my boss told me not to give greeting cards to older men because it could seem sexual

A reader writes:

This happened back in April, but I’m talking about it now because a coworker brought attention to it.

I’m a female junior employee in my early twenties who just graduated with my bachelor’s last year. My manager at my office job is in his fifties. This past April, I gave Easter cards to the coworkers I’m close to. My manager had been off on a business trip that day, so I had left the card on his desk.

That following Monday, he returned the card to me and told me privately that he appreciated the card, especially since people my age never send cards anymore. However, he told me that although he knew my intentions were pure, it unfortunately comes across as unprofessional when a young woman like me gives a greeting card or personal note unrelated to work to an older man in a higher position like him. He explained that the greeting card could become a liability for his career because others could assume that the card has sexual intentions, or people could assume that if I got a promotion in the future, it was only because I was exceptionally nice to him. He told me, “Unfortunately, the world is crazy these days, and even though you have a heart of gold, nobody else has one. It’s just what needs to be assumed in the professional world.”

It felt really weird to hear that at the time, especially since there was nothing sexual hinted at in the card at all (especially since I had written that I hoped he would enjoy his Easter with his wife and kids). However, I apologized to him because I figured that it’s true that anybody could misconstrue the meaning of the card, and I guessed that there was still a lot of office etiquette that I had to learn, including this.

Now move forward to this week. I’m chatting with another female coworker and an older male coworker. The conversation led to greeting cards, and the older male coworker mentioned the card I had made for him back at Easter. I said that I was glad he liked it and that I wish I could give him more. Both of them looked confused and asked me why I couldn’t make another one.

I was confused because, again, I thought this was just some normal part of office etiquette. I told them that it would be weird for me to give a card to the older male coworker. I eventually repeated what my manager had told me, and they both looked at me like I had a dead rat on my head. The male coworker said that my manager sounded really inappropriate and strange for saying that, and my female coworker added that it was gross. They both told me that there was nothing wrong with my greeting cards and that what my manager said was wrong.

This whole ordeal has left me extremely confused. Have I actually done anything inappropriate here? I tried googling what I could online, but every result I get talks about unrelated topics like “when I should I send a thank you card instead of a thank you email” or it’s someone selling funny work-inappropriate cards. Did I do anything wrong?

What on earth.

No, you did not do anything wrong.

Your manager made this gross.

Giving a greeting card to a colleague — even an older, opposite-sex colleague — is not inappropriate. People do it all the time.

For your boss to suggest that it could be misconstrued is bizarre. For him to suggest that it could be seen in a sexual light — especially when you wrote you hoped he’d enjoy his holiday with his wife and kids! — is more than bizarre; it suggests that he has really out-of-touch ideas about how men and women should relate at work. It also suggests that he might find normal non-sexual interactions to be sexually charged, and that he might be the problem he is worried about.

Your female coworker found his response gross because it is gross; he’s sexualizing a wholesome interaction and making you feel like he and others will see you as Sexually Available Young Woman more than they see you as a normal colleague.

His reaction is similar to people who worry about men and women having work lunches together or going on business trips together. It means, unfortunately, that you’ll need to be very attuned to whether he interacts with you differently than he does your male coworkers, and whether you miss out on professional opportunities because of it.

For the record: giving your coworkers cards is not inappropriate. (I would stay away from Easter cards, though — not because Easter cards signal you’re looking for some kind of sexual bacchanalia, but because it’s a specifically religious holiday and not really a secular work thing, although I realize you might be in an area of the country where it’s treated differently. But that’s totally different than what your boss was saying.)

Your boss is the one who made this weird, not you.

{ 562 comments… read them below }

  1. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

    Oh goddess, it’s the old ‘you must never smile, laugh with or act friendly with a male colleague because they might read something sexual into it’ trope in a different outfit.

    Or the equally revolting ‘men have to discourage any friendly behaviour from women because, something something false harassment claims wrecking poor men’s careers something’.

    You did absolutely nothing wrong. Nothing.

    1. FD*

      But heaven forbid that you *not* be warm enough because then you’re a cold-hearted b****.

      -A Cold-Hearted B****, Apparently

      1. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

        Proud owner of the ‘Ice Maiden’ label from a few places – same places that labelled me as ‘cheating on my husband’ for having a male friend at work. I honestly do not understand human thought patterns. Gimme a computer any day.

        1. The Magpie*

          A decent 1/4 of my small wedding reception was my husband’s female pals from work and their partners. It never occurred to me that I was supposed to find that weird or suspicious – my husband gets on really well with women and has equal numbers male and female friends. I’ve always considered that to be a major GREEN flag about him – he’s not the old “me and muh boys” stereotype, which I have always liked a lot about him. It was a big green flag early on that he sees women as people, not objects.

          1. ErinWV*

            My husband actually had a Best Lady instead of a Best Man. They were already close friends when I met and started dating him. I was a bit jealous upon first meeting, but it quickly became apparent that their relationship is quintessentially big brother/little sister.

          2. tinybutfierce*

            One of my best friends is a guy I’ve known for half my life who’s basically a brother to me; there has never been any kind of remotely sexual ~vibes~ between us and the idea legit grosses us both out, lol. A few years back during a group hangout, a married (now former) friend INSISTED that my friend and I acted just like her and her husband; she was VERY much of the mindset that folks of different genders couldn’t really just be platonic friends, and no matter what we said, her response was just some weird, knowing variation of basically “mmhm, okay, whatever you say ;D”.

            She and her husband were divorced less than a year later. So, there’s that.

        2. paxfelis*

          Oh, that one’s simple. A slut sleeps with everyone. A bitch sleeps with everyone but you.

          I’m concentrating very hard on being the Mom Friend at work, to patients as well as coworkers. So far it’s (mostly) working.

      2. Momma Bear*

        That is such a fun line to walk – remember to smile, but not too much, and be friendly, but not too much and why are you so distant? Meh.

        1. LC*

          You really should speak up, but say anything more assertive than “meek” and you’re mean, unapproachable, and need to calm down.

          Double points if it’s in anything higher than a tenor, then you can add shrill to the list.

          1. Generic Name*

            Really, you can’t win. My (female) boss told me at my last performance review that I needed to work on my confidence and be more assertive. Months later, she told me that I’m “strident” and “hard to work with” sometimes. No specific examples, of course.

          2. JustSomeone*

            But if your voice is too low, then that’s either sultry/seductive or [insert transphobic “joke” here].

        2. CoveredInBees*

          Yes, as someone with hereditary RBF, I try to make an effort to smile extra but then I’ve been told not to be “too friendly”.

          Similar problem for women with large breasts. All clothing was either “too revealing/tight” or “too frumpy and unprofessional” in my job in a conservative workplace. They were not paying me anywhere near enough to have all my clothes made custom or heavily tailored. I’d wear looser-fit professional trousers and a blazer or suit jacket, so basically all of my body was covered up.

          1. Tara*

            I had a job once where a big portion of my responsibilities was phone based customer service. My (male) boss told me I had to smile wide while answering the phone because it would give my voice a more cheerful tone. Sigh…

            1. Critter*

              Oh, that’s actually a thing. It totally works. Do smile before you answer the phone (whether you’re male or female). It changes the tone of your voice.

              1. NewColette!*

                Why would Tara need to change the tone of her voice? MaleBoss didn’t say there was anything actually wrong with the way she answered the phone. It sounds more like he just thought women have an obligation to smile and sound cheerful (at least around him), regardless of whether that has a bearing on how well they do their jobs.

                1. Batgirl*

                  Men and women both get told to do this in training when it’s phone based customer service. Weirdly, it does change your voice into friendly mode even if your smile is creepy fake.

                2. DogMama*

                  Call centers instruct employees to smile as they answer the phone. Female, male, non-binary, doesn’t matter. Regardless of gender identity they want you to sound cheerful when you start the call. If the calls are monitored (which is typical of call center work) then your quality monitor report will have a deduction if your tone is not friendly/approachable. Sounding brisk/irritated while hurt you on a quality monitor, but so will sounding flat/monotone. Typically in training they will cover things to help the customer feel more positively about the call, which includes smiling when you answer the call and mirroring the customer. When it comes to quality monitoring, it is possible to score better when you sounded pleasant and professional but couldn’t resolve their problem than if you did resolve their problem but sounded unfriendly. (And you can’t always solve a customer’s problem. That is just a reality of life. But, you can still make the customer feel that the contact was welcomed and taken seriously.)
                  For the record, I’m female and my job is train reps for the call center where I work. All genders are instructed on connecting to the customer. If their quality monitors indicate a problem with how they interact with a customer, they get retrained.

                3. Chris B*

                  It’s not Tara specifically that needs a particular tone on the phone, just anyone answering a phone in a professional setting.

                  If one has had a job working phones, and the trainer understood the work, the training would include that smiling translates directly into a pleasant tone of voice to put clients/colleagues at ease.

                  It doesn’t have anything to do with gender, and certainly not with sexism.

        3. Lady CFO*

          I guess I feel a little differently on this. I don’t see how greeting cards – and apparently ones she hand made – are appropriate in a work setting unless the coworkers are friends outside of work. As a C level myself, receiving cards from subordinates would feel very weird to me… likewise, if my DH (also executive) received cards from young women at his office, I know he would feel weird, too. Matter of fact, his office admin texted him (while she was on leave, even!) to wish him a happy Father’s Day and he responded that he preferred to keep interactions professional.

          I’m not saying either young woman did something wrong, but as a woman in management, I’d advise young women to keep things professional (without calling it sexual-ew.)

          1. mean green mother*

            @LadyCFO I think you and your husband have a different understanding of unprofessional than I do…

          2. Cringing 24/7*

            I think I understand where you’re coming from – and while I don’t 100% agree, I definitely have some overlapping feelings RE: cards. I think the main thing is that some people (yourself and myself) look at card-giving as something that is a very familiar act. I get cards for the people I’m closest to and no one else

            The problem is, that’s not how most people I know view card-giving, though (and, for the life of me, I can’t figure out why I ended up this way when almost no one else is). *So* many people I know send cards for literally any reason to any person, and that just sounds… mentally exhausting to me. But cards are a norm in my office, and acting as if they’re overly familiar would put me far out of touch with The Way Things Are Done (and, just, general office culture in most of the places I’ve worked).

            That said, I am v. uncomfortable wishing people a happy Father’s or Mother’s Day when they’re not directly related to me (again, I have no idea why)… but I would *never* wish a work acquaintance a happy Parent’s Day unless literally everyone around me had already said it and it would be weird if I didn’t.

            1. Lady Knittington*

              I think texting to wish a colleague that is blurring the lines of professionalism, unless you happen to be very good friends with them. I wouldn’t have an issue with saying ‘are you doing anything for mother’s/father’s day’ as part of general office chat however.

            2. Clisby*

              It would never occur to me to wish a Happy Mother’s Day to anyone but my (sadly, now deceased) own mother, or possibly my mother-in-law if she had lived long enough for me to meet her.

              Maybe it’s just me, but that seems much more “familiar” than a random holiday greeting.

              I happen to agree that religious holiday greetings are best kept out of the workplace. But suppose the OP had given Happy New Year’s cards to co-workers. I wouldn’t do that, but I don’t see anything inappropriate about it.

              1. Pennyworth*

                I’m with you on keeping Mother’s Day and Father’s Day greetings exclusive to my parents and in-laws, and its seems weird if anyone other than my own kids say ‘Happy Mother’s Day’ to me.

                1. allathian*

                  Yeah, absolutely, me too. I admit that I won the jackpot with my MIL, she’s a great person. I like spending time with her for her own sake rather than just out of familial duty. That said, when our son was a baby and I was celebrating my first Mother’s Day, and she said “Happy Mother’s Day” to me, all I could blurt out was “I’m not your mother.” After a bit, I apologized and said I appreciated the sentiment, but that it felt very weird when she said that. And then I wished her a happy Mother’s Day. Otherwise I don’t consider her a parent and I doubt she thinks of me as her daughter, but I make a point of wishing her a happy Mother’s Day, because I know she likes that. I’ve never wished my FIL a happy Father’s Day, though, because we don’t have that kind of relationship. I barely talk to him at all, and never without my husband present. I’m closer to my MIL’s current husband than to my FIL, but I don’t socialize with him without my MIL present, either.

                2. pandop*

                  In the UK it’s very odd to wish anyone outside your family a Happy Mothers’/Fathers’ Day, but its also really common to send your colleagues Christmas Cards.

              2. Fred*

                I get weirded out when I get anniversary cards (wedding not work) from anyone but hubs. It’s OUR thing and cards from others make me twitchy. And wouldn’t even think about mother/fathers day cards for anyone not in those categories for me.

          3. EmKay*

            “Happy Father’s Day, boss”

            “I prefer to keep interactions professional.”

            that’s… a take.

            1. Anon.*

              It’s pretty disturbing, and if I were that admin, I would be updating my resume. It almost certainly does not rise to the level of gender discrimination, but I would be convinced of strong gender bias by that remark. In part, the question is whether he would have responded the same way to a man. The larger issue here, and in the case of OP, is that we are talking about a kind of community building work that is gendered female. That makes the “this is unprofessional” response an indication of very problematic attitudes about gender and professionalism.

              1. Gadfly*

                Which kind of raises a different concern for me regarding the cards: is it too much like bringing in cookies? Something that shouldn’t be an issue, but does seem to put women in that mom/wife/secretary sort of role that generally isn’t valued.

              2. Anne VanLoon*

                I make monthly themed little gifts for all coworkers in my offices-but I make sure to include my whole team lest it be somehow divisive or clique-ish. None of my male supervisors has ever felt that odd or acted like it was a problem. Most take them home and tell their wives they got treats! The only thing I can think, beyond your manager being icky, is that he felt it was a favoritism/kissing up possibility? Still, it’s weird to remark on the way he did. I have seen this from men who won’t even be alone for a meeting with a woman unless their wife is present…ultra weird.

          4. KTC0516*

            I agree. It’s common to wish each other a happy mother’s/father’s day in my office (although I understand that comes with its own set of issues for colleagues who are TTC, etc…) but if anyone, let alone someone who worked for me, wrote me a handwritten card for any holiday, particularly a religious one…?! That would ping my radar as weird judgment and I’d be on the lookout for other indications this person wasn’t in tune with professional and/or office norms.

            1. Anon.*

              I’ll take your word for it with regard to your workplace norms. But given the response of OP’s other card recipients, it sounds like OP is pretty attuned too her cultural context. Plus, the kind of response OP got sexualized the whole thing in a way that indicates far greater problems with professionalism and far worse judgment.

              1. allathian*

                Yeah, I definitely agree with this. There’s a senior lawyer at my office who’s about my age or a few years younger (early-mid 40s) who enjoys crafting. So before the pandemic she made handmade holiday cards to at least her coworkers on her wing in our office building, the one from 2019 is probably still stuck on my cubicle wall. I simply thought it was a lovely gesture that needs no reciprocation.

                Someone in that org has a problem with professionalism and it’s not the LW.

            2. Nothing Rhymes With Purple*

              Isn’t there a difference between “not what I would personally do” and “actively bad judgement likely to lead to a problem”?

              Before anyone brings it up I’m not defending the religious holiday aspect, am defending nice little human gestures that really don’t need to be taken as “indicators of weird judgement”. The workiing world is cold and full of unpleasantness, it just bugs me to see people preparing to punish others for showing some human warmth.

          5. Florp*

            As far as cards in general, I would worry more about getting closer to the line of gifting up, or the religious aspect of those particular cards, depending on the culture of the workplace (you can’t assume everyone is Christian, and in the work place it’s not appropriate to ask nor required to tell. If other people in the company send cards, then it’s fine! If you are the only person sending the cards, then it might stick out and look odd. It matters whether you are sending them to everyone or just people senior to you.

            I have had coworkers who went all in for every holiday, bringing treats for everyone and decorating. My usual reaction is “oh, god, is this a thing we’re doing now? Do I have to do it too? Is this just more work for me for no reason?” (And I can be kind of a misanthrope, so I’m usually overreacting, and they are just doing something because they enjoy it.)

            Which is to say: I think this is all so context sensitive. OP is clearly just trying to be friendly and build a sense of community with her coworkers and the idea there’s something sexual is entirely on her boss and frankly weird. If a male boss had ever said something like this to me, I would know he’s someone with whom I need to have some strong boundaries. Clearly other coworkers appreciated it.

            A better thing to do might be a nice thank you note when someone does something helpful or is just generally supportive at work. It can be done via email or handwritten on a nice plain notecard, will be personally meaningful even though it’s about something professional, and builds political capital and goodwill. If you sent one note to each of your coworkers over the course of a year, that’s probably enough to pleasantly surprise most people!

      3. onco fonco*

        Oh yes. Apparently there’s a line between Career-wrecking Sex Kitten and Ice B**** (Probably A Lesbian) that women are supposed to walk. It’s very narrow, though. So narrow you might struggle to find it without a microscope, or at all.

        1. Eldritch Office Worker*

          I like have one foot on each side of the line and really keep them guessing. (Kidding)(Kind of)

        2. More anon today*

          I don’t think there’s actually a line. There’s a Venn diagram with Sex Kitten Behavior on one side, Ice B Behavior on the other, and the overlapped area is Behavior Creepy Dudes Will Interpret Whichever Way Best Serves Their Creepy Purposes.

          1. CEO*

            Priceless: “I don’t think there’s actually a line. There’s a Venn diagram with Sex Kitten Behavior on one side, Ice B Behavior on the other, and the overlapped area is Behavior Creepy Dudes Will Interpret Whichever Way Best Serves Their Creepy Purposes.”

            That’s simply priceless.

            1. Cloudyday*

              I’d guess that this boss would feel uncomfortable having to explain to his wife why a young female colleague gave him a card. Perhaps she’s suspicious or jealous of his work relationships, perhaps he has a history, who knows. In this situation I would avoid giving cards in the future because your boss advised you not to, but don’t feel like you did something wrong or violated some well known rule of etiquette or came across as inappropriate to your coworkers, because none of that is true

        3. COHikerGirl*

          It’s a point in the space/time continuum that can only be occupied by one being at a time.

      4. Maglev to Crazytown*

        Thank you for the violent flashbacks to yesterday’s PDR. I work in a highly sexist field, at a highly sexist location. To the point that after contributing appropriate technical input to something, I got completely ignored and overridden and they went off to get inputs from a less experienced male colleague instead. Multiple people came up to me afterwards to express their concern about how I was treated.

        To survive, I have taken to physically distancing myself, while continuing providing my technical high quality inputs to my (male) manager, as ultimately he is final signoff on everything. During the PDR yesterday, he mentioned he has started deliberately not delegating meetings to me since he knows I “don’t play well with certain others.” The “certain others” are people who have openly treated me like crap to earn “power points” with other male managers in a game of “let’s beat up on the sole technical AND female person in the room.” And whom I have expressed my concern to my manager after the event, while remaining professional in the meeting itself.

        Yes, I know my job is a toxic and soul sucking hell. It is why we have functional groups with 200-300% turnover in the past several years alone.

          1. Maglev to Crazytown*

            Sorry… Something along the lines of “Performance Development Review.” It is our required annual and mid-year performance review process. I have never actually heard the acronym spelled out!

        1. Medusa*

          Friend, you need to get out of there. And perhaps sue them for creating a hostile environment (if it fits the legal definition).

    2. quill*

      They could come to work in hermetically sealed 8 foot diameter hamster balls and roll around the office and this manager would maintain that it was inappropriate for their hamster balls to brush past each other in the hallway.

      1. mcfizzle*

        So many problems solved! Probably wouldn’t need mask mandates either with this outstanding idea. :)

            1. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

              That’s it, I’m gonna try to make ‘hamsterball amoeba powers’ into a call queue note if it’s the one thing I get done tomorrow.

            2. Salymander*

              Quill, you made me spray tea out my nose. Not a tiny bit, more like a fire hose. I really got some distance, and the cat was super impressed (deigned to glance in my direction). So, thanks! ;)

          1. The Prettiest Curse*

            With great difficulty. Or by pushing your hands though the slot you used to enter the hamster ball. (There must be one, unless you actually have to live in the thing.)

          2. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

            Get IT to do it, we’re used to doing things in restrictive environments :p

            1. quill*

              Okay I’m definitely not picking melted labels out of a printer with tweezers and then having the crumbs drift around in my hamster ball forever!

            1. The Prettiest Curse*

              Bonus feature: the hamster ball gives you a mild but unpleasant electric shock every time you say anything remotely humorous, especially about the copier.

          3. Brooks Brothers Stan*

            The hamster balls are part of IT’s upgrade that will result in Dunder Mifflin being paper free by 2023.

      2. Tigersmom*

        My grandson actually had a full size (for him) hamster ball when he was 5. He rolled all over the yard in it, squealing with delight.I have a picture – would attach if I knew how.

    3. Mystik Spiral*

      LOL, my first thought was, “Oh, how very Mike Pence of him”. Then I got to the part where Alison said basically the same thing. MEN! JUST STOP IT!

      1. Not Tom, Just Petty*

        I went there to. OP if he is your manager, please look for other ways that he is separating you (for everyone’s own good). How are your one on ones? How often does he put you on project where you report directly to him? Will he meet with the door closed?
        I’m not saying he’s a villian in romcom, I’m saying that his skewed perception of self-preservation may manifest itself in your loss of opportunities.
        You don’t have to quit over it, but you do need to speak up more strongly when you want something. Force him to say the words, “no, I can’t do that because…”

        1. Observer*

          How are your one on ones? How often does he put you on project where you report directly to him? Will he meet with the door closed?

          I had the same question. But also in the reverse. Given his utterly bizarre take on the matter, what I’m worried about is that he already sees her as “available” and is more interested in her as “young woman” than “young employee”.

    4. Aerin*

      The kind of person who will claim that sexual harassment claims are arbitrary and can be read into anything, therefore you must stay hyper-vigilant to avoid them? That kind of person is 100% the problem.

      1. Observer*


        What’s worse here, though is not just the lost opportunities, but the lack of safety. What do you think is going to happen if someone harasses the op?

        1. Librarian of SHIELD*

          This is a really good point. OP’s boss is making it really clear that he thinks she’s setting herself up for people to think she’s romantically/sexually interested in them, so if she has to report sexual harassment at any point, I fully believe he’s going to “both sides” the situation and blame her for making the harasser think she was open to the behavior. It’s really bad.

          1. BabyElephantWalk*

            Yep. OP’s boss is toxic and feeding into rape culture and will 100% blame the victim of workplace discrimination or harrassment. Be careful around him.

            It might – maybe – even be worth a quick conversation with HR, just so the issue is on record. Which sucks, but your boss will clearly not be on your side if shit hits the fan in that sort of scenario.

    5. MassMatt*

      Overall I agree, except almost buried in the letter is “asked me why I couldn’t make another one”.

      IMO making a card implies greater effort and perhaps intimacy than simply buying a box of cards. Maybe LW enjoys making cards as a hobby or it’s really easy to create a bunch of personalized cards online but to me making and buying are a bit different. Not in a sexualized way, but more in the “bringing homemade treats into the office all the time” way.

      1. Eye roll*

        Maybe OP likes to save money? I used to buy a bulk pack of blank cards, a couple stamps, and an ink pad, and produce cards as needed. “Great job,” “Congratulations,” “Happy Holidays,” etc. Just because it’s not hallmark doesn’t make it high effort. My only caution for OP would be that crafting, like baking, reads as so stereotypically feminine that it should be avoided around her gross manager who already treats women differently.

      2. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

        I regularly sew cards for people so…this actually has me worried a bit. I’ve never had anything back in response except for ‘wow, thanks!’ at work.

        People don’t expect them, I like sewing at lunch (and at home, and anywhere else) and I don’t *think* anyone here regards me less for it. Bit paranoid now.

        1. Ashley*

          I wouldn’t read to much into this except for the traditional, you like baking and suddenly you are known for your baking more then your work skills. Just be sure that sewing isn’t the only thing you are known for in the office and you should be fine.

          1. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

            *relieved* no fear of that! In all other aspects of things I’m very much NOT the ‘office lady’, I’m just an IT person who just happens to like sewing geek things.

        2. onco fonco*

          I don’t think that’s a problem at all unless you also tend to get pushed into the Office Mum role, and your comments never give me that impression!

        3. MassMatt*

          Don’t feel paranoid! I just felt as though her making the cards made it potentially different, maybe more along the lines of what Eye Roll said in response. I agree that the manager in the letter was weird to make something harmless and nice seem gross.

      3. Dream Jobbed*

        A lot of time card makers will make them in batches , and I’d guess that everyone got the same card, even though it was homemade. Not sure how it’s any different that bringing everyone the same homemade treats. Don’t see a problem with either, unless the boss “knows” that they are “really for him.”

        I don’t accept gifts from my employees, but I do accept cards and would love a homemade one. Not sure I agree it’s different, the only exception being the boss did not know others got homemade cards. So maybe a tiny grey area.

          1. Cringing 24/7*

            This comment is my everything right now.
            It’s probably a seduction spell, though.

        1. TootsNYC*

          I’ve wondered if the fact that he wasn’t there when the cards were delivered is part of what influenced him–he feels singled out and doesn’t realize there were others who received the same treatment.

            1. Jennifer Strange*

              That still doesn’t explain why he made it about sex. Also, why would his immediate thought be “No one else received one” when there is no evidence of that?

        2. Nothing Rhymes With Purple*

          Yeah, I’m a card-maker and I make designs which I print out in multiples. It’s just a fun hobby.

      4. Amaranth*

        I actually don’t get giving Easter cards to coworkers because its a religious holiday – Christmas has been so commercialized that it hasn’t nearly the same weight unless you give cards with an explicitly religious message. I’m assuming OP knows that her coworkers would be receptive, but then I wonder if religion is openly discussed at work.

        1. Anti anti-tattoo Carol*

          I’m glad Alison addressed this, because yeah, giving religious cards at work could be iffy. I have work-befriended people before and despite mentioning I’m a practicing Jew (I know it’s not always accurate but like- my legal name is a dead giveaway. I’m the John Smith of lady Jews), still get asked about my Christmas/Easter plans or given Christmas cards.

          That said, if OP and the card recipients are of the same faith and have discussed church/Easter plans, then I wouldn’t bat an eye.

          1. Mannequin*

            Easter cards are not necessarily overtly religious themed, in fact most that I’ve seen are eggs, bunnies, ducks, etc.

            1. TheSnarkyB*

              Yes, they are. Just because the pictures aren’t Jesus, that doesn’t mean the card isn’t overtly religiously themed. This thinking is the result of living in a Christian-dominant culture and our failure as a society to recognize Christian privilege and dominance. As a non-Christian myself, let me say that it’s 100% a religious holiday, and when people treat Christian holidays as just “tradition” or “American tradition,” it makes Christianity seem like that much more of a default, and pushes everyone else further into the margins.

          2. allathian*

            If you’re asked about your Christmas plans, maybe say something about what you did for Hanukkah? And if asked about Easter, mention Pesach? A gentle redirect and reminder that you celebrate different holidays should be fine, given that they’re asking about your plans. It’s not as if you’re going “How dare you wish me a merry Christmas, can’t you get it through your thick head that I’m not Christian,” or the like. I’m so sorry you’re being othered at work.

      5. LizM*

        I paint, and it’s fairly easy to make a batch of a dozen cards when I’m trying to practice a specific technique. I don’t have anything to do with a dozen small paintings of the same flower, so I’ll glue them onto blank cardstock and keep them to give as cards.

        I think it would read as intimate if you were giving *one* person a handmade card, but if everyone gets a handmade card, I would not read anything into it, other than that the giver likes to make cards.

        1. TootsNYC*

          he may not have realized that other people received the same type of card–he was out when she distributed them. So it may have seemed more intimate.

          1. Medusa*

            But still… “I hope you have a nice holiday with Kate and the kids” or whatever? That can’t be read as a come-on unless you *want* it to be one

      6. Observer*

        IMO making a card implies greater effort and perhaps intimacy than simply buying a box of cards.

        Please. There is nothing “intimate” in making a card – especially when that person is making them for multiple people. And that’s on top of the fact that “friends” does NOT in any way indicate “sexual”, yet that’s what the boss had to say about the matter.

        So, no, there is nothing here that the OP has done wrong, but some really concerning signs about the boss.

        1. banoffee pie*

          Card-making could be a hobby for OP and it’s nicer to give them to someone than just throw them away. Like when you bake too much cake and offer everyone a slice. Or like those people who insist on playing their guitar/ singing at people. Doesn’t mean you’re coming onto them!!

    6. Tangerina Warbleworth*

      I wonder if Boss UltraSkeeze would say the same thing to a man he knows is gay. It would be just as wrong, of course; but if he’s assuming that any/all women attracted to men in general are necessarily guilty of wanting to have sex with him, wouldn’t that apply to ALL people attracted to men?

      (I know the answer. I’m just underlining the horrifying level of misogyny here.)

  2. SillyLittlePittyPat!*

    It sure sounds sounds like boss is already playing a saucy novella in his head over ANY female interactions.

    1. I'm A Little Teapot*

      That’s my thought. This is the boss projecting. HE turns getting an Easter card into something sexual, so everyone else must.

        1. KaciHall*

          I mean, wasn’t Eostre a fertility goddess? So technically, the origins are definitely sexual. (It has been literal decades since I looked into the pagan origins of Christian religious holidays so I could be wrong. )

            1. Kelly L.*

              It’s not a hoax so much as reading too much into pretty fragmentary evidence.

              What’s not true is the “Eostre is the same as Ishtar” thing.

          1. Jedi Sentinel Bird*

            LW, you did nothing wrong giving out Easter cards. If you still want to give cards out to certain people, that should be fine. I wouldn’t bother with weirdo card guy. He sounds like he has a perverted mind. If he didn’t like the card,he could have simply tossed it away. However, this shows you his bizarre thought process. I wonder if he would have said the same thing to you if you were a guy. If you made easter cookies, I also wonder if weirdo card dude would say a similar thing. It’s his problem not yours. Next time, if you want to give cards out, give them out to people who are chill with them. Avoid the weirdo.

      1. Amaranth*

        Devil’s advocate, he might have been the target of accusations in the past from a younger coworker but learned the wrong lessons.

        1. Observer*

          The devil needs no advocates, thank you very much.

          But if you’re going to go that route, maybe come up with something that approaches some level of plausibility?

          1. CSJ*

            His reaction is so bizarre I also was trying to rationalise it. The best I could think of was that because he came to this a few days later and found the card on his desk, did he realise other people had been given cards, or did he think OP had only given one to him?

            Even if that is the case his reaction is still over the top, but it would be easier to understand where he was coming from.

          2. CSJ.*

            His reaction is so bizarre I also was trying to rationalise it. The best I could think of was that because he came to this a few days later and found the card on his desk, did he realise other people had been given cards, or did he think OP had only given one to him?

            Even if that is the case his reaction is still over the top, but it would be easier to understand where he was coming from.

    2. Mallory Janis Ian*

      I keep picturing him at work, getting a greeting card from a woman, and his inner monologue is like, “Sha-bow chicka-wow-wow!”

    3. Greige*

      Yep, and putting the onus on his very young colleague to manage his feelings. I think we’ve seen this movie before.

    4. Observer*

      It sure sounds sounds like boss is already playing a saucy novella in his head over ANY female interactions.

      Exactly this.

      1. Blue*

        Yeah, you’re a lady, so everything you do is about sex, because ladies are for sex! Remember, that’s your fault, though!

    5. Forrest*

      Anyone remember that Captain Awkward letter with the engineer who just kept hiring teenage girls and they just — WOW! — kept talking about ~screwing~ [with screwdrivers], and telling him about their ~boyfriends~, and sometimes they would have to ~work late~ together on a project oh my GOODNESS, and you know, he was just so WORRIED that someone might (pant) get the WRONG IDEA (pant pant) —

      1. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

        Oh the ‘am I the next Bill Cosby?’ one? I recommend taking anti-nausea meds before reading that guy’s letter.

      2. SwingingAxeWolfie*

        Sorry, I just commented RE exactly the same one below before seeing yours! It’s telling that we were both reminded of it.

    6. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      This is what I’m thinking too. “She gave me a card that says rejoice, he is risen! She definitely wants me. What else can this possibly mean? Should’ve given it to me discreetly though, we don’t want anyone to find out.” OP, in my first US job, I unwisely chose someone like your boss as my mentor. That messed up my ideas of how to operate in corporate America really badly, thankfully only for a couple of years, at which point I realized that my boss was full of it (him banging my married teammate while also being married was a dead giveaway…), changed jobs, and distanced myself. Do not listen to or follow any work advice that comes from that man’s mouth. He has no idea what he is talking about. Also, for real be careful around that guy. Your two coworkers sound solid, though. Listen to them instead.

    7. A Wall*

      Something like that, anyway. All the people claiming in recent years that they can’t interact with women at work normally because it will get misconstrued as sexual harassment are telling on themselves by accidentally revealing what their “normal” interactions with women tend to be.

    8. SwingingAxeWolfie*

      It reminds me of an old Captain Awkward LW (no 678 – I think if I link it this comment may be lost to the spam filter). The guy worked with young women and wrote a really bizarre letter creating problems out of nothing – reading between the lines, it’s because he wanted to think the sexual inappropriateness was there when it wasn’t.

  3. quill*

    What on earth? OP, your manager’s attitude is creating a holiday card ceiling for you, professionally.

    1. Charlotte Lucas*

      My (female) manager made homemade jelly for all her direct reports a few years ago, including the men. It was “spicy apple.” According to the OP’s manager, she’s probably on very thin ice.

      1. Mallory Janis Ian*

        Good lord! it just goes to show that there’s nothing a woman can do that won’t be interpreted some kind of way by some [weird?] men.

      2. Observer*

        My (female) manager made homemade jelly for all her direct reports a few years ago, including the men. It was “spicy apple.” According to the OP’s manager, she’s probably on very thin ice.

        I honestly had to laugh when I read this.

        But it’s not funny when someone actually tries to say this with a straight face.

  4. HugeTractsofLand*

    Ew, yeah…I would keep making cards for other people since they’re, y’know, normal, AND you like doing it! If your boss ever brings it up his misguided advice again- something like, “I’ve noticed you doing this for other people…”- you could say something bland like “that hasn’t been my experience with other folks, but I definitely won’t give you cards knowing how you feel.”

    Also tbh if he brings it up again…start documenting it. Someone this worried about sexual connotations in innocent places clearly doesn’t have a great sense of boundaries.

    1. LC*

      I like that response if he says something else about it, and I agree that OP should definitely be keeping an eye on this guy. This can’t possibly be the only thing he has some incredibly odd, sexists ideas about.

    2. Observer*

      Also tbh if he brings it up again…start documenting it

      I wouldn’t wait for him to say anything. I would start looking very carefully at his behavior and start documenting anything that seems off.

  5. FD*

    Seconding the advice here. Unfortunately, I’d also be careful of staying too long with this manager. Even if he’s not doing it consciously, a person with this sort of attitude is–in my experience–less likely to give the same mentoring to his female employees as to his male ones, so staying here too long can potentially hurt your career. At this stage of your career, staying a couple of years and leaving for an advancement opportunity is SUPER common, so I’d quietly plan to do that.

    I would also recommend spending more time watching the behavior of your two coworkers who told you that your manager was wrong. They’re probably much better models of How to Be A Professional Adult than your manager, and are apparently willing to give you good professional advice.

    1. quill*

      Yeah, OP: staying with this guy long term will hurt your career progression. This doesn’t mean run for the hills now (based only on the greeting card thing) it does mean that you know ahead of time that you will have to leave within a reasonable time frame to get ahead.

    2. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

      It is, indeed, a giant red warning flag that this guy has some serious problems regarding women at work and isn’t going to be beneficial to your career.

      Not a ‘omg run now’ flag, but a ‘working for him isn’t a good long term strategy’ flag.

      1. Student*

        Disagree. There is no benefit to the OP to staying here any longer than necessary. She’ll have more professional opportunities and learn better professional norms under managers who are not like this guy. The odds of a lateral job hop improving her outlook are very good.

        There’s no reason for her to continue supporting someone who is going to treat her like a constant threat to his career by merely existing. Start moving on now. It can take a while to line something new up.

        1. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

          I think I worded that wrong, apologies. I absolutely recommend thinking about where to go next since working for this guy hasn’t got a future with his attitude to women.

        2. FD*

          I don’t know that I agree with that. LW is in her first post-college job and hasn’t been there long. Particularly if she doesn’t have much job history, it’s in her interests to stay 1-2 years to build her work history up. Especially if this is her first job, job-hopping too soon would be a bigger deal for her than someone with 10 years of history behind her.

          1. FD*

            (Assuming that you mean ‘try to be out in 6 months’ vs. ‘longer than necessary’ being a year or two.)

          2. Eye roll*

            Or she could try and lateral in the same company. Or explore options to change teams/work with another manager. Putting in 1-2 years for someone who will not give you all the opportunities, growth, and advice you need because you are a woman is not beneficial either.

            1. Yorick*

              Depending on the job, she may also be able to make an effort to work closely with others who can provide mentoring and such.

          3. Srsly*

            Hard disagree. Beginning her career under someone with such harmful attitudes, which surely play out in all sorts of ways on the daily, is not at all in her interests. She has lots of time to build her career.

            OP, you don’t have to put up with this — guaranteed that his weirdness towards women is not going to end there. Please take care of yourself. You can do better.

        3. ecnaseener*

          Nah, I’m in Keymaster’s camp. This is one factor to consider, and we don’t know the other factors. If mentorship is OP’s number one priority and she’s not getting it from anyone else on the team, then sure, this means it’s time to leave.

          1. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

            I really apologise for any randomness in the speech/text today folks, I think I’m rambling. Bad pain levels.

          2. Not Tom, Just Petty*

            Mentorship is important, but so it the opportunity to learn and to grow. If OP is not getting projects because manager might have to meet with her one on one, that’s a problem. I think OP should look at the situation as a whole. He doesn’t have to be a good mentor; he has to be a fair boss.
            “We have X project starting. Has anyone used X program before?”
            OP: Yes. I took a course in college.
            See what happens.

            1. ecnaseener*

              True. I didn’t mean to imply mentorship was the only thing affected, just giving an example.

      2. Blue*

        Yeah, there isn’t going to be a way for her to be appropriate in his eyes because he’s looking at her through a Sex Filter.

    3. BigHairNoHeart*

      Yes, OP! Also, be on the lookout for any other oddities your manager is displaying. If this is the only thing you’ve noticed, you can likely proceed with caution (just don’t plan to stick around here for several years since I really agree with FD’s instincts here). But if you notice other odd behaviors from him, you may want to speed up your exit from this workplace.

    4. A Simple Narwhal*

      I agree, this manager is bad news. Do you think it’s worth mentioning something to HR? This seems like something they might want to have a conversation with him about.

    5. mreasy*

      My fear also is that this boss won’t advance OP cards or no cards, out of fear of seeming inappropriate and/or because his outdated beliefs here imply he may have other outdated beliefs about women’s abilities at work and/or interest in advancement.

      1. FD*

        Even if he’s not enough of a jerk to consciously choose not to promote her because of her gender, she’s likely to miss out on the mentorship and advocacy that would put her in a position to be advanced.

        There are a lot of people who wouldn’t out-and-out not give someone a promotion because of their gender, but many more who unconsciously won’t give a woman the same prep and attention that they’d give a man in the same position because the man ‘reminds them of themself’.

      2. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

        I bet he’s got a ‘I can’t have private meetings with you because people might think I’m doing something improper’ waiting in the volcabulary somewhere…

        1. FD*

          Almost certainly. I have a hard time believing that someone being this weird about a GREETING CARD isn’t going to make other stuff super weird.

          1. Yorick*

            Exactly, if he’s afraid of getting a greeting card, he’s definitely afraid of a business dinner.

      3. WomEngineer*

        I’d be worried about unconscious gender bias too. He seems like the type to misconstrue traditional “feminine” traits as unprofessional (empathy, consideration for others, being a team player instead of asserting yourself as traditional men do, etc., even wearing makeup).

    6. PolarVortex*

      This second paragraph is Spot. On.

      Since you’re still learning about what practices are and aren’t okay within the professional world, it’s time for you to start cultivating some mentors. They can be your barometer for what is normal and accepted, as well as help you professionally grow. Sounds like you have two coworkers to help out but you need more people on team you to help you grow.

      Also, take everything this manager has said about any professional thing with a giant grain of salt. Run it by multiple people. The fact he is so wildly, grossly off base here does not lend confidence that he is competent anywhere else in his professional life.

      (PS In case you are feeling weird about your card thing: I have had employees who have given every person in our department valentines cards (the ones you get for your elementary school one that come with candy/stickers) and while I’ve always thought it a bit odd, it was general fun/care of coworkers. I’ve never sexualized it and it was on the holiday of sexytimes.)

  6. Ann Furthermore*

    So, LW, can you tell us more about what it’s like to work for Mike Pence? Ugh. That is so weird and gross, and I’m sorry that happened to you.

    1. Recruited Recruiter*

      “So, LW, can you tell us more about what it’s like to work for Mike Pence?”
      This definitely got a chuckle. Good reference.

    2. MissDisplaced*

      I don’t like Mike Pence, but I’ve come to sort of agree with his stance of not being alone (not just with women, but anyone really). Obviously, this a very different thing for public people (which the OP’s manager is not).

      Unfortunately, we live in a political environment where if you are a public elected official, the media and/or the opposing party, and/or activists will literally do ANYTHING to take you down, including hiring fake actors to try to get you setup in a position to say or do something (anything) that could be construed as being remotely compromising or objectionable so that they may then re-edit and feed the social media rumor mill. Even if you’ve never done or said anything wrong, it doesn’t matter because now you’ve playing defense and having to deny the rumor. Unfortunately, creating the suspicion is often enough to create doubt about that person. So, MP is right in the sense of not trusting because he’s a person who would be highly targeted. He was weird about it just being women though-technically it could be anybody.

      1. Lucious*

        That logic doesn’t check: a muck-raker out to build a hit piece can just as easily fabricate a homosexual relationship- and odds are that would do far more political damage. Yet Pence doesn’t limit alone time with male staff.

        Just my two cents, but these scenarios tend to be individual bias projection.

      2. Tali*

        You know who does not worry about having meetings alone… every other VP we’ve had so far…

        Also kind of hard to be “set up” as a sexual harasser if you, you know, don’t sexually harass anybody.

        And you say “technically it could be anybody”… but it’s not. It was specifically about being alone with women.

  7. Sara Sunflower*

    This is ridiculous! I often give winter holiday/New Years cards to my coworkers and have never been told it was inappropriate, regardless of the age or gender of the recipient. Your manager is the one who made it weird, not you.

    1. Coenobita*

      At my first job out of college, my work bestie and I (both young women) liked to team up and give out valentines to everyone in the office – the silly elementary school ones that you buy in a multi-pack at CVS, that come with Batman erasers or scratch & sniff stickers or whatever. The first year we did it, the CEO (an older man) sent us a very sweet thank-you note saying nobody had given him a valentine in ages! I shudder to think what OP’s boss would do in this situation, what with the extreme inappropriateness of Valentine’s Day and all :)

      1. Former Young Lady*

        Batman eraser Valentines at the office sounds amazing, truly. I’m suddenly in the mood for a customized “mailbox” receptacle and a lip-sync contest.

  8. Goose*

    What?? What??? I’m torn between banging my head on my desk and dressing up as a “sexy greeting card” for Halloween

  9. CYP*

    A card!? Sexual?! Okay that was a little much. But my current boss has mentioned to me that when she first started, she got her bosses (small company of 12 at the time) a little Christmas gift. And they pulled her to the side to say do not give them anything. I believe it was more on the level of “we are making 5x what you do an feel weird taking gifts from soneome we don’t pay enough to afford DC rent”. My boss is a woman and her bosses are men. So I will say, while not the same, it’s still pushed out there that if your on the lower rungs of the ladder, gifting to the higher rungs feels odd to them. OP is clearly a nice person and enjoys brighting folks days with a small gesture of kindness. So don’t let him rain on your parade!

    1. Elenna*

      Yeah, Alison agrees that gifts should flow downwards. But that’s because of issues with power/wage disparity, not because there’s anything sexual about giving gifts/cards to people of the opposite gender!

          1. UKDancer*

            Definitely. I get a box of Christmas cards for use with my work colleagues and it costs about £3-4 for a large box in the supermarket. The cost is negligible. It’s not like a gift in my opinion. Even if you make them (and I have cross stitched a few in my time) they’re fairly quick and easy to make and don’t cost a lot.

        1. Eye roll*

          Because it isn’t! I work for a government employer with TONS of ethics rules. No gifts flow uphill. But a card? Flppppp. Doesn’t count at all unless it’s stuffed with cash or something.

    2. The Rural Juror*

      I had heard about the “no gifting up” rule before even getting into AAM, so I’ve never done that. But I don’t feel like a greeting card is in the same boat, especially since I buy holiday cards by the pack and they cost like $0.50 each. It’s the least expensive way to make a coworker’s day a little brighter. I would tell the OP to keep giving out cards to everyone EXCEPT the boss with inappropriate thoughts in his own head.

      1. PT*

        And gifts often means, actual gifts. Not, “Here’s a Reese’s tree I got on sale for 25 cents at the grocery store.”

        1. Brooks Brothers Stan*

          In the United States civil service this would, in fact, be considered as breaching ethics rules.

          You also better be careful about how many Reese’s trees you give your coworkers, as you’re only afforded $10 per year.

          1. Oxford Comma*

            In most/non government office settings, if you’re giving out some kind of generic inexpensive candy to everyone in the office (even the boss) and a non-denominational generic New Year’s card, you’re probably fine.

    3. Bagpuss*

      Yes – gifting upwards is generally not appropriate, but a card, particularly if you give cards to everyone, is different.

      I am a partner, so one of the owners of my business. I get gifts for my direct reports, I do not receive any*. I do however get cards from the people who give cards to everyone. It’s not weird.

      (*I do participate in the secret Santa, and so does my business partner, but that feels different, not least as it s anonymous!)

      If you singled out your manager and gave them a card but didn’t give one to anyone else, or only gave cards to people higher than you in the company, and not to peers or people junior to you, then it would look weird, but not in a sexual way, just smarmy!

      1. Saberise*

        Except he wasn’t there when she handed them out so from his standpoint she only gave one to him. He didn’t say she shouldn’t give them to co-workers just to those higher up than her. Sounds like he thinks of it similar to the whole gifting up thing especially since they were handmade.

    4. Observer*

      gifting to the higher rungs feels odd to them

      So, firstly, the OP did NOT “gift” her boss anything – she gave him a CARD. That’s a fundamental difference.

      Also the difference between “Don’t gift up, especially to people who are making multiple of what you are making” and “Any time you do some commonplace nice thing it’s going to be considered SEXUAL” is like the difference between the the Sahara and the Amazon.

    5. Fake Old Converse Shoes (not in the US)*

      I’ve shared a car with my boss multiple times. If anyone ever starts shipping us because of that I would have a laughing fit.

  10. Lora*

    Your boss is weird, OP. At many many MANY workplaces I’ve been in, cards for the following events were 100% normal:
    Xmas / Hanukah / winter holiday of your choice
    birthdays, occasionally, in smaller groups where we also did birthday cake at lunch time for people having birthdays
    people leaving (obviously on good terms)
    new people joining the group
    promotions or transfers
    big anniversaries, if someone had been with the company 10 / 20 / 30 years type of thing they got a card and a corporate-branded gift of some sort
    thank-yous or congratulations if some project you worked on went spectacularly well, you’d get a card and another corporate gift type thing.

    Something is wrong with your boss. Dude is creeeeeepy.

    1. code red*

      You mention promotions. For old workplace, we didn’t get cards or gifts for a person being promoted. It was expected that the people being promoted be the ones to bring in something to celebrate their promotion. Specifically donuts. I really liked that rule.

      1. code red*

        And before anyone worries about someone not being able to afford it, it wasn’t an official thing and no one got offended or even upset if someone didn’t do it. Also, it was usually people moving up into higher levels (not entry/junior level roles) that did it.

      2. Bagpuss*

        That’s pretty much how it works where I am.

        It someone is retiring, leaving, or has a big life event such as a baby (or adoption of a child) or marriage, , then normally there is a card which everyone signs, and often a collection for a gift . For something like a retirement then the business will normally give a small gift – typically flowers + gift vouchers, although often there will be a separate collection for a gift from the staff as a whole.

        For things such as birthdays, promotions and other events, the person having the birthday or other event usually brings in cake or other treats, but there’s no pressure.

      3. Lora*

        That also works – where I’ve been, we had:
        luncheons for group promotions that were company paid
        luncheons for individuals that were off site but I think either company or the person’s manager paid
        the Corporate Gift Catalog where you get a certain amount of “points” to spend or it’s like “pick anything on level 2” type of deal
        cafeteria did a sheet cake for the department that said “Happy March Birthdays!” or “Happy 2011 promotions!” or whatever
        some kind of weird little Corporate Art thingy – like a little trophy thing with an inscription to put on your desk for a paperweight
        embroidered jackets with the project name on (those have been my favorites)
        coffee cups with the project / team name on them
        Team Building Exercises which were basically “let’s all go get beer on the corporate card after work”

    2. Cat Tree*

      I don’t do cards, but whenever anyone mentions their birthday, I put it in Outlook and wish them happy birthday in following years. I do this for men and women, and for people above, below, and lateral to me. It’s just a nice way to make someone’s day. I can’t imagine it ever being sexual unless maybe I jumped out of a giant cake?

  11. Anonymous Koala*

    Your manager was gross for saying that. OP, I would look to other experienced coworkers or higher ups to guide you on professional norms and ignore anything else this guy says about appropriate socializing in the office.
    That said, no one expects personal touches like greeting cards in the office. If you want to give them out, that’s great, but there’s no obligation.

  12. H*

    This sounds like a man who has reacted to recent cultural changes/media attention around taking sexual harassment claims more seriously by drawing the conclusion that “anything and everything could be misconstrued as sexual harassment,” rather than realizing that actual sexual harassment is perhaps more prevalent than he previously thought.

    1. Cake or Death?*

      Actor Idris Elba had an excellent response to this type of thinking:

      “ In an interview with The Sunday Times to promote the upcoming fifth season of his hit BBC series Luther, Elba was asked if it was difficult to be a man in Hollywood since the #MeToo movement took off last year.

      Elba told The Times: “It’s only difficult if you are a man with something to hide.”

    2. Not Today, Friends*

      Oh definitely he’s that guy. This bit: “even though you have a heart of gold, nobody else has one”. That’s a guy who thinks every allegation of misconduct is a deliberate smear campaign instead of a legitimate problem.

      1. Observer*

        My take on that was different – I took it to mean that “every guy is OF COURSE going to try to get what he can get.” Although, I suspect that you are correct TOO. Which is logically inconsistent, to be sure. But I don’t think this guy has ever gotten within 10 miles of logical thinking.

    3. feathersflight*

      This is exactly my take, as well. He might not be sketchy in a sexually inappropriate way, himself. Just iffy because he doesn’t understand the issue.

    4. Peridot*

      Yup. This is the kind of guy who complained when MeToo hit about how everything could be misconstrued, and how is he even supposed to talk to women now if they’re just going to make a big deal about harmless flirting and touching.

        1. Anonymoose*

          “In Cuomo’s defense he’s from a different era when this stuff was still terrible but there weren’t ever repercussions.”
          Late Night with Stephen Colbert

    5. learnedthehardway*

      That’s what I got from the situation as well – I don’t see it as gross. More that this guy is over-compensating to make sure he doesn’t do anything that could be misconstrued, because he doesn’t really understand how to relate to women in a professional setting, is very concerned that he might have messed up previously (although he probably hasn’t) and wants to make sure he stays so far to the “appropriate” side of the line that he’s making mistakes about where the line even is.

      1. Gerry Keay*

        I dunno, I still think it’s pretty gross to not “understand how to relate to women” since that inherently means seeing/treating women as different from men. It might not have malicious intent, but “I just don’t know how to talk to women these days” is a mindset still rooted in some deep sexism.

      2. Observer*

        Are you serious?! Can we stop making excuses for bad behavior?

        We are not talking about a 3 year old. Or even a 13 year old. We are talking about a supposedly competent adult.

        This sounds about as credible as every single jerk who has claimed that they “just didn’t REALIZE”. Cuomo is just the most recent high profile case. I guess if you believe him, then what you say makes sense. But otherwise?

        is very concerned that he might have messed up previously (although he probably hasn’t)

        I would actually be very surprised if that were true. To the contrary, it’s extremely likely that he HAS “messed up” because he “just didn’t understand.”

      3. Tali*

        “because he doesn’t really understand how to relate to women in a professional setting”
        If that is the case this is actually a much bigger issue–dude is not ready to be in the workplace at all, never mind managing people!

    6. Observer*

      This sounds like a man who has reacted to recent cultural changes/media attention around taking sexual harassment claims more seriously by drawing the conclusion that “anything and everything could be misconstrued as sexual harassment,”

      Not by a long shot.

      I’m sorry, I really hate the idea that we try to give this much benefit of the doubt to people whose behavior is soooo out of line and that we blame “cultural changes” for that misbehavior.

      Keep in mind that he’s not talking about HIS behavior (officially) but about the OP’s behavior. And he’s basically saying that “being too nice” is going to be taken as a sexual advance. There is no line from “anything a guy does can be misconstrued as sexual harassment” to “if you are nice to people they can legitimately decide that you’ve declared yourself to be available.”

      1. Expelliarmus*

        H wasn’t intending to apologize on the boss’s behalf with this comment; they were saying that the boss’s logic is stupid, but this is probably how he’d justify it.

      2. Yorick*

        This is absolutely what some people (mostly men) are taking from the MeToo movement. It isn’t an excuse for their misbehavior. It’s literally what they think. It’s bad that they think that. It’s not bad for us to realize they’re thinking it.

        1. Observer*

          I know that they think that. But even that doesn’t explain what this guy said.

          Some people actually DO use this “took the wrong lesson” as an explanation and excuse of sorts. In fact, if you look through the comments you will see someone explicitly calling this a legitimate “fear”.

          Also, even for those who recognize that this is not a good way to think, it’s still kind of understandable. I also maintain that what the boss said and his attitude is worse than this, as bad as it is. Because it’s not just failure – or refusal – to understand what harassment is. It’s that he sees anything that a woman does (especially a YOUNG woman) as a sexual invitation. That’s a whole added layer of grossness.

  13. Hogsmeade AirBNB*

    The only mistake you made was bringing in cards for a Christian holiday into work. That has no place in the workplace.

    Your boss is a creep and a fool, start looking for a new job. It’s not your job to fix his character.

  14. No.*

    Why do I feel like this boss has uttered the phrase “Ugh, #metoo has made me nervous to even talk to the females these days” or something to that effect?

    1. londonedit*

      Absolutely. And of course the solution is apparently for the woman in the situation to modify her behaviour. Because it always is.

      1. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

        Emotional labour part….I’ve lost count. It’s always up to us to mollify and comfort the men even when they’re being twits.

  15. Cake or Death?*

    It’s also gross because he’s clearly one of those types that thinks the #metoo movement means that “evil” women are out there trying to trap “innocent” men into a sexual harassment lawsuits with innocuous interactions. Like “oh, I can’t even TALK to a woman, lest she accuse me of harassing her!”

    1. kate*

      Exactly. Or he is one of those men who actually IS creepy and gross but lacks the self awareness to recognize how his behavior is problematic. I had this problem with a Lieutenant Colonel who just thought women were out to get him, but thought that telling me and another young Staff Sergeant that he was “ready to give us our pap smears.” (He is an eye doctor.)

      So gross. He’s still a LtCol, by the way. No real consequences despite the investigation that followed my complaint.

      1. quill*

        Would that I had the power to follow through, but I’m ready to give him a dishonorable discharge and a boot out the door.

      2. Anonymoose*

        I think the creepy ones are aware. They’re just confused that they can’t get away with it anymore!

  16. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

    I would respect his wishes and not give him another card, but I wouldn’t generalize his experience to others.

  17. Sally*

    I’m sorry but your boss has made this very weird. Speaking for myself, I often would send cards, birthday, Christmas etc to men within the organisation I was working in. I got a thanks v much not a totally inappropriate diatribe of it being ‘misconstrued as sexual’? WTH, its a bloody card!!!! Me thinks your boss has a massive issue unless of course, something’s happened previously that nobody knows about but I just think he’s being a complete arse and overreacting. Also, be interesting to know if there are any more instances or red flags you should be looking out for with your boss?

  18. KimberlyR*

    Ew. There is nothing inherently sexual about a greeting card, unless you actually add innuendo. The fact that he thinks someone could misconstrue your nice gesture as anything more shows you HIS character, not yours.

    1. fhqwhgads*

      Well, you know all the rabbits and eggs on easter…how could he draw any other conclusion? /sarc

  19. RussianInTeaxs*

    I don’t think at all it’s inappropriate to give a card to an older male coworker per se, especially since you are giving them to everyone, but I do think it’s inappropriate to give your coworkers an Easter card specifically, unless you work in a church and everyone does celebrate it. Don’t give your colleagues religious cards/gifts/whatever.
    But your manager is being weird regardless.

    1. Maggie Moo*

      yes this! I think the boss was missing the context that you gave them to several/many people because he was out of the office. I keep thinking of that scene in Love Actually with the married man flirting with a coworker and I think she leaves an inappropriate holiday card. regardless of the contents leaving a specialty card on one person’s desk comes across differently than giving them out to your whole team. At my job, I give everyone a Happy New years card with a piece of candy, it would be weird to give a card to only one person though.

      Either way, it IS weird to give out Easter cards in a nonreligious environment.

  20. Tracy*

    Maybe I am an odd one out – I would feel awkward receiving something like this because of the reciprocal implications. I don’t send out Christmas cards for this reason. I wouldn’t want to put that pressure on co-workers either.

    I know it’s a sweet gesture and is totally well intended though.

    1. FD*

      While that’s fair, that doesn’t make it a sexual gesture. It would be one thing for the manager to say, “Hey, just so you know, it’s generally not considered the thing to gift up; some managers will be uncomfortable with that” but making it sexual is just…weird and unnecessary.

      1. Tracy*

        Yes the coworker trying to make this into a sexual issue is just wrong, just so I’m clear about that. That’s just strange.

    2. RussianInTeaxs*

      I don’t send out Christmas cards, or any cards, or give greeting cards to coworkers (exception is signing a department “get well” card or something) period. But I come from a culture where we don’t do it. I actually sent holiday cards to my family back in Russia last year, since it was such a ridiculous year, and my mom did not check her mailbox for 2 weeks. People just don’t send mail and especially cards there.
      The boss is still a weirdo.

    3. I should really pick a name*

      Feeling weird about implied reciprocal gifting is one thing.
      Assuming it could be construed as sexual is very much something else.

      I say this as someone who has hesitated to give a gift to a friend for fear of making them think they need to give me one XD

    4. STG*

      This is where I fall. I would find it odd to receive a card from a coworker for most things. I wouldn’t construe it as sexual though unless the card was blatantly so.

    5. Bagpuss*

      I think it could be mildly awkward, but only if you discovered that there was an office culture where everyone exchanged cards, and you didn’t. And even then, it only needs to be awkward once.

      (I don’t give cards cards to everyone at Christmas – I do send cards, but generally only to immediate family and to friends who I won’t see over the holidays.

      t work, some people give cards to everyone in the office.

      I send an email round in med-December to say that I won’t be sending cards, but wish everyone the compliments of the seasons – I normally try to find a suitable picture and often mention that I will be making a donation to charity rather than buying cards (which I do!) . I aim to get it out early enough that anyone who wants to to keep track can chose not to give me a card, and if they chose to give me one anyway then I don’t feel awkward as I take the view that they knew it wasn’t going to be reciprocated !

      I have to admit that part of my reasoning is that it feels wasteful but also in part I found it difficult trying to match cards to people, and feeing that if I gave them to anyone I had to give them to everyone, even people I didn’t much like!

    6. Observer*

      I would feel awkward receiving something like this because of the reciprocal implications.

      Which is fine. But not really relevant here. If the Boss has said “I prefer not to get cards because I’m not comfortable with giving some people and not others, and I don’t want to give card because that could create ane expectation on others.” I would have thought that it’s unusual, but OK. In fact, I would probably think he seems to be trying to be a thoughtful boss.

      The problem that’s setting most of us off is that is not CLOSE to what he said though. He actually said that “if you’re nice then of course anyone is going to assume that you got ahead because you were being nice, not because you are competent (and thus I can’t promote you or give you good projects.)” and “Even a simple card wishing me AND MY FAMILY a happy holiday is somehow a sexual gesture.” Both of those statements are just utterly gross.

  21. UKgreen*

    Unless your boss is oddly turned-on by fluffy bunnies, resurrection or chocolate eggs, why would he find an Easter card ‘sexual’?? Good grief.

    1. quill*

      I’m sure someone could dig far enough into it previously having been a fertility celebration, but… modernly it serves two purposes: people for whom it’s relevant going to church, and boosting candy sales.

    2. Former Young Lady*

      Unless the bunnies were wearing lingerie and little bowties, I have to assume this is yet another case of “perverted men assume any bland, polite communication from a woman must be a sexual overture.”

      1. Worldwalker*

        Pretty much this.

        What this boss is saying is essentially that he thinks of sex any time he’s talking with the OP, so naturally she — and *everyone else* — must be, too. Which is just plain creepy. (and projecting like a drive-in)

  22. AllTheBirds*

    I would add: it’s a good rule of thumb to eliminate religion from workplace interactions unless you’re employed by a religious institution.

    1. Hogsmeade AirBNB*

      Yeah, I’d seriously question the judgement of anyone who brought me a Christian holiday card in a non-religious workplace.

          1. Worldwalker*

            For many people, Easter is a secular holiday about eggs and bunnies — sort of a general-purpose spring holiday.

            A lot depends on the imagery: if the card has lilies and crosses, it’s religious; if it has eggs and bunnies, it’s secular.

            1. FormerTVGirl*

              Gonna go ahead and disagree here — as a non-Christian person, I can assure you that any Easter card is religious.

              1. Olives*

                Thank you! If someone gave me an Easter card I would be somewhat uncomfortable, regardless of the imagery.

              2. Spencer Hastings*

                As a non-Christian person, I see a big difference between, for example, “Happy Easter!” and “Christ is risen!” and I understood Worldwalker’s post in that way.

              3. Martha*

                True, but as an also-non-Christian person, I see Worldwalker’s point. Myself, if someone gave me a lillies and crosses card I’d be weirded out. If they gave me a bunnies and eggs card I’d think it was nice enough. But if they gave me a Spring Equinox card, I’d know they really cared about me!

              4. ecnaseener*

                Easter also has the fun bonus of overlapping with Passover most years. It’s a special type of alienating to have that ignored.

            2. Hogsmeade AirBNB*

              And for many people, like me, it’s a religious holiday and has no place in an office environment.

            3. Detective Amy Santiago*

              It’s still offensive to people who aren’t Christian.

              We’ve had this debate many times re: Christmas on this blog though and it doesn’t make a difference in the advice to the LW.

            4. Ask a Manager* Post author

              Noooo, I am not up for this debate so far from December (when I do brace myself to have it every year). Christian holidays are not secular, you only think they are because Christianity enjoys the privilege of dominance, and saying they are erases non-Christians from the picture. Closing this thread now and moving it down the page so there’s not a big derailing conversation as the first comment.

            5. CommanderBanana*

              No. I’m Jewish and I don’t want an Easter card of either the crosses-and-lilies or the bunnies-and-eggs variety, because it’s a holiday I don’t recognize, and I view it as a particularly nasty form of erasure to get Easter and Christmas stuff from colleagues. It’s already hard enough being a religious minority and struggling to even get time off to observe my own religious holidays.

          2. Myrin*

            Sure, that’s why Alison mentions it in her last paragraph. I do think, though, that “seriously questioning someone’s judgment” because of this goes too far in the other direction. (I’ll admit that I assume that’s because I’m not from the US, though – almost everything that’s ever mentioned on AAM regarding religion is just completely foreign to me.)

            It still risks seriously derailing the conversation. It’s fine to mention it once or twice to someone inexperienced like the OP – which is what Alison did – but having the very first comment be about something that is really, truly not in any way the salient point of a letter can make the comment section into a frustrating place really fast.

      1. Liane*

        1. For all we know OP may work for a Christian organization, or at a place where they know that every employee (company or just department) is some variety of Christian. 2. As Alison pointed out, OP might be in an area where this is still okay.

      2. LTL*

        I wouldn’t think anything of a coworker giving me a greeting card that says “happy Easter.”

        Perhaps because I’m Muslim I don’t understand the religious significance? I did have a Christian colleague who told me that Easter was actually more religiously significant than Christmas, but it seems to primarily be associated with the Easter Bunny and Easter eggs. A greeting card just wouldn’t cross my radar.

        1. DistantAudacity*

          Yes, from a religious point of view, Easter is actually the most important event (Christ death and resurrection).

          From a celebratory point of view, and what people do (both secular and non-secular), Christmas is more important. Humans have always (probably) had celebrations/sun feasts/offerings around the Winter Solstice, and so the Christian church, when it got started a couple of thousand years ago, very sensibly placed one of it major celebrations at that time. Instead of the Roman Saturnalia there was now Christmas. In Norse religion there was Jul («Yule») ,which was co-opted when the area was somewhat forcefully converted 1000 years ago – in my language we still call Christmas, Jul!

          Also, the Easter bunny seems to be a culturally more Anglo (US/UK) tradition – it’s not a thing in my location which is traditionally more germannic-based. But of course, these things bleed over, and mix and match. We do Easter eggs though, but our parents would hide them. Maybe we are too far north for the Easter bunny to travel?

    2. Momma Bear*

      At a former job, the Director gave all their reports a Holiday or Seasonal Greeting type card at the end of the year so it wasn’t attributable to any particular holiday but acknowledged the season. Easter can be sufficiently secular but I would also steer away from it unless you know them well. The one holiday I would really avoid with coworkers is Valentine’s Day.

      1. AllTheBirds*

        Merry Christmas/Seasons Greetings is one thing. “Let’s celebrate the resurrection of Christ” is quite another.

        1. Littorally*

          I’m not sure ‘let’s celebrate the birth of Christ’ is all that far from ‘let’s celebrate the resurrection of Christ.’

      2. Detective Amy Santiago*

        Can we not have this debate every time holidays are mentioned?

        It doesn’t matter how “secular” you think a holiday is. It can be very offensive to people who are not of the origin religion so it’s best to leave that sort of thing out of the workplace.

      1. Firecat*

        Lesson. Your boss is a Percy creep. Don’t give him cards. Watch out for discrimination towards you or other women.

  23. Littorally*

    Hm, I’m not sure I 100% agree with Alison on this one.

    In no particular order, here are my thoughts on the matter:

    – What do you mean by ‘the coworkers I’m close to’? Does that mean people you feel particularly connected with emotionally? The people across teams you work most closely with? The members of your own team/department? If you’re going to give cards at work, I think it should be handled like Valentine’s Day cards in second grade: either give them to everyone in your “class” (team, or the whole office if you work somewhere small) or to no one at all.

    – Your boss may have interpreted this in that weirdly sexual light (I very much agree that interpretation is off on his part) because of his own internal weirdness, but he also may have experience of being in a work environment with an active, salacious rumor mill. Those things exist, and are deeply harmful. How many letters have we seen along the lines of ‘I smiled at a colleague and Nosy Parker in the office told everyone I’m having an affair’? If your boss has been burned by environments of that sort before, I could easily see his calibration of ‘what is bad optics’ being very, very off, and wouldn’t blame him for wanting to steer clear.

    – Your point about what you wrote in the card feels to me moot in terms of your boss’s concerns. He’s talking about external optics; the contents of the card aren’t nearly as public as the fact of your leaving it on his desk.

    – While your boss is wrong about the sexual aspect (that is deeply alarmist of him, if you don’t work in a highly gossipy office), I think the concern about appearing to curry favor does carry some weight. Again, refer back to the Second-Grade-Valentines rule: everyone or no one.

    Ultimately, the message I hear from your boss, under his unfortunate word choice, is that the card made him uncomfortable. Whether or not he’s right about the wider implications (in a healthy office, he’s not), he’s within his right to be uncomfortable and to ask you not to give him any further cards. In your shoes, I’d take it as an indication that, larger culture or no, card-giving is best not done while he’s your boss. If you have a strong drive to give/send cards, do it outside the office, by regular mail. I’m sure the coworkers who would most enjoy cards from you would be happy to give you their mailing addresses for that purpose. Alternatively, if you really want to do cards in the office, make them the kind of thing that are openly passed around for people to sign, and make sure everyone gets them.

    1. BigHairNoHeart*

      idk, the fact that he told her it could come across as sexual is enough of a problem (in my opinion anyway) for the advice Alison gave to be pertinent. He gave her bad advice and she took it to heart assuming it was an office norm she wasn’t aware of. The fact that two other co-workers thought what he said was weird suggests this isn’t something that OP actually needs to worry about in the office.

      1. Worldwalker*

        But also that the OP *does* need to worry about whether any other advice from this person is accurate or not. “Always put two spaces after a period.”

        1. BigHairNoHeart*

          For sure, I would be hesitant to trust someone’s judgement afterwards if they told me a holiday greeting card could come across as sexual.

        2. Observer*

          But also that the OP *does* need to worry about whether any other advice from this person is accurate or not.

          Yes. 100%

          OP, please keep this in mind. This is NOT someone you should learn office norms from!

      2. Pennyworth*

        Well if the Easter Bunny didn’t have any clothes on and was using a provocatively placed chocolate eggs to preserve its modesty, the card was clearly sexual. I’m amazed I have only just made this connection.

    2. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

      but he also may have experience of being in a work environment with an active, salacious rumor mill. Those things exist, and are deeply harmful.

      That doesn’t make his behaviour any more excusable, or change the advice to the OP though. Any more than, say, my experience with a seriously creepy guy at firm A would excuse me treating all my male members of staff at firm B as potential creeps if they so much as smiled at me.

      I’ve done cards for people at work – those I work closely with, my boss, others I have e.g. friendly chats with at other departments and that’s it. I’ve never once encountered a ‘someone might think it’s sexual’ response. Ever. It’s just bizarre.

    3. Eye roll*

      He doesn’t get to “steer clear” of “bad optics” by sexualizing a holiday greeting card, providing gross advice to an employee, or passing his dysfunction onto others.

      He also doesn’t get to tell only young women that they cannot give greeting cards to men. He’s either going to have to ban them, or sit down and shut up.

      I sincerely hope OP is able to quickly transition to a manager that doesn’t think everything a woman does is sexual and that doesn’t have gross ideas about socialization at work.

    4. BRR*

      This feely a little defensive of the boss. I can give benefit of the doubt to one’s wording, but his reaction is beyond an “unfortunate word choice.” I’m not even sure I think he’s “within his right to be be uncomfortable.” I hate having to take that position because people should be allowed to feel uncomfortable. But part of his uncomfortableness is saying “LW, you, as a young woman, can’t be nice to older men because people will think you’re sleeping with them.” That’s so incredibly problematic it should never be used to justify uncomfortableness.

      I agree the LW shouldn’t give any future cards to the boss though because it’s not the hill to die on. But the LW should know it’s about sometimes doing what you have to do and not because the boss is justified in any way, shape, or form.

    5. Spencer Hastings*

      I had kind of the same thought about that “the coworkers I’m close to” thing. I can see how giving some people cards and not others could come off as intimate (not in the sexual sense, but in the other sense of “intimate”). But also kind of performative — if I’m close to a coworker, then I probably also have some kind of connection to them outside of the office, and thus would probably do any card-sending outside of the office too.

    6. Lance*

      ‘he’s within his right to be uncomfortable and to ask you not to give him any further cards.’

      Sure, but… that’s not what he did. He made it into an ‘older male’ thing, not a ‘him’ thing; that’s what pushes this into ‘gross’ territory.

    7. theguvnah*

      I largely agree with this; giving out easter cards is so wildly off base in any work culture I have ever been in (US, secular, political and nonprofit work) that I am more focused on that than the weird comment that it was sexual – it wasn’t sexual but it is strange and OP should NOT do it again.

      1. Observer*

        I see. The OP did something out of line, so it’s we’re going to pretend that what the boss said is merely “weird” and ignore that it’s beyond inappropriate. That it is, in fact, a red flag for harassing and / or discriminatory behavior.

  24. awesome3*

    I would stick to greeting cards from non-religious holidays from now on (even if you are in an area where it’s normal, I’d err on the side of keeping religion out of work).

    Now I would worry about what other office “norms” your manager has insisted are appropriate, when he was so off base about this. Honestly reading this column is a great way to learn office norms, if you aren’t already doing so, it would be highly beneficial.

    1. The Rural Juror*

      One thought I had was that he was unaware that she had given cards out to everyone…so maybe he thought she had JUST given him one and was giving him special attention. But, either way, the card was harmless and had well wishes for his family. He reacted very strangely and inappropriately to it. It sounds like the coworkers appreciated them, so I would go with your advice and just keep them secular in the future.

      1. Elenna*

        Yeah, even if she had given it to just him, giving just your boss a card is clearly not sexual in any way! If she had singled him out, a reasonable person would understand that it was because he was her boss and not because she was attracted to him. (Plus, y’know, she gave cards to plenty of people of both genders…)

        My boss gave me a box of chocolates a couple years ago for Christmas. He’s an older man, I’m a young woman, and it’s quite possible he didn’t give anyone else anything similar as I was his only direct report. And yet nobody thought anything of it, because there’s nothing sexual about small friendly gifts.

      2. TechWorker*

        Yea I thought the same – giving a card to just one person *is* awkward and I wonder if the boss dealt reallly badly with that awkwardness/ the whole speech about ‘what if people think it’s sexual’ is sort of a way of saying ‘this wasn’t weird honest but also don’t do it’

        1. Observer*

          How does a supposedly competent adult manage to mix up “you really shouldn’t do this” with “this looks sexual”?

      3. Observer*

        so maybe he thought she had JUST given him one and was giving him special attention.

        And? Even if she had actually only given him a card, his reaction was just gross. It reminds me of the letter we got from the guy whose friend was “into” a coworker and kept on insisting that she was also “into” him even though everyone else could see that it wasn’t the case.

        There is just no way a reasonable adult can go from “my employee sent me a holiday card wishing me and my wife a happy holiday” to “OOOOH, she’s INTO me. THAT WAY”.

    2. PT*

      I mean, the LW says “the coworkers I am close to” in her letter so I don’t know why everyone is jumping on her for this. It is highly likely she knows what holidays they celebrate.

  25. MsClaw*

    I mean, he may sorta kinda very slightly have a point with the whole ‘people could assume that if I got a promotion in the future, it was only because I was exceptionally nice to him’ — if you were giving *only him* cards. But overall there’s nothing wrong with giving polite cards to your coworkers. In general I’d say if you’re going to continue working here there’s nothing wrong with making cards for your work buddies, but no more for your weirdo boss.

    I also don’t think there’s anything wrong with giving religious holiday themed cards to coworkers as long as you know they recognize that holiday. And I’ll presume you know the coworkers you’re doing handmade cards well enough to know who is or isn’t receptive to it.

    1. I edit everything*

      I find it hard to imagine anyone would think a greeting card would count as “exceptionally nice” or a very effective way of currying favor.

      1. MsClaw*

        Then you work with very nice, reasonable people. I…. know more than a few who would. Not saying it’s rational, just saying it’s so.

        Like I said, that very tiny potentially valid point is overshadowed by what a complete tool this boss is. But yeah, I can see someone thinking OP is a goody-goody, a suck-up, etc due to the cards. Then again, such a person is going to find some reason to be sour no matter what.

  26. Worldwalker*

    There is a story….

    A man was given a Rorschach test by a psychologist. For every inkblot, he described elaborate sexual imagery. Eventually, at the end of the test, the psychologist remarked on that — about how the man was seeing something sexual in all of them. The man replied “What do you mean me, Doc? You’re the one who was showing me all the dirty pictures!”

    It seems to me like this guy is seeing the Easter card about like the guy in the story saw the inkblots. To anyone else, they’re just inkblots.

  27. HugsAreNotTolerated*

    Yeah, this is not the guy I’d want to learn office norms from. Just cross him off your card list and keep doing what you do. Cards are a great way acknowledge someone’s birthday or life events without committing to purchasing them a gift. For example, my boss is a huge birthday fan and expects gifts and cards and acknowledgement on his birthday, the same with Boss’s day. I’m not down with buying gifts for my boss who makes 3x what I do, but since he’s kinda childish about the whole thing it’s better for me to acknowledge it in some way. A card I picked up at DollarTree is an excellent way to appease him and not kill my budget.
    I’m most known for my Halloween cards since most people haven’t ever heard of them. They’re usually funny/punny with a couple of lines about enjoying themselves and maybe a silly joke or two, (What’s a ghost’s favorite snack? Boo-berries!). Literally. No. One. has ever thought these cards are inappropriate, let alone sexual. What on earth is going on in that man’s mind that a card that A) mentions his wife & kids, B) is celebrating a religious/spring holiday, C) is likely in spring or pastel colors is even remotely sexual to him?

  28. Professional Human*

    There’s nothing wrong with giving cards to your co-workers or even bosses. I’ve received various cards from co-workers of all genders, and I never assumed it was anything weird or sexual.

    Now, if your Easter card had a picture of the Easter Bunny posing wearing a two-piece and giving the reader a seductive wink I’m willing to consider the boss’s standpoint.

  29. Detective Amy Santiago*


    I mean… what???

    Just when I think I’ve heard it all…

    The past few years, I’ve given out Valentine’s cards to my teammates. You know, the kind kids give out in classrooms? No one ever had an issue with it. Several people on my team did Christmas Cards.

    1. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

      Wonder how’d he react to my habit of sewing cards for people with geeky references on them? Tell me they could be construed as me having a crush on my servers?

      (Not the IIS box of course, no valentines for you)

      1. Anthony J Crowley*

        Can i come and work with you please? I’ve thought before you sound awesome but this has sealed it.

      2. Detective Amy Santiago*

        I wish you were my coworker!

        One year I gave out Star Wars valentines that included pencils.

    2. The Prettiest Curse*

      Hmm, it did take me a while to get used to the idea that (thanks to marketing), Americans generally see Valentine’s Day as a holiday to celebrate cuteness in a pretty twee way. When I was growing up in the UK, you would NEVER give a Valentine’s card to someone who you didn’t either like in a romantic way or who wasn’t your significant other. (It is changing more to the American idea of the holiday now.)
      So I found the whole idea of people just giving Valentine’s cards to their colleagues and little kids exchanging them at school to be very, very strange when I first moved to the US. And even after all those years of living there, I probably still would consider it a bit strange to get a Valentine’s card from a work colleague, even in full knowledge of how Americans see that holiday!

      1. TechWorker*

        + 1 this reads very strangely in the U.K.

        Once when I was working in the US over Valentine’s Day a colleague got me a huge box of chocolates in a heart shaped box. I do not think there was any romantic intention but it was also super awkward (also because of the roles involved, it wasn’t quite gifting up but more like gifting diagonally in a vaguely upwards direction – it was a little strange, but I politely said thank you & ate the chocolate :p)

        1. Metadata minion*

          Oo, yeah, that does seem weird even to this American unless they gave them to everyone (and then that’s still weird, but in an endearingly-effusive kind of way). I think of that kind of gift as more strictly romantic, or at least the sort of people you know well enough not to have to wonder whether it’s a romantic thing or a “hey, have some chocolate” thing.

        2. The Prettiest Curse*

          I have always wondered whether Americans who give Valentine’s cards to everyone they work with have issues when they move to the UK or another country where the holiday isn’t celebrated the way it is in the US.
          I’m totally fine with getting chocolate from colleagues, but getting them in a heart-shaped box would seem weird to me too…

  30. Student*

    Look for a new job. Your boss doesn’t see you as a fellow human. He sees you as both inferior and threatening. He may seem superficially reasonable, but he is never going to treat you professionally the same way he treats men. Don’t waste your time here any longer than you need to. Learn what you can out of the job and move on to the next one as soon as you get something lined up. There are places where you won’t have to report to somebody like your boss, but it can take some trial and error to get there, but please believe me that it’s worth the extra work.

    1. Generic Name*

      Hard agree. This guy is going to hamstring your career, even subconsciously and unintentionally. You will miss out on networking, mentoring, and development opportunities because this guy assumes any interaction between men and women inherently involves sexual tension and therefore leaves out out of opportunities to “protect your innocence”. I feel so gross even typing that, but your boss has given you very important information about how he operates.

  31. Sally*

    Tell me you don’t understand the me too movement without telling me you don’t understand the me too movement

  32. James B*

    I don’t really understand Alison’s take here. The original letter specifically said “I gave cards to the coworkers I’m close to.” It wasn’t the manager making things unprofessional – it was the letter writer herself playing favorites.

    If you’re in elementary school and you have a birthday, you can’t just bring cupcakes for your friends. You bring them for everybody.

    So perhaps the moral of the story is that if you’re going to give greeting cards, do it for everyone (your whole team or department or whatever – I don’t mean everyone in the entire Fortune 500 company) so no one has the opportunity to feel singled out for receiving one – or for NOT receiving one!

    1. BigHairNoHeart*

      If this was what the boss took issue with, I’d understand your comment, but it doesn’t seem like that was a problem in his eyes at all? OP’s boss absolutely made things unprofessional by insinuating a sexual undertone into a benign act.

      1. James B*

        Right, but the problem would have gone away entirely if she’d just given cards to the whole office. He shouldn’t have jumped straight to assuming some kind of sexual motivation – but he wouldn’t even have had the opportunity to think that if there weren’t certain people “close to me” (OP’s words) who were chosen to receive cards and certain people who weren’t.

        1. BigHairNoHeart*

          I obviously am not reading as much into those words as you are. OP’s mistake/transgression was an incredibly minor one at worst (frankly, I don’t think it was a mistake at all), and OP’s boss blew it way out of the water. That’s on him.

          1. James B*

            How about instead of trying to decide who’s to blame, we talk about how an employee could keep this kind of miscommunication from happening in the future – which is exactly what I did?

            1. raintree*

              How about we not put the onus of keeping men acting in an acceptable manner on women all the time?

            2. Observer*

              Well, actually, you CLAIM that you are providing advice that could have prevented a problem but in fact you are doing nothing of the sort.

              The boss didn’t jump to sex because of anything that the OP did. Claiming that SHE was the one who triggered an utterly inappropriate conversation is useless at best and extremely damaging at worst.

        2. LC*

          This feels a little too close to something like “if she’d just hadn’t worn her hair in a ponytail, he wouldn’t have gotten distracted by her sexy neck.”

          Are there situations where you shouldn’t wear your hair in a ponytail? Possibly, I guess, if it’s just completely against your office norms for some reason. Could you have completely avoided the situation if you just only worn your hair down? Sure, probably (although if not this, they’d probably find something else to fixate on).

          However you feel about whether or not its professional to wear your hair in a ponytail, it has anything to do with the fact that it’s not her responsibility to the myriad of inoccuous things that could possibly cause someone to sexualize completely not-sexual things.

          1. LC*


            “it’s not her responsibility to *avoid* the myriad of inoccuous things”

            (And whatever other typos I’m sure are there.)

        3. Observer*

          Right, but the problem would have gone away entirely if she’d just given cards to the whole office.

          That’s absolutely NOT the case. Because the sexualization is NOT linked to being singled out. And the idea that it’s reasonable to assume that the OP was sending totally bland cards to everyone in the office that she was sexually interested in, is both gross and beyond weird.

    2. londonedit*

      There’s always one, isn’t there?

      That wasn’t the boss’s objection. His objection was specifically that ‘others may assume that the card has sexual intentions’. If he was concerned about the OP playing favourites, he should have said so. But he didn’t, he made it into a weird thing where apparently a ‘Happy Easter’ card has some sort of sexual overtone.

      1. James B*

        Being singled out to receive a card when not everyone received one might make a person feel weird. It might not make you feel weird, and I don’t think it would make me feel weird, but not everyone thinks the way we do.

        That’s why I said the solution is just to give cards to everyone so no one has the opportunity to feel singled out.

        1. quill*

          If the boss is uncomfortable, it’s on him to communicate the reasons why he’s uncomfortable clearly and professionally.

          The fact that his explanation went to “there is a sexual connotation, real or percieved to be thought of by other people, to my discomfort with receiving a piece of paper that not everyone got” is the problem here.

          If he’d said “hey we try not to do this in case it’s percieved later on as trying to curry favor with your boss” or “you either bring enough for everyone to have a card or you don’t distribute them at school,” he would have been in the clear.

          1. James B*

            All of that is valid, and what he said was really, really strange. But the point remains that he wouldn’t have even have the opportunity to think that if everyone in the office had received equal treatment in the form of receiving a card. Anytime people pick and choose, miscommunications are bound to happen.

            As I said before, the next step from that is the guy in the corner office silently stewing about “why didn’t I get a card?!” and now you have office drama.

            1. sagc*

              That’s honestly still on the guy in the corner, I’d say. Work is not, in fact, kindergarten, and you have no idea about the size or organization of the OPs workplace.

            2. I should really pick a name*

              His words were “it unfortunately comes across as unprofessional when a young woman like me gives a greeting card or personal note unrelated to work to an older man in a higher position like him.”

              This means she could give cards to everyone, and he’d still have an issue with her giving cards to older men in high positions.

              He’s the problem.

            3. Simply the best*

              You are making an assumption that that is true. You’re making an assumption that when she said the people I am close to she didn’t mean the people on my team or in my department or on a specific project. But no matter what, there’s nothing to indicate that his response would be any different were she to have given cards to everybody in the company rather than the people that she did give to.

        2. Aquawoman*

          This has a lot of “girls have to wear hot uncomfortable clothing to school in the summer so that the boys won’t be distracted” energy. I don’t care if he felt weird, that’s on him, not a justification for issuing a sexist rant that has women and only women questioning everything they do at work.

      2. Charlotte Lucas*

        Agreed! And as long as she wasn’t flaunting it to the others, she has every right to give cards only to the people she works with closely/goes to lunch with/socializes with outside of work. Because this isn’t grade school.

    3. Anon for this*

      Mmm. I took that as “the ones I work with closely enough to have a card-swapping level of acquaintance.”

      I have coworkers I rarely see and who probably would have a job to remember who I am. Giving them cards would seem odd. People on the same team or that I work with regularly, not once in a blue moon? I wouldn’t feel weird about that. Although I don’t routinely give Easter cards, and I _do_ work for a church-affiliated organisation.

      1. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

        People who’ve received handmade cards from me at work: IT department (my team), my boss (same), the two people in testing that I have lunch with sometimes, the receptionist who always helps my parking space be clear for me…there’s a couple of others too. The entire office of over 100 people? Nope.

      2. UKDancer*

        Yes. I give Christmas cards to my wider team (about 15 people), the people I work with from a parallel team and my director’s secretary. I don’t give them to everyone in the company (or even all the people on my floor) because that would be silly and most of them don’t know me anyway.

        I don’t do Easter cards. I usually buy a box of Cadbury cream eggs and put them on a convenient filing cabinet but that’s about as much as I do for Easter.

      3. Kyrielle*

        Yup. I don’t give out cards at work, not because there’s anything wrong with it but because I am lazy and it’s not a thing in our office so it’s not weird if I don’t. But if I were to do so, I’d probably give them, to, like, my immediate team? There’s something on the order of 100 people on my FLOOR, and of the ones who aren’t on my team, I know a few of them on sight and only one at all well (used to be on the same team I was at the time, but we haven’t talked except for a couple hellos since he switched teams, and especially since covid hit). There’s 1000 or so employees at my location. So yeah, if I were giving cards at all, it would only be to my “closest” cowrokers, not in the sense of being good friends (we are acquaintances who work congenially together, not good friends), but in the sense of people I work with / interact with directly / who are part of my team.

    4. turquoisecow*

      Wow, that’s some impressive twisting of the letter to read something into it that’s entirely not there and also blame the LW.

      1. James B*

        Everybody here is fixated on the boss’s (admittedly strange) reaction. I’m just saying that the OP could have prevented the situation entirely had she not given cards to certain people and not to others. There’s a lot riding on those words “the coworkers I’m close to,” whether that means the people she works most closely with or feels most closely to, but if there was an element of picking and choosing, that’s not cool either.

        1. sagc*

          It really isn’t as big a deal as you’re making it out to be, I think. It’s certainly orthogonal to the letter.

          If I baked cookies, and brought some to give to my friends at work, would you seriously be complaining that I hadn’t brought enough for everyone that I might encounter that day?

          1. TechWorker*

            Honestly? Yes – in my office the done thing would be to stick the cookies on your desk or some communal table in your office and then advertise their presence – either just to the people around you, or if there’s plenty to go around over email. Bringing in cookies and then going round desks to hand them out to your favourite people… now that would be weird.

          2. Observer*

            What, you mean you’re going to act like you’re working with ADULTS rather than grade schoolers?! How could you be so unprofessional!


        2. I edit everything*

          By her own account, she gave cards to multiple people, of a mixture of ages and genders. I’m finding it hard to understand how her boss could interpret that as him being specially selected in any way that would lead to his interpretation, unless LW is out and proud about being a pansexual interested in orgies with her coworkers. And it’s pretty much a direct contradiction to him being “singled out.”

          1. James B*

            One thing I haven’t seen ask is: did the boss in fact know that she gave cards to multiple people of a mixture of ages and genders? OP mentions that he was gone on the day she handed out the cards. Did he ever find out that she’d given them to other people, or did he think she’d given a card to him and only to him?

            1. Jennifer Strange*

              Considering that it didn’t factor into his response to her I don’t think it matters whether he knew that.

              1. turquoisecow*


                Boss didn’t say “you have to give cards to everyone or not at all.” He doesn’t seem to care if anyone else got a card.

            2. Metadata minion*

              If she had given them to everyone like you suggest, wouldn’t this problem still have happened? If he thinks the card only went to him, it doesn’t really matter how many other people actually got a card. Unless they were truly impressive cards, it’s not like this would have likely come up in breakroom conversation or anything.

        3. quill*

          I mean, mostly because we can’t speculate effectively on OP’s card strategy and we have plenty of evidence of unprofessionalism from her boss.

          It makes a lot more sense if you’re in the office to give cards not based on popularity, but “fellow members of the Udon Taste Testing Team” or “The weekend staff” or “the rest of the alpaca project” and we have zero idea how OP picked her card recipients, beyond “People I’m close to,” which could be any of the above OR friends. We also don’t know how public the card-giving was. Speculating that OP is creating a seething office drama by not dutifully inserting “have a hoppy easter!” cards into everyone’s kleenex boxes one at a time and publically like they’re having a grade 2 party is just not on topic for the actual letter content and what the OP asked for advice about.

        4. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

          I doubt, given his extremely gross response, that there’s anything she could do that wouldn’t have caused him to flare up. With guys like this, and I’ve sadly worked with a few, literally anything even remotely friendly from a woman – even a smile – can be interpreted as sexual.

          Bottom line is, it’s not about the cards really. It’s about him.

          1. James B*

            The big problem with trying to hang this all on the boss is that the letter doesn’t mention any history, before or since, of the boss doing things that are weirdly sexual. OP didn’t say anything about him leering, asking female employees to stay late, making suggestive remarks, or anything like that. In fact, his comments seemed to take her utterly by surprise. So any interpretation of this that hinges on “the boss is just a creepo who was waiting for any chance to go off” doesn’t really pass the smell test based on the (admittedly meager) information we have in the rest of the letter.

            1. SJ*

              bro, what?
              there’s not a free pass for “i only made a weird sexual comment to my subordinate ONE time so it doesn’t count.”
              the correct amount of times for boss to sexualize a normal interaction with his subordinate was zero times. Zero times, as in none, as in never, not even once. Right? We’re on the same page about that? Cool.

              1. James B*

                He didn’t “make a sexual comment.” He said he didn’t want people to get the wrong idea about why she was giving him cards. As I pointed out elsewhere, he was gone on the day she handed out the cards, so he may have assumed she got a card for him and only for him – which would have indeed been strange if that’s what she’d done!

                1. SJ*

                  “He didn’t ‘make a sexual comment.'” uhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh I think I’ll leave this here because we’re not on the same page at all. Good talk, bye!

                2. Jennifer Strange*

                  He brought sex into a situation that did not involve sex. Even if he thought she only got a card for him (which is an odd assumption in itself) there is still no reason to bring sex into it.

                3. Observer*

                  He brought sex into a situation that did not involve sex. Even if he thought she only got a card for him (which is an odd assumption in itself) there is still no reason to bring sex into it.

                  JamesB, you need to write this out 100x. Maybe that will help you to understand. Since you seem to be hung up on grade school ways of being.

            2. Gerry Keay*

              James, this might be news to you, but someone actually does not need to be sexist and gross multiple times for them to act in a way that is sexist and gross and for people to respond as such. Your mental gymnastics to find a way to place blame on the OP is also sexist and gross, by the way.

              1. James B*

                If there’s no history of the boss acting like that way, the most likely explanation is that he misspoke in the middle of what was probably a very awkward conversation, not that he finally let his true self out of the bag after months or years of repression.

                We just finished Mortification Week, after all, full to the brim of people kicking themselves for saying stupid things at work. Maybe he’ll show up in the next one, who knows. People seem very willing to grant themselves grace and leeway when their mouths do the dumb things, and very eager to pile on to this boss for what appears to be the one and only example (as far as the OP has told us) in at least the last four months of him saying something bonkers.

                1. Jennifer Strange*

                  There doesn’t have to be history for someone to point out that an action is sexist and gross, and this boss’s actions WERE sexist and gross. He projected sex into a situation where none existed simply based on the age and gender of the OP. This is more than just “misspoke”, and even if it was a matter of misspeaking it’s still sexist and gross. Just stop.

                2. quill*

                  You’ll notice that nobody from mortification week told a direct report “Hey, this work situation is actually POTENTIALLY SEXUAL,” and most people who said something deeply embarassing to someone else ended up apologizing.

                3. metadata minion*

                  What could he possibly have meant to say that this was a mis-statement? He might not have meant to actually say his gross sexist thoughts out loud so explicitly, but this really doesn’t seem like a case of “oh, crap, I now realize how that sounded!”.

            3. Observer*

              The big problem with trying to hang this all on the boss is that the letter doesn’t mention any history, before or since, of the boss doing things that are weirdly sexual.

              So? How many times does a person need to do overtly sexual things to recognize that when he does something sexual he’s doing something sexual? Does he need to have groped someone 3 time, made 10 creepy comments, jumped 2 women? Or what?

              The fact is that he made an explicitly sexual response to a totally non-sexual act. There is no way to hang this on the OP giving him the card. And this would be true even if the OP had actually given only him a card.

              What I’m finding extremely odd here is that you are claiming that we can’t call the boss creepy even though he did something EXPLICITLY sexual because we don’t have a “pattern”. But somehow the OP who did NOT do anything sexual is responsble for his sexual behavior even though there is even less evidence of a pattern of inappropriate behavior.

              Your defense of his behavior and blaming of the OP is not something I find weird, unfortunately, because it’s SOOOO predictable. And you’re not even using an original playbook.

        5. raintree*

          NO. It is not ever the women’s responsibility to predict what will set a man off sexually. It is the man’s responsibility to understand social norms and behave appropriately.

          You’re making yourself look like a misogyny apologist.

          1. James B*

            This has nothing to do with women and men or with misogyny or whatever else you’re trying to read into my comment. One person in the office felt weird about getting a card when not everybody got a card. There is an easy fix to that: give everyone cards, or don’t give anyone cards, and you won’t have to worry about those who got them wondering why they did, or those who didn’t get them wondering why they didn’t.

            See? Leave the genders out and the point stands.

            1. Gerry Keay*

              Did you read the letter? OPs boss felt weird about it not because everyone didn’t get a card — he explicitly said he felt weird about it because of OPs age and gender. Your weird desire to cape for this guy’s sexist behavior by erasing the very explicit gender dynamics of this occurrence is incomprehensible — but sure man, keep diggin this hole for yourself.

            2. sagc*

              Dude. If she gave everyone cards, everything the boss said would still be weird and gross, and he still would have gotten a card to be weird and gross about.

              You are not coming off well here, either in terms of argumentation or the points you think you’re making.

            3. Ask a Manager* Post author

              This has nothing to do with women and men or with misogyny


              From the letter: “It comes across as unprofessional when a young woman like me gives a greeting card or personal note unrelated to work to an older man in a higher position like him. He explained that the greeting card could become a liability for his career because others could assume that the card has sexual intentions.”

              You are bending over backwards to excuse misogynistic and harmful sexist behavior, to the point of ignoring facts that are right there in the letter. This has become derailing — and it’s frankly exhausting to see this kind of committed defense of behavior that harms women — so please move on.

              1. LC*

                Oh my goodness, I didn’t even notice he said it could be a liability for his career.

                That makes it so much more gross than I’d already thought, which is impressive because it was already super, super gross. On top of everything else, he’s only worried about how it could affect him. He’s not even pretending it’s about helping her.

                Ugh, this thread just keeps bumming me out more and more. (Although, thank you Alison, I always really appreciate the way you handle your comment section.)

                1. banoffee pie*

                  Of course boss is mostly concerned with his career. I never thought he was particularly worried about the OP’s career

        6. turquoisecow*

          The boss didn’t say:

          “don’t give out cards unless you give them to everyone.”
          “don’t give out religious cards at work.”

          So I don’t know why people keep trying to make like maaaaybe that’s what boss really meant. He said “don’t give ME a card because people might think it’s sexual.”

          It’s not sexual. The OP didn’t intend it to be sexual. BOSS made it sexual. So it’s on HIM to not make it sexual, not OP to somehow read his mind and pre-react to his completely insane and unpredictable reaction just because she’s a woman.

          You seem intent on putting blame on the OP.

          1. James B*

            As people have pointed out elsewhere, it would have been really hard for the boss to say “People might perceive this as a sexual advance” if everyone in the office had gotten a card. It was only that certain people got them and certain people didn’t that made things awkward.

            1. Jennifer Strange*

              No. There is ZERO indication that there were awkward feelings about some people getting cards and not others. What made things awkward was that the boss jumped straight to sex over a card. You seem oddly intent on blaming his sexism on the OP.

              1. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

                Sadly, this happens every time. ‘But maybe he’s socially awkward/had a bad experience/didn’t mean it/that’s not what he meant/you can’t be sure that’s REAL sexism/think about his feelings’ every time the issue of men treating women badly comes up.

                It’s really no less offensive to me than if I wrote in about being harassed by a coworker and got ‘but you must have said something/worn something to give them the idea it’s ok’.

            2. turquoisecow*

              No it wouldn’t? It’s very difficult for Boss to make the “this is a sexual advance” statement over an Easter card regardless of how many other people did or didn’t receive a card, and yet, guess what, he did! We don’t know if he even knows if anyone else got one and it’s completely irrelevant because he’s not concerned about anyone else. He isn’t saying “hey, don’t give Bob and Jim cards,” he’s saying “don’t give ME a card.”

              You keep reading things into the letter that aren’t there to the extent I think you’re just trolling, so I’m not going to bother arguing with you any more.

            3. Observer*

              As people have pointed out elsewhere

              Actually, no people have NOT “pointed this out. YOU have been making a point about this.

            4. banoffee pie*

              You admit, James, that other people got a card. So OP didn’t single boss out. Boss said specifically ‘young women’ shouldn’t give ‘older men’ cards. Boss didn’t say she should give *everyone* a card to solve the problem, he said she shouldn’t give older men cards. You’re really not letting this go for some reason.

        7. Observer*

          I’m just saying that the OP could have prevented the situation entirely had she not given cards to certain people and not to others

          You are assuming that the problem is ONLY what he said, not the attitude behind it. And that her behavior is the proximate cause for his wildly inappropriate behavior.

          That’s not actually the case. You can’t prevent weird people from being weird. You can’t prevent someone who sees women as sex objects from seeing them that way by not giving hem cards. In fact, I don’t think that there is ANYTHING that the OP could do to make her boss not see her as a sex object rather than a hopefully competent employee.

          The ONLY thing that the OP might *possibly* have accomplished by giving everyone in the office a card as though she’s actually in grade school, is that she might have avoided him TELLING her that she’s a sex object. But it would not have changed his attitude.

        8. Elizabeth Proctor*

          Sounds just like “She could have prevented getting raped if she hadn’t worn that dress.”

        9. Simply the best*

          All you’re saying is she shouldn’t have worn that outfit, shouldn’t have gone down that alley, shouldn’t have had that extra drink. If women just stopped leaving their houses and talking to men and breathing at all then no bad things could ever happen to them.

    5. Observer*

      The original letter specifically said “I gave cards to the coworkers I’m close to.” It wasn’t the manager making things unprofessional – it was the letter writer herself playing favorites.

      And how does that translate into “others could assume that the card has sexual intentions”?

    6. e271828*

      Workplaces are staffed by adults and not children who need to be treated scrupulously fairly.

  33. Web of Pies*

    I know a card is a NBD gift, but I think advising a female, junior employee not to gift cards up is important too. It doesn’t feel that far off from Allison’s usual “don’t be the office baker if you’re a lady” advice.

    1. Charlotte Lucas*

      I think it’s the boss’s reasoning that’s weird & creepy. If he had just said, “You don’t want to be known as Craft Lady in a potentially sexist organization, that would be different.

      1. Web of Pies*

        True, I think they’re both issues though. If I was talking to LW I’d adviser her both that no, her boss is not being professional and also to not gift up like this. It is dumb that women in the office have to walk this line regarding baking or crafting or whatever ‘feminine’ hobby, but alas.

    2. Emi*

      Yeah, I can definitely see an issue where it looks like you’re currying favor (just normal, regular favor) or where you end up creating annoying and ultimately disadvantageous social expectations for yourself. But the idea that it’s sexual is just wrong.

    3. Dream Jobbed*

      I can barely get my staff not to gift me (one even ignored it this year and sent flowers – inappropriate and way too expensive, but that was trying to manipulate me into overlooking bad performance), so making them not give me cards would be hurtful and excessive. It is not inappropriate to give cards, the way it is gifts.

    4. A Feast of Fools*

      Thanks, Web of Pies, I was hoping someone would mention this (which is wholly outside of the boss being a gross creep).

      Whether or not anyone decided to sexualize greeting cards [ew, I need a shower] I would advise LW to stay away from performing traditional caregiver acts so early — or ever? — in her professional life, unless that is her specific job. Don’t be the one to organize potlucks; don’t jump in to help clean up after team events unless you see men already doing the same thing; don’t bring in baked goods, etc., etc., etc.

      And, to be clear, the advice to stay away from being seen as the Office Caregiver has literally NOTHING to do with the gross boss being gross. This is entirely aside from it. It’s more of a, “As long as we’re talking about giving things to co-workers…” tangent.

      1. Nothing Rhymes With Purple*

        This is why we can’t have nice things, I say in rueful agreement. I went through two workplaces before the third turned out to be a place where I could safely bake for my coworkers because almost everyone did, rather than risking labeling myself with Feminine Expectations.

  34. Nanani*

    HE made it weird, not you.
    Your boss has stated he sees you a sexual object. It’s not cool, and it’s entirely on him. You aren’t doing anything wrong by existing as a young woman.

  35. Beautiful, talented, brilliant, powerful musk-ox*

    I’m kind of wondering if this is less the boss sexualizing things and more this terrible attitude I’ve seen of “People will say ANYTHING is sexual harassment these days, so instead of examining my actions and those of my colleagues critically, I’ll make absurd claims that EVERYTHING could be sexualized because I find it confusing that I shouldn’t have been hugging the women in my office without consent while I shook hands with men.” It’s a refusal to admit wrongdoing or think about past interactions critically by overshooting and being dramatic. I’ve seen older managers say stuff like this in the past. It’s inexcusable and embarrassing, but it’s kind of the opposite of him sexualizing anything. It’s actually saying, “I refuse to understand why certain things I do make people uncomfortable and therefore I’ll chalk it all up to these ~*crazy*~ people making EVERYTHING sexual. I don’t agree with them, but I don’t want to get sued, so I’ll just say everything could be taken sexually.”

  36. MissDisplaced*

    The manager did make this weirdly sexualized, though I sort of agree with his line of thought about it possibly being perceived as being sort of a suck up move to give out cards or gifts to higher ups if no one else ever does so. He’s quite right about that and how some others MIGHT perceive it (think of bringing in homemade cookies or treats or such if no one else ever does that), though he made this much weirder and more of a big deal than it probably needed to be.
    OP did not do anything wrong at all by giving the cards. But this is definitely one of those know your workplace type of things. What flies in one may not fly in others.

    1. LC*

      to give out cards or gifts to higher ups if no one else ever does so

      That’s not what he said though. He said “when a young woman like me gives a greeting card or personal note unrelated to work to an older man in a higher position ” and that people “could assume that the card has sexual intentions.”

      If it were just about not giving cards or gifts to any of the higher-ups, he might have a point. I’d disagree that cards should be lumped in with gifts, but like you said, it could be a know your workplace thing.

      But what he said wasn’t about not gifting up. It was about his (bizarre, sexist) idea that giving a card specifically to a man would be assumed to be sexual.

  37. Mathilde*

    Your boss is indeed very gross.

    I realise that you did not write to ask about the card specifically, but I also want to add that I would find an Easter card exceptionally inappropriate, as it is a very religious holiday. I would really feel weird about it. Maybe you should stick to non-religious cards (Enjoy your summer ! Thanks for being a great colleague), and feel free to send them to your colleagues without thinking about sexual implications. :)

  38. Macaroni Penguine*

    It sounds like your manager has difficulty assessing professional office etiquette, not you. Giving holiday cards to coworkers is a normal and non-sexual thing. Yuck.

  39. CommanderBanana*

    Wow. Man, only a guy could find an Easter card message referencing his wife and kids sexual. Ugh.

    That being said, yeah, unless you actually work in a Christian church, maybe ease off the Easter cards. I’m Jewish and I would be very peeved to get one. I bring in whatever candy is associated with a holiday and dump it in our communal kitchen and everyone seems happy with that (and if they’re making any sexual inferences from that, they’ve kept it to themselves, thank god).

    1. Ari*

      Yeah, not to pile on the OP or derail, but since they’ve said they’re young and unfamiliar with office norms, please don’t give religious cards to your coworkers. I promise your Jewish coworkers won’t feel left out by not receiving Easter cards.

    2. OhGee*

      I assumed this person knew these colleagues well enough to know that they are Christian, as OP seems to be, but this is a good point.

    3. Nothing Rhymes With Purple*

      1) I totally agree

      2) there’s another thread above about this topic, in which Alison asks us not to debate what is and isn’t a religious holiday. I thought I’d mention to hopefully head off that debate.

  40. HungryLawyer*

    I’d bet dollars to donuts (mmm…donuts…) that OP’s manager has already gotten into some sort of trouble for sexual harassment in the past. He seems very defensive, and as Alison said, ready to misread non-sexual work interactions as being sexually charged. That signals that he knows something about his own behavior is inappropriate. Instead of dealing with that internally, he’s foisting the responsibility onto OP, which is a classic harasser move.

    1. James B*

      Either the boss himself has gotten into trouble for it or he’s seen someone else get into trouble for it and decided that he wants absolutely no part of all that. There’s a lot we don’t know about this, but someone doesn’t jump from Easter card straight to “people might assume it’s sexual” without a pretty good backstory.

      1. Bostonian*

        Nah. There are misguided and borderline (?) sexist people out there who don’t have a good reason.

      2. Observer*

        but someone doesn’t jump from Easter card straight to “people might assume it’s sexual” without a pretty good backstory.

        That’s probably true. But when you are dealing with a competent adult, that backstory is NOT “someone got into trouble for harassing a woman, so I need to be careful.”

      3. Aquawoman*

        James, I think you must have experienced some sort of temporal rift. In this world, the percentage of working woman who have experienced sexual harassment is high, and the average number of times it has happened is also well greater than 1. I’d love to live in your reality where apparently women are treated so equally that gross men are impossible to understand.

        1. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

          I’d say probably every woman on this forum either has experience of it themselves, or knows someone it has happened to. It is incredibly disheartening to be told that we’re just interpreting things wrong.

          I’m gonna go raid the camomile tea.

    2. Junior Assistant Peon*

      I wonder if this happened and it was poorly communicated by HR, like “you said something and offended someone, and we can’t give you any specific information about who it was or what you said because it was a confidential complaint.” I wouldn’t blame the guy for completely missing the point and thinking anything he says might be misconstrued.

      1. Observer*

        Could we please stop trying to make up stories about why jerks do jerk things, and creeps do creep tings?

        The boss was not being careful about what he was saying. He was telling the OP that giving an Easter card could be seen as a sexual action. There is no way to turn that into “I need to be ultra careful about what I say to my female employees.” At least not without a whole lot of convoluted, inaccurate and sexist leaps of logic.

        1. Jennifer Strange*

          Could we please stop trying to make up stories about why jerks do jerk things, and creeps do creep tings?

          +100000000. We could probably go through every letter ever answered on AMA and create fanfictional reasons that justify the bad behavior detailed, yet it only seems to occur when it’s a man being sexist.

  41. KMM*

    Hugely agree with everyone that’s saying you definitely didn’t do anything wrong and he made it weird all on his own!

    I wonder though if because he got the card after the weekend, he wasn’t aware that you gave them to multiple people and thought he was getting some kind of special attention?

    (Even if you had only given a card to him, it shouldn’t change anything as it’s reasonable to have a friendly relationship with your manager and what he implied was not ok.)

    Just think that might give an extra window into his thought process and if it helps you feel less weird around him, you could clarify that you actually gave cards to quite a few people

  42. El l*

    You can argue about whether it’s wise to give your boss a holiday greeting card…

    …but your boss’ statement of “why not” is 100% off base.

    1. Brennan Huff*

      The issue here is his sexualized take on the cards, not whether the cards should have been given in the first place.

    2. BigHairNoHeart*

      Yes! A few comments above seem to be focusing on the first part, but that’s really not what this letter is about. Boss is so clearly in the wrong here, it seems odd to even worry about the other details.

      1. El l*

        I personally wouldn’t give my boss a present or card (unless they’d had something traumatic in the family).

        But many do and that’s usually fine. (I don’t think there’s a formula for “when is it appropriate to give a card to your boss?”, certainly not an easy one.) Whatever.

        It doesn’t change the fact that his response was bizarrely inappropriate.

  43. Richard Hershberger*

    Boss’s mistake was that you don’t make a sexual approach with an Easter card. That is what Lupercalia is for.

    1. The Prettiest Curse*

      Ha! Or the office holiday party, back when those things used to involve both alcohol and in-person interaction.

  44. OhGee*

    Why have some men taken “it’s not okay to sexually harass colleagues at work” to mean “men and women must not interact with each other with one iota of personality or care at work”? It’s a card. AN EASTER CARD. My goodness.

    1. Jaydee*

      Generally speaking, these are men who see women primarily as objects of sexual desire and not as multi-faceted, unique, full human beings with a range of personalities, interests, talents, experiences, etc.

      Keep in mind, they aren’t necessarily thinking of these women as the objects of *their own* sexual desire directly, so the thought process might not be “she’s hot; I wonder if she’d sleep with me.” They may honestly not believe they objectify women this way because they’re happily married/partnered; that woman is unattractive/not their type; that woman is young enough to be their daughter or granddaughter; etc.

      Their objectification may come off more paternalistic or gossipy depending on the situation. But they’re going to read a sexual undercurrent into interactions between men and woman or a sexual purpose into women’s actions because that’s their primary understanding of what women are for.

      1. Caraway*

        Just wanted to say, wow, you nailed it here. This is 100% the problem with how some men view women. It’s the same reason some men won’t accept, “Sorry, not interested,” but they will accept, “I have a boyfriend.”

        1. Jaydee*

          Exactly. A woman who has a boyfriend is “taken.” These guys can respect that. (They would want their girlfriend or wife to turn down suitors too). The idea that a woman could have no man and simply be “not interested” in them is incomprehensible.

      2. LC*

        Thank you so much for this comment. This is such a great way to say the part that I’ve never been able to articulate, not even in my own head. Even trying to expand on it here, I’m not really coming up with the words. People need to stop perpetuating this shit (and also stop apologizing for those that continue to do so), and I’m going to tuck your comment away to remember when responding to people who just refuse to get it.

        Sure, maybe this boss isn’t the type to grab his assistant’s ass and wolf whistle when she walks by, but the kind of insidious sexism he’s displaying here is so incredibly damaging, on so many levels.

      3. Deanna Troi*

        Wow, Jaydee, you have articulated this incredibly well:

        “But they’re going to read a sexual undercurrent into interactions between men and woman or a sexual purpose into women’s actions because that’s their primary understanding of what women are for.”

        Thank you for this.

  45. Aquawoman*

    LW, I think you might benefit from a more experienced woman or 2 to touch base with on workplace stuff. If there is someone in your office who is generally respected/well regarded while also being able to speak her mind, that might be someone.

  46. animaniactoo*

    This manager is a guy who, IMO, has never properly understood boundary lines and goes with arbitrary over-doing rather than figuring out how to not to take “nice” as “flirting”.

  47. McS*

    If an expectation is explicitly gender-specific, it is unacceptable at work (or anywhere else). Consider if you had a same-level colleague who was male. Can he give cards? What else? Can he have a drink with the boss after work and you can’t? Can he get casual mentoring? A chance to communicate his goals and any new skills he’s acquiring that you’re not getting? He’s going to get the first promotion too, even if you are the better candidate.

    1. McS*

      All of that being said, let’s imagine Allison’s response if the expectation were NOT gender-specific, if this was just an office where giving cards or personal notes was highly frowned upon in general. A colleague of yours may be writing in about how her office is no fun and is this normal? I expect Allison’s response would be “This is not really normal, but it’s also OK. If it’s the office culture and your colleagues are all on board, that’s just the way this office defines professionalism. If you can’t work this way, you’re not a good fit and decide whether to look for another job.”

      1. Observer*

        Right. And? How does that change anything?

        The issue here is not that the Boss doesn’t like cards. It the gender specificity and the sexualization of the situation that’s a problem.

        It’s like all the letters we see here about “He’s SUCH a great boss. Except when he starts ax-throwing in our crowded open office.” That “except” is THE key. Same here.

  48. LKW*

    Your boss made this weird. Not only that but he didn’t think to even consider to ask one simple question that would have alleviated all of his concerns : Did you only give me a card?

    I don’t think he has good judgement. He definitely doesn’t understand how to manage a diverse team.

    I do think you should move on, he clearly sees you as “other” as in “taking up the space that could otherwise be given to a man”. You don’t have to rush, but clearly he doesn’t understand that people can be kind and professional without it being sexual.

  49. DG*

    So would a birthday card signed by the entire team be seen as an invitation to an orgy? So bizarre…

  50. ChemistryChick*

    Yep. Your female coworker is right. It’s gross on your manager’s part. My skin crawled just reading what he said to you.

    On a side note, “sexual bacchanalia” is a phrase I didn’t know existed before today and that makes me sad.

  51. Dream Jobbed*

    “and they both looked at me like I had a dead rat on my head.”

    Completely off topic, but I know that look and this is the best description I have ever heard of it. Thanks for the laugh OP!

  52. Marketing*

    I’m going to guess this boss himself did something inappropriate and has decided that ANY non-work interactions between people of the opposite sex are off limits because he can’t or won’t tell the difference between an Easter card and a pat on the butt or whatever he did.

    1. Lacey*

      Indeed. I had a coworker who upset a high school age intern by placing his hand on her shoulder – not the worst offense, but she was weirded out enough that she quit over it. When this guy got a talking about how you really never need to touch your coworkers he started going off about how he guesses he won’t say hello or smile at anyone anymore either because they might take it the wrong way. He refused to acknowledge the difference, insisted that apparently any kind of friendliness was wrong since he couldn’t put a hand on a girl’s shoulder.

      Fast forward – and you knew this was coming – we found out he’d been in trouble before then for unwelcome touching, after he left the job (because he was angry he couldn’t touch people!) he got in trouble somewhere else for the same behavior.

  53. CatCat*

    I’m sorry your boss sexualized you in the workplace. That’s not okay. I guarantee he isn’t having this kind of conversation with his male subordinates.

  54. Nothing Rhymes With Purple*

    LW, I love giving my coworkers cards [when they aren’t collectively making me miserable, anyway]. Here Is My Advice, worth what you paid for it.

    1) I once had someone (a woman, even) tell me that giving cards to my bosses was being a “suck up”. I said, “but I gave everyone a card” and she didn’t back down because no one backs down, but she went away grumbling and left me alone, and did not have me written up, so there we are.

    2) I give people cards for weird holidays, like National Poetry Month (because I’ve already made cards for NPM for my friends, I can just make a few more copies). The most recognized/least secular holiday for which I give out cards is Halloween (and if I knew someone felt strongly about Halloween I would give them a replacement postcard instead)

    3) I give people postcards (that I made, because this is one of my hobbies, so it’s not expensive — printing 50 cards from my printer isn’t much more costly than printing 30) so everyone can see that nothing rude was written in the card.

    4) Even if you don’t want to print out cards it’s pretty easy to ‘postcardize’ a folded card.

    5) I give everyone on my ‘team’ cards, because there’s always Someone who will conclude that ‘singling’ someone out for a 50 cent card is a sexual overture/an act of currying favor/whatever else ridiculous conclusion.

    6) Unfortunately I don’t feel I can give out birthday cards directly from me to a single coworker due to #5. But I always sign the ones passed around, because I like to.

    I think this is a nice human touch and a small kindness and I really hope your boss’s reaction, which is both outsized and disgustingly sexualizing, doesn’t make it fraught for you. OTOH, I am not famed for my wisdom, so take what if anything is useful from what I’ve said and never mind the rest.

  55. Alexis Rosay*

    In addition to what everyone else has said about your boss being gross…giving greeting cards is one of the most appropriate and collegial actions I can imagine. I would 100% rather receive a thoughtful greeting card at work than baked goods, a kitschy gift, a gift card to a store I don’t go to…or fill in the blank with any other less-good workplace gift.

  56. Robin Ellacott*

    Boss perhaps meant well (?) but is making some weird assumptions: that people are all straight and cis or everyone thinks they are; that men and women in the workplace must treat each other differently from men; that everyone sees harassment behind every bush so you have to be SO CAREFUL, and so on.

    The LW was fine; the boss needs some learning on what actual workplace harassment looks like.

  57. RJ*

    OP, I cannot imagine what greeting cards your boss has given or received in his life, but that’s on him and his experiences. Your co-workers are absolutely spot on. HE’S the one with the problem. Giving greeting cards is not weird or sexual or inappropriate.

  58. knitcrazybooknut*

    I have to straight up thank the letter writer: I’ve been having a terrible day, and this letter gave me a fit of the giggles that lasted at least five solid minutes. And Alison, thank you for that classic headline! Solid. Gold.

  59. TiredMama*

    This is a him problem and he made it a you problem. If he is not comfortable receiving cards from the staff he manages, then he can certainly make that a rule. But to make it (1) a gender based rule and (2) tell you it is a general office etiquette rule is bs.

    1. Gerry Keay*

      They are! The implication is always that women are just toooo sensitive and are looking for ways to get men in trouble. It’s just a gentler version of the “but what about false rape accusations” argument, which is always trotted out to sew disbelief of assault survivors. Misogyny all the way down.

  60. Sara without an H*

    Hi, OP — I agree with the commentariat that you did absolutely nothing wrong here. Whether it’s appropriate to exchange cards for a religious holiday in the work place depends a lot on local culture. But I don’t see any way for a normal person to interpret it as a sexual come-on.

    That said, this episode should raise a yellow flag in your mind about your boss. It is highly likely that he won’t treat you in the same way he treats his male reports and that will create problems for you down the road. I would recommend discreetly documenting your interactions with him if anything starts to seem off. For example, does he routinely have 1:1 meetings with male staff, but not with you? (That would be a big red flag.) Do male reports at your level of experience get opportunities that you don’t? He may not consciously intend it, but it’s very likely that he will difference you in ways that aren’t in your professional interest.

    Someone upstream (sorry I didn’t get the name) suggested finding a well-regarded woman in your organization who can mentor you. This is good advice. She could give you a reading on the organization’s culture and any booby-traps junior staff are likely to stumble into.

    When you’re in the early stages of a career, it’s always a good idea to be thinking in terms of your next step. So concentrate on getting good advice from people other than your boss and work on beefing up your resume with things that will make it easy to transition to your next level. I would not plan on remaining long term in your current position under this particular manager. He’s not going to be helpful. At all.

  61. Bostonian*

    …he’s…making you feel like he and others will see you as Sexually Available Young Woman more than they see you as a normal colleague.

    ^^^This! His reaction to your card speaks volumes as to how he sees you. I wouldn’t be surprised if he also sees you as a liability for false accusations of sexual harassment. Little does he realize that this attitude leads to behavior on his part that becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy (except it’s real, actual sexual harassment).

  62. Observer*

    His reaction is similar to people who worry about men and women having work lunches together or going on business trips together.

    I have to disagree with this. The boss is much worse. And fundamentally different because he’s not just worrying about relationships between men and women. He’s basically saying that any woman who is “too” nice cannot advance and be respected because “everyone” is going to assume that she “slept her way” to the top. I feel gross just typing that. He’s also signaling a very disturbing attitude towards sexual harassment: – Being “too nice” to men is “obviously” a come to men and therefore if a woman gets harassed, we need to focus on whether she “sent signals” that she’s available. And if the OP in particular gets harassed, well the boss WARNED her, no? So he doesn’t have to do anything…

    Now this: ” It also suggests that he might find normal non-sexual interactions to be sexually charged, and that he might be the problem he is worried about. and this: ” It means, unfortunately, that you’ll need to be very attuned to whether he interacts with you differently than he does your male coworkers, and whether you miss out on professional opportunities because of it.” are 100% true.

    OP, please take this very, very seriously. And watch your back.

    OP, watch you

  63. Tree*

    You didn’t do anything wrong. In your shoes, I would be worried that my boss is testing the waters with me. He’s projecting onto you this idea of you as a young innocent maiden with a heart of gold who doesn’t yet know etc. and that would make me really uncomfortable if it happened to me because he’s trying to see how much of his narrative you’ll accept and go along with and maybe laying the ground work for you to disbelieve rumours of sexual harrassment that you might hear about him, because you’ll think well maybe she sent him an easter card instead of maybe he cornered her in an elevator.

    This guy is showing you who he is, what he thinks all men are, and it’s not a pretty picture.

  64. Eldritch Office Worker*

    This man is projecting so hard that if you shine a light through his ears a video of Mike Pence talking about how he doesn’t eat lunch with women would start playing on the wall

  65. callmeheavenly*

    A director retired from our board in December one year, so I sent him a Christmas card saying basically “thank you for your service, enjoy your retirement.” He then came back to visit the office, gave me a questionable hug, slobbered all over my cheek, and started calling my personal cell phone. I was 35ish, and he was about ninety and married. Maybe some men have a greeting card fetish, I do not know, but I’m still traumatized (his obit ran recently and I’m afraid I was not sorry At All).

  66. feral fairy*

    The boss was definitely off base about the sexual connotations. If LW was only making holiday cards for her female coworkers that would come across as weird to people too.

    On the topic of card giving in general, I was wondering what the LW meant by “coworkers I am close to”. If the cards are going to everyone they worked on a big project with or everyone in your department, I don’t think there are any issues, but if they are singling out specific people they are the most friendly with and not giving cards to other colleagues who they work with closely but don’t know as well, that could be perceived as unprofessional depending on the culture of your workplace. While plenty of people would understand why they didn’t get a card, others might be more sensitive and feel left out.

  67. Cultural Forces At Work*

    It seems clear that he did not think anything inappropriate was going on here, or even that anyone in the office would read anything inappropriate into it (as the OP’s colleagues backed up). His fear was that OTHER people at a future time might use the card as a datapoint to hurt him. It’s true, this fear could belie his own inappropriate thoughts towards the OP. I find it more likely, however, that he’s responding to the cultural forces described in this article in The Atlantic that coincidentally came out today, “The New Puritans” by Anne Applebaum. (Link to follow in separate comment)

      1. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

        Just read that article and….errr…it seems to be quite on the side of ‘poor guys being fired just for accusations, it’s not fair, cancel culture’ yadda yadda so…I’m confused about what angle you’re coming from.

        The motivations of the boss ultimately don’t matter – they’re gross.

      2. Jennifer Strange*

        “Social codes are changing, in many ways for the better. But for those whose behavior doesn’t adapt fast enough to the new norms, judgment can be swift—and merciless.”

        I see nothing wrong with creeps being called out for being creeps? We’ve known for years that this behavior wasn’t okay, it’s only that in the last few years the behavior is actually being called out.

        1. Jennifer Strange*

          Also, this line: “Worse, if we drive all of the difficult people, the demanding people, and the eccentric people away from the creative professions where they used to thrive, we will become a flatter, duller, less interesting society, a place where manuscripts sit in drawers for fear of arbitrary judgments.”

          Or we’ll open up the opportunity for new voices and perspectives to thrive?

          1. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

            Oh, the old ‘we’re better off if we let bigots have a say’ argument eh? Ridiculous.

            Society hasn’t changed THAT fast and frankly anyone who tries to use the excuse that it’s impossible to keep up with equality needs to go read some history.

            1. Observer*

              Oh, the old ‘we’re better off if we let bigots have a say’ argument eh

              No, the old “let’s refuse to acknowledge that this behavior IS bigoted and highly damaging and instead pretend that it’s just a quirk or minor eccentricity.” And that’s even worse.

              Society hasn’t changed THAT fast and frankly anyone who tries to use the excuse that it’s impossible to keep up with equality needs to go read some history.

              Yes. If anyone has been paying attention to Andrew Cuomo, that’s exactly what he tried to do. It didn’t work too well.

      3. Forrest*

        “Social codes are changing really fast. For people who don’t WANT to change, because actually the old codes worked really well for them and they know it and they are trying to preserve just enough plausible deniability to still get away with treating other people like shit, the judgment can be swift. boo hoo for them, waaaaaahhh.”

    1. Nothing Rhymes With Purple*

      I think this stretches credulity, and I can usually see how people might rationalize being irrational about any given subject. A card mentioning his family as a sexual overture? Really?

    2. Observer*

      This is just nonsense. There are no “cultural forces” that make it reasonable for someone to claim that giving someone a bland holiday card could be seen as a sexual advance. And I would be saying this even if a guy had given this to a younger female. Trying to claim otherwise is both dismissive of long ever-due and highly necessary changes and also for too excusing of a really problematic view.

      It is just not true that someone could turn this card that was given to him into some sort of accusation against him.

    3. Peridot*

      Riiiiight. You say “cultural forces,” I say “people finally being accountable for crappy behavior.” And if witnessing this makes other people question whether their own behavior is a problem, good.

  68. Red Swedish Fish*

    Agree with Alison but I want to caveat that you should read the card first to be sure. Early in my career me and another colleague got a Christmas card from a high level older Male that read something along the lines of hoping to meet me under the mistle toe (printed on the card not hand written), another colleague got something along the lines of wishing for you this Christmas. We found out the next year his personalized card order did not come in and he sent his secretary out to get 30 Christmas cards, he signed them and she addressed them without reading them. But we thought he was a creep for 11 months.

    1. LC*

      (especially since I had written that I hoped he would enjoy his Easter with his wife and kids)

      I mean. Considering she wrote it, I’m reasonably certain she knows what it said.

      Unless the card continued with “and afterwards you can come over and I’ll be your Playboy Easter Bunny,” I really, really don’t think that what was in the card was the problem.

      We can and should trust LW that there was nothing, implied or explicitly, sexual about the cards, and the implication that she may have brought this on herself is kind of gross.

      (Also, I’m still side-eying the hell out of your coworker. Signing 30 cards with suggestive lines without noticing? Ehhhhh not sure I buy that he had absolutely no idea.)

    2. Junior Assistant Peon*

      I had a coworker who signed a card without paying attention once. Someone’s relative had died, and a sympathy card was being passed around for everyone to sign. A coworker wrote “Happy Birthday!” and signed her name, and we were laughing about it for years afterward.

      1. Social Commentator*

        I received such a card when my uncle died. I wasn’t offended but I didn’t see the humor, either.

  69. Catherine Ruth Guiles*

    I agree that this boss is way out of line. Earlier in my career, I gave Easter candy to male and female co-workers, even ones who weren’t particularly religious, and they all enjoyed it. (If I did that today, though, I would check if anyone couldn’t eat candy for some reason.)

  70. No Dumb Blonde*

    I totally understand the OP’s sincere and heartfelt motivation for giving out cards, but in my office (a state government agency), it would seem weird, regardless of holiday. To me, it would feel like it came from a naive employee who was trying too hard to be liked. I used to work at a job in the private sector where everyone got balloons (paid for by the company) and a birthday card signed by everyone else. As the company grew, it became an administrative burden and, ultimately, the gesture lost its meaning. After a few years the last thing I wanted was another mug with balloons attached! In my current public-sector job, we route around retirement cards or condolences cards and we voluntarily chip in for a gift, but that’s it. No birthday celebration, no holiday cards, and certainly no gifts from employees to managers. Occasionally someone randomly will bring cookies or other snacks for the breakroom. Recently a new employee brought cookies with a note that she appreciated the warm welcome she received when she started the job. That was nice.

    1. Forrest*

      I would also find it weird for someone to give out home-made Easter cards, but there’s a WORLD of difference between “it’s weird” and “it’s sexy weird”.

      1. Observer*

        Ya think?

        Seriously, it is true that the cards could be a bad idea. And that Easter cards are PROBABLY a bad idea. But that’s totally separate from what this guy had to say.

        1. I'm just here for the cats!*

          I think it depends on the area and the job. For example if she worked for a workplace that is vaguely Christian oriented I could see the e cards. OP did say it was for people she was close with, so she may have known they are Christian and celebrate easter.

          Also, some people.look at Easter as not a religious holiday and still celebrate. Similar how I’m some non Christian countries people still celebrate Christmas, as it’s become part of that countries culture.

          1. Jennifer Strange*

            Just because some folks choose to celebrate it as a non-religious holiday doesn’t mean that it isn’t still a religious holiday.

  71. Mayflower*

    Your manager is an axe grinder, along the lines of, “I remember the good old days when men were men and women were women”, “darn feminazis and their darn Me Too movement” and so on. A young woman’s career cannot blossom under a manager like this! Get away from this men’s rights curmudgeon before he grinds you down.

  72. Former Employee*

    The OP’s manager sounds as if his name should be Mr. Strawman.

    When “anything” can be viewed the way he described, then nothing is objectively harassment. It’s all in the eye of the beholder, which lets men off the hook.

    She gave me a card/smiled at me/chatted with me/brought me a cup of coffee (she was getting coffee for herself and got an extra one for the busy co-worker to be nice), etc., so of course I thought she wanted me to kiss her/grab her [fill in the blank]/try to rip her clothes off, etc.

  73. I'm just here for the cats!*

    I’m late to the thread today because it’s crazy time at work. But I wonder, did he not realize that OP gave lots of people cards and not him. So maybe he’s thinking she doing this will wake it look like favoritism or something. That doesn’t make much sense though for some of the other comments.

    1. banoffee pie*

      It’s possible he thought he was the only one getting a card, but it seems a pretty big-headed assumption. If OP is a card-giver it should be safe to assume she’ll be giving them to a few people she’s close with. I can’t imagine ever assuming I’m the only one in a workplace getting a card. Maybe boss is big-headed as well as old-fashioned and sexist?

  74. Raida*

    As a woman I just wanna say – I don’t think he’s gross, and I don’t think this is a projection of him sexualising polite interactions.

    I think he’s been in an office environment for a long time, seen some sh*t, and is now overly protective of himself AND his staff’s reputations.
    *Not* that he saw the card and thought “If one of my colleagues got this I’d assume he’s rooting the new girl, so I’d better let my staff member know how bad it looks!”

    Personally I’d sit down with him, let him know that it came up in conversation and he needs to know the responses. He can address this with the staff in a meeting to explain his position, give examples, and apologise for projecting fears/opinions onto OP. Instead of letting the co-workers think less of him. Instead of just going with “I guess he’s gross old man then”. Instead of not educating him on etiquette norms – because his are out of date.

    He has a problem, and he should be told so he has the chance to act on it. If he doesn’t, fine. If he confirms younger women shouldn’t interact with older men at work, duh, fine. He needs a chance to get it right, do nothing, or screw it up.

    1. Tali*

      ‘*Not* that he saw the card and thought “If one of my colleagues got this I’d assume he’s rooting the new girl, so I’d better let my staff member know how bad it looks!”’
      ->This is literally what he said. He said this is what he feared people would think.

      “He needs a chance to get it right, do nothing, or screw it up.”
      ->He already screwed up. This dude has already failed basic HR training on sexism in the workplace with this interaction.

      I am very confused why it is OP’s job to educate their older boss on which work situations are sexual and which are not.
      If this guy’s understanding of sexism in the workplace is decades out of date, then he really should not be in the workplace, and especially not managing anybody. He has had 20 years to learn about the internet but we can’t expect him to keep up with social norms unless he’s explicitly told?

    2. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

      Women are not Roombas – not our job to follow after men cleaning up their mess.

    3. Jennifer Strange*

      I think he’s been in an office environment for a long time, seen some sh*t, and is now overly protective of himself AND his staff’s reputations.

      In other words, he’s seen men be held responsible for gross behavior and is now worried he will also be held responsible for gross behavior. And his response is more gross behavior. Please stop defended sexists. They’ve had literal millennia of being protected.

  75. Mr. Bob Dobalina*

    The irony is that a greeting card is really the only acceptable option for giving something to a boss in recognition of a holiday or birthday, if you follow the “gifts-should-only-flow-downward” rule–which I do.

  76. Mrs. Hawiggins*

    Well there goes that get well card I’m about to send to a coworker that’s having heart surgery, then.

    Letters like these make me want to run out and buy my boss a card for being the best boss ever. His perception of a greeting card is that it’s from kindness and thoughtfulness, not that I’m jockeying for position at promotion time or worse-I won’t even go down that path. I can’t even begin to understand why a male colleague would think a greeting card was going that way. I mean gee, ‘congrats on the new baby,’ ‘in sympathy,’ how anyone could misconstrue the intent is beyond me, but… people.

    Jeez, my boss framed two of the cards I gave him from about 6 years ago because they were so scenic and nice. OP’s letter just really leaves me mumbling. Sorry, OP.

  77. Batgirl*

    I’d be tempted to laugh a long time and say: “Wouldn’t it actually be a really absurd assumption if the man was my father’s age?” But I’m not ambitious. Man…. Old dudes. Why do they all think they’re it?

  78. kip the card*

    Your boss is totally wrong here.

    On the other hand, in my 20 years of work experience in 4 countries, 3 continents, I have only seen women give greeting cards for yearly occasions. Never men, not even once.

    I have seen group cards for New jobs, farewell, baby showers, when someone in the family passes away – that everybody sign. But never a card from a man for yearly occasions.

    It does come across as a bit across a bit strange as looking to please… Like a kid wanting to take cookies for teacher so they can be liked better .. Not sexual intention strange though. Also, all such cards go to recycle bin anyways.

  79. skip the card*

    Your boss is totally wrong here.

    On the other hand, in my 20 years of work experience in 4 countries, 3 continents, I have only seen women give greeting cards for yearly occasions. Never men, not even once.

    I have seen group cards for New jobs, farewell, baby showers, when someone in the family passes away – that everybody sign. But never a card from a man for yearly occasions.

    It does come across as a bit across a bit strange as looking to please… Like a kid wanting to take cookies for teacher so they can be liked better .. Not sexual intention strange though. Also, all such cards go to recycle bin anyways.

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