s not get too crazy! LOL I jest, of course. I saw “neuter guys” and it made me giggle.

          2. Kelly L.*

            (Oh, and my perspective may be a little off-kilter because I used to work at a women’s college, people said “hey ladies” all the time, and one time, someone altered a “Hey Ladies” passive-aggressive note so that it said “Hey Ladies, Get Funky.” So now it sounds like a disco song lyric to me.)

      3. Noah*

        Ladies sounds a bit demeaning. Like you’re gathering together the secretarial pool to make an announcement or something.

        I tend to default to guys, which seems somewhat gender neutral. I will also address emails to “everyone” or “all”.

        1. Not So NewReader*

          At some point, there was (or is ) a shift. “Ladies and Gentlemen” used to be very formal. Somewhere along the lines, “ladies” took on a dark tone. “I am calling you people, “ladies” because I think you are the total opposite of a true lady.” I think it got used in a sarcastic sense too much and people became wary of that ambiguity. It left people with a question in their minds- is this speaker being sincere or is this speaker being insulting? For purposes of clarity, people tended to move away from using the word “ladies”.

          My boss has an extensive list of words to avoid in order to not come across in an ambiguous manner. While some of the words are things I never thought of, I will say my boss does a terrific job speaking with people. One person who belonged to X group of people, a group who face a lot of prejudice, even went so far as to thank my boss for her fairness and her transparency in her words and actions. He commented that because he is an X he does not always see that very much. My boss’s list of words work for her.

          1. Ad Astra*

            The way you talk about the evolution of “ladies” makes me think about how “classy” has changed.

      4. Not me*

        I’ve never been bothered by it or seen anyone have a problem with it in real life, living in the south, so my guess is that it depends on how interchangeably “women” and “ladies” are used locally.

        I’ve read online that it can be considered patronizing, sort of like using “sir” or “ma’am” when you clearly don’t want to.

      5. Ihmmy*

        What previous commenters have said, plus I find it gets reeeeeally overused. Hey Ladieeezzzzzz how are all the ladieezzz doing today c’mon ladddieeeezzzzzzz. I went to a presentation on women in tech and “ladies” was literally the only term the presenter used to describer her female coworkers and friends. Hearing “Ladies” seventeen times in twenty minutes was way too much.

    4. newreader*

      I also use “ladies” and haven’t found a better alternate. I agree we need a new word. Maybe we can all just adopt “y’all” for all situations – men and women.

      1. Collarbone High*

        One of my favorite things about moving to the South was being able to use “y’all.” I adopted it right away — it’s so useful!

      2. Noah*

        I like y’all but stopped using it when I lived in Las Vegas and people made fun of me. Growing up in the South almost indoctrinated it in me, along with saying sir and ma’am. Also had to drop that habit too.

        1. neverjaunty*

          Those people are terrible. Even in CA, everybody I know agrees that “y’all” is a perfect solution for the lack of a clear modern English plural.

          Although if somebody refers to “all y’alls”, watch out.

          1. Collarbone High*

            I used to make fun of “all y’all,” but lately I’ve found occasions where it actually applies, and is grammatically distinct from “y’all.” (My light-bulb moment was when I was waiting to make a right turn, and the oncoming cars kept turning left without signaling. I grumbled “Are ALL y’all going to turn?” and then realized, oh geez, I just said the thing I swore I would never say. But it made sense!)

            1. Artemesia*

              it never makes sense. you’all is always plural — if it is just one, it is ‘you’ even in the south.

              1. Delyssia*

                It’s not all y’all vs. you (singular), it’s all y’all vs. some of y’all. Whether or not people like it is a separate question from whether or not it makes sense.

                1. TL -*


                  It’s also emphasis – like, if my teacher said, “Y’all sit down now,” and only half the class sits, she might’ve followed up with, “All y’all better sit down now,” where all y’all means, yes, everybody, and I did mean everybody.

            2. neverjaunty*

              Right, it’s like how some languages have different specific words for ‘near’, ‘pretty near’, ‘far’ and ‘really far’.

              1. Aunt Vixen*

                Not only that – some languages have two (or more) first-person plural pronouns, because what we mean when we say “we” could mean any of the following:
                – you (the listener or listeners) and I, the speaker
                – you (the listener or listeners), I (the speaker), and some number of other people
                – I (the speaker) and some number of other people but not you (the listener or listeners)

                Differentiating between “y’all” and “all y’all” is totally useful and this linguist won’t hear a word said against it. :-)

              2. Dynamic Beige*

                Oh, you mean like the difference between “yonder” and “yander”? Yonder is far away, yander is up close.

          2. Liane*

            In both high school & college, I took Latin and when doing Latin to English translations, I always translated the Latin second person plural as “you all.”

      3. Qwerty*

        I refuse to use “y’all” because I trying to shed all vestiges of my hillbilly upbringing. It’s the same reason I don’t call the vacuum cleaner a “sweeper” anymore, and why I learned to pronounce “wash” correctly. (My dad says “warsh” and my mom says “woysh”.)

      1. bearing*

        OH YES. I had almost forgotten that one. Blocked it out. Even more irritating because overly folksy.

        1. Kelly L.*

          Gals! I don’t find it offensive per se, but it makes me think of cowboy hats and boots and, like, lariats or something. It’s so Wild West in my head for some reason.

          1. ThursdaysGeek*

            Speaking of gals and panties, it reminds me of some children’s underwear I saw in a store years ago, labelled “Fun Guys” and “Fun Gals”. I read it as plural fungi and fungal, neither of which are that great of a name for undies.

          2. Barefoot Librarian*

            “Gals” makes me think of retro A-line dresses and lunch-time martinis for some reason. I have NO idea where the association came from but I dig it.

      2. OhNo*

        Really? I’ve lived in MN my whole life, and I’ve never noticed anyone using “gals”, at least not on a regular basis. Have I managed to block it out? Or am I just immune to it because I’ve been living here for forever?

        1. OriginalEmma*

          Maybe you’re immune? I’m a transplant so I honed in on gal/gals (said by people from International Falls to Blaine), the funny o’s (boat! coat!) and I hope for the golden moment when someone says “you betcha.”

          1. OhNo*

            I’m in the cities, so it might just be less common here, too, since there’s a lot more immigrants and transplants that in greater MN.

            If you want a fun game, try playing MN lingo bingo (yes, that’s what my friends and I call it). You can make up the spots as you like, but some of my favorites are “hot dish”, “you betcha”, “oofta”, “up north”, and any mention of lake-related activities, with bonus points for ice fishing.

            1. OriginalEmma*

              I’m live in the cities too but the people I’ve heard it from are from towns outside of it.

              I’m enjoying the extra syllable in “don’t” that some folks use. Dough-int.

              I didn’t know what hot dish was for the longest time until I saw it at a diner. “Oh, it’s casserole.” Thankfully I only thought that sacrilegious word.

              1. AFT123*

                Oh you guys.. I’m a MN native, first-ring suburb (9 miles from downtown) and I live on a lake, I go up north to the cabin, I say “gals” (because it’s the best alternative to ladies, women, girls, etc and sort of a term of endearment), I say “pop” (not soda), I put ketchup on everything, I end my sentences with “so…” more often than I care to admit, and you should just HEAR my glorious accent!!

                We don’t really say “you betcha” or “doncha know” though :)

                I ADORE Minnesota!! We’re charming as all get out :)

              2. Alienor*

                I’d rather an extra syllable than a deleted one. I have a friend who invariably says “dint” instead of “didn’t” and it drives me mad every time!

              1. Mallory Janis Ian*

                We were talking about accents in the office the other day, explaining the regional American variety to some of our PhD students from Iran, Africa, and India. We’re in the south, so they were asking if all Americans sound like us. My coworker from Idaho (or Iowa?) was saying that she comes from a state that doesn’t have an accent. I said, “Well, you have one to me.” She said, “Really? What does it sound like?” and I told her it sounded like an ‘up north’ accent. I can tell when people are from up north just like they can tell when someone is from down south, so that’s an accent as far as I’m concerned.

                1. FiveWheels*

                  Gah, I’m a linguist by training and I detest the concept of “I don’t have an accent.” Accent is simply the pronunciation of words which may have a class and/or regional origin.

                  I have trained myself not to respond when people use dialect and accent interchangeably but it still hurts :-(

                2. Iowan*

                  As a native Iowan, a pet peeve of mine is when people can’t/won’t/don’t bother learn the difference between Iowa, Idaho, and/or Ohio. They are not alike – at all – other than having three syllables and three vowels. When you conflate them, it reflects quite poorly on you.

                3. Mallory Janis Ian*

                  “As a native Iowan, a pet peeve of mine is when people can’t/won’t/don’t bother learn the difference between Iowa, Idaho, and/or Ohio. They are not alike – at all – other than having three syllables and three vowels. When you conflate them, it reflects quite poorly on you.”

                  As a native Arkansan, I hear Arkansas/Alabama/Kansas all the time from people who can’t keep them straight. I forgive them, and I forgive myself, too.

                4. Pennalynn Lott*

                  My real first name begins with an M. I have been called every version of a female name that begins with M (vs my actual name), that I can’t be bothered to get upset about it anymore. I assume it’s the same thing with state names. No malice is meant, it’s just tricky human memory.

                  P.S. I wouldn’t be able to properly place New Hampshire, Vermont, Connecticut, Massachusetts and Rhode Island on a map if my life depended on it. But I’m from Texas. Anything northeast of Arkansas is all “up north” to me. Besides, no one would ever expect me to properly place a handful of Texas counties (that are each bigger than the aforementioned states) on a map, so I’m not too worried about this little bit of geographic illiteracy. :-)

      3. Random citizen*

        I’ve used this one when a need a feminine singular (like, “the new guy in accounting” for a woman) when saying “woman” sounds weirdly formal.

          1. ThursdaysGeek*

            I realized after I submitted this that the second can have racial undertones. It’s not that way in my corner of the country, but perhaps a different one syllable word should be used.

          2. Aunt Vixen*

            “The new accountant”?

            I guess not everyone who works in the accounting department is necessarily an accountant. But I don’t see why a person couldn’t use the actual name of the role – “the new admin in accounting,” “the new boss in accounting,” “the new intern in accounting,” whatever. Unless you didn’t know the new role, in which case you could certainly say “the new person in accounting – what does she do?”

        1. Ad Astra*

          I think people need to get more comfortable using “woman” in this case. I get that you probably wouldn’t say “the new man in accounting,” but that would still be less troubling than saying “the new boy in accounting,” right?

          Personally, I don’t get bent out of shape when someone refers to me as a girl in social situations, but I hate being called a girl at work.

      4. Aunt Vixen*

        Off topic, but this keeps being an answer in crossword puzzles, and it confuses me every time. The clue is something like “Guy’s date” and the answer is only three letters so I can’t fit “DOLL” and it always takes me a minute to work out that it’s expecting “GAL.” Gah.

    5. KTM*

      This is exactly how I feel about it. My bosses boss always says ‘gal’ (like – ‘that gal in marketing’) and it somehow sounds insulting/odd too. I don’t really take offense to ‘girls’ unless it feels insulting in context if that makes sense. I try to stick with ‘women’ but sometimes it feels too formal.

    6. Mike C.*

      I’m from the rainy PNW, but I think the south has something when they use “y’all”.

      /That BBQ and rockets.

        1. kristinyc*

          I use: All, Team, everyone, whatever the group name is (Hey Marketing team!) or if it’s 3 or less people, their names.

          I have a (female) coworker who calls everyone “Sweetie.” If she were really old, I’d let it slide, but she’s in her early 30s. It feels so condescending. She also cornered me in the bathroom and asked if/when I will start having children… Sigh.

      1. Dr. Johnny Fever*

        I use y’all, all y’all, everyone, everybody, folks, team.

        I confess, when it is team meeting time, I say, “okie dokie, artichokie, let’s go!”

    7. the gold digger*

      I was told in a sensitivity training class that calling two or more women “ladies” was actually implying they were prostitutes.

      Oh, how the ladies and I laughed at that one.

      I address emails to my non-US male co-workers as “gentlemen,” as I do not think they will get “guys.”

      1. hermit crab*

        What! That’s like the urban legend about how you can’t have sorority houses in [insert state here] because unrelated females living together counts as a brothel.

        (One of our clients addresses us as “ladies and gents,” which I like.)

      2. katamia*

        Wait, what? I don’t like “ladies” at all, but not because I think they’re implying I’m a prostitute. It just makes me think of seedy guys in nightclubs and bars, the ones who like to think they respect women because they’re calling them ladies but really don’t respect them at all.

        Did you get a chance to tell the (I assume) man running the sensitivity training that that was absurd?

    8. Nikki*

      I have an odd tendency to refer to everyone as both “kids” and “friends.” I think this is because I work with children of all ages and it just sort of carries over.

      My workplace is primarily female, excluding our male boss, and we use “ladies” a lot, but I think the most common catch-all is just “all.” Scrolling through my inbox I see a lot of emails that start “Hi/Hey all…”

      1. Meg Murry*

        Not to derail the thread too much, but can I just say that I haaaaate the trend of using the word “friends” in schools as a substitute for “students” or “classmates”. For instance, my son’s preschool teacher addresses the class as “Ok friends, it’s time to clean up” or uses phrases like “2 friends can go to the writing station. 3 friends can go to the block station”. That is not what the word friends means!

        I get that it’s supposed to be an anti-bullying thing (another class rule my son has had is “we’re all friends in first grade!” to avoid the “you’re not my friend anymore!” type of mean-ness) but it actually causes more confusion once they get older, because they don’t have an appropriate word to use for “people I like and voluntarily choose to spend time with” now that “friends” has taken on the meaning of “classmate/peer/person I am remotely acquainted with” (the last one being more in the line of “facebook friend” is not the same thing as actual friend). One of the issues I’ve seen is that is getting across points like “real/good friends wouldn’t treat you that way” or “you don’t have to be friends with KidA if he is going to say mean things to you” – because the concept of friends as a voluntary thing they choose has been taken away.

        Ok, rant over, and I’ll save it for the weekend thread. But I’d suggest you re-consider what you are trying to achieve with your use of the word “friend” and whether you are actually achieving that goal.

        1. Barefoot Librarian*

          Ugh, I don’t like that appropriation of “friend” at all. I mean, I get what they are trying to do, but it is mildly manipulative and confusing.

          1. the gold digger*

            My big takeaway from volunteering with preschoolers is “Indian style” is not longer used to describe the manner of sitting about which the guy who plays Raj in Big Bang Theory says, “I was sitting on the floor Indian style, or, as we say, ‘I was sitting.'”

            1. Brisvegan*

              We always called it ‘cross-legged’ in Australia, at least in the 40+ years I’ve been around.

        2. Dynamic Beige*

          “Ok friends, it’s time to clean up”
          Now if that was a Quaker school, it would be totally appropriate.

          1. Kira*

            Yeah, to me if it’s not Quaker (well, even if it is, but I can grasp that that’s my problem not theirs), “friends” as a form of address sounds incredibly sinister. “Hello, friends,” is a phrase that should only be used by roguishly handsome rogues addressing their enemies while sitting in medieval taverns picking their teeth with their knives, or by intimidating numbers of wide-eyed persons with fixed, uncanny-valley smiles and a door they’re trying to get you to step through.

    9. Random citizen*

      I usually go for “gals” if it’s a female group, or “y’all,” if I’m addressing them directly (not in the South :)).

    10. Cucumberzucchini*

      Another vote for “y’all” and “all y’all”. I’m in the south so it’s more expected, but I have clients all over the country and I use it in all forms of communication with them. If someone thinks less of me for using y’all, well bless their heart.

      1. Artemesia*

        you’all or y’all is plural. the singular is always just you. all you all is like irregardless — not a thing.

        1. VintageLydia*

          Um, I hear and say “all y’all” all the time. It’s especially used for emphasis as in, “I need ALL y’all to stop talking so we can get started with this thing!” Or if I’m talking to a few people but I’m referring to the larger group “All y’all should come by my house on Friday. We’re having tacos!”

          1. hermit crab*

            Haha, we said the same thing at the same time. :)

            It’s not like these are “real” words in standard written English; what’s “correct” is what you hear and say in conversation.

          2. neverjaunty*

            Exactly, “all y’all” or, even more emphatically, “all y’alls” is a kind of “hey you guys, listen up, because I’m talking to you” in a way that y’all isn’t.

        2. hermit crab*

          Not in all dialects/situations, though. I’ve actually heard “y’all” used as a singular (or for a small group/subgroup), with “all y’all” as the plural (or for the entire group). It’s actually a pretty nimble and precise way to phrase things.

        3. BeenThere*

          Actually having lived in Texas I’ve seen both used and confused about the usage until a friend explained it similar to the following which I lifted from the internet somewhere:

          While “y’all” is actually a contraction for “you all,” it is most commonly used in place of the plural form of “you.” “All y’all” or “all of y’all,” on the other hand, is generally used in place of “you all.”

        4. FiveWheels*

          I’m not American but “y’all” suggests more than one person, whereas “all y’all” suggests everyone there.

          The other concept is use of plural add polite, as in French. I’ve been addressed as “all y’all” while in a party of two. I assumed that in context “y’all” was the polite form of “you” so the all was needed to pluralise it.

    11. Sunflower*

      Gals actually irks me more than ladies. When I hear Gals I think of a bunch of women sipping cocktails and getting their nails done. Ladies actually strikes me as a term for professional, put together women. I’m in the Northeast in a region where no one uses ‘ya’ll’ and lots of people use ‘you guys’ to refer to any group of people. ‘Folks’ sounds really corny to me. Of course, these are just *my* feelings and being called any of these things would not offend me in the slightest.

    12. Dovahkiin*

      I don’t like using gendered collective nouns in my workplace, because I work with some awesome trans folks – everyone has agreed that “guys” is ok and non-offensive, but I like to switch it up:

      (Work Dept) team; so like “Marketing Team”
      (Skill) guild; so like “Engineering Guild”

      It’s pretty easy once you set your mind to it to recognize people by their professional skills instead of their gender attributes, so “Let’s go see what the girls think about this” (which is an ick for me, personally), becomes “Let’s go see what the designers think about this.” Instead of “Ladies, let’s get to work,” try “Team, let’s get to work.”

      Of course, in my free time, I call the women in my life: “women,” “SISTERS” “MY GODDESSES” and “supreme beings” but that’s just me.

      1. VintageLydia*

        All my opinions on the proper words for groups of women/gender neutral terms go right out the window when I’m talking about my close group of girlfriends :P

        1. Connie-Lynne*

          My friends and I call each other “Dummy” pretty often, which led to the following hilarious work convo:

          [phone rings, I answer in super-professional mode] “This is Constance…”

          [casual] “oh, hey, dummy, what’s up?”

    13. Stranger than fiction*

      Agree that one is tough and I’m guilty using it in the past, but now I use guys for both. Now I wonder if that’s offending anyone.

    14. KC*

      I have heard the term “boy” or “boys” used by women in their early 20s. It irks me but i sometimes find myself talking about a “girl”. I try to not use it too much though as i imagine some people might be irked by it the same way I’m irked by people using the term boy to describe a male in his early 20s or older. I would prefer guy to boy. Man is the equivalent to woman, but i would feel weird using it to describe a young adult. but as you said, there’s no female equivalent that i can think of for guy. Chick is the closest i can think of.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        I think some times we forget how old we are and if the person is close in age, we forget how old the person is. I carried “boy” and “girl” around with me for years after I left home. Then one day, I realize, “Wait. They are my age. I am…. WHAAATT??” ;”
        I had moved out of the house, but my vocabulary was still at home with mom and dad.

    15. Elizabeth West*

      The admins here use ladies when we’re emailing each other. I don’t mind it so much. Gals sounds silly and old-fashioned to me, like we’re in a 1940s comedy film. Or sometimes I just use guys to refer to everybody, but that’s more for a casual setting.

      In competitive figure skating, they have female skaters who are anywhere from early teens (juniors) to mid/late twenties (senior/elite level), so they use ladies. It’s polite and covers everybody pretty well.

  3. Betty*

    Ugh, the one that drove me over the edge is when my boss said, “I hope you return to work.” on my last day before my maternity leave. I was explicitly clear that I was returning to work from the moment I announced my pregnancy through my last day.

    1. sunny-dee*

      I get why it’s sexist … but something like 50% of women don’t return to work after mat leave. It’s not an unreasonable fear, especially if your boss really likes you.

      1. Honeybee*

        Sure, there are many stereotypical and sexist things that can be couched as a “reasonable fear.” That doesn’t mean we should give voice to them. (And the thing is, even if a woman didn’t return after maternity leave, the company would deal with it the way they always deal with employees leaving. Employees leave for all kinds of reasons; leaving after maternity leave isn’t inherently worse than leaving after leave of any other kind or leaving on a random Tuesday.)

        1. BananaPants*

          I struggled with the perception that I would probably not return because in my (very male-dominated) organization, the previous half-dozen female employees who went on maternity leave did NOT come back even though they had all said they would. I knew that there was absolutely NO chance that I wouldn’t be going back to work but none of the senior management really believed it until I showed up 10.5 weeks later. My boss at the time got very antsy when I came in to chat around 6 weeks into my leave; he thought I was either quitting or was planning to take the rest of the year off on unpaid personal leave. He was visibly relieved when I told him I just wanted to arrange to work half days for my first week back!

          If a female employee says she’s coming back after maternity leave, she probably means it. Most women know going into maternity leave if it’s financially viable for them to quit (or conversely if they know they can’t quit or if they choose to continue working for non-financial reasons). It’s extremely rare that a manager or coworker asks a new dad if he’ll be coming back, so why ask a female employee?

          1. Hotstreak*

            I wonder if it’s because of women taking more time off after birth than men. Just anectdotal on my part, but I’ve never seen or heard of a man taking a 12 week FMLA, but have seen and heard from many women who did take that full leave (and many of them were given longer paid leave by their company than the father).

            To put that in context, I wouldn’t wonder if someone was returning from a one week vacation, but I would wonder, or joke about, whether they were returning from a much longer sabbatical.

            1. J.B.*

              The one thing about FMLA is that both parents can take it. I took 12 weeks (insisting that my husband take 1 week off after the birth) and then my husband took the remaining 11 weeks. It was great to wait until little one was 5 months to start day care.

              1. phyllisB*

                When our first child was born, (34 years ago) my husband took 1 week paternity leave. (His company allowed more but they were in a busy season) his co-workers made so fun of him for doing that, when our other two were born he refused to do it. I hope things are not like that for the young fathers of today.

                1. Dynamic Beige*

                  In Ontario, you get one year of Mat leave, if you are an employee (not freelance or president/owner of the company), but it’s not full salary. When one of my coworkers was going to become a father for the first time, he wanted to take 3 months off to help out with the baby but then he found out that if he took 3, his wife would only get 9. And, her salary was less than his, so he just took some PTO so she had the full mat leave.

                  I think that having a child forces you to reassess what you want out of life. I have known people who were 100% convinced that they would be back at work, only to find that work was no longer what they wanted/being with their child was more important/they felt like they had to choose/other reason. Quitting a job doesn’t necessarily mean to stop working. Someone who has a long commute on top of a new baby/young child might opt to find another job closer to home, start a home based business, switch to a company that allows telecommuting.

            2. AnotherAlison*

              The women weren’t necessarily “given” longer paid leaves. Most of them are probably using their paid PTO plus paid short-term disability. Couple the “paid” part of the FMLA for women with the fact that the majority of women are not the “breadwinners” of the household, and it stands to reason that women take the full 12, even if some is unpaid, and the men don’t. If the man is the primary earner, he likely can’t afford to take 12 unpaid weeks off (or 5-6 that’s left even if he has good paid PTO to take).

              Now, at the time my younger son was born, I could only take my 6 weeks vacation+paid disability time off because I was the main earner. My husband started a business the year before and had no time off and no income to contribute. Crappy timing.

              1. Hotstreak*

                Ugh, that’s awful you couldn’t take more time. I really wish there was better parental leave in the US.

        1. JC*

          Yeah, news to me. Every woman I have worked with who has taken maternity leave has come back to work afterwards. I know that’s not the norm either, but still. Why on earth would you say something to a woman who explicitly had said she plans on coming back?

          1. Ann*

            I honestly never knew that not returning from maternity leave was a thing until I read about it here! I’ve never worked with any woman who didn’t come back.

          2. Elizabeth West*

            Me too, but most of them couldn’t afford to stay home with their babies. They had to have that second income and were lucky enough to have family who could look after the baby or had some other arrangement for child care.

          3. Katie the Fed*

            I work with a lot of military and it’s such a different world – many military families still do the dynamic of: Man works, Woman stays home with kids. I’ve worked with officers who have told me they think it’s better for the children if the mom stays home to take care of them. I…don’t know what to say to that, because I try to keep things collegial in the workplace. It’s just a very different paradigm from mot civilian families I know.

            1. VintageLydia*

              I’m a Navy brat and part of that is practicality, though there is no shortage of “traditional” folks in the military. It’s extremely difficult to build a career when you’re moving every 2-5 years. My mom usually just temped or found shorter term bookkeeping gigs before us kids came along and then that money wouldn’t come close to covering childcare so she was a SAHM until my younger brother started full time school (afterschool care is much cheaper than all day daycare/preschool.)

            2. Helena*

              I usually like what you have to say, Katie the Fed, but this comment strikes me as painting with a bit of a broad brush (and it ignores female servicemembers, who make up 15% of the military.) I am a breadwinning mom while my husband stays at home with the kids, and *every single male servicemember* tells me they want my arrangement when they get out of the military. With one parent deployed, the other parent working outside the home becomes very difficult practically (even without the moves that VintageLydia mentions) and emotionally fraught, especially for very young children who don’t understand why Daddy or Mommy is so far away. I’ve often heard from servicemembers that it’s better for the children if one parent is home, but it’s not rooted in sexism, it’s rooted in missing their kids.

              1. Katie the Fed*

                I’m not judging the lifestyle, and my comment didn’t indicate that I was. It is, however, very different from how most civilians I know live.

                However, I don’t like working with men who have overtly stated they think women should stay him with the kids. That makes me question whether or not they think I should be in the workplace.

              2. Katie the Fed*

                I also didn’t ignore women in the military – I said “many” – 85% is definitely “many”. I don’t actually care about the reasons why this dynamic is in place, but I do mind quite a bit when I work with people who say they think its best when mom is home with the kids.

                1. Helena*

                  I’m sorry you have to work with jerks, whatever their profession is. You seem to be implying that the “it’s bad for moms to work outside the home” attitude is much more prevalent in the military than in other professions, and I really doubt that’s the case – the “mommy wars” are widespread and endless. Military families will more often end up in the homemaker/breadwinner lifestyle because of the practicalities of military life, but it’s not necessarily a sexist arrangement; lots of female servicemembers are the breadwinner.

      2. Ask a Manager* Post author

        In the U.S., at least, it’s nowhere near 50%! Where are you getting that number?

        I just did a quick search and found that more than half of women who take maternity leave return with three months of giving birth, and a quarter are back in less than two weeks (generally women in lower-paid jobs).

          1. Windchime*

            Yep, that’s what I always think of, too. She was back out in the field within hours of having her baby. Two weeks is nearly as bad. Unthinkable, really.

      3. neverjaunty*

        You know what’s a really good way to convince a woman not to return from maternity leave? Make it clear that the workplace is one where women are treated as extensions of their reproductive organs, and mothers have no career future. Say, by making remarks like “I hope you return to work” to a woman taking leave.

      4. Owl*

        Saying something like “something like” is a clear indication that you can cite no sources and have pulled that fake number you have out of your butt.

      5. Observer*

        I’d love to know where that number comes from. In reasonably female friendly workplaces, in my experience, that’s not true. I’d be willing to bet bosses who say stuff like this are likely to have a lower return rate BECAUSE of this.

      6. Stranger than fiction*

        Really? I was just getting ready to say that that statement was so annoying because I would think in this day and age most women do return to work. I’m shocked that many people could get by on one income, but then again I live in an area where two incomes is pretty much mandatory just to get by.

      7. One of the Sarahs*

        Here’s a thing – maybe some of the women aren’t coming back because their workplaces make it super-hard to work and be a mother? Maybe they’re still breast-feeding and there’s nowhere to pump? Maybe they’ve had so many messages that as a mother they’re a less valuable employee, or that shifts get rearranged at the last minute, or whatever? There are SO many reasons that are about the workplace, not about women being unreasonable, that I think in any place of employment where this is a pattern, the managers should be looking at what they can do to make it easier for employees to stay, rather than hassle the next woman who takes maternity leave. These things don’t have to be self-perpetuating.

        (Of course, I’m in the UK, where we have 6 months statutory maternity leave (maybe 9 now?), and up to a year off, and my anecdata says we’re nowhere near 50% not returning from that. I know a majority of readers are in the USA, with no statutory maternity leave, but that experience is SO rare in a worldwide context)

        1. Brisvegan*

          Yeah, here in Australia with the right to return to a job after 12 months maternity leave, even for casuals, I have rarely seen women say they are returning and not return.

          The maternity leave might be paid, unpaid or partially government subsidised.

          Of course, we also have fairly strongly regulated and government subsidised child care alternatives, so maybe that helps, too. Subsidies are income based, so people on low incomes can access some childcare.

    2. Faith*

      I used to feel similarly annoyed by the suggestions that I might not be returning to work after having my baby. I never pictured myself as SAHM and “of course” I was planning on being back at work as soon as my maternity leave was up. What I did not expect was how hard the post-pregnancy hormones were going to hit me. I distinctly remember sitting in the nursery room holding my 3 day old baby sobbing hysterically at the thought of leaving her with the daycare provider and going back to work in 12 weeks. Of course, by the time 12 weeks rolled around I was able to think straight and I went back to work, but it was still a much more difficult decision than I had expected it to be. So, now I am a little bit less annoyed by these types of comments.

      1. neverjaunty*

        And plenty of other women can’t wait to get back to work. That you had a temporary wave of post-pregnancy hormones doesn’t make stereotyping women as a group OK.

        1. Kelly L.*

          Yep. I think the takeaway here is that people don’t always correctly predict what will happen in their future or how they’ll feel, not that women aren’t going to come back after maternity leave.

    3. BenAdminGeek*

      Ugh, that’s frustrating. It’s so easy to say something less problematic, like “I can’t wait until you return, we’ll miss you” or something that conveys they care but expect to see you again.

      Then again, I’ve had a few coworkers go on vacation who then gave notice after, so maybe I need to start saying that to everyone taking a long weekend…

    4. Going forward*

      They don’t resign because they still need their health benefits or vacation time or whatever. So…they say they are coming back, and then “change their mind”. Works okay, but messes things up for everyone else. There are a few who actually change their mind though.

    5. Greg*

      I once had an incredibly valuable employee about to go on maternity leave. I was talking with one of her coworkers and was trying to make the point that we needed to be completely buttoned up and ensure a completely seamless transition. “After all,” I said, “for all we know she might not come back.” I meant it in terms of we need to prepare for any eventuality, but as soon as I saw her coworker’s reaction I realized I had made a huge mistake. “Why? Do you think she’s not coming back?” I immediately fessed up to my mistake and vowed to never make a statement like that again.

      I felt kind of bad, but relative to the CEO of the company who later told me, in an open office where lots of others could hear, that for the last couple months of her pregnancy the employee probably hadn’t been doing great work because she was so focused on her pregnancy (which was completely untrue, BTW), I don’t feel so guilty.

  4. Bend & Snap*

    THANK YOU. I get “girls” and the assertive thing here.

    One of my colleagues was told to stop dressing like a PR chick (all the women on this team look professional; we just tend to be a little less suit-y than the rest of our organization. Think dresses, jackets, heels instead of pantsuits).

    Way to undercut the value of the whole department by using “PR chick” as an acceptable phrase.

    1. Mockingjay*

      PR chick? I can’t fathom what that is supposed to look like. A character in a office sitcom?

      Your description sounds like what I wear – which I classify as Business Casual.

    2. JeJe*

      At a former job, a customer was a women’s professional organization. I once suggested that it was patronizing to refer to them as a “girls” organization. The response was months of sexism as a joke. I would’ve loved to leave an anonymous tip with the client, informing them how a company they are paying was talking about them.

    1. AnonEMoose*

      Yes. That should be included in the “softening emails, etc.” item. Or maybe the “decorative object” one.

    2. Nicole*

      I concur! Just because I’m not grinning ear to ear all the time doesn’t mean I’m angry or something. I never heard this said to a guy, but it was said to me often and it was annoying. But then again, I do think I suffer from “resting bitch face”, so that doesn’t help. :)

      1. VintageLydia*

        Though it’s something to think about when women are VERY often described as having “resting bitch face” but somehow men’s faces never have an equivalent…

        1. zuswabre*

          Yep, this is a phrase I hate as well. Why wasn’t this called “resting annoyed face”? Women, more than men have expressions that convey “don’t approach me”?

          1. Kelly L.*

            Well, I think the original purpose of putting “bitch” in the description was to point out the sexism in people making assumptions about other people’s faces, not to be sexist, if that makes any sense. Basically, anyone can have a resting annoyed face, but a woman is more likely to be criticized for it, and to be called a “bitch” for it.

          2. KR*

            I’ll stop my resting bitch face when men stop requiring me to be sweet and perky and timid and happy all the time.

        2. Rachael*

          The funny thing is that I usually only hear women say this about other women. I’ve only heard it said by a man once or twice…. (this doesn’t mean that men don’t say it, but I hear a lot more women say it)

      2. Solidus Pilcrow*

        Just because I’m not grinning ear to ear all the time doesn’t mean I’m angry or something.

        So true. I don’t need to be grinning like a fool at the canned vegetables in the grocery store!

        On second thought, maybe grinning at the canned veggies would get people to leave me alone…

      3. HR Recruiter*

        I’made told i suffer from a severe case of resting bitch face. When we went to Puerto Rico EVERY single person who waited on us asked me what was wrong. I’m relaxing, enjoying my vac do I have to smile? It was so bad at the car rental the woman wouldn’t let me leave until I told her what was wrong. So I finally made something up. Then when we returned the car she did the samething. I was like I still have the same face I had 7 days ago get over it.

        1. Not So NewReader*

          Decades ago, I bought a new pet. Since I was not jumping up and down excited, the workers asked me about that. They never asked my husband who had the same demeanor. So I explained, “I worked an eight hour day, I drove for a half hour, inhaled my dinner and drove another hour to get here to pick this little guy up. I am exhausted. I want to get my new little guy home and settled in.”

    3. HR Recruiter*

      Yes, this is one of my biggest pet peaves. I didn’t realize how much it bugged me into a friend of mine stopped at the pharmacy shortly after being released from the hospital. A man told her “smile it cant be that bad.” She had just gone through hours of labor and the baby didn’t make it. I think I would have punched him if I were her.

      1. DropTable~DropsMic*

        Nowhere near as bad, but the last time a man told me to smile I was in the elevator of a hospital, going to get a cervical biopsy. MAYBE I’M NOT SMILING BECAUSE I MIGHT HAVE CANCER.

        Seriously, telling people to smile is annoying in any context, but in a medical context, it should be fairly obvious why someone might not be smiling.

      2. Jake*

        I’m a man and I’m told that at least weekly, I had no idea there were sexist undertones there.

        1. zuswabre*

          Yep, like others here have mentioned, this command or prompt comes mostly from men and is mostly directed at women. Now, if you happen to work somewhere that’s customer facing, then perhaps this is justifiable, but otherwise, it’s just not an acceptable command/prompt to give to anyone.

      3. Artemesia*

        That is horrible. I relished the time someone said that to me on a plane the morning my father died unexpectedly and I was rushing from a professional conference to my home state to help my mother. It gave me great pleasure in the midst of the pain to say ‘My father just died this morning that is why I am not able to smile for you.’ (subtxt, you sexist creep who thinks women exist to decorate your environment) And then he had to sit next to me for 5 hours. I hope that cured him.

        1. Hlyssande*

          I’m sorry for your loss, but great job at letting him stew in the awkwardness of his own making!

        2. Not So NewReader*

          Oh god, where do these people come from? I am sorry for your loss.

          When my husband passed a family member had a mass said for him. I decided to go. I was in a CHURCH and a WOMAN said to me, ” You are too young to look that tired, YOU NEED TO SHAPE UP!”
          She was lucky. I was too tired to argue. I just said, “Yeah” and turned my back to her.

      4. Rachael*

        I had something say that exact thing to me in the elevator as I was going home from work. And it was said in a tone that dripped of “you can’t possibly have a care in the world, little missy”.

        I was going through a divorce and had a bad day at work. I was young and didn’t say anything, but I should have gone off on him.

      5. Xanthippe Lannister Voorhees*

        This drives me so crazy, you literally don’t know the other person’s life but you think you get a say in their emotions? Someone once told me to “smile, it’s a lovely day: shortly after I found out my grandfather was in the hospital. I snapped right back that someone I loved might be dying so it was not, in fact, a nice day for me.

        I like to think I showed that man what’s what and he never told another stranger to smile but I never saw him again so I can’t really say.

        1. Stranger than fiction*

          I once dated a guy (you’re about to see just one reason it didn’t last) but he was into a bunch of new age stuff like meditation and trying to raise his consciousness and what not, well he would tell people to smile all the time and if they said they were sick or someone died or whatever he’d say “yeah but nothing’s wrong right here right now in this moment, everything in the universe is as it should be”. Uh yeah, no.

            1. Sleepy McToiletboots*

              Other person, post-punching: ” Well, everything’s in the universe is as it should be, NOW”

    4. KR*

      It’s like if you don’t have a smile plastered on your face, people assume something is terribly wrong. Very annoying.

      1. irritable vowel*

        No, it’s not about that. It’s about men feeling like women owe them a smile, like a woman’s purpose for appearing in public in front of them should be to make them feel better about themselves. I have never ever ever been told to smile by another woman.

        1. Not me*

          It is, like a lot of things, in my opinion, a reminder to be seen and not heard. You’re just there to look nice, apparently.

        2. OhNo*

          What’s interesting is that I have been told this by women before, which means it’s not exclusive to men, just way more common. I had a conversation with a friend of mine about this once, and we decided that the thought behind the comment coming from women is basically “the fact that you are a human being with emotions and a life outside of your momentary interactions with me is making me uncomfortable, so I need you to smile so that I can pretend you are a robot with no purpose but to interact with me in a very specific way, with behavior of my choosing.”

          1. OriginalEmma*

            We know that men aren’t alone in holding up sexist behaviors and beliefs. Women are born into the same societies and prop up the same structures, so it’d be make sense to be told by women as well as men to smile. Speaking as a woman, I know we’re not immune. It takes consistent effort to deconstruct those sorts of beliefs and behaviors.

            1. VintageLydia*

              This x1000. I’m a fairly socially aware feminist and I catch myself on a regular basis saying and doing things I know I shouldn’t. USUALLY I catch it before I actually say anything, but we were raised from birth to think saying these things was OK and that takes time to train out. It’s not even malicious (usually) but, well, intent doesn’t matter.

    5. I'm a Little Teapot*

      Ironically, this comment just made me smile.

      (Also, “it can’t be that bad” is something you should never, ever say to a stranger, because you really don’t know how bad it actually is.)

    6. Grey*

      Stop telling anyone to smile. As a male, I get that one a lot. My normal, expressionless face apparently looks sad. It’s pretty irritating to be in a perfectly pleasant mood and hear someone say “smile” or “what’s wrong?”

      1. Elizabeth West*

        I used to get, “I saw you walking down the street and you looked mad. Why were you mad?” I wasn’t angry; I was usually squinting, because when I wore glasses, the light bothered my eyes and I had no shades! And I still get it sometimes, since I apparently frown rather ferociously when I’m concentrating.

    7. I'm Not Phyllis*

      Yes so much. And not just at work but in all contexts. I totally have what people refer to as a “resting bitch face” (although to me … it’s just my face) but I’m not an unhappy person. Unless people tell me to smile, and then I get the rage.

    8. I'm Not Phyllis*

      Yes so much. I have what some people might refer to as “resting bitch face) – although to me, it’s just my face. But I’m generally a happy person, unless someone tells me to smile in which case I get the rage.

    9. A Cita*

      Depending on my mood (and it’s never a good one at being told to smile by a strange man), my response is either:
      (roll eyes) and one of: “barf,” “gross,” “yuck”

      give big beaming smile, give a thumbs up, and say, in the same instructive but upbeat tone, “Get fucked!”

      Yeah, I’m not nice about it at all.

      1. NotherName*

        I generally either give an angry glare or look at the person as if they’re completely insane. (Sometimes they get a confused look.) It’s only very old people who seem kindly disposed but a little clueless who might get a smile.

        1. A Cita*

          Oh, definitely agree about the very old getting a pass (and maybe a smile).

          I will say that I only use the latter response when I feel it’s safe for me to do so (because who knows how a stranger might react?). Typically the response I get to the latter is shocked silence. Occasionally I get something like “bitch!” to which I respond, cheerfully, “Correct!” Sometimes: “I was just trying to be friendly..” to which I respond, “Likewise!” Once I had someone pause/double take, and then burst out laughing. ;)

    10. Bob*

      Men get a hard time for the same thing but there is not a catchy term for it. How about we just stop telling people in general they need to smile? Just because I don’t walk around with a goofy grin all day doesn’t mean I’m in a bad mood. The same goes for extroverts constantly trying to get introverts to be more outgoing. I realize society as a whole values extroverts more but they are not inherently better than introverts. It takes all kinds to make the world go ’round so we should be happy we’re not all the same.

      The exception would be if a friendly expression is expected in your job like a greeter/hostess. I think “you need to smile when initially greeting guests” is an acceptable request.

      1. TT*

        Do people really value extroverts more? I think it’s one of those “grass is greener” moments.

        1. Tau*

          I’m unconvinced myself. I feel as though a lot of the “extroverts are valued!” stuff boils down to social skills, which undoubtedly correlate with extroversion but aren’t the same as it by any means.

          1. B*

            As one job-related example, I think most companies’ default brainstorming activities are very much tailored to extroverts. Introverts typically need more time and space to collect their thoughts and the rapid-fire throwing out of ideas and the expectation to state those ideas without forethought can be uncomfortable at best, alienating at worst to introverts. Very little to do with social skills, but can still make introverts look less competent, unfairly.

    11. Katniss*

      Enforced positivity is awful, and especially when it’s gendered. Which it often is. Just let people wear their natural expressions.

    12. Julia*

      I once had someone I considered a friend tell me that I smiled too often and it made me look “retarded.” I didn’t consider her my friend anymore.
      Can’t win either way.

  5. newreader*

    #2 was an issue in a previous office I worked in with one particular co-worker. He treated all women as secretaries, regardless of their role. Our titles were the same (manager), but he always assumed or asked that I do the scheduling of meetings, taking notes, photocopying, cleaning up refreshments after a meeting, etc. It didn’t take me too long to push back and say no when he asked and stopped being the first to offer to do these things. I’m more than happy to step up and help where needed, but only when others are doing their fair share.

    At another office I worked at in the early 2000s as an administrative assistant, my mother was shocked to learn that I didn’t make coffee for my boss. I brought my own mug of coffee from home and the boss had a small coffee maker in his office that he would use to make his own throughout the day. My mother thought I should have the coffee ready for the boss when he arrived each day. If we both made coffee at work and I was the first one in, I would have been happy to make one big pot to share, but since I didn’t make coffee in the office for myself, why should I make it for the boss? Nowhere in the job description did it mention cooking or cleaning or other domestic chores. Fortunately, that boss never expected those things just because I was the female in the office.

    1. NJ Anon*

      Many years ago, early in my career and marriage, my husband made the mistake of referring to me as a secretary. And I am not demeaning secretaries, but I wasn’t. He made the assumption that if you were a woman who worked in an office, that’s what you did. I made sure he never made that mistake again! (Of course, after many years of training, he is older and a little wiser ;)

      1. Parfait*

        …he didn’t know what your job was and you were married at the time?

        how does that even happen?

    2. Dear Liza dear liza*

      One of my aunts worked as a social worker for a hospital 30 years ago. One day, a doctor said to her, “Hey, Clementine, how about a cup of coffee?” And was stunned speechless when, instead of fetching him a cup, she said, “Sounds great, Percy! I’ll take mine with sugar, thanks.”

    3. manybellsdown*

      When I was the PA for a real estate agent, we moved to a new office building. The new setup had the receptionist desk directly facing the front doors, and my desk just to the left of that but facing into the office. Our receptionist was male. People would walk in, look at him, and then step to the left to try to talk to me. He was very good about assertively greeting people to try to head them off, fortunately!

    1. BenAdminGeek*

      I was feeling really good until I remembered that I used to do “smile” all the time when I was younger. It’s a coping mechanism for my own anxiety-related issues, and I think I just assumed it worked for everyone and they’d be appreciative.

      *Sigh* – Oh young BenAdminGeek, whose life didn’t you complicate in your 20s?

  6. OriginalEmma*

    I live in Minnesota and they say “gals.” I die a little inside every time someone says it. Waiting for toots, skirts and dolls to come next.

    1. Carpe Librarium*

      One of my colleagues calls me toots as in, “Sure thing, toots!” when I ask if I can borrow her stapler or whathaveyou. It amuses me because it was a jokey join-in on the fact that I keep telling her “I like your moxie!”.

  7. Allikator*

    While I am totally onboard with girls not being okay- what about ladies? if I am addressing a group of men I at times use gentlemen- is ladies okay for a group of women?

    1. NJ Anon*

      I don’t have a problem with it. I work at an organization that right now is exclusively made up of female employees. I use “ladies” and no one has batted an eye.

        1. Allikator*

          I’m not calling them ladies of the night!

          Wiki says: The word lady is a civil term of respect for a woman, specifically the female equivalent to gentleman or lord, and in many contexts a term for any adult woman. Once confined to usage when specifically addressing women of high social class or status; over the last 300 years, the term may now be used to refer to any respectable adult woman.

    2. OhNo*

      There’s no one answer for that, unfortunately. All women are different and have different opinions.

      If you’re legitimately concerned about it, then just ask. Next time you’re about to start addressing a group, say, “Does anyone mind if I use ‘ladies’?” Then you’ll know the answer for that group for sure.

    3. Kas*

      You could use a non-gendered term, like “folks”, “team”, “everyone”, or “colleagues”. Then you have something that you can use for any group, including mixed-gender ones.

    4. Parfait*

      Why is it important that their gender be part of the greeting in either case? How about “Hi, everyone?”

      1. NotherName*

        I used to work with someone who would say, “Hello, everybody!” and see if he’d get a “Hello, Dr. Nick!” (Yes, he did the accent.)

    5. Bunny Purler*

      This has made me laugh a little, because my flock of sheep are collectively known as the ladies and gents… I don’t think I ever refer to humans using either of those terms!

    6. Not So NewReader*

      I think because it’s been used as snark too much, I would drift away from using the word “ladies” if possible. No, probably no one will tell you that it bothers them.

  8. AnonEMoose*

    Besides the assuming a woman going on maternity leave won’t come back, how about not assuming a woman in the workplace plans/wants to have children at all? Now that I’m a little older, it’s not a big issue for me personally any longer, but I still vividly remember deflecting the questions after I got married.

    Yes, I know many people still consider it small talk or a normal thing to ask. But it can be an emotional minefield for those struggling with infertility, and uncomfortable for the childfree. Because, too often, saying “we’re not having any” is followed by some variant of “oh, but why not?” “But you’d be such a great mom…” or the ever-infuriating “oh, you’ll change your mind…”. On the rare occasion that someone asks whether I have kids, my usual answer these days is “No kids, just cats.” Which seems to work pretty well, but it’s always a slightly tense moment when I wait to see how the other person responds.

      1. AnonEMoose*

        I love this! I suppose I could always go with something like “No, thanks – my doctor said I had to watch my cholesterol…”

        But that would be very much a “know your audience” thing, and anyone I know well enough to say that to already knows I’m not reproducing.

      2. GOG11*

        This and the cats comment are perfect! I am blissfully child free and intend to keep it that way and always struggle to find non-awkward ways to deflect questions like that.

    1. neverjaunty*

      Asking whether somebody has kids is one thing, but you’re absolutely right, asking about future plans is rude (and “oh why not” is just BEYOND rude).

    2. irritable vowel*

      And let us not forget the not-so-subtle scanning of the waistline for a telltale bump. The minute I got married I was subjected to that at work for years, until I think the offenders (mostly older women) finally gave up hoping.

      1. Ineloquent*

        I had that this morning. The office gossip wandered over to check out my baby-bump, just to confirm that what she’d heard was correct. Not subtle about it either!

      2. TempestuousTeapot*

        Scanning of the waistline. Nevermind how rude it is to presume and make pre-determinate comments, but I remember hearing how my husband marrying a woman (ie: me) with scrawny ballerina hips meant he was not wanting children and yet my sister-in-law (who had an awesome hip-line) had perfect child-bearing hips. Funny how she and her husband had no immediate interest in children and yet mine and I were very much planning on them. Ugh!

    3. Allison*

      Also, let’s stop assuming that a woman who isn’t married with children is somehow less of an adult than a woman who is, and talking to them like they’re still children who don’t understand life yet. A ring doesn’t make someone a “real” adult, nor does procreating.

      Also also, stop asking women about their love lives and their plans re: marriage or babies. No one likes to constantly be asked “so when are you two gonna get maaarrieeeed??” or “so now that the wedding’s over, are you gonna have baaaaaabieeeeeeees??” There’s a reason why I don’t talk about my love life in the office, and it’s because I worry some of my coworkers will ask those nosy questions.

      1. Gandalf the Nude*

        I’m very direct on this point, so folks in my office stopped asking pretty quickly. It’s only newcomers that do it now, and I set them straight fairly quickly. My partner, however, is much more private and usually deflects or demurs, so folks in his office continue to ask him.

        We went to his company holiday party a couple weeks ago, and one of the managers told me, “I think we’re wearing him down! You’ll get a ring soon enough!” And I answered, “I better not. He knows better.” She looked like she didn’t really know what to do with that one. The food was good, though.

    4. Nikki*

      Oh man, our insurance lady always says “when you make babies” as some point during our annual meeting. :|

      1. BenAdminGeek*

        Just ask her to describe how that happens.
        Insurance Lady: “When you make babies…”
        Nikki: “Hold up, what’s that? How do we make these babies? Walk me through this process!”

        Look like you’re super interested and ready to take notes. It’ll be fun!

    5. J.B.*

      “When are you going to have another (child)” was my 100% most dreaded question for a while. Rather than explain the entire story I got very good at changing the subject quickly.

    6. MaryMary*

      I feel like “do you have kids?” is an acceptable bit of small talk. If the other person has been talking (extensively) about their own family, it’s a natural question. It’s the follow ups that that come after someone says no that are problematic:

      “Why not?”
      “Oh, you will.”
      “Don’t worry, there’s time yet.” or “Well, don’t put it off too long!”
      “I see, you’re one of those career women.”

      To be fair, I know childless men who get some “oh, you will” type responses, but they also get more “enjoy your freedom!” comments.

      1. A Manager*

        Honestly, I hate being asked if I have kids. I realize the question isn’t meant to be rude or offensive but I really get tired of having to answer it. I sometimes get the follow up questions mentioned above but what’s even worse is the silence when the person who asked doesn’t know what to say when I answer “no, I don’t.” I think if you are talking about your own family and I have kids that I want to talk about then I’ll work it into the conversation on my own. I don’t think the question even needs to be asked, does it?

    7. Katniss*

      If I hear that I’ll “change my mind” or that I’m missing out or that I’ll never feel complete without a friggin’ baby one more time I’m going to scream. I’m 33 year olds. I am allowed to have made up my mind about things. I don’t want kids, I don’t enjoy being around them, and no I wouldn’t make a good mom because I don’t WANT kids. I don’t get why people have such issues with this.

      I’ll add that the above is an expression of frustration, and I don’t phrase it this way when asked. My usual reply to kid questions is “oh, I don’t have kids” and if I get “why?” as a follow-up I say “I don’t want them”. Which should be a complete reply that doesn’t need further questions.

      1. A Cita*

        Like a previous post of mine, I really find a flatly delivered “barf” really works in a lot of these situations.

        “Why don’t you want kids?!”

        “You’ll change your mind!”

        “Don’t you feel incomplete?”

        Really, it works in a lot of situations because it’s a conversation ender.

        1. Kat*

          I do a similar version, except I do “I hate them” without any hint of smile or humor. It shocks them into leaving me alone.

      2. CMT*

        “Why?” is such a bad follow up on so many levels! There are so many reasons that are none of anybody’s business why somebody might not have kids!

    8. Mike C.*

      Yeah, it’s really just another side of the same sort of paternalism that says, “I know your mind better than you do”.

      It’s obnoxious.

    9. SH*

      I’m in my late-20s and single so I get a lot of questions about dating at work (i.e., “Why aren’t you dating anyone?”, “What’s dating like in New York? It must be so easy!”, “You don’t wanna get married? You’ll change your mind”, etc.) I’m not sure if that’s normal in offices since I’m new to the corporate world but it always throws me off.

    10. Amy Farrah Fowler*

      ugh… gag! This doesn’t just happen at work, it happens socially and EVERYWHERE. My husband and I are still on the fence about reproducing, but it’s really not anyone’s business but our own. You really don’t want to ask me this if I’m in a bad mood. My grandmother asked me about it once, and I looked at her and said, “Are you asking about my sex life?” Of course she said she wasn’t and that that wasn’t any of her business, to which I said, “You’re right. It’s not.” And the subject was closed.

      I think it’s okay to ask if you have kids, or whatnot as small talk, and I think it’s okay to ask what the plan is, but that plan can change in a number of ways and so if you want to ask, you need to be really careful. A neighbor of mine asked me once if we were “planning on expanding our family?” I thought it was the most tactful, polite way to put it. Because the plan could be no, or it could be to add a dog or a ferret or a tiny human. And even if you do have plans to have kids, you could be suffering from fertility issues and that brings up a whole other level of complication.

      1. BeenThere*

        I prepared for this post marriage and briefed my husband that anyone who asks will be getting our prepared shutdown response we he was completely on board with. Predictably the day after our wedding the MIL asked when she could expect the pitter patter of little feet? Husband told her deadpan that told her were thinking about having ferrets in our lives again :)

      2. manybellsdown*

        A friend of mine posted on Facebook that she’d finally finished her PHD and was now “Doctor Smith!” One of the first comments was “Well, now you just need the title ‘mommy’!” Like, FFS lady, let her enjoy this milestone for a few minutes, maybe?

    11. Artemesia*

      I was asked about having more children during the group interview for my job 40 years ago. I had a two year old at the time. I said ‘that is something that is between me and my husband and God.’ Years later when I was department chair I came across my old employment file — and yes I shouldn’t have, but couldn’t resist reading it. It turns out my ‘piety’ was a big plus for one of the key members of the committee. (big miscalculation there) FWIW did have one more kid in a job with zero maternity leave, zero sick leave, and no medical coverage for childbirth (we had insurance but it excluded that — now illegal, but it wasn’t then) Had my pre-natal care in what was basically a welfare clinic with a sliding fee scale and was delivered by a resident I had never met.

    12. JC*

      Yes on this! I’m a married 34-year-old woman who does not plan on having kids, and I hate these conversations because there’s no answer I can give that won’t be record-scratch awkward. Thankfully, people seem to ask me these kinds of questions less often now that I’ve been married awhile than they did when I first got married in my 20’s. Now it usually comes up in reference to my housing situation—such as, “Do you plan on staying in the city once you have kids?” I know that no one who asks questions like these mean any malice by it, but again, it’s just so awkward sometimes to give an honest answer. FWIW, if I think telling the question-answer that I don’t plan on having kids will be awkward, I usually find a way to deflect the question (i.e., saying “we’ll see!” to the question about if I plan to stay in the city once I have kids).

      I’m kind of dreading being older, when the questions will change from if/when I will have kids to why I did not have kids. Not quite as easy to deflect that.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        Look up a medical condition that interferes with pregnancy, memorize every single detail possible. When they ask, launch into a full blown medical description of the problem. I wanted to do this but never did. I could not convince myself these people were worth the time.

        When people told me “you will regret not having kids later”, I used to just say, “Oh, okay, then.” Not very gratifying to say, but it gave them absolutely nothing to work with as I seemed to have vaguely implied agreement with what they said. I felt that people who said these things wanted to argue the point, I refused to give them fuel. I really wanted to say, “Oh so I could end up like you? Regretting your kids?” People would forget that in previous conversations they said they regretted having kids. I felt bad for their kids.

    13. Tau*

      And some of us are queer and the whole question is this horrifying rabbit hole of adoption and sperm donors and parental rights and then there’s the whole “do not have it in me to be a single parent, finding a partner is a tad tricky when you have the minoritiest of sexual orientations” thing and honestly, I try not to think about this question because it’s just depressing. There’s so little chance of me having kids if I did want them that I’m a little afraid to think about it too hard in case I realise I do.

      1. Tau*

        And I got sidetracked by emotions and forgot to say: yyyeeeaah I am all for these questions becoming taboo at work.

  9. bearing*

    Would love a script to push back gently against “girls” when used by another woman (the most common way I hear it used).

    Bonus points if it also works against “ladies.” (I can’t articulate why I hate “ladies” but it bothers the hell out of me anyway.)

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I’d just be direct: “We’re grown women here — ‘girls’ really grates on me.”

      Or “I’m trying to stop calling adult women ‘girls’ — will you help?”

      1. TL -*

        If I have a particularly good relationship, I tend to go, “Nope, I haven’t been a girl since high school.” in a cheerful tone.

    2. Honeybee*

      For me it’s because “ladies” is a term that connotes a very specific social position for women – someone who is more concerned with arranging domestic tasks and social engagements than a serious professional. All the phrases it’s associated with (like “lady of the house”) are related either to domestic management or social planning.

      1. Mike C.*

        I’ve always hated how school sports teams almost always have “Mascot” and “Lady Mascot” as if to say they still “demure and proper ladies” and not competitive athletes in their own right like the men.

        1. Aunt Vixen*

          Or “Mascotettes” – bonus infantilization! (Side note, I was once reading a book set in a university somewhere back in the mists of time when women had only recently been admitted – so, like, the 1970s – that described the quad or some such place as being full of lounging undergraduates and undergraduettes. I would have rolled my eyes at “co-eds” and then moved on, but in the event I took a few minutes not to be able to believe what I had just read and then put the book down. I can’t remember what it was anymore.)

          1. NotherName*

            “Co-ed” always bothers me, and I do see it every once in a while. (Grrr – crossword puzzles!) I don’t mind so much when it’s used in it’s original context (women taking classes in traditionally all-male universities back when that was a new idea). However, nowadays it implies that there’s something unusual or surprising about women attending an institution of higher learning.

            Since women now (slightly) outnumber men as college students in the US, shouldn’t “co-ed” now be used for men? (If we need to use the word for some reason.)

            1. Annie*

              I’m pretty sure I mostly see “co-eds” in crossword puzzles. Like the word “oboe”, the vowels make it much more useful in a crossword context!

        2. Dr. Johnny Fever*

          I’m not just frustrated by the mascots and uniforms, but the difference in college basketball style.

          Women today are every bit as capable of playing a fast, physical game like the NCAA men do. Pat Summit coaches her Vols to play that way.

          Instead, NCAA women play by the choreographed, less physical, slower standards of basketball from the 1950s, not the way the game is played today.

          I’m convinced that women’s NCAA and NBA ball would be much more popular with an adjustment to modern style.

      1. Dynamic Beige*

        For the French, you are a mademoiselle until you’re 21, then you’re a madame, whether you’re married or not… or at least that’s one of the things I remember from classes.

    3. zuswabre*

      I once worked with a young woman who called the other women on the team “Miss Firstname”. I never said anything because, at the time, I thought It would come across as rude or petty (she’s just being overly polite or formal, right?).

        1. Not me*

          Have you or irritable vowel heard anyone say that at work in real life? I can’t say I have, and I’ve been here >20 years.

            1. MaryMary*

              I actually do this myself. I’m a 30 something woman from the midwest. I use it like a nickname. I only do it to people I like, and usually when I need a favor. “Miss Alison, can I interrupt for a minute?” I’m also a term of endearment person, maybe Miss Name is taking the place of honey or sweetie or dear (I try really hard to avoid these in the workplace).

              Come to think of it, I occasionally call the guys in the office Mister. So I’m not sexist, but maybe it’s still a habit I should get out of?

              1. A Cita*

                Yeah, it probably is best to try to break the habit. My coworker who does it, is younger than me, does it to everyone in the office (we’re all women), even to married women. I take it as a cultural thing, but I can see it registering as not ok with folks.

              2. LawPancake*

                I’m in my early thirties (in the south) and do the exact same thing. I think it is a kind of a shorthand endearment/term of respect towards women older than me, or at least intended that way, and is certainly more common in some minority communities. It’s something that honestly hadn’t occurred to me would make people uncomfortable before this thread. :( I’ll work on cutting it out.

              3. TL -*

                I also do it with coworkers I like and have a good relationship with, but generally when I’m asking for something small or just in a particularly cheery mood but with little time to interact.

          1. Mallory Janis Ian*

            I haven’t really heard it at work, mostly just in the neighborhood or other social settings from kids addressing adults. We did have a young man receptionist who we had to tell to quit calling us ‘ma’am’ because it was weird in a work setting between coworkers. He finally stopped doing it, but it took several reminders because it was ingrained in him that he was supposed to call older adults ‘ma’am’ and ‘sir’, and he didn’t feel like an adult; he felt like we were his elders.

          2. Angela*

            Heard it constantly in Tennessee. Maybe it’s not just a south, but also a smaller town thing? The area we lived in was fairly rural.

          3. Helka*

            It was standard when I worked in the Shenandoah Valley, and considered both respectful and friendly.

            Then again, our sole male coworker was Mister Firstname, too, though with a bit of humor attached to it.

          4. manybellsdown*

            Also common in some school settings; I taught preschool and got used to being “Ms Firstname”. To the point that when I started teaching elementary school I stuck with it.

        2. zuswabre*

          Nope, she wasn’t from the South, although I am (originally) and I didn’t really see this too much in a professional settings. If she had been, I would have simply ignored it the way I do when a waitress calls me sweetie or honey.

      1. Nikki*

        I’m a children’s librarian so I get called “Miss Nikki” all the time. I don’t encourage it, it sounds so weird, even coming from kids. If I introduce myself as first name only, you don’t need to add a title to the beginning to make it respectful!

        1. The Butcher of Luverne*

          A lot of parents seem to want their kids to address adults in a more respectful way than just a first name, though, so they add the “miss” or “mister.”

          I find it kind of sweet. Had a manager whose kids used miss or mister whenever they visited the office.

          1. Nikki*

            I totally understand that it’s coming from a good place, but I make a point of introducing myself at every storytime or class visit and it’s frustrating to be undermined.

            I did once have a little boy approach me and ask if I could tell him my last name so he could call me “Miss Lastname,” which I thought was very sweet.

        2. Ellie H.*

          When I worked at an after school program the kids (5-10) called us “Miss Ellie,” “Mr. Scott” etc. which bugged me. I think it creates some confusion and that it would be more appropriate for them to use the first name given that in our modern era, in professional life we use first names. If they called us “Ms. Lastname, Mr. Lastname” that would be equally fine too but I dislike mixing the title and first name. I guess bc it seems like an artificial formality that undermines the respect conveyed by using a title.

      2. katamia*

        Now I’m wondering whether all the women on your team were unmarried. I’m not from the South but am close enough that there’s some bleedover, but the only time I ever heard/used “Miss Firstname” was in dance class growing up. Teachers and assistants were “Miss Firstname” even if they were married. I didn’t see anything wrong with it then, but if I were in a similar situation now I’d try to see if, if nothing else, it could be “Ms” instead of “Miss.”

        1. zuswabre*

          There were two other women on the team. I am/was married and the other woman was single. It wasn’t so much the “Miss”, it was the fact that the women were addressed differently than the men. “Joe” got to be “Joe”, not “Mr. Joe”.

      3. Artemesia*

        Unless this is a preschool or day care, she is out of line even in the South. Adults don’t call other adult women ‘Miss Susie’ — although there are some very elderly women who style themselves that way. Otherwise, that is for children and for day care and elementary school.

        1. hermit crab*

          There are a couple of older women I volunteer with, for whom Miss [Whatever] is basically just their name. Everyone calls them that. But I agree it would be out of place in any other context around here.

        2. FiveWheels*

          I generally detest being called Miss Wheels, as my marital status is irrelevant to the vast majority of people I meet. I am Ms Wheels.

          A previous job working in healthcare genuinely didn’t understand why I wanted to be listed as FiveWheels or Ms Wheels in literature.

          I suggested with a straight face that I would be happy to be Miss Wheels if the doctors were listed as Dr Bob (single), Dr Bill (widowed), Dr Sally (divorced) and Dr Lisa (married). It worked.

        3. Aunt Vixen*

          I hear plenty of adults call one another “Miss Firstname” (often pronounced Miz, though I’m sure they’d spell it Miss if they happened to be writing it out) and “Mr. Firstname” and I don’t think they’re out of line.

          That said, it is more common in my experience as a thing other people’s children call unrelated adults. My nephew calls me Aunt Vixen, but children whose parents are not my siblings are often taught to call me Miz Vixen. I can dig that, although I have a friend who asked people not to have their children call her Miz Firstname because it made her feel like she was on a plantation. It can be hard to live with the origins of a lot of things we identify with the South.

          1. saf*

            I am white. Most of the children around me are black. I live on the edge of the south. Their parents insist that they call me Ms. firstname. I just find it so uncomfortable, for exactly that reason – there are racial undertones that I am not at ease with.

    4. Ad Astra*

      Every sorority email I received in college (along with a number of verbal conversations/announcements) began with “Ladies,” and I still get cranky every time I’m addressed that way. I know fully that it was never meant to be condescending, but it still feels condescending for reasons I still haven’t identified. I also get twitchy any time an announcement begins with “Get excited!”

    5. Tomato Frog*

      I just interject “Woman!” right after people say “Girl”, and people have always course-corrected and taken it in good part.

  10. Lou*

    A former manager once said I was “a good girl” after doing him a favour. Luckily, we had a working relationship in which he expected me to speak my mind, so I was able to just say, “Please don’t ever call me that”, and that was the end of it.

    A colleague recently also described me as “a clever girl” – this person also regularly speaks over my head to other male colleagues about ‘manly’ topics like sport, assuming I won’t understand, although he’s doing this less recently since I started turning to whoever he’s talking to and giving them knowledgeable opinions on the topic.

    Luckily these examples are fairly rare in my working life.

    1. 12345678910112 do do do*

      If I were described as a “clever girl,” I’d do my best velociraptor impression on the spot.

      1. Almond Milk Latte*

        Whooosa good girrrrrrl? I’d straight up bark. Not the most professional response, but it’s a ridiculous enough response that it’d probably not happen again.

      2. Ignis Invictus*

        Oh yes, I’d feel totally obligated to pull out velociraptor mode. Interesting aside, at one point in eternity the beau used “Velociraptor” as his term of endearment.

      3. Turtle Candle*

        Haha, yes. The only acceptable use of ‘clever girl’ is if you’re speaking to a velociraptor who is seconds away from eviscerating you.

        1. hermit crab*

          I think if you’re actually in the presence of a velociraptor, saying “clever girl” is not only acceptable but encouraged or perhaps mandatory.

    2. MaryMary*

      I have a client who calls me That Girl. I’m less offended because I think he’d call a man in my position That Kid.

    3. Kat*

      I’m glad I’m not the only one who hears ‘clever girl” and the only acceptable association is a velociraptor.

    4. The Expendable Redshirt*

      The next time someone describes you as “a clever girl”, unleash your inner velociraptor. Sneak around the nearest office plant, then jump out to eviscerate the offender with your hind claws.

    5. ancolie*

      “Clever” is one of those subtly sexist words, IME. When it’s used earnestly/sincerely, I’ve only ever heard it used to describe children or grown women. Grown men are “smart” or “geniuses” (a word that’s used to describe a woman far less frequently).

      Cleverness seems to have a connotation of… impishness? precociousness? to it. It’s a bit infantilizing.

      1. Lou*

        I was trying to think what it was that riled me about the word “clever” so I looked it up in an online dictionary, and after “intelligent” and “smart” and “quick to learn”, the definition also included “superficially skilful” and “facile”.

        I think it’s those meanings that annoy me – the implication that a clever person only understands the surface level of a topic, and/or that the topic they understand is somehow unimportant. I feel like I personally equate the word “clever” with something along the lines of “sly” – clever people use their cleverness to trick you into thinking they’re better than they are.

      2. melicious*

        I do sometimes call my coworkers “clever boots” if they come up with a neat workaround/solution to a problem, but I’m close friends with them outside of work as well. I don’t think I’d use it with people I didn’t have that relationship with, due to the connotation you mention.

  11. Yeah Me Too*

    I have a female coworker who uses girls and it is 100% a power play. It’s hard to figure out how to articulate to someone why it’s problematic when it might be excused in a casual social context.

    1. Anna*

      You could casually tell them it could be perceived as sexist. I mean, if we’re being casual here. :)

    2. KathyGeiss*

      With sexist things like these, I don’t think you need to explain it. You could just say, “please don’t call me a girl. I know it’s not your intention but I find it sexist and infantalizing.” Say it gently and politely. If they try to argue that it’s not sexist, I response with, “I know it’s not your intention but please don’t use that word with me.”

      Don’t even engage in a “is this sexist” conversation if you don’t want to.

    3. Not So NewReader*

      Coworker: Ask the girls if…
      You: Women.
      Coworker: huh?
      You: They are grown women, not children. They are not girls, they are women.
      Coworker: I don’t see a big deal here.
      You: Good, then we agree, “women” it is.

      When she does it again, because you know she will do it again, you can say, “Oh remember, we agreed to say women to describe this group of adult employees.”

  12. Almond Milk Latte*

    I work with someone who I suspect may have a gender identity other than the one their name typically implies, but I’m not close enough to ask, and it’s definitely made me more cautious about who I’m “you guys”ing at. In emails, I go with “team” or “folks” or “peeps” or “[Project] Squad” depending on the level of formality needed, but out loud I’m all about “y’all”. Even if we were all ladies, addressing an email “Hi Ladies,” makes me feel like I’m setting up a cookie party.

      1. Dawn*

        I have wanted to start emails with this *so* *many* *times*. One day I might work in an office where I can… alas, today is not that day.

    1. Ignis Invictus*

      In vehicle validation engineering-land the word was always “guys” until I joined the group, then for some odd reason everyone felt the need to correct themselves to “guys… and B-” (my first initial). First time, I politely explained that “guys” is gender neutral. Sometime later I suggested using “folks”, or “team”; those are my defaults. For those folks who still couldn’t get it through their heads I had one on one conversations where I politely requested that they stop paying attention to my damn gender.

  13. Xarcady*

    When I in grad school, I was on a committee headed by one of the deans. There was one other woman, and 10 men. The dean called all the men by their last names, but he called me and the other woman by our first names.

    Way to infantilize the women. Because who gets called by their last names? The boss, that’s who. Mr. Smith, Mr. Jones, but their secretary is Sue or Pam, because lower-ranking people get called by their first names. Teachers get called by their last names; students by their first names.

    And the other woman was the chair of her department, not a lowly grad student like me. The other department chairs on the committee were men, and got the “respect” of being called by their last names. And the other grad student on the committee was a man, and he got called by his last name.

    It’s subtle sexism, to be sure. But it was there, and it rankled.

    1. Roscoe*

      I don’t know if that’s exactly a sexist thing about power or respect. I mean, I call quite a few of my guy friends by their last names (especially since I have a ton of friends name Matt, Dave, or Nick), I don’t have a single female friend I call by her last name. Its more familiarity than anything. I mean, I know plenty of guys who just kind of go by their last name in social situations, and again, I don’t have any women that I have do that. I’m a guy and I never go by my last name. I don’t feel its any less respectful. Did any women ask to be called by that?

      1. Artemesia*

        Social is not the same as workplace. You know another setting in which people were called by last names and others first names? Race. Black people were not Miss Smith or even usually Miss Susie — they were Susie.

        Calling the men last name and the women first name is a hierarchical slur in business settings.

        1. Roscoe*

          Again, it depends on a lot. Maybe in your office it is a blatant disrespect thing. I’ve had casual offices where some of the guys just went by their last names. Like you meet them, and they introduce themselves as “Jones” even know their first name is William. They may be an entry level person, and thats what they go by. So if they choose to be called by that, and then a woman starts and she introduces herself as “Emily” its not disrespectful or sexist to then call the man his last name and the woman by her first name. So my only point is that I wouldn’t call that a blatant sexist act. Maybe in your office, it absolutely was, but that is in no way a general rule.

          1. HM in Atlanta*

            If someone wishes to be called by their last name, that’s their choice. In situations where women automatically are addressed using their first name and men are automatically called their last name? That’s what we’re talking about. And it comes with a power differential. You should see what happens when a woman in that situation requests to be called by her last name. It’s shocking how many of the coworkers and managers (both male and female) react negatively.

      2. neverjaunty*

        “Its more familiarity than anything” – unless you are very good friends with all the women and not all that close to the men, then it’s not just familiarity, and you’re not coming up with these habits in a vacuum (nor are your friends). In the US, at least, there is a very long cultural tradition where referring to women by their last names only is seen as strange and harsh.

        If your boss’s boss is named Robert, would you, unasked call him “Bobby”? Especially if you referred to the other executives at his level as Mr./Ms. Lastname? Guessing not.

    2. FiveWheels*

      This is interesting because I don’t read last names vs first in the same way.

      Last name only suggests teachers talking to pupils or coaches talking to team members, either male or female, in my experience.

      To me, first name says familiarity, Honorific-Last Name says respect, and last name only suggests either a person of lower rank or close friendship.

      1. FiveWheels*

        To clarify, this may also be a cultural thing as I went to a “posh” high school as did my boss. As such if he calls me Five that’s completely neutral, if he calls me Ms Wheels or just Wheels it’s a play on friendliness by using a relatively unfriendly term. Like calling your best friend an insulting nickname – you wouldn’t do that with someone you disliked.

        British culture is hard to translate at times.

    3. Meg Murry*

      Along the same lines, what is even worse in academia is that it’s not just Mr. Smith, Mr. Jones vs Sue or Pam, but it’s actually Dr. Smith, Dr. Jones, Sue and Pam – or Dr. Smith, Dr. Jones, Mrs. Sue Johnson and Mrs. Pam Jenkins. If everyone at the table has a PhD, they either all get addressed as Dr or they all get addressed by first name – don’t call the men Dr but the women by their first name.

      In the same vein- some advice from Nice Girls Don’t Get the Corner Office for any new/young professionals out there: Pay attention to how people in your office/field introduce themselves and answer their phones and emails. More often than not there is a tendency for men and/or people higher up the chain to use both their first and last names in these situations, while women often do only first name, and men are also more likely to include their title as well. One of the shifts I’ve made to try to fight imposter syndrome/fake it ’till I make it as a professional is to copy my boss’s style of answering phones as “Hello, this is Meg Murry” not just “This is Meg” or introducing myself as “Meg Murry, Manager of the XYZ group” not just “Hi, I’m Meg, nice to meet you”.

          1. A Cita*

            Yeah, read any article and they refer to male professors as Dr. so-and-so and female professors as Ms. so-and-so. It’s their thing–their style guide they’ve been using for ages.

              1. A Cita*

                Yes. I have no idea. Readers always comment on it in the comments sections, and then other readers respond with, “Oh, that’s just how Chronicles does it.”

      1. NotherName*

        Shades of teaching college-level composition! I remember having to explain that writers or subjects of a paper all had to be referred to the same way – you can’t use last names for men and first name for women. You might feel like you’d be best buds with Jane Austen were you to meet her, but she would not thank you for referring to her as “Jane” but not referring to Shakespeare as “William” (Bill? Billy-o?).

        It was also fun to explain that since we aren’t Victorians we don’t need to use honorifics – Mark Twain is perfectly happy not to be called “Mr. Twain.” Although it was always interesting to see whether they could correctly identify the gender of George Eliot, Evelyn Waugh, or others with not-so-obvious names.

    4. Katniss*

      The website I comment most frequently on is the AV Club, and I see this all the time in how people refer to different writers at the site: the men are called by their first name (Adams, Teti, Wilkins) while the women are often referred to by their first (Sonia, LaToya, Caroline). I’ve tried pointing it out before and I know certain members of the commentariat are trying to be more uniform in how they refer to any writer. It’s definitely subtle sexism.

  14. Shell*

    *wince* I’ve done a couple of these myself (mostly repeating what I’ve heard from others) before AAM taught me better.

    I really wish I can forget all the embarrassing professional things I’ve done. (I know, I know, good judgement comes from experience, experience comes from bad judgement.) I can’t remember what I had for breakfast two days ago and somehow I remember all these super embarrassing things for years and years. Sigh.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      Oh, I have some of those, too! ha! (ugh). Keeps me humble when I need to be humble. But you know, when a newbie does a similar thing, my heart goes out to them. “Okay, yep. I did that one, too. Here’s how to fix it.” And newbies quickly comes to assume that I know how to fix a lot of things….some newbies figure out there is a REASON why I know how to fix this stuff!

      There is a function/purpose behind all these embarrassing stories.

  15. cereal killer*

    7. Making misogynistic or otherwise un-savory comments, realize you shouldn’t be saying that at work, and turn to the woman (or women) within earshot and say sorry

    I am not your mother nor in any other way responsible for making sure your language is clean and your actions are work appropriate. You are an adult and choose to behave however you want, and you will be judged for that. But don’t make me the reason you feel like you can’t talk “how you want”… except for…

    8. Any reference to male genitals (i.e. he needs a good kick in the __). This is usually followed by an apology to the women in ear shot similar to #7.

    Um, as a woman I have no problems leaving references to genitals or female reproductive organs out of work conversation, it’s really not a challenge. I don’t understand why it is so hard for SOME men.

    1. Allison*

      Seriously, I cringe when people curse and then apologize to me, especially when they weren’t even talking to me!

      1. katamia*

        Ugh, I hate the apologies for the swearing, especially since I love swearing (though I do try to keep it out of the office) and am offended by none of it.

        1. AnonEMoose*

          For me, after three years of working around a cop who, while a very nice guy who loved telling me all about his grandbaby, swore like the proverbial sailor, I’m pretty much immune. As long as it’s not meant to be personal and directed at me, I likely won’t even notice.

          1. Allison*

            Oh yeah, men cursing at me is another story, especially since I suspect these men cuss because they expected me to be a good girl and give them exactly what they wanted, and the disappointment was too much for them to handle.

            1. Ignis Invictus*

              Hate admitting this one but I’ve “warned” a co-worker about his language, not because I cared about his word choice but because his rant du jour was distracting. Directly asking him to keep it down so not working. So I used his sexism to my advantage – I said “watch it with the f-bombs!” he must have heard “I’m going to complain to HR about this offensive language!” My proudest moment? Yeah, not so much. Fucking effective nonetheless.

      2. MaryMary*

        We have a VP who apologizes to me everytime he swears, even though I’ve told him multiple times that he shouldn’t. The odd thing is that I know there are a couple men in the office who are very conservative and really don’t like it when someone uses foul langauge around them, but the VP only apologizes to the women in the office.

        1. neverjaunty*

          “Bob, you apologized the last five times you did this. It’s not necessary.”

          Which both points out he has a bad habit, and calls him on his fakepologies.

          1. MaryMary*

            I’ve tried that. He’s also the owner’s brother, so pushing too hard is a bad idea politically. Now I just smile graciously and nod.

      3. ThursdaysGeek*

        I don’t know if it helps or hurts, but often they use the phrase “excuse my French.” I pedantically point out that the word used was actually of Anglo-Saxon origins, not French.

        1. Dynamic Beige*

          Eep, I just used that today… to a person who is french (OK, Quebecoise but whatever). I didn’t even think about until it was out of my mouth and by then it was too late. I think from now on, I should say “Pardon my Anglo-Saxon…” instead. Too bad there isn’t a word that’s shorter, french is such a nice, short punchy word.

      4. Chinook*

        “Seriously, I cringe when people curse and then apologize to me, especially when they weren’t even talking to me!”

        The field guys did that around me for a while. My response was always some form of “I married an infantry man and can probably teach you a few words.” They eventually stopped apologizing.

        1. KR*

          As a woman who swears quite a lot, it always makes my boyfriend, a marine in the infantry, smile when I can curse and tease better than his friends at work.

      1. Ignis Invictus*

        A’yup. Swear or don’t swear, if it bothers me I’ll ask you to stop, because I’m a damn adult and that’s what adults do. Automatically apologizing because of my gender implies 1) your male co-workers don’t have a right to ask you not to use that language 2) your male co-worker don’t have a right to feel offended 3) I’m supposed to feel offended 4) I’m incapable of asserting myself and asking you not to use swear words within my earshot 5) there’s something off about me if I’m not offended.

        Depending on the audience my goto response when this happens is “I don’t f@cking care what words you use”, if the person has exhibited other sexist behavior it gets turned into an object lesson by continuing with “but you sure in the hell better not be apologizing to me because of my gender.” If the auto-apologiser is new to the work world, generally, I’ll use it as a teaching moment, privately, and explain the above outlined thought process.

        1. OriginalYup*

          It’s actually a two-part trap. Choose Door #1 (“Apology accepted”) and you’re the special snowflake Lady Coworker who should be treated with kid gloves and different standards, because you can’t hang with the guys. Translation = not tough enough for work. Choose Door #2 (“I love swearing!”) and jerks will use it as a open door invitation to say vile unprofessional crap because hey, you’re one of the guys now. Translation = Let’s see how far I can push the envelope until you object.

          That’s why it’s important to sidestep the whole business by making it clear that the language isn’t the problem — the double standard is.

          1. Ad Astra*

            Next time I’m in this situation, I think I’ll go with something like “Why are you apologizing to me?” With the genuine puzzled curiosity that Alison always recommends, of course.

          2. Not So NewReader*

            I have used, “I personally do not care, but there are people here that do care, so you may want to watch out for that.”

    2. J.B.*

      Someone I work with apparently got a talking to about verbal attacks and apparently took away from it that the problem was the curse words and he should stop and apologize for cursing. No, that’s really not the problem, but clearly he and his boss don’t get it.

    3. Lucky*

      Also, if yours is a workplace where swearing is okay/appropriate (mine is) do not apologize for swearing in front of me. My weak little girly ears can take in the sounds “f” and “k” just fine, without withering and falling off.

      1. Lily Rowan*

        Knowing your audience is important, but when a former boss apologized to me for swearing, I said, “Why? Because I’m such a fucking lady??”

    4. OriginalYup*

      My standard response to both is a very dry, “I’m familiar with the terminology. I’m just surprised to hear you using it in a business conversation.”

      Because seriously. F*ck that noise.

    5. Lee Ann*

      I’d think it’s the guys who would need a “sorry” when someone mentions a kick in the balls – that image might make them cringe, but I’m not affected at all :)

  16. Collarbone High*

    Love this list, and would add “Oh, you like football? Do you watch it with your [male partner]? He must love that!” or anything in that vein.

    Women account for roughly half of the NFL’s viewership. It’s past time to stop acting like a woman who enjoys and understands sports is only pursuing that hobby as a parlor trick to impress men.

    1. Allison*

      Also, if a woman expresses interest in a traditionally male hobby, like football or comics, give her the benefit of the doubt and DO NOT quiz her to figure out if she’s actually into it or just pretending. What’s a “fake geek girl” gonna do to you at work, anyway?

      1. Anna*

        There is no such thing as a Fake Geek Girl. And no female has to prove their love for anything to anyone. That one makes me feel the rage.

        1. Allison*

          I know that, and you know that, but there are still gatekeepers out there who do think woman pretend to like guy stuff just for attention.

          1. Not So NewReader*

            Really? I can’t imagine. I have never felt the need to pretend to enjoy something that bores the crap out of me. I always thought that if a guy absolutely has to have a woman who like this or than, then he can go find one, I’m not it.

        2. AnonEMoose*

          Right there with you. There was a great blog post recently (I wish I could find the link again) by a guy, who stated that “those ‘fake’ geeks you’re so worried about? I’m one of them – I like some geeky things, but don’t have exhaustive knowledge of them. But I don’t get the ‘quizzing’ that women routinely get – because I’m a guy. So let’s stop pretending this isn’t about sexism, because it absolutely is.”

          1. Allison*

            Yup. I like a lot of geeky things but I don’t have the brain space for trivial facts about the things I like. I mean, okay, I’ve played Bioshock 20+ times so I could probably ace a quiz about it, but that’s probably it. If someone’s taken the time to memorize everything there is to know about a topic then good for them, but it’s not the only way to show you love something.

            1. AnonEMoose*

              I can go on for HOURS about the Dragon Age video games. I can run games in several tabletop RPGs (and own rule books for several I haven’t gotten around to running yet). I can hold my own in conversations on a lot of geeky topics. And I am completely unashamed of my abiding crush on Neil Gaiman. I’m majorly involved in running a local-to-me science fiction convention. But I don’t know the detailed back story of every Avenger, or the details of every Doctor Who companion, although I enjoy Marvel movies and Doctor Who.

              As you said, memorizing every trivial fact about it is not the only way to show you love something. And I don’t have to prove a thing. To anyone. Also “obscure” is not equal to “better.” But that’s another rant.

              1. VintageLydia*

                This is particularly annoying when there are literally thousands, if not millions, of potentially geeky fandoms. I’m right there with you on Dragon Age but I don’t know the first thing about tabletop gaming. I like the Marvel movies but before them I only know enough about the characters before the movies to recognize they were indeed Marvel and not DC characters. So when I say I’m a geek don’t quiz me on Tom Bombadil’s poetry but I will absolutely trounce you in Sailor Moon trivia. There is more than one way to nerd, after all. But because they don’t ask about the fandoms I’m actually in, I guess I’m fake.

                1. Kelly L.*

                  I think it goes back to when there were a lot fewer things to nerd about, and people really did get into all of them because that’s all there was. I got into an argument with a friend, a geek of an older generation, when I said I didn’t want to see Eragon, and he told me I should see it just to support fantasy. I got where he was coming from–there might have been a time when fantasy might be buried at the movies for a decade if one movie flopped–but the NerdWave has come, folks.

                2. AnonEMoose*

                  I think that’s part of it. There used to be a lot fewer choices of geeky pleasures, and so people didn’t specialize as much. Now – there’s just too much to keep up with. For example, I enjoy tabletop RPGs and some video games, but know almost nothing about Magic: The Gathering (and am ok with that).

                  There are a few examples of anime that I like (I’ll happily watch anything by Miyazaki, and I liked at least the early seasons of “Inuyasha”), but I’m not a big anime fan.

                  And I don’t see every genre movie that comes out, either, because I’d go broke these days. We’ve moved on from the days of “must see/read/play All The Things” to “there are only so many hours in the day and only so many dollars in the bank, and I have to make choices.” We can’t even afford either the time or the money to attend every local convention -which is a good problem to have.

                3. Allison*

                  Imma be honest, I love the Avengers franchise. Black Widow is awesome and I love me some Captain America for so so so SO many reasons, but I still haven’t seen Age of Ultron . . . I know Civil War comes out this spring and every time I’m reminded I panic, trying to think of when I can sit down and watch Ultron. I love these movies but finding time to watch them is . . . AAAAH. Stupid other hobbies . . .

                4. neverjaunty*

                  But it’s not true that people ever got into “all of them”. There was ALWAYS snobbery and exclusivity and people of one fandom not wasting their time learning about another because geez, can you believe those losers.

                5. AnonEMoose*

                  Yeah, sadly, there has always been some snobbery. For those so inclined, where I am, it tended/tends to be something like: the literature fans look down on the media fans (never mind that books are a form of media…). The TV and movie fans look down on the anime fans and the costumers, who look down on the gamers, and everyone looks down on the furries. And everyone looks with some suspicion at those like me; I do tend to be something of a generalist in my geekdom.

      2. Katniss*

        Usually I reply with something like “I prefer to spend my time with the hobbies I enjoy instead of studying up to try and prove I’m a real geeks to insecure people”. Shuts people right up.

      3. NJ Anon*

        People used to tell my husband he was lucky because I liked sports or that I got my passion of them from him. Erm, no. Been playing and watching long before hub came into the picture.

      4. OriginalEmma*

        +1000. I’m a woodworker. I got into it after my neighbor (yes, a man) made something beautiful and I wanted to make beautiful things too. So he’s taught me a thing or two and I have some nice pieces made.

        But ask me how many times I’ve been asked “Did you get into it because your boyfriend does it?” -.-

      5. Bekx*

        One of my coworkers and I were talking about Batman. Another said “Do you really think Bekx knows anything about Robin?” I turned to him and said “Well, it depends on which one you’re talking about. I’m mostly familiar with the original, Dick Grayson, but I can follow conversations with Jason, Tim, Damien or Stephanie Brown.”

        Cue “Wow, you’re really nerdy.” Ughhh.

    2. AnonEMoose*

      I hate football. Loathe it (and most professional sports) with a white-hot passion. And I STILL think that’s disgusting.

      The equivalent for me is people who assume I only play games like “Dungeons and Dragons” because of my husband. Or the jerk who harassed my best friend because he assumed that, because she was a woman at a gaming table, she must “want attention.” (If he’d pulled that at my table, he’d have bounced. Twice.)

      Say it with me, everyone “A person’s chosen hobbies have NOTHING TO DO with that individual’s gender.”

    3. Artemesia*

      And in a twist. I had a very competitive co-worker who tended to suck up to men in power with her ostentatious ‘fandom’ in sports. It as her identity thing to be part of the team. She delighted in making a big deal publicly out of the fact that I didn’t particularly enjoy watching sports. I’ll bet she pointed that out half a dozen times at least in business meetings when we were working with high level management. I always thought it made her look pathetic but I am sure it also undercut me.

    4. Shell*

      I’ve never had anyone quiz me in a condescending fashion for my male-dominated hobby (StarCraft), thank god (but that’s because I’ve been lucky, not because this type of condescension doesn’t happen).

      But if it did happen, my ex would’ve delighted in telling the moron “she knows more StarCraft than I do, and likely more than you too.”

  17. Bend & Snap*

    I also hate specifying gender when talking about people. Like in conversations or news stories, people will say “female executive” or “lady cop” or whatever.

    It really grinds my gears. There’s no need to specify gender unless the story is somehow related to gender in the workplace.

    1. kristinyc*

      Ugh, there’s a LinkedIn ad I see all the time that as “Are you a female manager?” as the headline.

      Uh, no, I manage males too. Thanks.

    2. Artemesia*

      Once saw a bumper sticker about a youth leadership program that trained ‘leaders and leaderettes.’ Not making that up.

    3. Katie the Fed*

      One of my former employees used to affectionately call me “bosslady.” Like “hey bosslady, can I take next friday off?”

      I’m not sure if it should have bothered me or not, but he was just funny in general and so personable it didn’t bother me at all. Probably because I could also picture him calling someone “Bossman.”

  18. Anon for this*

    Thank you Alison for pointing stuff like this out. I especially like the rule of asking if you would say that to a man as a test.

    I (a woman) had a very senior person (a man) that we work with (from outside our organization) call me “my dear” in an incredibly condescending email about a problem that I did not cause. When I mentioned to my boss (also a man) that I found that term sexist (and that the whole email was condescending) I was told that it wasn’t sexist because “my dear” wasn’t a gendered term and could be said to a man. It could be said to a man – but would it?!? Infuriating and distressing to hear that from my boss.

    1. Schnapps*

      Appropriate response to your boss: Thank you for your candor, my dear!

      And then continue to refer to him as “My dear” whenever you interact with him.

    2. Artemesia*

      LOL Anyone who doesn’t get how sexist and condescending that is must be incredibly tone deaf.

  19. OriginalEmma*

    1 Casually Sexist Thing to Stop DOING at any workplace – treating every woman whose desk faces the office door as the receptionist. ASK if she’s the receptionist, take “no” for an answer if she is, and do NOT follow that “no” with “Well, OK, can you just…”

    I actually moved to a different desk in my office due to this nonsense.

    1. Allison*

      I’ve had guys treat me like the receptionist even though I was nowhere near the door! I’ve had FedEx people come down the hall and ask me to sign for packages because I was the first woman they could find, and I’ve had men stop by my cubicle asking where various people were, or where they sat, or whether they were in that day, and when I’d respond with “sorry, I don’t know” they’d stare at me awkwardly, as though they expected me to drop what I was doing and find the information for them.

      1. OriginalEmma*

        It takes practice to NOT drop everything and help them, too, because that reinforces the inappropriate behavior. I needed to train myself out of that. That’s not to say that I do not help my coworkers or clients/customers who are actually entitled to my time but rando from another dept? FedEx guy? Member of the public who has no business on this floor? Soz.

        1. Collarbone High*

          This is so true. A few years ago I noticed that nearly all my colleagues were constantly interrupting my work to ask me questions they could easily have answered themselves. I kind of liked being the “newsroom know-it-all,” but I realized I wasn’t doing people any favors by training them to ask me instead of finding the answers. I made a mental rule to, before answering, ask myself if this was something only I knew, or the asker couldn’t be expected to know. If yes, I’m happy to help. If not, I started telling them “There’s an entry in the stylebook about that” or “Ask Google.” I got pushback, especially from one person who’d gotten so used to using me as his personal search engine that he’d ask me questions like “What day of the week is it?” or “What’s the capital of California?” Consult a damn calendar if you don’t know what day it is.

          1. Kelly L.*

            Or just hover in the lower right of your screen. Gah! I have a search-engine person, and he drives me up a wall.

          2. neverjaunty*

            I like treating those as if they were trivia questions. “Huh. Okay, Wakeen, I give up. What IS the capital of California?”

      2. Judy*

        Our office just has a phone in the lobby, with a phone list on the wall, sorted by first name. At the top of the phone list in bigger type, it says for deliveries or general inquiries call XXXX or YYYY. Neither is my phone number. When you sort the phone list alphabetically by first name “Judy” is the first obviously female name, about 20 names into the list. It’s not unusual for me to get calls from the lobby when there is a delivery, maybe once every other week.

    2. Sarah*

      Although if there is no admin, office space should be arranged in a way that doesn’t imply someone is one.

      In my first professional job, I assumed the guy was the admin because he had an admin style desk (due to space at the time). Then I got my own admin-style desk for a few weeks, and everyone assumed I was an admin. The least helpful one ever, since I didn’t know where anything was and made no attempt to learn anything I didn’t need to know for my own duties.

    3. BeenThere*


      I am exceptionally rude to anyone who does this do me. My most recent desk was near the service elevator entrance. I always have headphones on and actively ignore the knocking sound that occasionally leak in and anyone who hovers after entering through that door. Those stupid enough to grab my attention get the reply ” how am I supposed to know to whatever they are asking” then I place my headphones back on and continue to program.

  20. Rhiannon*

    Ugh #2 is the worst. At my last company we had a (male) sales rep that decided it was my job to order lunches for his clients and clean up the conference room after he’d had a client lunch meeting. I was a data analyst…no part of my job included cleaning or entertaining clients. He claimed he asked me to do it every time because my desk was closest to the large conference room, which made no sense anyway. He actually complained to my boss when I started saying no! Thankfully she stood up for me and told him it was his job to take care of his clients. He started doing off-site lunch meetings after that.

  21. Former Computer Professional*

    I know I’m totally the exception here – but at a previous job, the office across the hall that had two male occupants could get rather rambunctious. We alternately referred to them as “The Daycare Center” or “Those Boys Again.” (or both, come to think of it, as in, “Those boys in the daycare center are at it again.”

  22. Argh!*

    These words have to die: “manhours” and “manning” the phones (or counter, or whatever)

      1. Parfait*

        All of them are just words! Words have meanings, and words have impact.

        We have lots of perfectly good words we can use to express these ideas, we just need to get in the habit of using them until using a gendered term sounds as archaic as “poetess.”

        Who is staffing the registration table this afternoon?
        How many hours/staff hours/billable hours will this task take?

          1. Elsajeni*

            How does “staff hours” not? If you don’t like that one, how about “payroll hours” or simply “person-hours”? I mean, it’s true that none of these are currently as widely understood to mean “hours spent * number of people working on it” as “man-hours” is, but that’s purely because we’re more accustomed to saying and hearing “man-hours”; the only real obstacle to switching to a different phrase is that changing habits is hard.

    1. HRish Dude*

      There’s no such word as “womanning” or “personning”. The verb “to man” has nothing to do with gender.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        That’s because for centuries, male was considered the default, and women were subsumed into that (hence all the use of “he” and “his” as a generic intended to cover everyone). Ideally, that should change.

        1. Amy Farrah Fowler*

          I am a tutor mostly for college test preparation and when teaching grammar and talking about the “correct” way to say “Anybody who wants to come to the party should bring HIS swimsuit with HIM.” People want to say “their” and “them”, but “anybody” is a singular pronoun. I make a point of discussing how it sounds like the females are being left out, but that it is technically correct. I also tell them that I’m supportive of developing gender neutral pronouns for these types of situations, but when they take their SATs and ACTs, we have to work with what we already have.

          Part of me kind of hates having to teach this rule. Pronoun agreement is important, but at the expense of including women? :-/ Another part of me really enjoys opening up this conversation so hopefully one of my students goes out there and helps to normalize the idea of gender neutral pronouns!

            1. Elsajeni*

              Sure, but Amy’s context isn’t speech, it’s standardized tests — in that situation you genuinely do need to distinguish between “everyone understood what I said” and “what I said was formally correct according to the prescriptivist rules I am expected to follow on this test.”

              1. Amy Farrah Fowler*

                Precisely. I frequently tell my students that I do not make the tests, and that I don’t care whether they use ALL of these rules when texting their friends, but on these tests, we need to follow their rules.

          1. Kathryn T.*

            The “singular they” has a ton of history behind it, though. Shakespeare used the singular they! I mean, for test prep, you gotta prep for what the test asks for, but I (a long-time strict prescriptivist) have absolutely come around on the singular they.

          2. Broke Law Student*

            “anybody who wants to come to the party should bring HER swimsuit with HER” is also correct!

      2. neverjaunty*

        Yeah, it actually does. There’s a reason that it’s not grammatical English to say “Each ballerina must pay for his own shoes”, but it is grammatical English to say “Each doctor must have his credentials at the meeting”.

  23. Collarbone High*

    I love the Twitter account @manwhohasitall. It posts “advice” commonly given to women but gender-flips it. Really shows how absurd most of it is.

    “I have absolutely nothing against male history teachers, as long as they don’t skew lessons by teaching mostly men’s history.”

    “CONGRATULATIONS to all male chemists for juggling laundry, relationships, pampering time & job. Some EVEN have kids! How DO they do it?”

    1. Kat*

      My favorites include “Men, to keep your waistline, drink water and enjoy the memory of eating a cumcumber. Delish!”


      “Wake up at 3 am and work on washboard abs and scrub the house with bleach. ME TIME!”

  24. Squeegee Beckenheim*

    “Girls” bugs the crap out of me. I’m the only female engineer at my company, but all of the teapot assemblers are female, and the men in my department will often refer to them as “the girls”. It’s not a huge deal, considering how they’re generally good in how they treat me and others, but that’s the kind of little thing that grates.

    1. neverjaunty*

      No, it kind of is a huge deal. Because it’s exactly these little things that make it clear they – even unconsciously – pay attention to your gender in a way they don’t for their male co-workers.

  25. Sunflower*

    Another one is if you constantly find yourself asking women if they need help doing things that may be typically male but are part of their job. As an event planner/manager, it makes me extremely aggravated when men insist on carrying/moving boxes or heavy items for me. 1. My company has a company that sits in our office that we pay to move things that are too heavy/big for us to move. If I’m doing it myself, it’s because I am more than capable of doing it. 2. It’s literally in my job description to be able to move/carry heavy boxes. Any boxes over that, refer to #1.

    Nothing makes me more angry than to be moving stuff/materials and someone INSISTS on doing it for me. Like I’ve had people come over and physically take the boxes out of my hands after I told them I’m fine and do not need help. You’re actually taking away parts of my job and it makes me worried that my boss will not think I am capable of doing my job. Thanks for offering but PLEASE do not make me yell at you to get your damn hands off my shiz!

    1. AnonForThis*

      Yeah, at a recent work party in which drink had been taken, I involved myself in a pressup competition with some of the guys, and beat most of them, shoe wearing heels, dress, jewellery etc.

      So satisfying!

    2. Kat*

      I have the opposite issue–women who are perfectly capable of lifting a 10 pound box, but if there is anything that needs to be lifted (seriously, like a ream of paper) they need to page one of the men to do it. It drives me insane.

      1. Allison*

        I’ve always hated how any time someone needs something moved – not just at work but any time ever – they ask for a couple young, strong men to do it. When I volunteer, I’m told “ohhohohoho no honey, thanks for the offer but this is really heavy.” Also, I used to date a guy in another state and when I went to visit him, he and his mom picked me up at the train station and she said “oh honey I’d really feel better if you let him carry that.” I’m still not convinced he was that much stronger than I was.

      2. Dynamic Beige*

        I had a trainee who refused to do something because it was “man’s work” — she said it in this tone which just made me snap. “I’m not going to do that, it’s man’s work!” When I came back and she wasn’t there, I started doing it because it *had* to be done — it was our responsibility — and then she had the nerve to tell me that I was doing “man’s work”? Yeah, she did not last long.

    3. Allison*

      Agreed! It’s always nice to offer, but assume that when a woman says “no” she means no, she’s not playing a game to see if you’ll “do the right thing” anyway.

      I like to flex my biceps and call them my “license to carry anything I want”

    4. Lillian McGee*

      Ah, yes. As the office manager I am often in charge of hauling/moving large things as well. It is one of my favorite things to do because so much of the rest of my job is stationary! The men in the office always offer a hand if they are passing by but I usually turn them down because a) I can handle it, b) I like doing it, and c) I will ask for help if I need it! They know never to insist or even offer a second time. Blessedly progressive office.

      I also love telling people that I used to be a backstage security guard. The stereotype is the big, broad, scary dude and I was/am an averagely sized 20-something woman… People have even laughed when I told them! The real joke is that as a dressing room guard all you do is ask people to show passes and tell them where catering is–a glorified signpost. Many of the artists asked specifically for female guards by the dressing rooms too. I could never figure whether that was sexist…

    5. Amber Rose*

      My boss makes me use a cart to move boxes of tape. They weigh maybe 15 pounds. He says it’s for safety but I call all the bullshit on that. The carts are way more dangerous.

    6. KR*

      THIS. I work at a grocery store part time as a front end supervisor. Male customers are so bad with acting like I can’t lift a rack of water or a heavy item or a heavy bag. Or they will ask for the person in charge and do a double take when I tell them I’m in charge.

  26. FiveWheels*

    A colleague of mine uses “dolls” for women and “fellas” for men. It’s a dialect thing, and it was hilarious to hear him talk about Princess Leia as “your old doll” and Kylo Ren as “your wee fella”.

    1. OriginalEmma*

      Scottish? To this American, that sounds endearing…and here’s me propping up sexism because it has a charming accent.

      1. FiveWheels*

        A specific kind of Northern Irish, but that’s pretty much the same as Scottish anyway ;-)

        1. OriginalEmma*

          :3 Good ol’ norn Ireland. Was it the Belfast accent, Portstewart, Derry, Enniskillen?

      2. Observer*

        It doesn’t sound sexist to me – neither term is exactly “standard respectable” English. “Wee fella” doesn’t sound more respectful to me that “old doll”.

  27. Amber Rose*

    It’s a little bit cultural too. At my office, there are the girls and the boys. As in, “the girls are going for lunch, and the boys are making chili.” We have quite young staff also.

    1. KC*

      as a young adult male, i don’t like the term boy being used to describe someone in my age range, but at the same time i sometimes use the term girl to describe someone in my age range so… i would prefer guy, but i don’t know the female equivalent

      1. NotherName*

        Congratulations! You have discovered an aspect of sexist language that the women (and I assume many men) are complaining about in this discussion. :)

  28. HardwoodFloors*

    One of my favorite new tv shows Code Black has a cast member male nurse called ‘Mother’ and the doctor who is in charge of the interns called ‘Daddy.’ The doctor is female. Good gender, race, ethnicity, sexual preference awareness casting on this show.

  29. Ad Astra*

    I had a manager who would constantly address me (female, age 27) and my coworker (female, age 30) as “young lady.” And no, he didn’t refer to our male coworker as “young man.” It made me stabby.

    1. Master Bean Counter*

      I was called young lady once. I answered with “Yes, old woman?” After that we agreed to never refer to age again when addressing each other.

  30. Van Wilder*

    A couple months ago some colleagues in another department threw an elaborate bridal shower for one of the senior managers. There were so many problems with this:

    1) Gifts flowing upward
    2) They asked both male and female employees on the client team if they wanted to contribute but only women were invited to the shower.
    3) Only women were invited to the shower! “No boys allowed” was uttered!
    4) Um, assuming women enjoy bridal showers in the first place?
    5) It was seriously elaborate. Moreso than family/friends bridal showers that I’ve been to. 3 hours out of the workday, teapot shaped cookies, china, games where you make bridal gowns out of toilet paper… They bought out most of the stuff remaining on the registry and then gave them cash.

    This senior manager is very well liked by her department and many others on the client team. I like her just fine. But it was just so obnoxious that her best friends in the office assumed that all the other women would be just as enthusiastic about this bridal shower. It’s a big client team and the majority of the people invited to the shower were not invited to the wedding.

    This is tangentially related… maybe I just felt like venting.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      Great point here. Just because a person is a woman does not automatically means she likes bridal showers, baby showers, etc.

  31. some1*

    How about stop making comments (even casually amongst your friends) that a woman got hired because of what she looks like?

    1. amp2140*

      Even better, if it’s true, and someone who is more attractive is getting hired over someone with more skills… let’s talk about the idiot hiring manager.

    2. AnonEMoose*

      Or that she “must” have gotten that job/promotion/project in return for sexual favors.

  32. amp2140*


    There was nothing more heartbreaking than to hear my new boss tell me that others said I had to ‘soften how I said no’. This message came via a manager that is known for telling clients to eff themselves. I wasn’t rude, I wasn’t loud, I had a witness in the room for God’s sake. But god forbid someone with a second X chromosome tell someone something they don’t want to hear…

    1. Collarbone High*

      The “loud” thing — I’m not a yeller. I don’t raise my voice unless someone’s about to walk in front of a car or something. Yet if I say something remotely critical, like “Let’s save that topic for another meeting, we’re getting off track here,” people will say I yelled at the derailer.

      The weird thing is, it’s often part of praise, as in “I was so glad you yelled at Wakeen, I was annoyed by the way he kept derailing the meeting.” I didn’t “yell”! I “said”!

  33. MashaKasha*

    My first job at a Very Large company, I was in my early 30s, it was a panel interview. After the interview, my future boss (a very professional-looking guy in a suit) told me I’d done well and should expect an offer, shook my hand, said congratulations, and I drove home, happy to be a new member of such a professional environment.

    Come to find out, as soon as I walked out the door, boss went to his friend’s office, walked in, sat down, and said, “I JUST HIRED A BLONDE. WAIT TILL YOU SEE HER.”

    I only found out from the friend seven years later. It was sixteen years ago and I’ll be honest, I don’t think I’ll ever forget – I’m holding this against Boss to this day. I outlived him in that job, btw.

  34. MegKnits*

    Had a great sexist comment from my coworker last week. “Star Wars is for men. They should just leave it alone.”

    I called him on it and he tried to back peddle. I ended up telling him to shove the magical force up his butt. I love/hate working in IT with mostly men.

    1. NotherName*

      Umm… I thought Han Solo was clearly for women. I know he was the first boy I didn’t think was icky.

    2. neverjaunty*

      The record-breaking opening for the new SW movie co-starring a woman says that nobody agrees with your idiot co-worker, and he should die alone.

      1. NotherName*

        It’s clearly meant for all those little girls who pretended to be Princess Leia in the 70s. (Also, in addition to Han Solo, I think Lando Calrisian was in the originals as eye candy for the female audience.)

        Of course, I’m still awaiting the Wonder Woman revival that I’ve been promised, and I am OK with the boys being allowed into the theater. (Leia fought space Nazis, but Diana Prince fights real Nazis…)

        1. AnotherAlison*

          Have you seen Carrie Fisher’s HBO special/show? Pretty sure Princess Leia was not for the girls. Yes, the merchandising was great to get little girls’ money (says the girl who had a Star Wars Huffy bike back in the early 1980s). The gold bikini was for the guys. The direction to lose 10 lbs (in the FIRST movies) was for the guys. The poses were for the guys.

          1. AnotherAlison*

            (Not to say that I think the MOVIES are for the guys. I just think, why aren’t you saying the spaceships and light sabers were for the girls, rather than the princess being for the girls?)

            1. neverjaunty*

              The female character was important to the girls, especially since the bikini didn’t show up until the third movie, and she was a take-charge badass with a blaster in the first movie.

              Which is not to say that Star Wars is refreshingly free from sexism, as a franchise.

              1. NotherName*

                Yep. In the first movie, she’s brave and in charge. (Much like a female character in the samurai movies/westerns that the movies were based on.) Luke’s kind of wishy-washy to me…

                1. AnonEMoose*

                  Luke is incredibly whiny in the first movie. And Leia is still brave and in charge throughout the first trilogy. Yes, she gets captured by Jabba and has to wear the metal bikini. But that doesn’t work out so well for Jabba, since she strangles him with the chain when she has the chance.

  35. Ihmmy*

    can we please also stop telling women they look “tired” just because they slapped on less makeup than the day before? Ugh.

    1. Helka*

      Actual words a coworker said to me: “Oh, you must be sick, you’re not wearing makeup today!”

      (Like the scratchy voice, nose-blowing, and terrifying coughing fits weren’t a better tell?)

  36. Katie the Fed*

    Oh man, I’m late to discussion on one of my most favorite topics.

    Here’s one that also bugs me:

    Our security guards at work are mostly men, and a few of them always feel the need to chat up the women as we walk by. I don’t mind friendliness, but they NEVER do it with men. It’s noticeable enough that the men even notice it.

    1. CMT*

      This happens where I work and I walk out of my way to avoid the security guard! It pisses me off because it’s a power play — he’s demanding my time and attention, which I do not owe him. If he were really being friendly, he’d do it to everybody who walked by. (And it’s not even just women — it’s only women under a certain age.)

  37. _ism_*

    “Girls” wasn’t something I ever heard until I took an administrative job in a factory/distribution warehouse.

    To point me in the direction of an individual I needed to speak to, for example, I was told “She’s one of the girls in the back warehouse.” The first time I heard it, I went to the back warehouse and looked for anyone who I presumed to be a young woman. Didn’t see anyone of that description and went back to my boss saying “I couldn’t find her.” I saw men of all ages operating forklifts and loading trucks, and I saw older women packing and labeling boxes in that warehouse. No “girls.”

    My boss then said, “She’s one of those … ummm… older girls back there. The girls don’t do the man work so you’ll find them in their department with the labels. Go look again.”

    This particular workplace was all kinds of bad for many reasons, but that was one thing that stood out. Once I realized the division of labor was actually separated by gender (coincidence or not), I figured out this “code” for who’s who at the workplace.

    “Girls” = Women, so look for them in the departments where only women work
    “Guys” = Men, so look for them in the departments where only men work ***OR*** “Guys” = All employees collectively being addressed at once in an assembly or over the PA.

    1. Lillian McGee*

      “OLDER GIRLS”!! It almost sounds as though he was physically unable to utter the word “woman.”

      Don’t say the W word! You might catch that feminizm what been goin’ around!

      1. Hornswoggler*

        I was taking part in a radio chat show recently with four chaps who all seemed to think that calling someone a woman (instead of a lady or a girl) was rude. (This is in the UK.) There was also the pervasive feeling that them calling me a girl was a compliment because it implied that I look young.

        During the programme – which is called ‘The Grumpy Old Men’ – I referred to myself as “a cheerful middle-aged woman” and they all reared like frightened horses at the idea that I was prepared to call myself middle-aged, even though I am 52 and grey-haired.

    2. Bunny Purler*

      Oh my, this reminds me of going on a tour round the headquarters of a huge high street pharmacy in the UK, back in the 1980s when I was a student. In the warehouse, the toilets were labelled Gentlemen and Girls…

  38. One of the Sarahs*

    Please please also, if you manage a team of women as a man, don’t get into all that “I know you’ve had a bad day, so I’ve brought you chocolate, because all women like chocolate”. Had a brand-new manager when I was in an admin temp job go on and on about how he was going to get on fine with the team because he knew all about women, and so would bring chocolate… and of COURSE he had the sweetest tooth in the team.

    Ugh, just remembering him, and his clumsy “I hope I’m not being sexist, but….[saying something sexist]” and the way he acted like he’d never spoken to a woman before, and making dumb jokes about how one of us was obviously the “girly” one, and SO MUCH WRONG!!!!

    (The very worst temp job was being admin assistant in an office of male marketing types, who, when the only other woman, the office manager, would ask them things like “Rather than throwing your rubbish at the bin, and missing then leaving it, please could you place in it the bin”, would reply with “Are you on the rag, or what?”. Plus racism and homophobia, because of course there was. I walked out at the end of my first day and never went back, making it very clear to the boss and the temp agency why no way on earth was I working there.)

    1. Katie the Fed*

      It’s widely understood and accepted that when it’s used in the second person plural, it’s gender neutral.

    2. Chris*

      In my generation, it really is. “Hey guys” is a perfectly reasonable thing to say when greeting a group of friends, even as a female to an all-female group of friends.

      Not to say that there isn’t a better word, but the colloquial use is absolutely genderless (in plural form)

    3. Miles*

      In the midwest, at least among those of us in our 20’s, “guys” is the only way to address a group of women without sounding out-of-touch with social norms. On the one hand, a lot of these genderless statements come off as incredibly old-fashioned or just trying-too-hard, on the other, anything like ‘ladies’ can be seen as downright creepy.

  39. Chris*

    It’s been said, but the “girls” one is a tough one. I honestly have no solution, because in this case the English language has failed us. I use “guys” as a genderless collective noun, but singular female? I guess I use girl, but I 100% understand the opposition to that. “Gal” is considered archaic.

    I think part of the problem, indeed much of the problem, is that women have been so often dismissed by gendered noun. She’s not a doctor, she’s a LADY doctor. She’s not an accountant, she’s a woman accountant. Those are extremes, but women have historically been labeled as a gendered exception to the presumed male generic.

    This then makes it tough when there are perfectly legitimate situations where you need a word that fits a situation with some casualness, but also implies equality and respect to oneself, rather than patronizing.

    I have no answer :/

    *also, y’all is absolutely out of the question for me. To my northern ears, while it’s an acceptable word, it is very unprofessional. Understand that I mean TO ME, not in general.

  40. Kathryn T.*

    My favorite-ever choice for a gender-neutral, work-appropriate, casual/informal group salutation is “Comrades.” I had a manager who used it, and I loved it. “Comrades: the PMs made some spec changes on us, please see attached document and let me know how much time we need to budget to change our testing procedures.” “Comrades: the GPM has asked me to be sure we’re incorporating robust load testing into our current test scheme. Are we? The last test spec document I can find that references load testing is 18 months old; are we using old procedures, or are our docs out of date?” Etc.

    Apart from that, I like “folks” or “team.” I use “gals,” “ladies,” and “chicks” socially to describe various exclusively-female groups, but I’d never use them at work!

  41. LP*

    When I first started working in the world of auto estimates, I regularly heard my male co-workers make comments like, “Don’t be such a girl!” or “What a girl!”

    As a woman, that really bugged me. The next time I heard one of those comments I immediately piped up, “What are you implying by calling him a girl? Can you please explain that to me?”

    They both looked really embarrassed and apologized. Those comments quickly stopped and the work environment improved. I learned the best way to deal with casual work place sexist is to confront it right when it happens.

  42. Monique*

    ‘Ladies’ winds me up in a work context. Unless we’re being formal and the men are being addresses as ‘gentlemen’ I don’t see why you a) have to refer to us by our gender, and b) have to use such a strange, overly formal phrase to do it.

    I work in a male dominated field, and the use of ‘ladies’ always makes me feel like we’re being singled out in case we don’t understand how to do what they view as a man’s job, or as a sort of “Awww, how cute, the ladies are giving this a try too!”

    Most cringe-worthy example was a meeting where my company’s delegates consisted of three women (including me), and the new supplier’s were all men. I understand you’re trying to say, “the folks from company x”, but using ‘the ladies’ to make that distinction is a sure-fire way to wind me up. Stop it.

  43. No rulers needed*

    Short men are simply described as short. Short women, on the other hand, are variously described as: tiny, wee, little, fairy-like, elven, mini, miniature, Thumbellina, doll-like, cute etc. Or they might even use baby language and call you ‘an ickle wickle thing’.
    I’m a short 30-year-old woman, not a kitten. Don’t get me started on the dreadful word “petite”.

  44. Lindsey*

    Re: “girls”

    Maybe this is regional, or generational, but I rarely say “women” OR “men” – I would typically say “girls” and “guys.” “Girls” isn’t the counterpart to “boys,” here, but rather to “guys.” I use these terms regardless of age. “Women” and “men” sounds overly formal. If I were going out of my way to be formal, then I’d use those terms, but in everyday speech I would not (for either sex). I guess you could argue that “guys” is more age-neutral than “girls” but in modern English, I don’t think that distinction exists.

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