Is it OK for male colleague to touch a woman's waist in passing?
March 1, 2018 8:42 PM   Subscribe

Woman working at a standing desk in a busy department, focused on computer ahead. Man comes from somewhere else, puts a hand on her waist for just a second and then moves next to her to look at the screen. His hand on her waist doesn't linger--just a tap.

Easy move, nothing too creepy, but I've NEVER seen men do this to other men. I'm talking about several male colleagues who happen to all fall in a certain age range (40-55). Really young guys don't do this, and really senior guys don't either, but that's my particular situation.

But strange men do this all the time to strange women--in work settings, too, not just dance clubs or other occasions of necessary proximity, where there's a plausible explanation, like jostling on a bus.

Women, what do you think?
Men, what do you think?
posted by flyingfork to Human Relations (102 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Late 20’s American woman- my reaction is “ewww. gross. no.” I would not be ok with this behavior. A tap on the shoulder is fine.
posted by raccoon409 at 8:44 PM on March 1, 2018 [30 favorites]

Creepy and inappropriate. If a man did this to me at work, I'd immediately object. Midsize town Midwestern woman here.
posted by Kalmya at 8:45 PM on March 1, 2018 [15 favorites]

Waist? Dear lord, no. This makes all my internalized-misogyny-good-ol'-boy alarm bells go off.
posted by sevensnowflakes at 8:46 PM on March 1, 2018 [26 favorites]

Not okay. If you want to get the attention of someone focused at their desk you say their name or knock lightly on their desk. That’s it.
posted by joan_holloway at 8:46 PM on March 1, 2018 [17 favorites]

Mid 30s woman in a midsize professional office environment, nope, noooope, never. An audible excuse me is the only appropriate move.
posted by fairlynearlyready at 8:47 PM on March 1, 2018 [8 favorites]

Woman here, doing lots of work on screens with lots of male colleagues who come by to look at what I'm doing. This would immediately elicit a "DUDE what the fuck was that?" (modulate for seniority of offender but trust me, that would very clearly be the gist) from me.
posted by btfreek at 8:49 PM on March 1, 2018 [10 favorites]

posted by bonehead at 8:50 PM on March 1, 2018 [8 favorites]

Late 30s man - oh god no.
posted by The Gaffer at 8:51 PM on March 1, 2018 [8 favorites]

Noooooooooooo. This happened to me. The guy who did it was a creeper/harasser with bad boundaries. I went to HR, they didn't help me, I found another job.
posted by bunderful at 8:51 PM on March 1, 2018 [13 favorites]

Absolutely not. This is terrible.
posted by kdar at 8:53 PM on March 1, 2018 [6 favorites]

Woman working at a standing desk in a busy department, focused on computer ahead. Man comes from somewhere else, puts a hand on her waist for just a second and then moves next to her to look at the screen.

Oh hell no. No nope no not okay.

Woman working at a standing desk in a busy department, focused on computer ahead. Man comes from somewhere else, says "Hey [woman's name], I'm here to look at the thing we're going to look at."

This would be fine.
posted by rtha at 8:55 PM on March 1, 2018 [16 favorites]

I'm in that same age range. I've had this happen to me in the past. Only from people I knew relatively well, though, in a work setting. I never used to mind too much, as it felt like a friendly thing more than anything else, and I didn't feel like it was a way to catch someone's attention, more a way to clear space for them to move next to you.

As time went on, though, I've come to feel that it's both creepy and weird. Friendly or not, consciously or not, I think of it like a power move - touching you to force you to move away from the spot you were in, so they can claim it from you. I started asking people not to touch me like that, and haven't had it happen in years now.
posted by gemmy at 8:56 PM on March 1, 2018 [17 favorites]

Mid-40s male. Absolutely not OK.
posted by Calvin and the Duplicators at 9:01 PM on March 1, 2018 [5 favorites]

I threw up a little in my mouth.
posted by bendy at 9:02 PM on March 1, 2018 [19 favorites]

There's no plausible reason not to tap their shoulder, if they feel physical contact is needed because the other person is so deep in concentration and waving a hand in front of the person's face is rude. A waist touch is intimate because it is an intimate area. Touching there in a club/social setting is a flirting move.

Anyone who's done that to me has been making a move. I would only do that to someone I was flirting with, or if I actually stumbled and fell onto them, and then I would be mortified and apologise immediately.
posted by dorothyisunderwood at 9:02 PM on March 1, 2018 [17 favorites]

Nope, nope, nopity-nope. I've worked in some very confined spaces, but nope.
"Excuse me/Pardon"
"Behind you!" in crowded busy areas from time working in a kitchen.
Tap on desk next to person.
Briefest tap on the shoulder if none of the above get their attention.
posted by Gotanda at 9:06 PM on March 1, 2018 [2 favorites]

I, a 20-something woman, work construction. We touch each other *firmly* (masculine-ly?) on the shoulder or upper back occasionally for safety reasons, such as passing behind someone in a noisy environment. NEVER been touched on the waist and it would elicit a serious verbal reprimand from me if it happened.
posted by cnidaria at 9:17 PM on March 1, 2018 [33 favorites]


It's a show of dominance or control for anyone not in an intimate affectionate relationship to sidle up and touch another from behind.
posted by jbenben at 9:22 PM on March 1, 2018 [18 favorites]

Woman - 28
Hell to the nope.

Casual touching of women like this feels like a dominating power move. They feel they can just adjust and physically invade women's spaces unlike those of "fellow men." (I also had a creepy teacher that did this in art class to only teen girls.)

Casual non-required touching of coworkers in general is a nope for me beyond a handshake but waist is so fucking creepy.
posted by Crystalinne at 9:22 PM on March 1, 2018 [12 favorites]

My husband, 30, works in IT
"Uhhh.. hell no."
posted by Crystalinne at 9:25 PM on March 1, 2018 [5 favorites]

Nope. Not okay. Inappropriate as can be. I’m an early 30s woman.
posted by sucre at 9:27 PM on March 1, 2018 [4 favorites]

Canadian male, 33.

Absolutely not.
posted by wats at 9:28 PM on March 1, 2018 [5 favorites]

Late 40s man; manager. Would expect to end up in a room with my boss or my group's HR person if I did that. Wouldn't tolerate it if I spotted it, even if the woman involved didn't say anything in the moment. Not saying I'd make a scene right there, but I'd look for an opening that day.

Had a talk with a friend about this not too long ago. She's not based in my office, so when she's in town we usually exchange a quick hug on first greeting of the week. I was around when a colleague gave her a hug under the same circumstances and she later said it made her uncomfortable because there's not a personal friendship there. Even though he sort of paused before entering her space, she said she felt compelled to let him because who wants to be the one to say, "no thank you" to a respected, popular manager? We both agreed he'd probably be understanding himself if he sensed someone was uncomfortable, but that there's usually an audience around those sorts of interactions, and she explained to me that she feels a lot of pressure, as a woman, to not come off as "difficult" or "touchy."

We kind of landed on:

This is all complicated, there's good touch and bad touch, the question of consent is pretty fraught, and people are involved so there's a lot of variation in capacity to distinguish or to understand/respect boundaries. Probably best to just keep any sort of intimate touching off the table in the workplace. Sorry if people feel deprived, but not sorry.
posted by mph at 9:32 PM on March 1, 2018 [8 favorites]

Early 40s woman, and: Oh, hell no. I would totally sympathize with someone else choosing not to make a thing about it, because misogyny is a thing and the patriarchy is a thing and not all objections to those things are worthwhile, but that is a "Oh hell no" move.
posted by lazuli at 9:36 PM on March 1, 2018 [10 favorites]

Mid thirties woman in a major US Metro area.

If I was deep in thought and someone touched my midsection I’d likely punch them reflexively. If I was having a conversation with a colleague and they touched my midsection, I’d probably punch them reflexively.

If I were able to get a grip on myself before letting a punch fly, maybe I’d just awkwardly place my hand on their midsection while making super awkward eye contact and saying ‘if you ever touch me again, you will have such big problems.’

I’m probably not a role model, but being touched at work unless someone is pushing me away from an oncoming bus, or shaking my hand....I’m on team hell no.
posted by bilabial at 9:39 PM on March 1, 2018 [17 favorites]

A male colleague touched my shoulder in passing the other day and I was a bit creeped out by it. If someone touched me on the waist I'd have to break their wrist.
posted by runcibleshaw at 9:41 PM on March 1, 2018 [7 favorites]

Jesus fucking Christ, no. I’m a female construction professional, and if someone did that to me either in my office or in the field, I’d be appalled and I’d warn them. Once. I’d go straight to HR if it happened a second time, and I 100% believe that HR would have my back.

Having said that, I’m having a hard time even imagining that someone would go that at work.
posted by halogen at 9:44 PM on March 1, 2018 [6 favorites]

Knee-jerk reaction resulting from years of being socialized to crave being touched by men -- oh, I like being touched on the waist

More thought out reaction -- why the fuck is your hand tapping my waist, colleague

Additionally more thought out reaction -- I touch my male colleagues on their arms a lot, I need to stop doing that
posted by Hermione Granger at 9:45 PM on March 1, 2018 [13 favorites]

40-year-old guy who works in a downtown office, and this is 100% not a thing I've ever seen done by anyone my age or younger, and it would not be acceptable at all in any workplace related circumstance.

Anecdotally, I've noticed that men roughly 60 or above pull this weird grabby stuff all the time, and not just with women. (NOTE: This is not to in any way downgrade the seriousness of women's experiences of unwelcome physical contact, just my own corroborating observations.) When I worked retail in my 20s, older male customers would routinely get my attention by coming up behind me and grabbing my shoulder or upper arm in a tight pincer-grip that never failed to light up my fight-or-flight reflex. It's a creepy as hell physical dominance play for men of a certain generation, and I have no doubt that women get it from them even worse.
posted by Strange Interlude at 9:49 PM on March 1, 2018 [25 favorites]

So fucking creepy. If someone did this to me, there's a strong chance they'd get a reflex elbow to the ribs. I'm cringing just thinking about it.

Even shoulder touching is mostly inappropriate in the workplace, where people should use their words. (But fair in loud places like concerts or bars where you can't reasonably get someone's attention by simply talking to them.) Maybe a shoulder tap is fine if your coworker has headphones on and you physically can't get in their line of sight.
posted by ktkt at 9:54 PM on March 1, 2018 [2 favorites]

Professional woman about to hit 40. Do not touch me if you want that hand back.
posted by Toddles at 10:13 PM on March 1, 2018 [9 favorites]

Mid 30s UK male here, absolutely not, good lord. In a relatively relaxed industry I have tapped and been tapped on upper arm or shoulders by people of both genders in cases where we're very good friends and of similar age and seniority without thinking twice, but in the other handed I've been weirded out by people with authority or seniority over me doing just that same thing, and I would never do it to people junior to me. But on the hips? Argh, no, that's just so intuitively gross. To be honest even outside of work with good friends that jangles me.

Still processing: recently a colleague solidly my senior, with whom I have a good relationship, spotted I'd just had my hair clipped very short at the back, and in a delighted and sort of maternal way more or less snuck up on me and ran her hand up the back of my head to get that sort of fuzzy felt feeling you do from it. I got a full on ASMR jolt and am still processing some baffled mix of shock at how technically massively inappropriate it was, yet awe at it having seemed so genuine and not really felt creepy... Very, very weird one.

But hips, just absolutely no, would be uncomfortable even seeing this.
posted by ominous_paws at 10:18 PM on March 1, 2018 [7 favorites]

Absolutely not. For reference, I'm a woman, in my late 30s, working in a majority-male tech company in Europe. Cheek kisses are normal here, so I put up with those; and I have a couple of older male colleagues who will occasionally pat me on the shoulder, which I'm okay with. But the idea of anyone touching my waist besides my partner gives me the creeps. It would be the same for my hair, too; it's just way too intimate.
posted by neushoorn at 10:21 PM on March 1, 2018 [2 favorites]

A colleague did this to me ten years ago and I am still shuddering. So, no. Not okay.
posted by mochapickle at 10:29 PM on March 1, 2018 [2 favorites]

There are two reasons that someone I'm not dating might touch my waist: one, to express interest, or two, to demonstrate power and dominance. Neither have a place in a work environment. (The second one has no place in my life at all, and, frankly for the first - better to talk first).

If someone is in your way and not listening to you saying, "Excuse me," I would find touching their arm or shoulder to be perfectly acceptable. Anything more than that, no. It creeps me out just thinking about it.
posted by dancing_angel at 10:29 PM on March 1, 2018 [4 favorites]

If he wouldn't do it to other men as well, it's weird.
posted by gloriouslyincandescent at 10:35 PM on March 1, 2018 [6 favorites]

I get and agree with gloriously's broader point, but to be honest it would still be inappropriate if he did do that.
posted by ominous_paws at 10:40 PM on March 1, 2018 [2 favorites]

Kudos to the woman for having the physical restraint to keep from reflexively elbowing this guy in the face. I've done this while on public transportation as per your example - elbowed a dude in the face after being touched on the waist in a packed train - and would do it again as needed. In an office setting hopefully I'd have the self control to just push the guy away and tell him that's unacceptable - I hope the woman in your question feels comfortable enough and supported in her office to speak up or take this to HR and expect to be listened to.
posted by Mizu at 11:00 PM on March 1, 2018 [4 favorites]

40 year old woman and I fucking hate this. Reading this post made me physically recoil. Ugh.
posted by lunasol at 11:21 PM on March 1, 2018 [4 favorites]

so much nope. also I really hate those guys that in a crowded club or bar think it's ok to just try to grab and move you out of their way if it's crowded. We have words for this and they are "excuse me"
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 11:35 PM on March 1, 2018 [6 favorites]

Mid 50s man: not OK. Fuck off with the Uncle Touchy shit.
posted by flabdablet at 11:53 PM on March 1, 2018 [7 favorites]

Early 40s male. I've worked in the same office with many of the same people for 14 years, and even a shoulder tap would be considered weird and uncomfortable.

posted by Graygorey at 12:00 AM on March 2, 2018 [3 favorites]

NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO (I'm a mid 30s woman, and I've been sexually harassed at work, and this is exactly the kind of thing he would do.)
posted by Ziggy500 at 2:37 AM on March 2, 2018 [4 favorites]

I don’t think this has ever happened to me at work but if it did I’d feel really unhappy about it. There are very few reasons my coworkers need to be touching me, ever, other than an introductory handshake. (I’m a woman in my late thirties, fwiw.)
posted by Stacey at 3:00 AM on March 2, 2018 [3 favorites]

Late 40s male here. Absolutely not. The only woman I would ever even consider doing something like that with would be my wife. If I tried that at work, even with women I knew well, it would cause serious problems.
posted by Roger Pittman at 3:12 AM on March 2, 2018 [3 favorites]

Nope. I know women who would be uncomfortable with someone doing that to them on a DATE.
posted by Polychrome at 3:14 AM on March 2, 2018 [4 favorites]

Man, 50s, US, small academic department that’s pretty close knit. We touch each other approximately never except when moving heavy things or brushing past each other in a tight hallway. There is sometimes hand-shaking.

About a decade ago we had a very handsy woman as a temp hire, and I had to ask, then tell her not to touch me for any reason. It was seriously upsetting, and it was definitely just a “hey, how are you doing?” thing, not any kind of solicitation. I’m pretty touch-averse, except with very close friends and family, but I think anyone in my college (woman or man) would be setting up a grievance for a touch on the waist.
posted by GenjiandProust at 3:27 AM on March 2, 2018 [6 favorites]

Steps for getting someone’s attention at work when they’re focused on their screen:
-Say “hey” and/or their name
-If they have headphones in (common in Cubeland) or don’t respond, light knock on the desk
-If that doesn’t work, heavy knock on their desk
-If that doesn’t work, tap their shoulder and immediately apologize for startling them when they jump
posted by DoubleLune at 3:50 AM on March 2, 2018 [1 favorite]

I've somehow worked in professional office settings for two decades and have managed to never touch a co-worker on any part of their body. It's...not hard? Any kind of touching in an office setting strikes me as weird and creepy. (I've been incredibly lucky that the people I work with seem to feel similar and I've never been touched since I left retail and food service. I hugged a colleague the day after the election, but that was a mutual international-sign-for-want-a-hug? situation.)
posted by soren_lorensen at 4:33 AM on March 2, 2018 [6 favorites]

Female, late 50s. Completely not OK at work. However, when men my age do this in a social situation, I read it as either flirtatious or protective in intention, not dominating. It feels to me like something a man would do to sort of guide a woman in a crowded room. This probably sounds ludicrous to younger people, but the world was very different when we were growing up. In fact, the idea that men were supposed to protect women is an aspect of male/female relations under the old sexism that people seem to forget about. That’s why I thought Mad Men was ludicrous. I’m not saying bad stuff didn’t happen, but decent men did not straight up harass women. Emphasis on decent.
posted by FencingGal at 4:42 AM on March 2, 2018 [4 favorites]

Adding - only OK in social situations with men who know the woman, never with strangers.
posted by FencingGal at 4:44 AM on March 2, 2018 [1 favorite]

American male, 46, office worker -- never ever.
posted by M.C. Lo-Carb! at 4:46 AM on March 2, 2018 [3 favorites]

The only acceptable physical touching in a workplace setting is a handshake (or alternative thereof for those who don't/can't shake hands).
posted by General Malaise at 5:13 AM on March 2, 2018 [2 favorites]

strange men do this all the time

Do they? Do they really? In 30+ years, I can't think of a single instance where touching on the waist is not either flirtatious or creepy (and yes, your public transportation example is one of the many ways women are groped on transit; it's not welcome there either). Actually no, I can think of one situation where this might be appropriate: if the toucher were the touchee's doctor or nurse and had explicitly said, "I'm going to examine your belly now."

Outside of that very specific situation, if I witnessed this happening, I would assume that either they are dating or the man is a creeper. Or both.
posted by basalganglia at 5:22 AM on March 2, 2018 [6 favorites]

I feel bad that you even have to ask this question.
posted by kevinbelt at 5:41 AM on March 2, 2018 [10 favorites]

Lady, 45. This used to be a thing early in my office-dwelling career (see also: older men in the office giving impromptu shoulder massages) but it’s faded out and I can’t tell you when it happened to me last.

But it’s not ok and should not be tolerated.
posted by kimberussell at 6:02 AM on March 2, 2018 [8 favorites]

Calling Miss Manners!
From Quora: "On what side should a lady stand next to her man...?"
The answers were from various cultures (China, Nigeria) and spoke about the etiquette for protecting the lady from traffic, splashed mud, the dangers lurking in alleys... also night soil thrown from upper story windows (are there cities in the world that still do not have plumbing requirements?)
"This arose from the days when a gentleman would escort a woman by offering his left arm. This left his right arm free (the sword arm) in the event of danger."

So unless your coworker is an overy-mannered gentleman wearing his trusty sword... no, he does not need to gently shift you out of his way. Touching in a workplace is only appropriate if the factory is on fire and you are in danger of swooning.
However, he may tip his hat as you walk by while outdoors.
posted by TrishaU at 6:10 AM on March 2, 2018 [4 favorites]

That is a straight-up creeper move and at least in the places I have worked would be considered extremely inappropriate. I work in a typical American corporate kind of office, and here I would expect this to lead immediately to an HR discussion and a write-up if it was reported.

People do occasionally touch on the shoulder or even upper back, like right where the shoulder turns into back, not lower where it is more intimate, and never on the waist or lower back. (Or rather, never publicly -- I'm sure that gross people do this in private when they think there is someone vulnerable and that they can get away with it, but they know not to do it when others can see.)
posted by Dip Flash at 6:30 AM on March 2, 2018 [2 favorites]

Not rage-inducing in my case but still a nope.

If both parties are personal friends indulging in a mutual sidehug, that's one thing, but it doesn't sound like that's the case.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 6:45 AM on March 2, 2018

On the entirely too long list, this is one of the reasons I left IT in the early 2ks. AFAB, mid/late 30s.
posted by I'm Not Even Supposed To Be Here Today! at 6:48 AM on March 2, 2018 [1 favorite]

No you don't need to tolerate this. Shift you body to the opposite side slightly (like make a side step, this should be enough.
I have a colleague who did this and also the shoulder massage thing. He is in his mid-30s I am mid-50s. I disliked it excessively, as I prefer not to be touched. I first did the mving myx body away slightly when he touched my waist, after that he started the shoulder massage thing. So i asked him not to, which he respects but he was genuinly puzzled and hurt, he only meant to be friendly.
I explained it in a friendly tone that I prefer not to be touched or hugged by strangers, colleges or even by friends (my friends know and respect my preference). I do shake hands, in a professional context and also with acquaintances.
posted by 15L06 at 7:03 AM on March 2, 2018 [1 favorite]

Mid-30s woman in creative environment in major metro area. This actually doesn't strike me as odd at all and maybe it's because I've always worked in super-informal creative environments where men are as likely to do it to other men as to women.

Also is it possible that it was a mistake? Perhaps the man was thrown off-balance and was trying to right himself?

Regardless of the man's intentions, it is totally okay to be uncomfortable with this and to speak up if it's something you would like recognized and resolved.
posted by greta simone at 7:23 AM on March 2, 2018 [2 favorites]

Reading this instinctively made me do that thing that cats do when they don't want to be touched.

Unacceptable in an office, and still pretty damn rude elsewhere. There are many non-touchy ways to communicate.
posted by Space Kitty at 7:25 AM on March 2, 2018 [3 favorites]

No. Touch her shoulder or arm if you need to. Anything on the torso below the shoulder is a no.
posted by Anne Neville at 7:50 AM on March 2, 2018 [1 favorite]

I (female) have male coworkers with whom I'm on such good and friendly terms that sometimes we greet each other with full-on, seconds-long hugs.

I'd STILL be weirded out if one of them did what you described. If my guy friends that I've known for decades did that, it would be strange. If my girlfriends did that it would ... not be unacceptable but certainly still out of the ordinary.

Tap my shoulder, or arm, or upper back, even. Intentionally touching my lower back / waist is just weird to me, unless they are meaning to be flirty / romantic / sexual. Or if your'e my mom, I guess.
posted by miss_kitty_fantastico at 7:54 AM on March 2, 2018 [1 favorite]

Rule of thumb is, would you do it to a male coworker? That goes for touch, comment, compliment, question, etc.
posted by Neeuq Nus at 7:56 AM on March 2, 2018 [3 favorites]

Nope to the hell no squared.

No you don't need to tolerate this. Shift you body to the opposite side slightly (like make a side step, this should be enough.

This is a power play. I might reflexively startle away or shy off at first, but I'd immediately use my words to indicate that it wasn't acceptable. Even if it was only "Don't touch me!"* Power play--if you don't object, he's won. Don't let him win.

* I almost typed "Excuse me!!" But only if you immediately follow that by "Just what do you think you're doing?!?!" Because YOU have nothing to apologize for. Never concede your power.
posted by BlueHorse at 7:56 AM on March 2, 2018 [4 favorites]

Late 40s woman here. I'm deaf, so touching my shoulder is about the only way to get my attention without peeling me off of the ceiling. However, I make a point of telling people "shoulder good for reasons." Anything else, anywhere else, nope.
posted by Qex Rodriguez at 7:59 AM on March 2, 2018 [8 favorites]

Outside of that very specific situation, if I witnessed this happening, I would assume that either they are dating or the man is a creeper. Or both.

Oh yeah, that would definitely be a good way to start the office gossip rumor mill about two coworkers who are hooking up. Unless the woman started protesting loud and long to anyone who would listen, her reputation would be affected negatively, and he would be pegged as both unprofessional and as a creeper, at least by other women in the office.

Even in settings where I've had to get someone's attention by touching their shoulder (say they're wearing headphones, with their back to me), I've always immediately apologized for touching them - "sorry, you didn't hear me and I couldn't get your attention".

(mph - I think your female colleague needs to adopt a stance of immediately and a tad forcefully extending a handshake to the colleague who made the unwelcome hug. A preemptive strike, if you will. Although, I could see the other guy's pov, if you and female colleague had just completed a greeting/hug, and then he was standing there wondering if a hug was the more appropriate greeting and he didn't want to offend her. I think she's going to need to take the lead in the next encounter. If you happen to be there, let the two of them greet first so that a handshake is less awkward between them, and the two of you can hug afterward if you wish.)
posted by vignettist at 8:01 AM on March 2, 2018 [1 favorite]

Both times this has happened to me it seemed perfectly fine and natural at the time and given the context, but in retrospect I remember these instances quite clearly for something innocuous, and both instances were guys who would later hit on me. So I vote not ok.
posted by windykites at 8:09 AM on March 2, 2018 [1 favorite]

Female, mid-30's, and apparently I'm a huge outlier because a quick tap on the waist doesn't bother me in a context where a quick tap on the shoulder would also make sense, such as when someone is approaching/passing from behind or trying to get my attention in a loud/crowded room. I don't generally do this to male colleagues just because I don't want them to misread anything, but I don't think much of it if they do it to me so long as it's not part of a larger pattern of creepy behavior.

My comfort with this may come from spending a lot of time in social groups (dancers, farmers, outdoor recreation enthusiasts) and work environments (higher ed and libraries) that are more familial and touch-friendly than most.
posted by xylothek at 8:18 AM on March 2, 2018 [2 favorites]

30s male, not okay. Basically the only time I'll touch someone at a work-ish event is if we're in a loud and/or crowded room and I need to get by (think work happy hour or convention) and even then it's a touch on the shoulder for men or women.
posted by craven_morhead at 8:34 AM on March 2, 2018

38, male, Canadian. Not okay. Unless we're shaking hands because we just met, I don't touch my coworkers at all. Even a tap on the shoulder is grossly inappropriate; auditory or visual signals only. But from what I understand, we Canadians are far less comfortable with casual physical contact than Americans are, and there are very few circumstances where it's considered socially acceptable to touch anyone you aren't on intimate terms with.
posted by Fish Sauce at 8:38 AM on March 2, 2018 [1 favorite]

Early 40's Canadian man (who lived in the US from 0-25) (which is in your range of 40-55), and like everyone else, definitely not. I might tap a fellow man on the shoulder to get their attention, but even that feels really unlikely. I would go well out of my way to not initiate touch with a female coworker.

In the situation described, I'd either approach from the front of the desk (assuming there isn't a high wall preventing eye contact), or to the side (1-2 feet away) and reach my arm forward so it's in the peripheral vision of the person I'm tring to get the attention of and wave a bit. Perhaps knock on the desk surface.

Most of my co-workers in my office area are male 35-45, with an outlier of 60+. I've never seen any of them do anything like that and would be shocked if I did.

100% no to touching of a co-worker's waist regardless of genders. I find it literally incredible that someone in this day and age doesn't know that they shouldn't do that. If there's actually multiple men doing this in a work setting something seems really sick with that environment.
posted by nobeagle at 8:38 AM on March 2, 2018 [2 favorites]

No, it's creepy af. Just like the inner elbow caress.

Men don't do this to other men. It's a power play that forces a quick intimacy. But to what ends? I've seen it used generically, to assert social dominance. Particularly, to move you aside and obtain space. A few times, by younger men, to win their way into a new social circle or isolate someone in a group so they can make a creepy sexual overture. Once or twice the dude was copping a feel.

Also there's no theoretical "men" and "women." There's this guy, and you, and you don't like it. That's reason enough to shut him down.

Only okay with friends or dates when you both like it.
posted by fritillary at 8:40 AM on March 2, 2018

I'm a male in my mid-40's who's worked in retail and office environments, and this makes my skin crawl. It's 100% creeper behavior in any context* and not something any well-socialized person would do anywhere. It's been a long time since I worked anywhere with formal sexual harassment training, but I have a fuzzy recollection that "casually touching your coworkers" is an glaringly obvious example of grossly inappropriate behavior. Like, the sort of thing where you're sitting there watching a cheesy training video in the break room rolling your eyes and asking your new coworkers "Who in the world would actually do something like that?"
other occasions of necessary proximity, where there's a plausible explanation, like jostling on a bus.
Nope, sorry, "Oops we went over a bump and I had to grab a random stranger's waist" is 100% gross, creepy, and inappropriate too.

*Except maaaaybe if you're flirting with the person doing the touching and have communicated consent to your own satisfaction? Which would definitely not be appropriate in the workplace either.
posted by Funeral march of an old jawbone at 8:57 AM on March 2, 2018 [3 favorites]

Midwestern mid-30's woman.

I don't tolerate surprise shoulder touches. I say "don't touch me!" I've had people think I'm sunburnt due to the force I say that.

I can't even imagine how I'd react if someone touched my waist.
posted by RainyJay at 9:17 AM on March 2, 2018

Absolutely not.
posted by spindrifter at 9:20 AM on March 2, 2018

I near the age range of the guy in question, have worked with guys that age all my life and the answer is Nope this is in no way appropriate. My very socially oblivious husband's response was "Ewww", even he knows it's not OK in a work environment & is totally a flirting move.
posted by wwax at 9:26 AM on March 2, 2018 [2 favorites]

Woman, 63.

I agree that such a touch is inappropriate in a work setting and one would have to be a fool to do That said, for most of my life casual, non-sexual touching among coworkers was just not a big deal—work settings included bars/restaurants and social services when I was in my 20s, followed by about 20 years in academic settings, city government, and consulting. Sexual touching was never OK and the lack of universal agreement on where one stopped and the other began sometimes created problems. But as FencingGal mentioned, decent men (and women)—of which there were plenty—didn't behave like the characters on Mad Men.

(Speaking of my experiences only, of course, not claiming everyone saw the world through the same lens.)

Cultural norms re touching have changed considerably in the past decade or so and thanks to what I've learned here, I am far less likely to casually touch other people. Nonetheless, I was floored last year by an Ask concerning the behavior of a week-long house guest, who touched the residing toddler's ears and hair. I couldn't imagine spending a week with a toddler and NOT touching them. Iirc, I was in the minority, i.e., most comments agreed the behavior was "creepy". I'm not entirely convinced this total hands-off approach is a good thing, given that so many people live alone and are seldom touched by another human—especially worried about how this affects elderly people.
posted by she's not there at 9:30 AM on March 2, 2018 [13 favorites]

Woman, 49, more than 20 years as academic staff at a large university. No one touches me at work, ever, thank god.
posted by Squeak Attack at 10:34 AM on March 2, 2018

Picture the same guy doing that to another guy. Yep, that's weird. He's doing it to show dominance and as a subtle (gross) flirtation. He, of course, would never admit this. Absolutely inappropriate.
posted by hydra77 at 10:49 AM on March 2, 2018 [1 favorite]

Absolutely not OK.
posted by amaire at 11:33 AM on March 2, 2018

Nope. Touching coworkers in ANY way unless welcomed by the other party is unwelcome.

You'll have extenuating circumstances - e.g., I have certain coworkers who will greet me with a hug - but that was because they were glad I was back from surgery after being out a month, or I'm friends with them outside of the office, etc.

Normal everyday office interaction? Handshake, at most, when appropriate.

(43/M, IT/Office worker)
posted by mrbill at 12:12 PM on March 2, 2018

This is very much a generational (and regional, at least in the US) thing. But yes, anyone who isn't completely clueless should know by now that touching other people at all is generally frowned upon except among people who already know each other and know it is allowed in their group or in certain very crowded and loud situations where it is done out of necessity given the only other option is to hope space to move eventually opens up.(which it never does)

In many ways, this change is a good thing in that it gives creepers less space to "hide." However, one should keep in mind that for people over about 35-40 from certain places it can be simple habit.

Like it's never been OK for people to just shove each other out of the way, but there was a time when a light touch to indicate "hey can you move a bit that way" (akin to how a good rider signals a horse which way to go, which may actually be one reason why it used to not seem so weird) was totally normal and not at all ambiguous in most cases, especially when the recipient appears to be concentrating on something or talking on the phone or whatever.

Point is that if someone doesn't display other signs of being a jackass and they're 35-40+, they aren't actually pushing you, and it has only happened in situations where you'd expect an "excuse me," there's a decent chance it's just how they were socialized and a simple "please don't do that" will keep it from happening again since it's coming from a combination of obliviousness to cultural changes and attempting to be less intrusive than they might otherwise be. The irony here being that these days people are a lot more likely to be distracted by the touch than they are a quick/quiet "excuse me."
posted by wierdo at 12:57 PM on March 2, 2018 [2 favorites]

This used to be a thing early in my office-dwelling career (see also: older men in the office giving impromptu shoulder massages) but it’s faded out and I can’t tell you when it happened to me last.

Came to say this. It used to be common in my North American workplace until about 15 years ago, but now it doesn't happen anymore. Still, I'd classify it as a warning sign of possible old-fashioned and paternalistic attitudes rather than a deliberate attempt to dominate (unless other behaviours are present).

Not cool either way, of course.
posted by rpfields at 1:50 PM on March 2, 2018 [2 favorites]

arg! no! Not OK!

(late thirties woman here).

Your question really struck me because of something that happened this morning - i am staying at a hotel (in the uk) and this morning, an older, talkative, very friendly american man opened a door for me, then i went ahead of him in the queue for breakfast and then ... touched a waitress on the arm and me on the shoulder while we were all getting breakfast (and working!) at 6.45 am. I flinched and the waitress did too and we both physically made clear this was not ok. I was just thinking about how even just a few years ago I put up with this all the time, but now, hopefully it's becoming clear it's not ok. He came across as very paternalistic and friendly and chatty but I really just wanted to say to him that there is NEVER any need to TOUCH someone who you don't know and/or who is working. Maybe if I see him tomorrow I will. Of course it was worse for the waitress.

So no, not OK and I hope it continues to become less OK.
posted by sedimentary_deer at 2:46 PM on March 2, 2018 [2 favorites]

Outlier here, but I had an older female colleague just yesterday give me a side hug (squeeze around the waist with her arm) after finishing an intense day and job well done. I though it was a nice nonverbal way of saying "we did well, I value you as a colleague" and found it comforting. A side tap from a male colleague I'd had no other creepiness from would be OK to me. If my sleeze radar had gone off from gross comments in the past Id have a problem and likely flinch.

Early 30s female in Australian regional town who has a lot of 45+ colleagues from diverse backgrounds.

Just as an aside, Australian PMs have done this to male and female royalty:
posted by hotcoroner at 3:02 PM on March 2, 2018 [1 favorite]

Mid-40s woman in the US here: I would be extremely unhappy if a male coworker touched my waist. (Frankly, I'd be a little weirded out if ANY coworker did that -- it's intrusive, and there's really no need to touch me around the waist at all, ever.)
posted by sarcasticah at 3:33 PM on March 2, 2018

Woman, mid forties, Russian-American. Men do this to me all the time and suspect my petite and stereotypically feminine appearance makes me a particularly appealing target.

The last time it happened I was in an emergency room with my father. The ER doctor, male, mid to late forties, touched my waist (and lingered on it) as we were discussing whether my father was going to die or not.
posted by rada at 4:13 PM on March 2, 2018 [2 favorites]

Not ok. I do work with both latin Americans and Europeans team members often and their concept of personal space is tighter than mine (American), but they don't touch you aside from a handshake... I think I've encountered a shoulder clasp for a job well done once? High fives are distributed broadly, and I've hugged close colleagues (with their permission) when they had deaths in the family or a traumatic event. It doesn't take much to ask for consent....

Then again I work in a place where we im folks sitting next to us if they have headphones on, or maybe in desperation wave at their screen rather than startle them with a touch.
posted by larthegreat at 4:50 PM on March 2, 2018

Woman, 39, Canada.

In general, my male colleagues (of 6+ years) have AT MOST touched my shoulder or upper arm, and that very rarely and more recently (that is, after we have an established, friendly relationship), and in the context of expressing concern when I was experiencing a personal difficulty.

I also have a few very close male friends (with whom I hug, exchange expressions of (platonic) love, discuss very intimate things) and they would never and have never touched me in this way and I would find it uncomfortable if they did. I would definitely not want someone I was not in a committed, romantic relationship touching me like that.

In general, touching other people in any way without their permission really is inappropriate and best avoided in the workplace as people have varying boundaries. Either ask or err on the side of caution and don't touch.

If men are doing this without permission to women, then they shouldn't be. The fact that it's done does not make it appropriate. I do think it used to be tolerated more-- but that doesn't mean people weren't uncomfortable with it, just uncomfortable saying no.
posted by thatminx at 5:39 PM on March 2, 2018

OP here—thanks for the insight. It’s taken my breath away. I’m F, early thirties.

Incidentally the work setting is an emergency department (Rada’s comment) and my career depends heavily on waist tapping males to want to teach me—and there are a million ways to “forget” to bring me in to a teaching opportunity or ice me out in ways that can’t be defined, so I’m scared to make a stand. Hangs head in shame as I give up my feminist credential.
posted by flyingfork at 8:08 PM on March 2, 2018 [1 favorite]

Hangs head in shame as I give up my feminist credential.

I'm really sorry you have to deal with this.

Nobody can tell you how to feel or define you as feminist or not just because it's not safe for you to push back against people with a lot of power over you. You're in a bad position and you reasonably perceive risk if you assert boundaries.

The one suggestion I'd make is that you ask around about your HR department's reputation. If a few other women you trust have had good experiences, you might be able to speak to someone in confidence through an open door policy. That's risky, too. Some HR departments are ineffectual, and some are actively harmful, but it's possibly less risky than a direct confrontation with an influential superior, and some HR departments wisely realize the behavior you're seeing isn't sustainable and is, in fact, dangerous to businesses. So if you have a network of women who see things similarly to you, maybe they can help you decide if it's safe to approach HR.
posted by mph at 9:00 PM on March 2, 2018 [6 favorites]

No, not okay.

Late 30s guy (US) working in small office, and occasionally outdoor work, with three women for five years: Never had need to touch a waist yet.
posted by slab_lizard at 9:12 PM on March 2, 2018

Hangs head in shame as I give up my feminist credential.

If you're a dude and you're not speaking up, you lose any feminist credential you may have had. If you're a woman, don't think of it in this black-and-white way. You have serious things to lose for speaking up, and you're smart and experienced enough to make a risk-benefit analysis to determine if speaking up is actually what's most likely to help you and other women in the office.
posted by lazuli at 9:19 PM on March 2, 2018 [6 favorites]

There are certain zones of the body that modern western society reserves for intimate touch. The waist is definitely one of those. It's not a "friendly" place to touch anyone - it signals some sense of intimate access, either fueled by superior power or by a desire for that access. That's one reason it's gross- though not the only reason. I tend to agree that just about all touching isn't needed in most workplaces, but there's a significant difference even between a touch on the shoulder, and a touch on the waist. Ugh.
posted by Miko at 9:55 PM on March 2, 2018 [1 favorite]

Hangs head in shame as I give up my feminist credential.

I was already going to tell you not to feel bad here, that you are being crushed by the patriarchy and should not feel ashamed of that. Then I read your ask history real quick.

It is not your fault this is happening. If there could be serious consequences if you spoke up— which it sounds like there definitely could be— you are not obligated to do so here and now. You need to do what’s right for you, balance your needs. Our general negative reaction is not a judgment of you.
posted by RainyJay at 4:42 AM on March 3, 2018 [7 favorites]

Hangs head in shame as I give up my feminist credential

Nononono. That's not how it goes. You are operating within the system. You are doing what you can to advance yourself. Then, when you get your power and sway (and you will) then you can turn around and say "Hey, don't touch me. Don't touch her. Not cool." I'm sorry you don't have someone there who can advocate for you. If I and my mouth were working with you, I would. But don't kick yourself.
posted by kimberussell at 6:54 AM on March 3, 2018 [7 favorites]

my career depends heavily on waist tapping males to want to teach me—and there are a million ways to “forget” to bring me in to a teaching opportunity or ice me out in ways that can’t be defined, so I’m scared to make a stand.

There are lots of ways to deal with this that are not straightforward and preserve the male ego and the relationship. They are less guaranteed to work, but worth trying IMO. For instance, one suggestion I've seen on the green (for a different body party, maybe the shoulder?) is to gasp as if with pain and say "Oh please could you not touch my waist? I have workout soreness/ovarian cysts, a painful zit right there/horrible cramps/very ticklish" etc.

Personally I startle very easily and when people touch me unexpectedly I tend to freak out. If you yell "Holy shit!!!" and have to breathe deeply a few seconds to get back to normal, most people will try to approach you differently. (However in high school, assholes would use this for fun). You don't have to have an exaggerated reaction, though, you can say "Oh you startled me, would you mind not touching me like that, it alarms me. Nothing personal."

There are also nonverbal things like stepping away and saying cooly "What was it you wanted to show me." Or "Um, what's that?" Or "Dude. HR" esp to someone younger. You can subtly hint at personal trauma. "I'm sorry, because of my personal history I get freaked out when people touch me without permission. It's nothing personal. I know you're a good guy and you meant nothing by it." Look slightly embarrassed and ashamed. To me this is morally gray because it's taking on the mantle of legit victims of abuse for your own benefit, plus it's manipulative ... but I can see myself doing it if pushed hard enough with no recourse. And it's none of his business that your personal history is growing up in a patriarchal society and you're allergic to douchiness.

These approaches make it about you and not them - they should change their behavior because it cause you pain or distress, not because they are being assholes. In a perfect world we'd all be able say "I don't like it when you do that, stop now" with no repercussions but sadly that's not the world we live in.

You know your work environment better than any of us, of course, so I'm not suggesting you just try one of these - but if something jumps out as a thing that might work ...... well then.

I'm sorry you're dealing with this. Good luck.
posted by bunderful at 7:28 AM on March 3, 2018 [2 favorites]

Woman, 39, US. I'm going to buck the trend and say that I would interpret it as affectionate, not creepy. But I'm probably in the 99th percentile of "likes to be touched." It's also been literally decades since I last worked somewhere where I didn't like my coworkers enough to want to be affectionate with them. I'm frequently sad that people don't touch more in our culture.
posted by Jacqueline at 12:44 PM on March 3, 2018 [4 favorites]

Early 30's woman. Nothing about that would strike me as odd or inappropriate, unless it was accompanied by creepiness (whistling, groaning, a wink, etc.). And even then, it would depend on my relationship with said coworker.
In contrast, I'm currently working in an environment where there is absolutely zero physical contact between genders (no handshakes, and items are even placed on a table, rather than handed directly to the person, in case hands accidentally touch). I find it incredibly cold and impersonal, and a very difficult environment to work in. I spend more time at work than I do anywhere else, I want to be able to be friendly with my workers!
posted by hasna at 10:09 PM on March 4, 2018 [2 favorites]

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