Should I follow up with my boss after he made an inappropriate comment?
May 8, 2018 6:50 PM   Subscribe

My boss came up to me during a meeting break and told me I was starting to show (I am 10.5 weeks pregnant), and it made me feel uncomfortable. Should I ask his boss to follow up on this incident?

Context: I'm 10.5 weeks pregnant. A few managers at my work know this, including my 65ish year old male boss, because I've been incredibly ill with it so far (hyperemesis gravidarum!!). However, it is information I've asked to be kept private for now.

The situation: I was at an all day meeting on Monday, with several managers, our Director, and my boss. I was standing up in front of the group because I was leading some of the discussion and writing ideas down on a white board. During a break in the meeting, my boss came up to me and said: "You know you are starting to show". I was utterly shocked, but managed to immediately respond by saying "Boss, that is a really inappropriate comment!", to which he replied "Is it?". I told him (and I wish I hadn't said this, because ugh) that I actually weighed the least I had in a long time, and then he said sorry, and I said that's okay, and he left. I tried to interact with him normally for the rest of the meeting.

However, I was really upset about it and remain so. I immediately told a different manager whom I am close with and our Director, because they were both left in the room after everyone else had left, and they also happen to know I am pregnant. They were surprised at the comment. At the end of the day I told my boss's boss, who also happens to know I am pregnant. She was HORRIFIED, and said she was going to follow up with my boss, and then after a minute she said she'd leave it up to me to let her know whether that was what I wanted.

Am I overreacting here to be upset about this situation? I don't want to make a big thing out of it, but the comment made me feel incredibly uncomfortable for a couple of specific reasons:
1. My boss used private medical information he knows about me to make a comment about my body;
2. Instead of listening and contributing to the discussion I was helping to lead, he was sitting there thinking about my body - this really bothers me;
3. I am not showing, but because of several abdominal surgeries I had as a kid, I always look a little bit pregnant, and I am super sensitive about it. Obviously he doesn't know that, but the comment just hit me extra. Also, he knows I have been vomiting non-stop for weeks and am still early on, is it really likely I am showing??

Does it seem right to request my boss's boss to follow up with him? Should I ask for any particular resolution? I actually like and get along with my boss generally quite well, and don't want to strain our working relationship. He hasn't ever made any comments about my appearance before, but does have a bit of a reputation for being oblivious to social cues/being tactless and has said different types of inappropriate things to me and others before (e.g. he recently said to our Director (who is a woman) in front of all her direct reports, "Wow, I'm really impressed you actually know this stuff!", and then when someone said that was a weird comment, he followed up with "I don't think you guys realize this stuff is actually hard!"). He's said he is going to retire within about 2 years, so this won't go on forever, but in the meantime as I continue to be pregnant, I am worried that he will make other comments to me or about me.
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (47 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
You did a great job at responding in the moment, that is super difficult and good job. I'd let your boss's boss follow up with him in a "Hey, just in case you need a refresher about how to talk to people in an office environment, I am here to do that thing" way, and also maybe warning him from making a single other comment to you (or anyone in the office!) about your (or anyone else in the office's!) appearance, ever. And then you can step away from it and know that someone else has talked to him about this so you don't have to.
posted by jessamyn at 6:54 PM on May 8, 2018 [26 favorites]

This would not have bothered me. It does bother you, so ask boss not to make chit chat about your appearance or pregnancy. Some pregnant people love to talk about the pregnancy and for many it's fair game for small talk. If it isn't for you, absolutely redirect. I don't think you need to go further on this, beyond saying specifically to boss that small talk about your appearance and pregnancy bothers you. If he doesn't respect that, get the bigger bosses involved.
posted by Kalmya at 6:56 PM on May 8, 2018 [40 favorites]

There's a few things to unpack here and you might want to rethink your own part in this. What he said was not optimal, and you've talked about this to a lot of people. The odds of both you and the 65 year old boss becoming the object of gossip are higher now. Plus you already handled it perfectly in the moment by telling him what he said was inappropriate.

You already handled it in the moment. Yes, you get to talk about your feelings to others, but you can't keep bludgeoning your boss over one unfortunate comment that he made without ill intent. I get that you found his comments especially upsetting, but he never would have said what he did if he knew his words would hurt you.

Get some tools to help you process big feelings, you're making a person right now (congratulations!) and your feelings are going to be so raw. Breathe. Get some tools. Let this go because you already handled it perfectly in the moment.
posted by jbenben at 7:16 PM on May 8, 2018 [32 favorites]

Also, do what Kalmya recommends, set clear boundaries since the guy is sometimes clueless.
posted by jbenben at 7:19 PM on May 8, 2018 [1 favorite]

10.5 is a point where people will mayyyyybe announce a pregnancy. He had privledged medical info that did not need to be brought up in the office and had nothing to do with your work. You did a great job responding to it and your boss’s boss should follow up to explain how he shouldn’t be making comments about anyone’s appearance or medical info unless directly relevant.
posted by raccoon409 at 7:19 PM on May 8, 2018 [7 favorites]

I believe that I would not feel quite so strongly about this as you do, but there's a principle in tort law that I find helpful when I think about these scenarios -- the eggshell principle. Basically, it says that if you do more harm than expected to someone because they're unusually frail, you're still responsible for the full measure of harm. You don't get to duck responsibility for a bad outcome because you didn't think it would be as bad as it was. This is not a situation that rises to the level of an actionable tort, but it's still a helpful thought exercise.

So, yeah, you are unusually sensitive about this precise scenario because of your history and the current context. But that's one of the reasons why personal remarks about women's bodies are considered inappropriate -- because you can't always know what their frailties are and what damage you might do.

If you felt like you could explain 1 & 2 to him, it might help him to actually understand why the things he said were not okay. Or explain them to his boss and have her explain them to him if that's not a conversation you want to have. I would probably not share 3 with him, because that's just arming him with more information to use to say stupid shit in the future. You don't have to confront him further, but if you're going to, you don't have to hand over your innermost anxieties, either. You can hold some things back for your own mental wellbeing.
posted by jacquilynne at 7:21 PM on May 8, 2018 [18 favorites]

In specific, I think you should say approximately the following to your boss's boss: "I've done what I needed to do as his employee, and I feel ok about that. If you feel like you need to do something on a training or whatever side as his boss, that's totally your call. I have no objections, but I don't feel comfortable saying yea or nay about something that's really above my pay grade."

The "I'll let the person harmed decide whether or not I should act as a manager" impulse is totally understandable and comes from a kind place, but it's also an abdication of responsibility and you should hand that responsibility right back where it belongs.
posted by restless_nomad at 7:22 PM on May 8, 2018 [52 favorites]

I think you've handled it well. My only advice is that you get something in writing (an email is fine) from your boss's boss documenting that you have raised the incident just in case this becomes part of a pattern where further action needs to be taken.
posted by smithsmith at 7:30 PM on May 8, 2018 [2 favorites]

I'm impressed by how you managed to speak up for yourself on the spot. Often people don't even realize they wanted to do that until the moment has passed. It seems to me that you've done all that you need to, and that punishing your boss further for his ignorance isn't necessary. But I think that you should help yourself feel better about it by at least re-considering this feeling:
2. Instead of listening and contributing to the discussion I was helping to lead, he was sitting there thinking about my body - this really bothers me;

I understand how you feel this way, but this is a narrative you've imposed on your boss. People are completely capable of being immersed in a discussion and noticing a pregnancy (or thinking they notice one due to confirmation bias) at the same time. The fact that he thought he noticed that you are showing isn't the same as him "sitting there thinking about your body" instead of being in the discussion. Narrating it that way to yourself is naturally upsetting and intensifying, and it's no wonder that if you see it that way you'll be unable to let this pass. Because there is absolutely no evidence for this in the story you've told here, if I were you I'd really try to see this as a narrative you've brought to his comment, not as an account of how he actually experienced your discussion. For lots of people in that generation, commenting on someone "showing" is almost a kind of congratulations -- not appropriate for work, but not intentionally creepy or over focused on your body.
posted by flourpot at 7:43 PM on May 8, 2018 [10 favorites]

If it helps at all to think of it this way, I can imagine him having thought he was telling you useful information, like so you could pick a different style of clothing or something, since you said you wanted to keep the pregnancy private for now. His comment was still too familiar by half, I agree, but the phrasing seems to suggest he was thinking you might actually want to know. If you say his tone or something else about the situation didn't match that, however, I believe you.
posted by teremala at 8:09 PM on May 8, 2018 [11 favorites]

It is not appropriate to tell employees you're thinking about their bodies at all, unless it is a planned confidential discussion about accommodation for a physical limitation. He was thinking about her body, and chose to speak to her about his opinions about her body in an open room. This is not okay. This is not a false narrative.

It is never necessary to discuss with an employee whether they are "showing". Unless there's a baby falling out, it's nobody's goddamned business and can go unremarked upon.
posted by Lyn Never at 8:13 PM on May 8, 2018 [13 favorites]

He was thinking about her body, and chose to speak to her about his opinions about her body in an open room. This is not okay. This is not a false narrative.

I did not say she made a "false narrative". I said that telling herself he was sitting there thinking about her body INSTEAD of listening to her is a narrative she constructed from his commenting on her showing. The nuance is in the word "instead." I said people can listen and notice at the same time; no need to impose an upsetting "instead." I am certainly not saying OP made a "false narrative" about his noticing her pregnancy nor am I saying it was appropriate for him to do that.
posted by flourpot at 8:21 PM on May 8, 2018 [19 favorites]

I've had pregnant coworkers who haven't wanted a fuss and also some who've made a gigantic deal about it. Some would have glowed if someone thought they were showing and some would have been annoyed. I think you did the right thing in telling him not to comment like that and now you should drop it. Some people think that making comments like that is a good way to show you're taking a supportive interest in someone's pregnancy. I really doubt he was thinking about it during your entire presentation, he was ineptly trying to be positive and polite. If he does it again, raise a stink.
posted by cakelite at 8:30 PM on May 8, 2018 [12 favorites]

Am I overreacting here to be upset about this situation?

Yes. I'm not saying that to be mean. He meant no harm; he did no harm; you're inventing the part about him not listening and ogling you. "You're starting to show" is such a neutral comment. I can totally see him thinking that it was appropriate to let you know, as you had told him to keep the pregnancy a secret and he's thinking that it's becoming impossible.

You told him you didn't like his comment. He apologized. You accepted his apology. This is over. You're fine. Leave it now.

Congratulations on the pregnancy and I hope your nausea gets better.
posted by fingersandtoes at 8:33 PM on May 8, 2018 [78 favorites]

I feel for you. You worked hard on your presentation and wanted your colleagues to focus on your professional contribution, not have the focus be on something that's not that. Also, your boss had previously made a sexist comment to your director about her capabilities and you're worried that it's going to elicit similar comments about your ability as a professional as you show more. And you asked that it be kept private.

This would not fly in places I've worked.
posted by thesockpuppet at 8:42 PM on May 8, 2018 [4 favorites]

Commenting on anyone's body like this in a work situation is super fucking gross no matter the context.

I think if it comes up just say, "Do not comment on my body. It's personal." and change the subject. I don't know that you need to specifically follow up because it seems it's going up the chain already and people are on your side, correct?

I think your response was fine and I totally understand why you felt uncomfortable, uhg.
posted by Crystalinne at 9:16 PM on May 8, 2018 [18 favorites]

Background: I am a people manager and I would never make such a comment to any of my staff (or anyone in my office, for that matter). I think his comment was inappropriate. I think your response to him was perfect; you addressed it immediately and set a clear boundary.

However I question whether it was extremely inappropriate, or whether there was ill intent, based on this:

it is information I've asked to be kept private for now

Is it at all possible he is, in an awkward and less than ideal way, trying to let you know that your secret is in danger of giving itself up? Neither social awkwardness nor (lack of) intent are excuses for this behavior, just suggesting that it's possible this has an innocent explanation if there has not been and does not continue to be a pattern. In any case your response was appropriate.
posted by SquidLips at 9:25 PM on May 8, 2018 [6 favorites]

I don't understand your reaction to this at all. It seems to me that you want to keep your pregnancy on the down low and he mentioned that you're starting to show because the cat may be coming out of the bag. This just seem like a heads up not some personal attack on you.
posted by shoesietart at 9:26 PM on May 8, 2018 [15 favorites]

I would like to point out what OP said.

"3. I am not showing, but because of several abdominal surgeries I had as a kid, I always look a little bit pregnant, and I am super sensitive about it."

Boss has made an assumption about her pregnancy "showing" only because he is aware of OP's pregnancy status. He does not actually know what OPs body looks like "on the regular" since OP says they are not showing. Therefore I don't think him mentioning it was being "helpful" to OP keeping the pregnancy on the down-low. Boss could have also mentioned it privately to a manager in a more tactful way if they were actually concerned for OP's privacy.

(As someone who has endometriosis and IBS, there are times I could have been mistaken for pregnant in the right clothing.)
posted by Crystalinne at 9:41 PM on May 8, 2018 [5 favorites]

Is it at all possible he is, in an awkward and less than ideal way, trying to let you know that your secret is in danger of giving itself up?

This is exactly my take on it, too -- that he was trying (albeit in an awkward way) to be helpful. You spoke up (and said the perfect thing, IMO), he apologized (in what sounds to be with total sincerity). That's it. I 100% understand why you felt uncomfortable (and don't blame you for feeling that way), but I think that feeling will pass in pretty short order if you take the view that it was an awkward misunderstanding and nothing more.
posted by the return of the thin white sock at 9:43 PM on May 8, 2018 [2 favorites]

I think saying something in the moment was totally the right thing to do. If I were you, I would let it stay at this unless he does this again. Then, ya, you clearly stated you don't like it and he should know. People will say weird uncomfortable shit and it's often ignorance not malice that causes it.
posted by Foam Pants at 10:38 PM on May 8, 2018 [2 favorites]

fingersandtoes got it. It sounds like his comment meant that keeping your pregnancy secret would not work much longer. A total non-issue to me. He just made an obvious comment. Everything anyone says these days is an affront to someone.
posted by JayRwv at 12:03 AM on May 9, 2018 [4 favorites]

Fingersandtoes is on the money. For god's sake don't complain to your boss's boss because he said the kind of standard clueleess thing that humans say on a daily basis.
posted by w0mbat at 12:20 AM on May 9, 2018 [6 favorites]

I don't think you'd have been over-reacting to have been slightly annoyed, not actually upset. However, you handled it perfectly well in the moment, he acknowledged it. It's done.

Stop talking to co-workers about it and for goodness sake do not go to his boss. If you continue to be upset, vent to someone outside your workplace. And try to let it go and gain some perspective. My sincere hope is that this will be the worst thing that happens to you in motherhood.
posted by Gnella at 2:17 AM on May 9, 2018 [6 favorites]

I don't think you're overreacting. I would be seriously grossed out by a boss commenting on my body like that, too. Even if there are some other women who feel differently, I think people outside a person's close circle need to err on the side of caution and respect, and choose NOT to comment on a colleague's body, especially in a professional setting. Gross.

You did great by telling him it was inappropriate on the spot, and it was worth bringing up with his boss as you did. Honestly I'm not sure if you should tell her you want her to follow up with him or not but I don't think either choice is wrong. Mostly, though, I just wanted to chime in to say you're not alone in being skeeved by your boss' comment.
posted by DingoMutt at 3:08 AM on May 9, 2018 [5 favorites]

I think “am I overreacting?” is a question best applied to action, not emotion. It’s okay and understandable to be upset, even if it was intended as a benign comment, even if he doesn’t understand what was inappropriate about it, even if nine out of ten pregnant women wouldn’t have minded hearing it. And you acted really well, especially in the moment. It takes both wits and guts to call someone out on an inappropriate comment in the moment, especially a boss.

I don’t know about having the boss’s boss follow up. I can see it both ways: on the one hand, it would reinforce that it was an unprofessional comment, but on the other, you would be the obvious source of the complaint, and I can see that maybe messing with the dynamic y’all have. If it were me (and I’m not saying this is the best option, just that it’d be my inclination) I’d ask your boss’s boss not to follow up on this specific comment, but to keep it in mind in case there are other complaints about him, or possibly to have HR subtly roll it into some sort of company-wide training. (There are several categories of unprofessional comment, including pregnancy and “have you lost weight?” that are clumsily lumped into “sexual harassment” training even though they’re a few degrees removed, and people often react to this sort of training with “well I’m not saying anything offensive so I’ll just tune this out” and don’t learn.)
posted by Metroid Baby at 3:54 AM on May 9, 2018 [10 favorites]

Yeah the problem with the idea that this was just a helpful observation to the OP on her newly revealing physique is that a) it's not helpful (what can she or would she do with that info?) and b) pregnant people (and other ppl) do not benefit from having random co-workers monitoring their progress and providing feedback.

While this is not an unusual comment to make pregnant people in a social context after an announcement has been made publicly, it is less socially acceptable in a workplace, imo, and definitely not before the news is out there. Add to that the fact that the sentiment itself exists in the context of a patriarchal society that places the physique of women's bodies under constant scrutiny and makes all kinds of judgements about it... I don't think it's fair to dismiss this as over sensitive, and I really disliked it when people who were not close friends made evaluating comments about my size /appearance during pregnancy. Especially when I was in the middle of professional practice. It's very jarring.

I wouldn't take it any further, myself, but I definitely get why it was annoying.
posted by jojobobo at 4:09 AM on May 9, 2018 [5 favorites]

I'm on team "it was wrong of him." Coming up to you after you just got finished carrying out work in front of a group of people, and making a personal comment, is undermining. The language he chose about "you are starting to show" is especially unfortunate with the suggestion that he's been watching you in an ongoing way. (Also, it sounds patronizing to me to tell someone they may not be aware of how they look or what's going on with their body.)

It doesn't really matter what his intentions are. Most people who do this kind of thing in the work space are probably nice people overall-- or at least consider themselves to be nice people. That's why it's so intractable. Definitely document.
posted by BibiRose at 5:33 AM on May 9, 2018 [8 favorites]

I’m sorry your boss made a gross comment about your body (and I’m also sorry if some of the answers on this Ask make you feel like you’re too sensitive or deliberately engaging in an upsetting narrative).

I would also be upset, although I don’t think I would have had the poise to react so quickly and perfectly! You would be 100% justified in having your boss’ boss speak to him. However, in the interest of smooth working relations, I would assume Hanlon’s Razor and take this no further... but absolutely get boss’ boss involved if your boss ever makes another weird or gross comment to you.

Congrats on the pregnancy, and I hope your HG symptoms improve soon!
posted by schroedingersgirl at 5:34 AM on May 9, 2018 [2 favorites]

From your point of view, the incident should probably be closed. But from his boss's point of view, it might be worth having it pointed out to him that it wasn't just you being sensitive, it was actually inappropriate of him to say that. This is why I favorited restless_nomad--any conversation his boss has with him now should not be about you and this incident, it should be about the general rule about not commenting on people's bodies that he clearly doesn't really fully understand.
posted by gideonfrog at 5:51 AM on May 9, 2018 [5 favorites]

Couple of rules of thumb for guys regarding pregnant women who are not your wife. 1) Never assume any woman is pregnant unless explicitly told so. Someone could be 8 months along, and unless I hear from them directly that they are pregnant I will not mention it. 2) Never say anything about a pregnant woman's appearance other than "You look great". Better yet, just don't say anything about their appearance. 3) When in doubt keep your mouth shut.
posted by trbrts at 6:56 AM on May 9, 2018 [2 favorites]

You handled it well with him. Give him an opportunity to learn and change his behavior. (yes, he should already know this.) There is no way he can unsay what he said. He apologized, which is as close is you can come to unsaying something. If a pattern of comments emerges, that's a different story. By your own admission, you "always look a little bit pregnant." That, combined with confirmation bias on his part "hmm, person who I know is pregnant looks a little pregnant- she's showing" = clueless and unwanted commentary, probably said without malice.
posted by Larry David Syndrome at 6:57 AM on May 9, 2018 [1 favorite]

I’m baffled by the people saying this comment was harmless. I would be horrified, too. I think we would all like to go to our jobs believing our colleagues are noticing our contributions, not our weight/shape. You should never, ever mention your employee’s body or weight at work—even if you think you’re being helpful. I’m also horrified at the comments suggesting she is overreacting emotionally; she had strong reaction to this, so let’s please believe her that it was inappropriate. “Awkward” is not an excuse for this, and even at my relatively liberal workplace this could get you in hot water with HR if reported. Intent does not negate impact, and I personally am pretty sick of people defending poor behavior with "he’s a nice guy, he didn’t mean it like that.” OP, you did a brilliant job in the moment responding to this inappropriate comment. If you are not comfortable reporting him to HR, my suggestion would be to work with HR to get mandatory sexual harassment training in place so people don’t have ignorance as an excuse for behavior like this.
posted by lieber hair at 7:04 AM on May 9, 2018 [15 favorites]

I actually like and get along with my boss generally quite well, and don't want to strain our working relationship.

Then don't take it further right now. You responded appropriately in the moment, and he apologized. As someone who once had a colleague go to my boss rather than talking to me, I can safely say this will sour the relationship. Of course, if he does it again, that's a different story.
posted by FencingGal at 7:07 AM on May 9, 2018 [4 favorites]

I was teaching during my pregnancies. I noticed the students, the staff and other colleagues watching me change, because I looked swollen from the nose down before my actual pregnant belly showed. I didn't say anything to people. Then one day at 5 months, while I was getting my mail, the main secretary of the office (female) came up next to me and in a loud whisper burst out "Oh my god -- are you PREGNANT?" I laughed and said yes. Her face looked like: OH now I get it. From then on, some people asked, some didn't. Students asked, in a shy voice. They were interested because we were in a community. A professional community but a community.
I am not certainly saying everyone should have my reaction, which was sort of acceptance that for many people -- and certainly in every single culture except our individual centered one -- pregnancy becomes an in-between state, where it's kind of just about your body but kind of about the fact that a new person is coming down the road into the world. I certainly became enraged when strangers touched my belly on the subway, which happened more than once.
I'm just saying that for everyone to assume that a 65 year old should recognize without being told that this is a completely malevolent or gross or horrific invasion on the reporting to a superior level like a "me too" incident is not accurate. The OP is totally entitled to have her reaction. She is not in any way obliged to endure comments about her body or pregnancy. At the same time, it is not necessarily "gross" for a co-worker to mention something about a pregnancy showing. We all do have bodies at work, our bodies are not taboo things holding our heads up, and not all mentions of bodies are sexual.
posted by velveeta underground at 7:09 AM on May 9, 2018 [16 favorites]

Hey, to all the people saying what a nice helpful adorably awkward guy he probably is, to listen to an employee's complex presentation and then dare to give her feedback on the size of her belly and breasts?

Yeah, maybe cut that enabling shit right the fuck out?
That's a big part of the problem.

His comment was inappropriate, your reaction in the moment was fantastic, and your emotional reaction and desire to further pursue this are 1000% justified.

But I will say, I'm not sure how much farther I personally would take it- I have let similar things slide- based on how your workplace culture is in terms of being progressive at even identifying that this kind of comment is inappropriate, or protecting people from inappropriate comments.

In the past I have found ways to document what happened without making official complaints- like a personal "you get one strike for free before I escalate this" policy. So I've:
1. Spoken to my immediate manager, and taken notes on what she said.
2. Shown her my notes about what happened, and asked her to initial them to confirm we had spoken.
3. Followed up with a legally vague email to my manager that was like, "Hey thanks for our talk today, that was difficult for me to talk about and I appreciate that you listened and agreed that what happened with that person was inappropriate and I'm glad you'll be on the lookout."
4. But I did not go to HR or have the occurrence placed in the guy's file, because I didn't trust upper management to protect me from backlash from the guy or his team.

I felt shitty to do that because while it meant my immediate team was slightly protected by our manager knowing, other teams would think any mis-steps were the guy's first. But I was young, #MeToo hadn't happened yet so people were pretty blase about this stuff, and I didn't trust the culture at my workplace to protect the complainant. This later turned out to be a correct assessment on my part. I was 22 years old and it my first real job, and somehow I already knew the system was rigged against me.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 7:18 AM on May 9, 2018 [9 favorites]

> "You're starting to show" is such a neutral comment. I can totally see him thinking that it was appropriate to let you know, as you had told him to keep the pregnancy a secret and he's thinking that it's becoming impossible.

"You're starting to show" is...not...neutral. At all. What a strange assertion to make.

Why on earth is it appropriate for her boss to explain the shape of her pregnant body to her. As if she wouldn't be the first to notice if her pants fit differently?
posted by desuetude at 8:07 AM on May 9, 2018 [8 favorites]

> The "I'll let the person harmed decide whether or not I should act as a manager" impulse is totally understandable and comes from a kind place, but it's also an abdication of responsibility and you should hand that responsibility right back where it belongs.

Seconding this. I like restless_nomad's script for what to say to your boss, too.
posted by desuetude at 8:10 AM on May 9, 2018 [2 favorites]

Your boss’ boss is doing you a favor by letting you drop this. The comment was bad, but people will think you’re overreacting and being mean to a well-meaning awkward old guy. It will also sour your relationship with him for no real benefit. That doesn’t do much for you.

Try to separate your feelings about this (and our feelings about what the fair or right thing to do is) from what is best for you and your career.

I would just talk to him directly and say you’re sensitive about this and to please not comment on it again, as a favor to you because you’re friends. This is both bullshit and the best way to handle this.

Women are not responsible for men who say shitty things to them. You don’t have to educate him or put yourself in a disadvantaged position at work because it’s the “right” thing to do. Besides managing your mental health and work environment, it’s not your problem.
posted by Rock 'em Sock 'em at 8:27 AM on May 9, 2018 [3 favorites]

I feel like some of the people commenting are not noting that your pregnancy is not common knowledge in the office yet, and your boss made a comment about it in a public setting, in the midst of you trying to lead a discussion. (I know it was a meeting break, but nothing here suggests that everyone else had left.) If he mentioned this in front of others, even sotto voce, that is serious cat-out-of-the-bag territory and really unacceptable. Many people do not want to share with coworkers this early in the pregnancy, for any number of good reasons, and that needs to be respected. I would be mortified if this happened to me.

Also, what a creepy, clueless thing to say. His intentions do not matter; his actions do. Good work for speaking up in the moment. Hopefully now he is well-informed that this was not cool and no further action will be needed.

Being in early pregnancy is a horrible stew of feeling unpredictably physically ill, worrying about the viability and health of your potential baby and not having any answers, not knowing if you’re about to kill your career, knowing your life is about to change dramatically (OR IS IT, too early to tell!), worrying about finances, your relationship with your partner changing (if you have one), being hormonal, and being frustrated because you’re not always able to deliver the same standard of work because you are sick and stressed and trying to keep it all a secret. If you think she was overreacting, please walk a mile in some puke-spattered shoes, guys.
posted by Concordia at 9:37 AM on May 9, 2018 [3 favorites]

I'm disappointed in the number of "this is no big deal" responses. No one should be commenting on anyone's body at work. Period. Full stop. Many people seem to believe pregnancy makes a person's body fair game for discussion but that's bullshit. And this wasn't a close work friend offering information to the OP, this was her boss telling her she looks pregnant (most likely meaning her abdomen looks bigger). That's highly inappropriate.

I'm glad you were able to speak up in the moment and I like restless_nomad's script. Document everything because this is likely only the first of many inappropriate comments at work during your pregnancy. Stay strong and best of luck.
posted by Burn.Don't.Freeze at 10:01 AM on May 9, 2018 [12 favorites]

> people will think you’re overreacting and being mean to a well-meaning awkward old guy

Those people are wrong and should not be catered to.
posted by The corpse in the library at 12:32 PM on May 9, 2018 [3 favorites]

Sometimes, stupid stuff falls out of people's mouths. If we didn't have forgiveness for those times then people would begin to be afraid to talk at all. This doesn't seem like he was being malicious or lecherous, just a little ignorant and thoughtless. Being touchy about the subject in the extreme and/or being unable to stop making the person pay for their ignorant comment after they have apologized can create a hostile environment, too. You have to work there, this guy has to work there, and so does every other employee. I am of the opinion that you CAN overreact to a comment like this, especially if the person has legit expressed regret to you.
posted by Foam Pants at 3:15 PM on May 9, 2018 [4 favorites]

I think saying something to your boss, with whom you have a good relationship with, was a good and mature thing to do. That's admirable.

Now.......what are you hoping to achieve by taking it further? In my opinion, taking it further is not a good thing to do unless you want to go all in on trying to get him fired with a high probability of that happening. That isn't going to happen in this case, and anything else is only going to put a strain on your relationship with him and / or get into some weird political situations that aren't going to benefit someone. I know that sounds rather shitty but if there is one thing I have learned from a lot of corporate related discussions on the green, doing the right thing isn't always the right thing to do in a corporate environment where your livelihood is on the line.
posted by jasondigitized at 4:28 PM on May 9, 2018

I really do think this is such an "individual differences" matter, as many have said above and have demonstrated above. Some women I know who have gone through pregnancy relish or feel playful toward that kind of attention across multiple contexts; others feel much as you do or even more strongly that this kind of discourse is unreasonable or even detestable. Both sets of folks are reasonable and perfectly entitled to their responses. (I personally find that kind of discourse weird and uncomfortable!).

I think you've set the boundary for where you are. I think there's a good chance it may never happen again with him, especially if you made the encounter sufficiently awkward as you describe (good on you!). If that is the case, you can comfort yourself with the idea that he had no strong malicious or minimizing intentions, and he made a goof and probably feels sufficiently silly.

If it happens again with him, I think you can start referring to the more action-oriented responses herein.

However, depending on your workplace culture, you might consider (if you haven't already) that you're likely to get similar attention. That might be something to talk to your overboss about, in terms of dealing with discourse surrounding pregnancy and those kinds of comments, both for yourself and for any future moms in your workplace.
posted by The Sock Puppet Sentience Movement at 4:32 PM on May 9, 2018

I think it's worth the boss's boss having a conversation with him. Not as an additional reprimand, but because I think it's likely he's still confused as to what he did wrong (and how not to do it again). Hopefully he could ask questions of her that wouldn't have been appropriate when he was apologizing to you. (Though I agree that she shouldn't be asking you whether or not to do this.)
posted by Margalo Epps at 4:49 PM on May 9, 2018 [1 favorite]

Those people are wrong and should not be catered to.

The reason sexual harassment and similar are problems is because there are serious power imbalances in the workplace. Meaning, that it is not up to the person who is experiencing the inappropriate behavior to solve sexism by “not cater[ing]” to people who she has no real power over. She’s not this guy’s mom. It’s not her job to train him at serious risk to her ability to do her job.
posted by Rock 'em Sock 'em at 6:31 PM on May 9, 2018 [1 favorite]

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