What to do about bosses inappropriate language?
February 26, 2016 11:16 PM   Subscribe

My boss's boss used inappropriate, sexist language in a work setting. I'd like to address this in some way, but I'm not sure how to proceed.

First, a bit of background:

BOSS, a woman, is my boss. Due to a recent restructuring, I report directly to her. She works remotely from a satellite office. BIG BOSS, a man, is BOSS's boss and the head of our department (which is mostly women). As of ~1 month ago, I reported to him. He works out of the same office I do.

The incident:

During a team outing at a restaurant, BIG BOSS made an inappropriate comment. Specifically, he referred to Hillary Clinton as the "planet's biggest bitch".

In the moment I was shocked and dismayed, so I responded with an audible pause ("Uhhhh....") and he said, "Ok, sorry, no politics talk!" and we moved on from there. I didn't have the courage to say anything at the time, but I do feel that "bitch" is wildly inappropriate for both a man and a manager to use around co-workers.

How do I best address this with him? Or do I? The way I see it, I have 4 options.

My options:

1. Bring this up to BIG BOSS directly and let him know that his comment was inappropriate.
2. Tell BOSS that BIG BOSS'S comment was inappropriate and made me feel uncomfortable. BOSS can then manage up.
3. Inform HR and then???
4. Quit and find another job.

Please note that #4 is off the table, for myriad reasons. I know you want to go all DTMFA on this, but I'm not willing to consider that at this time. (I actually like my job! And my coworkers! Etc!)

So, hivemind, what's the best way to handle this? Are there additional options I'm not considering? I'd like BIG BOSS to understand that his comment was not welcome, but I also don't want to have a big "Never Getting Promoted" stamp put on my permanent record.

posted by too bad you're not me to Human Relations (40 answers total)
Hate to say it, but going after your boss's boss for calling a national public figure a bitch is almost certainly not worth it.
posted by ryanrs at 11:20 PM on February 26, 2016 [65 favorites]

Personally, I'd leave it unless it becomes a pattern.
posted by kinddieserzeit at 11:23 PM on February 26, 2016 [6 favorites]

Unless this turns into some unbearable trend; forget it.
posted by axismundi at 11:24 PM on February 26, 2016 [2 favorites]

I do not think quitting a job over this incident is a reasonable course of action, which, since you can't anyway: golden.

I'm not sure what you're after here, to be frank. What outcome are you seeking? Because Mr. Big Boss is probably going to continue using language like this about women when he thinks he can get away with it (i.e. because she's a public figure as ryanrs says, and not a universally popular one).

You aren't going to educate this pig. What you can do, it seems to me, is take away the knowledge that he's at least a bit of a casual misogynist and steer your career with that in mind.
posted by Emperor SnooKloze at 11:25 PM on February 26, 2016 [4 favorites]

Response by poster: Oh yeah, I guess option 5 world be to let it go. ;)

I'm not sure if there is a pattern of overt sexism, but this is not the first time he's made a comment like this. There's a fair amount of casual/subtle sexism.
posted by too bad you're not me at 11:26 PM on February 26, 2016

If it happens again, use a calm, almost bored and dismissive tone 'Please don't use that word to describe women'
posted by honey-barbara at 11:31 PM on February 26, 2016 [6 favorites]

Best answer: I'd wait and see if your "uhhhh" reaction has any effect. Because he certainly noticed it!
I actually think a dismayed silence, a shocked look etc. are pretty good stategies for dealing with people who aren't complete boors.
posted by Omnomnom at 11:52 PM on February 26, 2016 [28 favorites]

If this made you uncomfortable and you think revealing that would bring you and your immediate boss closer and she would be an ally for you then let her know. The best she can probably do is sympathize. HR is not your friend and will likely be dismissive of this given that it's a political comment about a public figure.

As a boss who sometimes blurts out inappropriate things, I wouldn't mind someone coming by to let me know they felt uncomfortable so I could check myself a bit better, but it sounds like this guy isn't the introspective type.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 12:03 AM on February 27, 2016 [1 favorite]

Start a diary. 'jus sayin'.
posted by Freedomboy at 12:13 AM on February 27, 2016 [10 favorites]

Yeah, I'm not seeing this as a big deal, nor necessarily sexist. He dislikes Hillary. He's not talking about women in general, but about a particular person. He could just as easily call a male politician a bastard.

This sort of statement has been, if not common, not too rare, in my work life (especially at the tech start-up I worked at for a couple of years right after college). My guess is you're going to hear this sort of thing again. Are you prepared to die on that hill each time?

I'd save my actions for bigger offenses.
posted by mysterious_stranger at 12:46 AM on February 27, 2016 [13 favorites]

I think you can definitely document it in detail (at home, not anywhere at work) if you need to describe this pattern of behavior in the future. I have reported a person of power to an administrator and my claims would have had a lot more teeth if I had dates, exact quotes, names of who was there, etc.
I, personally and unfortunately, do not think you will get much feedback on this particular incident. I'm sorry this happened.
posted by rubster at 2:11 AM on February 27, 2016 [2 favorites]

I would drop it. Document it if you must, but this wouldn't (IMO) cross the line into something actionable. I get annoyed at that kind of language myself, but unless he is regularly running around the office and calling women (not public figures) bitches, then you don't have a case. In fact, his response to your reaction makes it clear he was making an political remark. He won't see the light on gendered actions if you call him out on it. Very likely, all you'll accomplish is alienating him and putting your job at risk.
posted by frumiousb at 2:19 AM on February 27, 2016 [4 favorites]

Profanity is an interesting one, for it used to be assumed that profanity was attached to low intelligence, but newer research shows that actually profanity may be related to lRger vocabularies, which is itself a proxy of intelligence.

If you consider language to be a currency between people -- shared symbols that enable communication -- then what profanity represents are taboo words. Words that society has agreed have certain content or meaning. Signals, if you will. In that case, there are contexts where profanity is appropriate, and contexts where it is not. Contexts where certain symbols are appropriate and contexts where certain symbols are not.

This is commonly used with regards to children. If you think about the power dimension of adults to teenagers, adults often tell teenagers not to swear... In front of them. Therefore, there's a control of the language from the adult's side, which is to say "I can use these words but you cannot use these words". An establishment and reinforcement of the power dimension. When teenagers are together, they will use extensive amounts of profanity, which signals the absence of a controlling presence.

The summation is that often profanity becomes proxy for control and power -- who has the power to enforce the taboo and when is it appropriate to break it?

There's a derivative meaning, which is that if a person lives in a household where there is not profanity allowed and an adult uses profanity, that's a signal of an extreme condition or circumstance. That la where we get the emotional loading of the word. We see it form as an explitive, which represents some larger emotional state. We watch for it as a trigger word that has some larger attachment to it.

In order to function in that capacity, profanity must then be scarce. Once it's scarce, it takes on a special meaning. So the societal utility becomes profanity as a class of words that convey emotional content and are special. They signify specific states. The point of taboos is that there's a signal when they're violated.

Think about any taboo that's violated. Why it produces such strong emotional responses in people. Because it's disrupting their view of the social contract and norms, which is uncomfortable.

With profanity, there's a few points to your question. The first is that you and your boss may have entirely different contexts. You say it's inappropriate and uncomfortable, but that is your context. At the base level, it's a sound that conveys meaning. Five letters that alone mean nothing. There's two layers of meaning, how he said it, how you interpreted it. Those may not be the same at all. For you, it may be very high taboo and for him it may be very low taboo.

Then there's the context. Was he using it in a native way, as in I have no taboo against this word, or was he using it in a manner to asset domination from the sense of, I get to violate taboos at will, or was he using it as a sexual demanor, as in I am going to do violence to the gender?

The clue for you will be in what manner it specifically upsets you. Is it that he used the word? Which suggests you and he have different taboo contexts. In that case, I would suggest doing anything. For, each of our offence is our own. What is a loaded word to you, is not a loaded word to him.

Is it that he used the word as a demonstration of power? Which is to say, I'm the boss and I can flaunt the taboos as I like. If that's the case, there may well be other examples where he is willing to flaunt the taboos. Some innocuous. Some perhaps not. That starts to speak to character, and becomes someone willing to break the rules. That's neither here nor there, for it's not on you if he breaks the rules. Maybe you benefit from that, maybe not. In that case, if you have doubts as to his character, I would look for other examples to signal if this is a cause for true concern, or if the reality is that you and he simply have different taboo contexts.

Finally, is he using the word specifically as a violent motion toward women? That gets into the specific word he used. For he could have called her an asshole, and then 1) and number 2) could be true, but there wouldn't be a sexual loading to it. As he used bitch, there's the possibility of mysonginistic behaviour. If that's the case, you must be aware of that, for that is something that could directly affect you professionally.

You'll only know the full answer by looking at the context. It's either an innocuous difference of opinions, which doesn't affect you either way, a demonstration of authority and disagreement with taboos, which could be good or bad, or a specific sexual violence, which could be bad for you.

If we weighted those possibilities straight weight, there's the following scenarios:

50% chance it doesn't affect you
50% chance it does

If it does, there's
25% chance it's good for everyone (good rule breaker)
25% chance it's bad for everyone (bad rule breaker)
50% chance it's bad for some people -- specifically women

In that analysis,
There's a 50% chance it doesn't affect you
12.5% it's good for everyone
12.5% it's bad for everyone
25% chance it's bad for you

Therefore, there's a 37.5% chance it's bad for you, a 50% chance it's of no consequence, and a 12.5% chance it's good for you.

The only exception is that if it is bad for you, it could be very bad indeed. So you have to weight the 25% it's bad for you personally and discriminative, versus the 62.5% chance it's not.

If it's a mysogenisitic tendency, that's a real fucking problem and that 25% is highly relevant. That's a bigger fight. If it's not, probably best to let it go.
posted by nickrussell at 2:50 AM on February 27, 2016 [7 favorites]

Why did this offend you? The use of profanity, the use of that particular word applied to a woman, or that he used that particular word against that particular woman?

Did he use it as a misogynist comment, or a political one? His follow-up "oh sorry, no politics talk!" makes me think he meant it in as political not sexist, in which case I for one totally agree with him. But I also agree that bringing politics (any politics, but especially a down & dirty election like this one!) into the workplace is inappropriate.

What can you do about it? I'm sorry, but I think the answer is: nothing, not one dang thing. Drop it and never bring it up again.
1. Bring your objections directly to Big Boss himself? Only if, as you say, you never ever want to get promoted --- plus that'd just put you on his radar if there's layoffs or anything similar anytime in the future.
2. Tell Boss what Big Boss said, and dump it in her lap? Only if you hate her. Plus this would just put both you and Boss in the crosshairs.
3. Inform HR? Even assuming you got written statements from the rest of the team who were present and heard him, he'd just say it was a political not sexist comment. And now the whole team is in the doghouse..... and they'd blame you.
4. Find another job? You've crossed that one off the list already.

Unless the man is regularly making sexist comments and/or modeling sexist behavior ('neck rubs' for the female employees, staring down cleavage, etc.), I'd just move on, and accept this as a one-off political comment.
posted by easily confused at 5:03 AM on February 27, 2016 [3 favorites]

#5, let it go. This is the kind of thing you can often address in the moment, but is hard to address after the fact unless you can point to a pattern. In the moment, if you feel comfortable saying something you could be very low-key, unemotional, and matter-of-fact about it, like, "I get that you don't like her, but I wish you wouldn't call her a bitch." And ONLY if your big boss is somebody who's pretty reasonable and open to hearing dissenting views.

I think you're right to be concerned about your career. I'd really hesitate to call out someone two levels above me, unless it were something really egregious (e.g., big boss slaps you on the ass). If this kind of thing happens again, my inclination would be to go to #2 and give your boss specific examples of when Big Boss has made comments like this on multiple occasions, and tell your boss it makes you uncomfortable but leave it at that. As for going to HR, it's unlikely HR will do anything unless you have an unusually strong company culture of inclusiveness and using appropriate language. Again, I'd save this for when something egregious happens or it's a pattern (3+ times) and you've already spoken with your boss. Often HR's first question will be, "Did you talk to big boss about this?" and their second question will be, "Did you talk to your boss?"
posted by chickenmagazine at 5:04 AM on February 27, 2016

Nthing you should do nothing. If somebody has something I appropriate as work, uhhhhhh is a great response. This has nothing to do with you. Managers are not perfect people. You should expect at most jobs you'll hear somebody say something ridiculous most days. You're stuck with folks with all kinds of ideas and norms for nine hours a day. Unless somebody is attacking you or a coworker specifically, just uhhhhhh and then put it out of your mind. This is the way the world is.
posted by Kalmya at 5:07 AM on February 27, 2016

Best answer: (P.S. I REALLY disagree with all the comments above saying it's OK to call Hillary a bitch because she's a public figure and it's about politics. I think the whole point is that the word "bitch" condenses all sorts of negative stereotypes about women into one handy package, and that's the offensive part, not that he used profanity to talk about a politician. But again, as a one-off comment I think your reaction was perfect.)
posted by chickenmagazine at 5:08 AM on February 27, 2016 [56 favorites]

If, as you mentioned, there are instances of casual sexism and this isn't the first time your boss' boss has used it, then keeping a diary and/or other forms of documentation would be the most helpful thing to do at this point... both to validate that something like this has happened, to help you express your feelings about what happened and to help you assess your next steps as to whether you should take your original four options.

When small casual patterns of sexism starts to build up, I don't think it's really a matter of letting go. Having said that--it's also good to sit down and consider your next action rather than to act immediately.
posted by Tsukushi at 5:16 AM on February 27, 2016 [1 favorite]

Yeah whether or not this is actually sexist is beside the point of the question. IME As a professional type person I don't think this will be the type of comment that your boss or the company will be likely to do anything about but I think it's really easy to see in a social context why this is a sexist, rude, and unprofessional thing for him to have said. It's just the prerogative of bosses to say things like that and get away with it in capitalist organizations and you won't be able to change that anytime soon sadly. Document (clinically and briefly) in an email to your boss or a sympathetic coworker and prepare to use it if his behavior escalates and starts to be aimed at you or other employees.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 5:35 AM on February 27, 2016

I think your best strategy is to have a canned phrase ready for next time something like this happens. Something like a puzzled "bitch is an odd word to use". And then leave it at that unless boss's boss pushes back on it, in which case you say pleasantly "not a big deal, I just don't like the word".
posted by ambrosen at 6:03 AM on February 27, 2016 [3 favorites]

I mean, you can leave and go elsewhere, but you'll just find out that most male bosses are exactly like this. My director spent all yesterday talking about how huge the Head of HR's ass is. My plan as a female is, as always, to work hard and one day take his job from him.
posted by Yoko Ono's Advice Column at 6:13 AM on February 27, 2016 [2 favorites]

I'm going to guess that you are young and recently out of school. In a college atmosphere, people are very careful about language and think about things like subtle sexism. In the larger world, that's not the case. I wish people wouldn't use the word "bitch," but a lot of people consider it an acceptable term. You already voiced an objection, and he recognized your objection. If you take it further, you will be viewed as petty. I am not sure exactly what you mean by casual sexism, so I can't comment on that. You would have to give further examples for us to make any suggestions. But I don't see evidence there is anything going on here that wouldn't be perceived as normal in many work places. It is hard enough to get overt, damaging sexism, the kind you would take legal action over, taken seriously in most work places.
I work in an office where people would never say anything sexist or racist, but there is a fair amount of casual ageism (I'm the oldest person there). With my fellow employees in conversation, I call them out on it. This is mostly unsuccessful - there aren't many offenders, but the ones who make ageist remarks just don't get it. With my bosses, I keep a written record of incidents in case something legally actionable happens.
posted by FencingGal at 7:13 AM on February 27, 2016 [3 favorites]

For one time mild offenses, this is catch it in the moment, or let it pass, unless it is a pattern. A formal complaint's standard is "severe and pervasive".

You know what is offensive, he clearly got a clue but Mis-labeled it as politics, so some reactions registered. There is that. Next time say I note your dislike of the politician, could you express it in a way that isn't such a gender polemic?
posted by childofTethys at 7:32 AM on February 27, 2016 [2 favorites]

1. You're pretty sure this will happen again, it makes you uncomfortable, and you're not comfortable addressing this;
2. No one who can address this will if they don't know about it;
3. There will be no major inquisition no matter who you tell, there shouldn't be, but someone will say to him "We've gotten some concerns recently about your remarks and language about women. That's not cool, don't do that"
4. The next time someone complains the person who spoke to him about this instance can say, "hey, we told you and you're still doing it". Otherwise it's "hey don't do that."
5. If you won't tell anyone but will "start a log" of little things he does, HR can't really do anything with that if you finally get fed up in 12 months. "BIG BOSS, did you call Hillary Clinton a bitch a year ago? Three weeks later did you say bros before hoes in a meeting?" That will probably result in a level slightly above "don't do that" but not much more because even though it's a lot of little things, it's still little things. Then, you and everyone else will think HR doesn't care.
1. Either talk to your direct boss to get a read on what she thinks you should do. She might be comfortable going to HR or his boss; or
2. Email or swing past HR and say "hey, BIG BOSS did this and does stuff like it sometimes. It makes me uncomfortable and I'd like him to stop."

Appendix: If HR does do something, they can't and won't tell you what they did with your concern. It sucks, but it's confidential. Same as if you were put on a PIP, it's not something they can blab around to everyone. Since it will just result in "hey don't do that" it may feel on your end like they did nothing. Please don't let that keep you from going to them again a few months from now if he's still doing this.

(Oh and finally, on the confidentiality note, you have no idea if he's already being held accountable for this kind of stuff. If he is, this is the information HR/BIG BIG BOSS need to be aware of to continue to hold him accountable.)
posted by good lorneing at 8:37 AM on February 27, 2016 [1 favorite]

I think your response at the time - an audible pause - was actually a pretty good response. While he may have responded with a comment about politics which was not precisely your point, he was still made aware that what he'd said wasn't acceptable.

I think that continuing to do this every time he says something stupid or offensive would probably be effective and would avoid any negative fallout for you in the workplace.

I will also point out that this is not the last time you'll hear offensive things said in the workplace. No, it isn't a good thing. Figure out your standard response and deploy it but don't let the idiots get to you.

In my much less politically correct workplace, my response is to say "Dude, what the f***?" while looking exasperated. I don't invite conversation, I just say it and move on.
posted by sciencegeek at 9:13 AM on February 27, 2016 [1 favorite]

Seriously, if you are in a position where your Door #4 - quitting and getting a new job - would legitimately be on the table except for reasons cited above, tell someone. It cost money to hire you and train you and it will cost more money to hire and train a replacement, and it's a lot of work on your end too, all because no one did anything about a problem you didn't tell them about.

Look, say you move into an apartment and after a few months one of your windows won't shut completely. You don't tell your landlord, you don't tell your landlord, you don't tell your landlord. One day you get fed up and move: pay a deposit, pay to move your crap, pay for a new place that really isn't as good as your last. Your friends say "hey, why'd you move?" "Ugh, unresponsive landlord," or "Ugh, broken window." Does that make any sense?

No, at this point it isn't really sexism full stop but it's a lack of professionalism. If they might lose employees over something like this if it keeps up then they want to know. Or hey, maybe they are the unresponsive landlord, but for heaven's sake please ask them to fix your window first.
posted by good lorneing at 9:36 AM on February 27, 2016

I would talk directly with the big boss. “I love my job and the work we do, and I hope you understand that I say this because I want our workplace to continue to be the strong and positive place it’s always been: When you called Hillary Clinton a bitch when we were out to lunch, I wasn’t offended by your political leaning (even though we may disagree), I was offended that you would describe a woman as a bitch. The use of that word was offensive and hurtful, and it made me worry about your attitude towards women in general. There are a lot of strong of women in our office, and I know I’m not the only one who would feel insulted by your choice of word to disparage a woman. Again, I love my job and I don’t intend to run to HR with a complaint – but your comment has bothered me since our luncheon, so I felt it was necessary to share my perspective on this. Thank you for listening.”
posted by kbar1 at 9:54 AM on February 27, 2016 [2 favorites]

Once a customer got nasty with my friend when we were working customer service at the phone company. He called her a bitch. She calmly asked, "Is that with a capital B or a lower case b, and which do you use for your mother?"

Now, I'm not suggesting YOU use it on Boss's Boss or anything. But just as I used to give the phone the finger when I got a real asshole on the phone, you can say it to yourself in your head.

Saying anything will likely be a career limiting move. Which sucks, but there it is.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 10:00 AM on February 27, 2016 [5 favorites]

Response by poster: Honestly, I'm really surprised at the consensus that this was an okay use of the word. In my book, "bitch" is a derogatory, sexist term used to degrade and belittle women. If ole Metafilter won't back me up on that, then maybe my view is more extreme than I realized.

Anyway, thanks for all the responses! I will keep quiet on this incident and go with the puzzled pause approach going forward.
posted by too bad you're not me at 10:05 AM on February 27, 2016 [4 favorites]

This may not help, but I wanted to give you a couple of phrases you could possibly use should that happen again:

"Aren't Trump and Cruz bigger bitches?"

"You're a bitch".

Ok, that second one... I'd probably never use to my boss' boss, but that first one, makes me feel better just thinking it, and hopefully makes you feel better and gives you some potential energy for dealing with this bitch.
posted by at at 10:16 AM on February 27, 2016

I agree with you that bitch is a derogatory and sexist term. None of the other respondents were there to hear how he said it, but even still, smart men don't use the word bitch to describe women, even women they hate. Especially at work.

You did a good job of responding in the moment, but I'm sorry to say that this just tells him he has to watch his language around you. He will continue to do this to/in front of the other women on your team. I don't necessarily agree that HR isn't your friend here, but it's true they won't tell you what action was taken. I work for an organization that would absolutely take this incident seriously and I wouldn't hesitate to bring it to HR. If you think you can find an ally in HR, I would certainly address it, but if they talk to him he may assume it was you and single you out for more subtle retaliation.

If you choose not to go that route, I would support the other women on your team to interrupt his future sexist comments if they can. Here's a short 5-minute guide that can provide some good ideas to help with that. Your "Uuhhh..." or a visible eye roll can be good strategies to provide negative feedback for him in a situation where people feel their jobs are in jeopardy if they try to confront him directly. If he enjoys your discomfort and continues to use sexist language, or even escalates, it's time for HR. Definitely start a diary, and check in with other women you trust. If this is the only entry, great!
posted by katschwa at 11:12 AM on February 27, 2016 [1 favorite]

I can hardly believe this Question & (many) Answers is about one phrase spoken one time. It was, of course, totally inappropriate. OTOH, it could have been much worse. He could have said $%^&* or (*&^%$. Sexism is pervasive, as is racism, and many other "isms." Lots of people say awful things, and you are going to hear them. Sometimes, you gotta roll with a punch. You are not there to teach Big Boss the things that his mother was unable to teach him. If this is the least desirable aspect of your employment, you have a sweet situation indeed.

If you work with the BB at all closely, and if he is a bit sensitive, he will edit his speech in your presence. He will think of you as being a bit prissy, and not able to take the tough and tumble. If he is an insensitive and narcissistic bore, nothing will change.

On a 1-10 scale of bad speech, this isn't even a one. Read Claire McCaskill's book.
posted by SemiSalt at 11:14 AM on February 27, 2016

Big boss said a totally wrong, hateful thing, and you shouldn't have to deal with it.

However, here we are. What outcome would make you feel good about this, and what outcome do you think is reasonable?

He knows he screwed up, which is a good start. You can probably train him to stop saying fucked up things around you by continuing to mark them with an "uh" or "not cool, man".

If he is deeply misogynist, you probably can't change that. He's not going to get fired for this, and even if HR sent him to sensitivity training or something, there's a decent chance he'd blame you and possibly retaliate.

If there are other sympathetic people in the office, it might be worth comparing notes to see if all of you together have enough incidents to take to HR / if lots of people are upset about his behavior it'll be harder for him to figure out who complained.
posted by momus_window at 12:59 PM on February 27, 2016

Yeah, I agree there's a lot of wrong in many answers. No matter who Big Boss was talking to, his language was sexist and unprofessional.

I do think your reaction was good. I'm not sure about going to your boss -- if you trust her, you could ask her for coaching on how to handle a future situation like this.

I also suggest reading Ask a Manager. She does much better with workplace questions than Ask MeFi.
posted by bluedaisy at 1:26 PM on February 27, 2016 [3 favorites]

There is no consensus that calling women bitches isn't sexist, jesus god. Even on metafilter this is a bit of a surprise. I think the best tactic is to work out a short, shocked, and clear response for the next time he does it, since nobody calls a woman a bitch exactly once in their life and then never again. "Don't call women bitches" might do it. If the context is the same and he again apologizes for the wrong thing, you might add that "politics has nothing to do with it." (it does, of course, but not the way he would understand it it.) Explaining at any greater length why you don't like it will dilute the effect; doing anything to follow up after the fact will have no good effects.
posted by queenofbithynia at 1:27 PM on February 27, 2016 [2 favorites]

I think your response was fine, and it seems that it did have an impact on him. He did change the subject, even if he misread your response by assuming it was about politics and not about sexism. I don't think you have to do a lot of explaining as to why this language is inappropriate in the workplace; he knows that he's breaking some taboos. You might think about how you want to react if he says similar things in the future, but it doesn't have to be complicated.

I've had a lot of male bosses who were, shall we say, not very enlightened and overly free with their opinions, but I can't recall any of them using the word "bitch" in front of me, even if they did use shit, fuck and asshole. I don't think your expectation is unreasonable. Good luck.
posted by bunderful at 3:43 PM on February 27, 2016

I don't think there's any consensus that this is an OK use of the word or that it's not sexist and demeaning. I refused a date with a guy largely because he used the word in reference to a female celebrity. I think that a lot of us just don't think this is a fight that will bring about the result you want and believe that it's unrealistic to expect a workplace to be free of all offensive words. (I am sure that the few very religious people in my office are offended on a daily basis, but they never complain. I try to watch my language around them, but I do slip up sometimes.)
posted by FencingGal at 4:04 PM on February 27, 2016 [2 favorites]

Another vote that it's an inherently sexist and offensive word.
posted by Joseph Gurl at 4:56 PM on February 27, 2016

I am a woman, and retired manager. I think Donald Trump is a dick. I have said out loud many times that I think Donald Trump is a dick. I can easily visualize myself saying Donald Trump is a dick at a team outing in a restaurant, if the subject came up. I probably would regret saying it (out loud) immediately afterward, simply because politics is not a topic that should be discussed these days at work. Or at a party. Or at Christmas dinner with the extended family. Or in the line at the supermarket.

I would not consider myself sexist for saying Donald Trump is a dick. And if a member of my team reported me to HR for saying Donald Trump is a dick, I would question that person's ability to effectively function in a team setting. Yes, I would. Let this go.
posted by raisingsand at 5:34 PM on February 27, 2016 [2 favorites]

Sexist language on a reoccurring basis can create a hostile work environment, which is most certainly a legal issue. If this behavior and language continues, please do document it and look into better resources.
posted by bluedaisy at 7:00 PM on February 27, 2016

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