Hello, fellow woman. Is your male boss a dick? Yeah, maybe. The more important question is, is he a sexist dick? The much more important question is, what kind of sexist dick is he? Is he a vaguely sexist dick whose sexism is sadly socially acceptable? (Yeesh, this is why we need feminism.) Or is he a supreme sexist whose comments and actions would be deplored by even people who are staunchly conservative about gender roles?
In either case, working with a male boss as a woman can be difficult. Even if his heart is in the right place, he cannot personally relate to the challenges of being a woman. He doesn’t understand menstruation, pregnancy, and the unfair social expectation (and paradox) that we appear both “feminine”—but not too feminine!—yet “serious”—but not too serious!—in the workplace at all times. Those are, of course, only a few examples. Because they lack the experience of being a woman, even good men sometimes say or do mildly sexist things that are annoying at best.
Comic Credit: Forget Fairytales by Christine Stoddard
But just because there are varying degrees of sexism doesn’t mean sexism is okay. It’s demeaning, frustrating, intimidating, and cruel. Here are nine sexist things your male boss may be doing:
Making comments about your body
Whether it’s a criticism (“You sure you want that extra doughnut? You’ve put on a little weight.”) or a compliment (“Your legs look amazing in that skirt.”), there’s virtually no reason to talk about your body in the workplace. Certainly if you have the average office job, your body type, size, and shape are all irrelevant to how you perform your daily duties. As for the rest of your appearance, his only concern should be that you abide by the company dress code for professional attire. Your boss is free to compliment your intelligence, creativity, and diligence, not your “slim figure” or “sexy dress.” Objectification is something we can do without.
Questioning you about marriage and children
It’s not your boss’s business if and when you plan to get married or have children. He should not be making hiring or promotion decisions based on potential “maternity risks.” Pregnancy discrimination in the workplace is illegal. It’s one thing if you choose to share information about your recent engagement, upcoming wedding, or forthcoming baby. That last point will become necessary when it comes time to discuss your federally mandated unpaid 12 weeks of maternity leave. It’s not your boss’s right to pry, and he definitely shouldn’t respect your engaged and married colleagues more than he respects single ladies.
Asking you out or hitting on you
When parents give their teens the sex talk, they need to talk about sexual harassment, too. It is NOT okay for your boss to pressure you into dating him. Unfortunately, it is not illegal for your boss to ask you on a date, but it’s still unethical. Dating your boss leads to an imbalanced power dynamic that can scare you into staying in a relationship longer than you want. It can incite co-worker jealousy and drama, as well. Similarly, your boss shouldn’t be making sexual innuendos.
Taking credit for your work
Is your boss ripping off your male co-workers the same way? Honestly, probably not. You deserve credit for your ideas just as much as the men in the office do. If your boss typically ignores your comments during meetings but listens attentively to a male colleague who parrots what you said, that’s a problem. He should not be giving your male colleagues more credit just because they are male.
Calling you pet names
“Sweetie,” “honey,” “baby,” and other names you’d call a child or lover are not appropriate for the workplace. The rule still applies even if your boss is your grandpa’s age and even if he is Southern. He has no right to infantilize or sexualize you, regardless of his age or cultural upbringing. He’s not calling your male co-workers “sugar,” is he?
Denying you raises and promotions
Some companies have wage freezes, however wage freezes should never apply to one gender and not the other. If you suspect (or know!) your male colleagues are getting raises for doing the same amount of work as you, it’s time to investigate. Pay attention to whom he invites to after-hours events. Is your boss only asking male colleagues to come to happy hour? The wage gap is real. You may have to explicitly ask for a raise at your annual review. Otherwise, it may never occur to your boss that you’ve earned one.
Gendering your duties
Men can learn how to cook, clean, and organize, too. These are not tasks that women inherently do better. Ditto for secretarial duties. You should be using your talents to do your job, not what he wants his in-office housewife to do. Similarly, don’t let your boss give you gendered assignments. Women can easily have interests and abilities in traditionally “masculine” areas.
Falling back on stereotypes
Generalizations about women aren’t funny. Putting you at the center of every office joke because you’re a woman isn’t funny, either. Your boss shouldn’t be making period jokes, telling you to get back in the kitchen, or teasing you about having “baby brain” when you return from maternity leave. He definitely shouldn’t brand you as being overly emotional and asking you if it’s “that time of the month,” either.
Touching you without your consent
Apart from shaking hands, touching isn’t necessary in the vast majority of professional situations. Maybe if you’ve known each other a while and are close, you might be on hugging terms, but don’t feel forced to accept a hug. You have the right to say if something makes you feel uncomfortable and he has the responsibility to honor your request.
If your boss is guilty of these offenses, talk to him immediately. Tell him that his behavior is inappropriate and politely ask him to stop. Yeah, I know, you’re probably gritting your teeth, but diplomacy is more likely to help than hurt you in this case. Sometimes people slip up and honestly do learn from their mistakes. If your boss is a true jerk, he will use your complaints as an excuse to find a reason to fire you. That’s why it is crucial that you proceed to the next step: Start documenting his every sexist move.
Save gross emails, keep a log of slimy comments, take undercover photos—do whatever you’ve got to do to collect evidence to build a case to present to Human Resources. But remember this: Human Resources is not here to help you. They are here to cover the company they represent. If your boss is the company’s MVP, you can bet they will defend his buns, not yours. Be prepared to fight, even if it means having HR present an unsatisfactory solution. At least you will have stood up for yourself. Just remember to keep your resume updated and ready to go. Contacting a gender discrimination lawyer may be your next step after you begin applying to new jobs.
Related-ish: Is This Gap Ad As Sexist As Some People Think It Is?