How do I deal with a Muslim co-worker who doesn't like me?
July 6, 2006 12:33 PM   Subscribe

How do I deal with a Muslim co-worker who doesn't like me?

I started a new job awhile ago, doing tech support in a pretty ethnically diverse call centre. I live in a small town and have never really encountered Muslims before (I also live in Northern Ireland, so any religious sensitivities are very much centred on the Catholic/Protestant issue) but generally regard myself as a liberal who has no problem at all with immigrants. I am however a feminist, and I do have a problem with certain attitudes that many religions hold towards women, but this applies as much to Catholicism or my own Jehovah's Witness upbringing as it does to Islam.

Today, the Muslim guy I sit next to launched into a pretty personal and unprovoked attack against me. He asked me if I was an only child and when I said yes (I thought he was just asking out of curiosity), he said he could tell because I am so aggressive, over-sensitive and unable to take criticism. He said that he could not understand the way I thought and that the way I am is not like anything he's seen before (?!). He also said that he didn't like the way I look (I was wearing a semi-low-cut top that was tight but not even close to obscene - perfectly within the company dress code. I have boobs though, which I can't exactly strap down, but they're not huge or anything) and when I said I was offended by this, he sat back with a smug look on his face and said "you see!", as if my being offended proved my over-sensitivity.

I am sensitive about the way I look, and I have had a long struggle with accepting my body the way it is. I have only just started to feel good (sometimes) about the way I look and that particular comment has made me feel pretty bad again. With regards to his comments about me being aggressive and unable to take criticism - he is not any kind of superior to me, so he's in no position to criticise me anyway, but I don't feel I take constructive criticism about my work badly. My boss is very good about letting us know what we need to work on and I've never had a problem recognising my own weaknesses. I'm certainly not aggressive, but I have opinions about stuff (like when he asked me if I could ever live in Pakistan I said no, not as a woman, and when he was disgusted by the BBQ lunch the company put on for us, and commented that he could only eat halal because that way the animals were slaughtered "properly" I questioned whether letting an animal bleed to death was really "proper"). I am assertive because our tech support is very male-dominated and while most of the guys are great, I wouldn't want to be regarded as less capable because I'm a girl.

After he had his rant at me, I was so upset that I got up in the middle of my shift and walked away. After 10 minutes in the bathroom trying not to cry, I went back and he said he had only been joking and that I had taken him too seriously. I came home from work and am only now getting really upset. My feelings are hurt, I feel like he had no right to get so personal with me when he hardly knows me. Today he looked at me as if I am so worthless he's almost doing me a favour by informing me of everything that's "wrong" with me. 90% of the time he looks through me, the rest of the time he looks at me like I'm a slut, an idiot, or both. I have no idea how to deal with him, but I don't want this situation to ruin a job I otherwise love.


(FYI - I am 22 and a student, he is in his mid-to-late 30's and has a degree and a lot of professional work experience (i.e. he is majorly over-qualified for the work he does here). We earn the same amount of money and we got a mini-promotion at the same time, if that's at all relevant.)
posted by speranza to Human Relations (73 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
I'm not sure why it matters that he is Muslim, but when coworkers are tearing into you about personal matters unrelated to work, it's time to talk to your manager.
posted by mendel at 12:36 PM on July 6, 2006


What does his being muslim have to do with this?
posted by sohcahtoa at 12:37 PM on July 6, 2006


He asked me if I was an only child and when I said yes (I thought he was just asking out of curiosity), he said he could tell because I am so aggressive, over-sensitive and unable to take criticism.

I don't know what this criticism has to do with his religion specifically, but as mendel says, it's time to talk to your manager.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 12:38 PM on July 6, 2006


Talk to human resources. Its one thing to constructively indicate that there are issues with your work performance. Its quite another to be taken to task for your mode of dress. Don't bring up the muslim thing, just discuss what he said to you.
posted by Ironmouth at 12:44 PM on July 6, 2006


This guy's an asshole. You'll run into plenty more, though this sounds like an especially noisome example.

Next time (if ever) he launches into one of his diatribes, just sit there, listen politely, let him finish, and then ask him "Now, would you please explain why I should give a flying fuck what you have to say? I'm really curious."
posted by adamrice at 12:44 PM on July 6, 2006


Um, I think the fact that he's apparently offended by the way I look, hates that I have anything to say about anything and generally treats me like I don't exist might possibly have something to do with the fact that Islam isn't the most female-friendly religion in the world. I mean, I'm sure I'll get called a big old racist, but come on, it is relevant. I've met asshole guys before, but none that look through me like I'm not even there.
posted by speranza at 12:45 PM on July 6, 2006


What does his being muslim have to do with this?

This is possibly because some of the tension seems to revolve around his Muslim beliefs which could also possibly explain his misogynistic comments. By taking this into account we may be better equipped to resolve the problem at issue.
posted by ed\26h at 12:48 PM on July 6, 2006


He's an asshole. They come in all colors and creeds. Sure, perhaps his religion and upbringing makes it easier for him to define secular or non-Muslim women as the Other and criticize, but again, he'd most likely be an asshole no matter what faith he followed. So you're right - it's relevant, but it's not the central issue here.

I'd do what adamrice said, or else just get moved somewhere else if you can and never speak to him or deal with him again if possible.
posted by luriete at 12:49 PM on July 6, 2006 [1 favorite]


It might be - but it might also be a cultural thing, which is not the same as a religious thing. When you talk to your manager, stick strictly to behavior and response, and don't go trying to interpret the why.

Definitely talk to your manager, and keep conversations with this guy short and focused on work.
posted by canine epigram at 12:51 PM on July 6, 2006


Go ahead to HR and tell them what happened. It's obviously interfering with your work now, if you spent ten minutes in the bathroom not to cry. It doesn't matter where his attitudes come from or why he did it, it only matters that his actions are inappropriate for the work environment.
posted by christinetheslp at 12:52 PM on July 6, 2006


Might not work, hard to say, but I'd go cold - not converse to him (when possible) other than professionally, and when he steps out of line with comments like the above, bluntly end further involvement with the conversation at that point by saying "that's out of line.", or something to that effect, and put your attention to something else. Don't be rude about it, just a that-button-ends-the-conversion.

Once you've told the guy a few times that he's gone too far, then you're in a much stronger position to take the suggested route of bringing it to the attention of the manager.

While the guy has already overstepped, it can be regarded as unfair to call on higher powers before you've made your boundaries undeniably clear. Not doing so may make it easier to muddy who is the biggest part of the problem. If you've made the boundaries clear (and "clear" doesn't mean "strongly hinted") and he continues to transgress, then nature of the problem is clear to all. Also, he might get the message and stop :)
posted by -harlequin- at 12:52 PM on July 6, 2006 [1 favorite]


Concur... what does this have to do with him being Muslim? If his actions are based on his religion, then you have even more ammo for the boss. But, if YOUR actions are based on your feminism - then you may find yourself negated.

Now - here comes the part that isn't meant to sound mean, but probably will be taken that way anyway. You're sounding like a victim who REALLY wants to wallow in the role.

1. Stop feeling so hurt (come on... you're a self described feminist - you should know that YOU are responsible for your own feelings, so don't let that guy lower your self-worth),

2. Start acting like a professional (debating someone at work on such matters is only lowering yourself to their level), and,

3. Go talk to you rmanager.
posted by matty at 12:53 PM on July 6, 2006


I've met asshole guys before

So you know he's an asshole - that's a step in the right direction. The best thing you can do is really convince yourself that his opinion is worthless, because it is. If I were you I would just laugh at him. It'll drive him crazy, and make you feel better about yourself. You sound like you have a lot going for yourself, so don't let this schmuck have any control over how you feel.
posted by iconomy at 12:54 PM on July 6, 2006


First of all, as the others have said, I don’t see what this has to do with him being Muslim. He just sounds like an asshole, and there are assholes in every religion. Also, if he’s rude to you, he’ll probably be rude to other people to, and people like that usually end up hanging themselves eventually.

My main recommendation to you would be to not have any unnecessary contact with him. Don’t engage him in debate, i.e. the animal killing methods. Just leave it alone.

he's in no position to criticise me

You’re absolutely right about that. Next time tell him so and change the subject or end the conversation. If you’re assertive as you say you are, you should be able to handily get this guy off your back, right? Be polite -- you are at work after all -- but be firm. Don’t let him upset you, don’t take any more of his lip, and he’ll back down eventually. If he doesn’t, then when you go to HR, you’ll have good examples of how you tried to handle the situation yourself. But for the love of God don’t bring up his religion with HR. It will totally undermine your case.

Also, these two lines caught my eye:
he looked at me as if I am so worthless
he looks at me like I'm a slut, an idiot, or both


What? How do you know what a look meant? This guy may be a dick, but you’re putting thoughts into his head. Don’t make it worse by making presumptions. They will not help your case either.
posted by boomchicka at 12:54 PM on July 6, 2006


He's down on himself because he's in the middle of his career and he's stuck doing the same job as a student. And he's not even better at it than she is. So he's making himself feel better by lashing out at you.

Ignore him. Don't listen to his rants anymore, and if he wants to talk just say you have work to do. If he won't leave you alone, ask to be moved to another desk away from him because you can't get any work done with him yapping all the time.

And don't let him make you feel bad about yourself or how you look-- he's an idiot. Who cares what he thinks?
posted by InfidelZombie at 12:56 PM on July 6, 2006


FWIW: most religions are fairly misogynistic. Whether or not individuals choose to be misogynists is their own personal sociopathy.
So, the guy's an asshole, leave religion out of it. Make's it easier to bring up woth HR.
posted by signal at 12:56 PM on July 6, 2006


I've met asshole guys before

Probably, just not of this caliber. Welcome to a whole new level of assholiness. You still deal with it essentially the same way though.
posted by boomchicka at 12:56 PM on July 6, 2006


What? How do you know what a look meant?

Looks can carry almost as much meaning as words. They can also be as easily misinterpreted as words, but that doesn't mean they can't be read in the first place.
posted by PinkStainlessTail at 12:58 PM on July 6, 2006


Um, I think the fact that he's apparently offended by the way I look, hates that I have anything to say about anything and generally treats me like I don't exist might possibly have something to do with the fact that Islam isn't the most female-friendly religion in the world. I mean, I'm sure I'll get called a big old racist, but come on, it is relevant. I've met asshole guys before, but none that look through me like I'm not even there.

Seriously, drop the "because he's Muslim" idea. It's not helping your case, particularly as you've already noted that the conservative sects of most religions could be considered not female-friendly by feminist standards. For whatever reason, he's picking on you, and has figured out how to really push your buttons. The looking-through-you thing isn't a "Muslim thing," it's just a fairly common form of aggression.

Ignore him. Further diatribes could be greeted with "I'm not really interested in having/too busy for personal conversations", or, "What an odd thing to say," or "WTF". But really, just ignore him.
posted by desuetude at 1:05 PM on July 6, 2006


Treat him as you would any other asshole at work, be he Muslim, Catholic, Protestant, Satanist, whatever. Do not engage in conversation about personal issues or opinions. Stay professional, and focus on work-related matters when you must converse with him. And, if when following this strategy, he continues to try to get a rise out of you, speak to your manager.
posted by Robert Angelo at 1:12 PM on July 6, 2006


I'd agree that his culture or religion is influencing which buttons that he's choosing to press, but as others have said, leave this "why" hypothesis out of it if you take this to a third party - it can only hurt you, it's not your responsibility to try to explain his motives, and it's an obvious enough possibility that any third party will almost certainly consider it without it being pointed out.

The place for the "why" hypothesis is as a tool for you to try to find ways to amend the behaviour on your own, but as soon as you call on someone else, leave the "why" out of it. That's not its place.

posted by -harlequin- at 1:14 PM on July 6, 2006


Not only should you drop the Muslim "thing," seeing as you have no direct evidence that his religion has anything to do with his attitude towards you (and frankly, assuming that his aggression towards you is based somehow on his beliefs is presumptuous and maybe a little bit bigoted), you need to drop it; you have a fine case against this guy regardless of his religion, and by bringing it up, you only open yourself up to a counterclaim of discrimination.
posted by maxreax at 1:15 PM on July 6, 2006


Leave his religion out of it when/if you bring it up with your manager or HR. While his religion may be where he came up with his ideas, if he's not bringing up it up, you shouldn't either. Be careful of criticising someone's religion in the workplace. Because a)that's disrespectful and b) you're opening your self up for accusations of discrimination/harassment etc re: his religion.

This stuck out at me:
when he [...] commented that he could only eat halal because that way the animals were slaughtered "properly" I questioned whether letting an animal bleed to death was really "proper"
You don't have to agree with his views, or partake in his practices. But you need to respect his right to have different beliefs. Would it be okay to say to a Catholic person at work "I think it's totally gross that you eat Christ every Sunday"? You don't have to be okay with it, but you don't have to criticize it either. It's none of your business and it's asking for trouble to be bringing it up.

It's not that you shouldn't have opinions, but part of maturity in the workplace is knowing when to keep those opinions to yourself.
posted by raedyn at 1:17 PM on July 6, 2006


I was writing a post, but on preview Raedyn said exactly what I wanted to say.

You are contributing to the tension between the two of you by not respecting his opinions. That is not to say that what either of you say is right.
posted by mutantdisco! at 1:23 PM on July 6, 2006


Sounds like he's establishing dominance, punking the new guy/girl to show them who's boss. If he's not your boss, treat him like he doesn't matter. If he starts in on you, call him a douchebag and walk away.
posted by electroboy at 1:25 PM on July 6, 2006


We have evidence of a man being misogynistic to a work colleague. We also have evidence of this man belonging to a religion which at least in its orthodox form promotes fundamental misogyny. Thirdly we have evidence of this man expressing anger and disgust at a practise solely due to how it does not adhere to his religious beliefs. It would seem somewhat epistemically irresponsible to objectively deny that it is likely that any of the factors could be linked.

Although, that said, mentioning he is Muslim, rightly or wrongly will certainly not help your case; at least here and quite possibly in any HR department. Many people would clamber over their own mother to make an accusation of religious intolerance if only to prove just how progressive they are. Also – you certainly do not have to respect other peoples beliefs. Sorry – pet peeve(s).
posted by ed\26h at 1:27 PM on July 6, 2006 [1 favorite]


im young too, in a company full of older, 'good ol' boys'. through a series of chance occurrences, i've been promoted up the ladder. i was just in the right place at the right time and could do the job.
some of the men i work with hate me, and have said so out loud in places where other people can hear.
you cant let it bother you. i have found that over time, it doesn't bother me as much.
go do whatever you do to relax. drink a beer, watch a movie, vent to your friends (or metafilter!). then, come back to work and be professional.
your good attitude will carry you farther than his bad attitude will.
and there will always be men ready to say something nasty to you. or women, jealous of your nice boobs, young, quick mind and promotion. or what ever!
sometimes, when people are mean to us, we try to reason with ourselves. why would someone say something so mean to me?
its because he is a racist.
its because hes a pervert.
its because he was raised with no manners.
its because (fill in the blank).

it probably doesnt have much to do with his religion, upbringing, or ethnicity. its probably just him.
im so sorry you have to deal with him.
put on your professional face and go talk to your manager.
posted by saragoodman3 at 1:28 PM on July 6, 2006


How do I deal with a Muslim co-worker who doesn't like me? The same way you would deal with anyone who was being a jerk-- ie. tell them to fuck off. Believe it or not assholes come in all different ethnicities
posted by petsounds at 1:29 PM on July 6, 2006


This sounds to me like nothing more than a plain old culture clash. His upbringing has taught him ways of interacting with people, and you perceive those ways as inappropriate. Now, the best way to handle this kind of cultural issue is with education. Let him learn how things are done in your culture. By which I mean, he needs a severe lecture from his manager about workplace behavior and sexual harrassment.
posted by Faint of Butt at 1:37 PM on July 6, 2006


Also – you certainly do not have to respect other peoples beliefs. Sorry – pet peeve(s).

I agree. It's not like you attacked halal out of the blue -- he brought it up as a topic of conversation, and as far as I'm concerned, that means others have an equal right to express their opinions on it. That said, it's not always wise to express personal opinions at work, but there's certainly no obligation not to do so... and if there were, he'd be equally at fault for bringing it up in the first place.

This guy did not "respect the beliefs of others" when he raised a fuss over the food at the BBQ -- don't be ashamed to respond in kind!
posted by vorfeed at 1:42 PM on July 6, 2006


As a long term solution, decide for yourself, away from work, what kind of treatment you will tolerate, and what you won't tolerate.

Think of rational responses in advance. For me, I like the cool surprise "excuse me?" when someone says something offensive.

If you find yourself likely to cry, see if you can develop techniques to prevent it - maybe counting in your head so that you move away from a purely emotional response.

I thought there were good responses in this thread for dealing with someone who's impolite.

While deciding what behaviour you're willing to tolerate, it might be wise to consider what kind of behaviour you will accept from yourself. I find it a useful rule of thumb to never discuss religion, politics, sex or money with people who are not my personal friends.

Lastly, keep a work diary. If this escalates it will help to have documented what was said and done. I would recommend that you could record his behaviour he looked at my cleavage without interpreting it he looked at my cleavage in disgust.
posted by b33j at 1:46 PM on July 6, 2006 [1 favorite]


"Koss Deen Omak" will work if he's Egyptian.

I'd be blunt with him, and basically tell him that he should shut the fuck up about your personal choices. Feel free to admit that you probably shouldn't have weighed in on halal, but don't shy away from telling him that he's acting like a petulant savage. Orientalism is an ugly thing, but if you're willing to raise the stakes it should get him to back off.
posted by klangklangston at 2:02 PM on July 6, 2006


Speranza,

What is the point of saying he is Muslim? This isn't a religion problem. It's a personality problem. He is unwilling to assimilate into a culture where your dress and attitude are acceptable. You are also at fault, although technically unaware of it, because you are unfamiliar with Islam and Islamic customs. Your office should understand that they need to accomodate people (especially in Ireland!) and he needs to be aware that he needs to accomodate you and everybody else.
posted by parmanparman at 2:02 PM on July 6, 2006


when he asked me if I could ever live in Pakistan I said no, not as a woman, and when he was disgusted by the BBQ lunch the company put on for us, and commented that he could only eat halal because that way the animals were slaughtered "properly" I questioned whether letting an animal bleed to death was really "proper"

You started it, however unwittingly. Next time you see him say "We got off on the wrong foot somewhere and I really want to make it right. I probably said some things that offended you in the past and I want to apologize..." And so on. Give it a try, you two might get along famously. Do you want to be right, or do you want to get along at work?
posted by LarryC at 2:02 PM on July 6, 2006


b33j (and others) are absolutely right. You need to figure out what your boundries are when you're as far away from the situation as possible. Think about it rationally and decide what you are willing to put up with. Draw yourself a line in the sand, "I will not put up with this."

Now the hard part: sticking to it. You have to be absolutely firm and unyielding when that line gets crossed. The instant he goes too far - whatever that is - you call him on it high loud and repeatedly. No hinting or body language. Be direct, say "I will not tolerate that sort of behavior towards me." If you feel silly or afraid to be direct like that (many people do and in my experience women more so than men) practice out loud in a mirror.

Chances are a strong reaction will knock him on his heels and he will at least think twice about being confrontational to you in the future. If he keeps up at it you keep up at yours. No matter what he says, don't get emotional. Say that you won't tolerate it and then leave.

It may help you to write down what happened and when and if anyone else overheard.

If it happens more than once after you've put your foot down, contact your boss/HR. Stick to the facts, your observations and your feelings. Don't suggest motivations or apply thoughts to him. "He said this, I felt that. This happened." Keep metaphors and analogies out of it. For goodness sake keep religion, culture, anything out of it. Don't mention it and don't comment on it if someone else mentions it. His motivations are his problem, his actions are everybody's.

The absolutely important thing is to show no emotion at all when he baits you like that. You're under no obligation to suffer his idiocy but you get what you put up with.
posted by Skorgu at 2:18 PM on July 6, 2006


Ok, I've worked with and known more than a couple of people from the muslim world. I've also known people of some pretty radical beliefs in regards to personal and religious practice. I've very rarely heard anything like this, even from people who are ultra-conservative in their own personal and family practice. My own ethical practices tend to be pretty "out there" in some ways, and I've long learned when to just keep my mouth shut.

I don't think his ideas or beliefs are really the issue here. He made a choice to be pushy and aggressive about his beliefs in a way that is inappropriate for most workplaces.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 2:18 PM on July 6, 2006


Disengage with him. He's a bit of a sadist - he enjoys tweaking you, getting a rise out of you. It's a power trip.

It's also abusive, bullying, and cyclical. Don't let his bullying get to you, don't try to retaliate, don't try to have a reasoned discussion with him. In the US, this would qualify as sexual harrassment in that he's making the workplace into a hostile environment based on his problems with your gender.

Disengage - he'll test you by baiting you a few times. Either ignore him or just tell him that you'll be happy to go to the HR Department to report his out of line behavior. If he's like most bullies, he'll try a few more times to mess with you. Follow through on any threats you make to report him.
posted by jasper411 at 2:20 PM on July 6, 2006 [1 favorite]


My slightly different take on it, as you're a young, attractive woman and he's a middle-aged man, it's possible you're experiencing a kind of sexual hostility that men (of any culture) can exhibit toward women who they find, let's say, "distracting".

A lot of guys, particularly ones with traditional or conservative values, can find it very uncomfortable to be constantly around a woman they're attracted to.

If it was me I might just say "wow, you look amazing in that top" and not be uncomfortable about making a statement to the very broad effect that "you're sexually attractive". His personality/background/beliefs mean that he notices, but can't deal with it in any way and it makes him uncomfortable.
posted by AmbroseChapel at 2:31 PM on July 6, 2006


Regarding the question, "Why does his religion matter?" You've clearly explained why you think his culture and/or religion are relevant factors in his behavior (and I agree), but let me turn the question around: Why does his religion matter to you?

You're letting his religion intimidate you. He's a jerk. It doesn't matter why he's being a jerk. Maybe in certain parts of the world, his behavior would be acceptable; but if he wants to enjoy that impunity, he can live in those places. American girls don't take kindly to being "looked through."

If you're still upset tomorrow, speak to your supervisor. Now that the altercation has ended, you can't walk back into his office without assuming some responsibility for instigating whatever happens. Otherwise, next time he says something inappropriate, treat him just like you would treat any loser in a bar who's harassing a girl that's way out of his league. If his behavior is attributable to being Muslim or Pakistani, then be helpful and introduce him to the subtleties of American rejection.
posted by cribcage at 2:33 PM on July 6, 2006


Forgot to say, why do you have to "sit next to him"?

I had a situation where I couldn't stand the person next to me and just went quietly to the managers and asked them to move me. I didn't have to say much, just "we don't get on and it's affecting my work".

If it's a call centre there must be quite a few workstations?
posted by AmbroseChapel at 2:33 PM on July 6, 2006


Today, the ... guy I sit next to launched into a pretty personal and unprovoked attack against me.

And that's all you need to read to determine the answer. Go talk to your manager, you HR person, etc, and threaten to bring down the mother of all lawsuits.
posted by frogan at 2:33 PM on July 6, 2006


It shounds to me like you're both being assholes.

He doesn't like your clothes, you don't like his religion. He thinks you're over-sensitive, you think he's cruel to animals. He doesn't like your attitude, you don't like his homeland. You feel offended? Imagine for a second how he feels.

If I were your manager I'd give you both a day off to cool down and then move your desks to opposite sides of the office, as far from eachother and any other employees as possible. I think it takes two to tango and you found yourself a great dance partner.
posted by ChasFile at 2:38 PM on July 6, 2006


You started it, however unwittingly. Next time you see him say "We got off on the wrong foot somewhere and I really want to make it right. I probably said some things that offended you in the past and I want to apologize..." And so on.

The poster, when asked her opinions on whether or not she would like to live in Pakistan or on the propriety or lack thereof of certain methods of animal slaughter, produced perfectly well-mannered, appropriate answers. The idea that the onus to apologise falls on her simply because the replies did not fall in line with the ones that the asker wanted to hear is not just bizarre but downright humiliating. The only thing the poster has “started” is not to capitulate to this guy’s foundationally irrational beliefs.
posted by ed\26h at 2:39 PM on July 6, 2006 [1 favorite]


when he asked me if I could ever live in Pakistan

OK, I'm not just working on the basis of this one comment, but I think he fancies you and this has made his probably-already-bad social skills even worse. God knows I've made some awful attempts to do the cocky-and-funny thing while under the influence of infatuation - I am quite sure that at least a couple of women in my life thought that I didn't like them when the opposite was true. He's criticising the way you dress because that's not the way he imagines his wife dressing, and he's imagining you as his wife.

On another note, you really sound like you need to love yourself more. I don't want to read too much into one short post but it seems that this negative body image thing is coloring your whole view of life. Since you've already struggled with it for a while, you might find it helpful to ask about it here. I hope I'm not being too presumptious, it's just a suggestion.
posted by teleskiving at 2:56 PM on July 6, 2006


Best advice someone gave me: Not everyone is going to like you. Accept it.

I'm not Muslim and I dress a little more modestly than most other girls. Just because I like Ann Taylor Loft, though.

Talk to HR. And be professional with your coworkers. Don't try so hard to make friends with them.
posted by onepapertiger at 3:13 PM on July 6, 2006


Woah... I agree with Robert Angelo.

Why are you having such personal conversations with a coworker? It is too late to set boundaries with him, but really you shouldn't be discussing such things at work.

Don't talk to him. If he talks to you and you need to respond, keep it as minimal and non-commitial as possible. Like, if he asks you if you could live in Pakistan say something like, "I've never been there and really don't know enough about the place to answer that."

This, IMHO, should be your general policy with ALL people you work with. If you end up getting closer with some co-workers and start seeing them outside of work, you can drop your guard a bit.

Don't go to HR unless he continues to bring up inappropriate questions to you unprovoked.
posted by k8t at 3:14 PM on July 6, 2006


Also, accept that he believes one thing, you believe another and get over it. I'm referring to the animal slaughtering thing. Just remember, you two don't share priorities and don't need to. So don't have conversations that are intimate or intellectually challenging unless you're willing to respect the fact that he's going to say and believe things you don't like. Accept it and move on. And remember, don't be overly friendly.
posted by onepapertiger at 3:15 PM on July 6, 2006


Proper responses:

could ever live in Pakistan

"I've never been there and really don't know enough about the place to answer that."

when he was disgusted by the BBQ lunch the company put on for us, and commented that he could only eat halal because that way the animals were slaughtered "properly"

"Well, you may believe that, but other people do not. I'm sorry that the company didn't think to provide a halal option for you. I'm going to go enjoy my burger now."
posted by k8t at 3:17 PM on July 6, 2006


This guy's religion may have something to do with the way he treats you and acts toward you and other women in the workplace, but his religion shouldn't have any bearing on your response to him. You expect, and rightfully so, to be treated with respect and to not be baited for his personal amusement. I would agree with people above who are saying that if he goes into anything with you again that you should politely tell him that unfortunately, his behavior/what he's saying/whatever it is is unacceptable, and then turn off. Ignore him. He doesn't get to talk to you again unless it's about work. Document, document, document.

If you don't think you can do this, then just do as Ambrose said above and asked to be moved. And upon preview, K8t has some great sample responses to any further "harmless questions."
posted by Medieval Maven at 3:20 PM on July 6, 2006


So much to reply to...

I maintain that him being a Muslim is relevant. I know it's not cool and PC to say "hey, Muslims can be assholes because they're Muslims" but I honestly do believe that his religious beliefs are a major factor in his dislike of me. I am female, I am not silent, I am not submissive, I am not willing to change my attire or behaviour in any way to "accommodate" him (if he has a problem with the way I look, it's his problem) - in short, I am not what he thinks a woman should be. However, I would never bring his religion into it if I were to report him (which I'm not sure I can/should do now that the incident has kind of passed - if I report him it's on both our files for as long as we're with the company).


Start acting like a professional (debating someone at work on such matters is only lowering yourself to their level).

I did not debate with him beyond my two comments regarding Pakistan and Halal, and they're weren't debates, just brief comments. After his rant I was about to say something, but realised I was going to cry and needed to get out of there (I did not want him to see me upset) so I just got up and walked away. There was never any kind of argument/debate - he did all the talking, my jaw was too busy hitting the floor to do much of anything else.

How do you know what a look meant? This guy may be a dick, but you’re putting thoughts into his head. Don’t make it worse by making presumptions.

When someone looks at you like you're a nothing, you know. It would take a person with zero social skills to not know when they're getting a look like that. And given the rest of our interactions, I don't think I'm being presumptuous at all.

You don't have to agree with his views, or partake in his practices. But you need to respect his right to have different beliefs.

As another poster pointed out, I don't have to respect his beliefs, particularly as he hasn't shown any respect for me. Also, it was him who initiated the discussion that led to my comment about Halal - he acted like we were filthy for looking forward to a free hot dog.

Next time you see him say "We got off on the wrong foot somewhere and I really want to make it right. I probably said some things that offended you in the past and I want to apologize..."

There is no way in hell I am saying anything remotely like this. I have nothing to apologise for. He launched into a completely unnecessary personal attack based on one tiny piece of information about me (that I'm an only child) and even if he was offended by my Halal comment, it still doesn't justify what he said.

You feel offended? Imagine for a second how he feels. If I were your manager I'd give you both a day off to cool down and then move your desks to opposite sides of the office, as far from each other and any other employees as possible.

I honestly don't give a shit how he feels. I will certainly be moving desks, however I've never had a problem with any co-worker before in my life, so I see no reason for me to isolate myself from everyone else on our team, nor am I giving him the satisfaction of seeing me exclude myself because of him.
posted by speranza at 3:21 PM on July 6, 2006 [1 favorite]


Try using the Least Reinforcing Syndrome
posted by funboytree at 3:21 PM on July 6, 2006


Metatalk link
posted by k8t at 3:27 PM on July 6, 2006


I agree with above posters who say you both are in the wrong. This statement struck me funny:

I'm certainly not aggressive, but I have opinions about stuff (like when he asked me if I could ever live in Pakistan I said no, not as a woman, and when he was disgusted by the BBQ lunch the company put on for us, and commented that he could only eat halal because that way the animals were slaughtered "properly" I questioned whether letting an animal bleed to death was really "proper"). I am assertive because our tech support is very male-dominated and while most of the guys are great, I wouldn't want to be regarded as less capable because I'm a girl.

Like other posters have mentioned, why is it your place to question his dietary or religious beliefs? If you were at the barbecue with an Orthodox Jew, or a vegetarian, would you find it strange that she didn't eat the lunch? Would you make a comment to a vegetarian that they weren't getting enough protein? I would try to show a little more sensitivity. There is nothing wrong with him making a jerk out himself, and you keeping quiet, and acting pleasant. Debating over dietary or religious customs is a useless argument.

While I am no prude, and like to show off my assets when appropriate, I wouldn't recommend showing cleavage in the workplace--ever. Start dressing in a more professional manner for your own self-respect and career. How is anybody going to take you seriously when you are wearing a tight, semi-low cut top? Cleavage is for swimsuits and hot dates, not the workplace. In the defense of your coworker, he has been raised in a Muslim culture, and is probably not comfortable with a lot of exposed flesh. He can't be totally uncomfortable with it though, because he moved to Ireland.

I am friends with a Muslim woman, and we take our kids to the same swimming lessons. She doesn't go into the pool because of her beliefs, but her husband does. While I consider myself a feminist, I also dress appropriately for the situation. There are a lot of Muslims at this particular college pool where our children take lessons. I wear a conservative one-piece bathing suit. One of the reasons is because there are a lot of men in the pool (muslim and non-muslim). But mainly because we around children, and we are swimming. I find it odd and impractical that many women wear skimpy bikini's to their children's swimming class.

Anyway, he may indeed be a jerk, but we don't know the entire story. It sounds as if you two got off on the wrong foot. If it were me, I would want to know more about his culture. Researching it a bit might help you understand his reactions to you. You shouldn't stop being who you are, but it might help to have a little sensitivity and understanding of his beliefs.

I know you were mad and offended at his lecture, but it might of helped to show an interest in his customs. The barbecue was a great time to ask him about his dietary practices or his country. People usually love to talk about their culture and country. I love to ask my friend questions, because I am sincerely curious. It shows her I have an open mind. I have learned so much, and it's fun and interesting.

Again, you don't have to be his friend, but I don't think I would report him just yet. I would let it die down a bit. Keep your conversation professional and limited to work topics.
posted by LoriFLA at 3:31 PM on July 6, 2006


My work attire is fine and completely professional. My top was bought from Laura Ashley and was a simple v-neck, long-sleeved fitted shirt. I was wearing trousers, my hair tied back and little makeup. I am never "immodest", but I have not-small breasts, so they're going to be seen no matter what I wear, and it's July, so I'm not wearing a blouse up to my chin for anyone.
posted by speranza at 3:36 PM on July 6, 2006


Come back at him the next time he pipes up the way you've been doing in this thread and you'll be fine.
posted by InfidelZombie at 3:44 PM on July 6, 2006


I maintain that him being a Muslim is relevant. I know it's not cool and PC to say "hey, Muslims can be assholes because they're Muslims" but I honestly do believe that his religious beliefs are a major factor in his dislike of me.

You may be right, but I hope you don't let your experiences with this asshole color how you interact with all Muslims in the future. I've known lots fo nice Muslim men and women over the years -- some of them feminists, even. I've also known a few major league asshole Christian fundamentalists who use their religion to justify their sexist views. And I have a good friend who rejected her Buddhist upbrining because it was too sexist.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 3:47 PM on July 6, 2006


You're making it clearer that his background is a really big problem for you. Possibly bigger than his rude behavior. You acknowledge that you have not encountered other Muslims, and then you profess that you are sure that this guy is attacking you because you are not silent, submissive, or what "he thinks a woman should be."

I have in fact encountered a number of Muslim men in both work and social situations. I can't say that their defining feature would be insisting upon unprovoked personal conversations with young women that they don't know well.
posted by desuetude at 3:58 PM on July 6, 2006


speranza, I would take it as a learning experience.

If he truly is a chauvinistic jerk, avoid him when possible. When you have to speak to him, keep it short, professional, and to the point.

A lot of people have to work with jerks. For now on let him look the fool when he spouts his disgust with the food in the workplace, etc. There isn't a reason for him to vocalize his uneasiness. Obviously he lacks social skills when it comes to declining food graciously. He also seems to lack gentility when engaging with co-workers. I do think his comment about the only child thing was rude. Again, let him look like an idiot, while you act like an adult. If he ever asks a question like this again, don't act offended. I always find it effective to smile, and say something like,

"yes, I was an only child. I had a lot of very close friends and cousins, and lots of imaginary friends. I really loved being an only child. How about you? Do you have any siblings?"

Now, he would like the real jerk to offend you. Your friendliness and maturity will catch him off-guard.
posted by LoriFLA at 4:02 PM on July 6, 2006


speranza: I maintain that him being a Muslim is relevant. I know it's not cool and PC to say "hey, Muslims can be assholes because they're Muslims" but I honestly do believe that his religious beliefs are a major factor in his dislike of me.

And some people can be assholes because they are feminists.

On preview, desuetude hit it: nail, hammer, BANG! Don't generalize from the behavior of this guy to Muslims as a class.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 4:02 PM on July 6, 2006


I would suggest getting a pack of pre-cooked bacon and eating it all day long, preferably when ever he comes near your desk or you walk by his cube. Also, pork rinds or chicharrones make a tasty snack and often have a picture of a pig on the bag.

Let him be the offended party.
posted by Megafly at 4:18 PM on July 6, 2006


You're making it clearer that his background is a really big problem for you. Possibly bigger than his rude behavior. You acknowledge that you have not encountered other Muslims, and then you profess that you are sure that this guy is attacking you because you are not silent, submissive, or what "he thinks a woman should be."

This sounds kind of OTM, speranza.
posted by maxreax at 4:41 PM on July 6, 2006


Islam, someone should point out, is quite a feminist religion, on paper at least. (Or, you know, on papyrus scrolls in the library of Abu Bakr, Caliph of Oman.)

A lot of what people think about Islam is based on the cultural practices of some countries where Islam dominates. FGM, for instance, is a tribal cultural practice in North Africa that just happens to form a sort of Venn Diagram with Islamic belief in that part of the world.
posted by AmbroseChapel at 5:02 PM on July 6, 2006


Islam, someone should point out, is quite a feminist religion, on paper at least. ... A lot of what people think about Islam is based on the cultural practices of some countries where Islam dominates.

Thank you. You saved me the trouble.

Once more, with feeling: the problem is not that he's Muslim, the problem is that he's an asshole. Please do yourself a favor and forget the whole religion thing. When I lived in Astoria, I knew a Shi'ite from South Lebanon. Hezbollah territory, right? Super-Islamic-crazy, right? Turned out this guy was sending his daughter to a Catholic school because he wanted her to get the best possible education. "Her," as in his female child. Don't make assumptions based on religion.
posted by languagehat at 5:13 PM on July 6, 2006


try to figure out the right buttons to push, then bait him into calling you names (witnesses must be present), or better yet hit you (it cannot be that difficult, he sounds like a massive asshole). he'll be fired, and you will able to sue him, too
posted by matteo at 5:15 PM on July 6, 2006


Bringing his religion into it will only give him ammo. As as been said, he's a jerk, and they come in all flavors. Deal with him as a jerk, not a Muslim jerk.

might possibly have something to do with the fact that Islam isn't the most female-friendly religion in the world.

Might possibly. But since you admit you haven't met a lot of Muslims, you'd be a real ass to draw a conclusion about them based on this one guy. Today's polemic about Islam may have polarized you on the subject, at least in your moment of anger.
posted by scarabic at 6:35 PM on July 6, 2006


Gosh, Sperenza, it is so kind of some of these posters to give you practice in ignoring inappropriate comments.

However, you did get one thing wrong in your original question. You said "I am assertive". Everyone knows that only men can be assertive. Women who act in anything approaching the same way are aggressive. (Don't modify your behaviour, just accept that you will have to live with the label. Remember Rebecca West's quote about being a feminist http://www.rci.rutgers.edu/~elk/feminismquotes.html).

My answer to your question is as far as possible arrange not to deal with him -- request a move to another desk nearer the window/further from the door/nearer Louise or whatever. Only mention "away from X" if you have to, in low key terms.

There are important battles for feminists to fight. This one guy doesn't sound like a good place to pick for making a stand.
posted by Idcoytco at 12:58 AM on July 7, 2006 [1 favorite]


Gosh, Sperenza, it is so kind of some of these posters to give you practice in ignoring inappropriate comments.

Huh? You think it's "inappropriate" to point out that the Muslim issue is a distraction? Go reread the question: "How do I deal with a Muslim co-worker... the Muslim guy..." and then in the thread she insists "him being a Muslim is relevant. I know it's not cool and PC... but I honestly do believe that his religious beliefs are a major factor in his dislike of me." Which is wrong, and her wrong idea is making it harder for her to solve her problem. Pointing out that it's wrong makes it easier for her to simplify, focus, and deal with it. It's entirely appropriate.
posted by languagehat at 6:14 AM on July 7, 2006


To mimick what others have said, being an asshole is universal, and ignores religion, race or nationality. This guy clearly is one.
posted by punkrockrat at 10:00 AM on July 7, 2006


Pointing out that it's wrong makes it easier for her to simplify, focus, and deal with it.

Explaining that you "know a guy" who is an exception to certain consistent stereotypes doesn't constitute a helpful explanation of why the OP should ignore the issue of religion — particularly after she has explained, clearly and with specific examples, why she believes his religion and/or culture are relevant factors in his behavior.
posted by cribcage at 11:35 AM on July 7, 2006


Plenty of people explained why the religion issue was irrelevant; my personal anecdote was just an attempt to personalize it. The issue is not how generalizable my anecdote is, the issue is the irrelevance of religion to the poster's problem. Those who actually know something about Islam are saying it's irrelevant; those who are going by vague impressions formed by biased and ignorant media (a group which includes the poster) are fighting back. It's all grist for the mill, but to claim discussing the issue is "inappropriate" is bullshit, plain and simple.
posted by languagehat at 2:38 PM on July 7, 2006


Those who actually know something about Islam are saying it's irrelevant; those who are going by vague impressions formed by biased and ignorant media (a group which includes the poster) are fighting back.

In other words, "Your stereotype sucks. Here's mine."

Aside from one comment from AmbroseChapel, there's nothing to indicate that anyone in this thread knows anything about Islam apart from having a Muslim friend; and equally, there's nothing to indicate that the OP — or myself, for that matter — hold "vague impressions" about Islam or that we've been informed "by biased and ignorant media."

To your credit, you didn't let that absence of evidence stop you from referencing page 117 of Popular Liberal Stereotypes, 5th Edition, which decrees Islam to be the Religion of Peace™ and says that anyone who suggests otherwise is an ignorant hick who's never read anything except Danielle Steel and Those Who Trespass — but to turn around and then complain about other people's comments being ignorant bullshit, well, that's just lazy.
posted by cribcage at 6:03 PM on July 7, 2006


hello, cribcage.

Lapsed kinda-Muslim* here to agree with AmbroseChapel, languagehat, desuatude, LoriFLA, and anyone else who pointed out that both of you have a part to play in this.

And it is largely a cultural thing, not a religious thing. Pakistani Muslims are different than Arabic Muslims are different than Malaysian Muslims...yadda yadda. There are different schools of thought, some more permissive than others (and some more strict and orthodox), and there's also all the cultural layers and regional factors and such.

Ignorance is not bliss. You can't change his behaviour, but you can certainly affect your own. He is being an asshole but don't bow down to his level. Read up on Islam (especially where AmbroseChapel points out that it's very feminist in its core - Islam accorded women plenty of rights that they didn't get pre-Islam) and get a fuller perspective. Go beyond the stereotypes.

Also, try to look at his specific culture. There's so much about the South Asian culture that's affecting his behaviour. I too am South Asian and I can see which part of it is Islam and which part is Bangladesh.

That way, if he still continues to use his religion and culture against you (may be easier with religion), you can back yourself up with statements from HIS culture. Don't be antagonistic about it though; it just backfires. Instead, be willing to open discussion. Plenty of Pagans use this to good measure; they understand the Bible often better than man Christians they encounter and are able to have civil discussions and disagreements without it turning ugly.

* grew up muslim, kinda religious when younger, now my beliefs are helter-skelter and not quite islamic. nothing against the religion though.
posted by divabat at 6:46 PM on July 7, 2006 [1 favorite]


I know there are two sides to every story, but this guy sounds like a royal dick. Speaking to your manager or to HR is probably a more appropriate way of dealing with him (as others have pointed out), but personally I'd want to give him a piece of my mind before disengaging. Next time he starts in on you listen without showing any emotion (since he seems to be getting off on riling you up), and when he's done offer some "constructive criticism" of your own : "OK, may I give you some helpful advice now? Here are a few issues for you to consider. Why is it that at your age and level of experience, a person of your qualifications is making the same amount of money and essentially holds the same position as a young woman with much less experience who also has all "the flaws" that you pointed out? Before you dismiss it as the consequences of being a minority, ethnically and religiously speaking, remember that I am also a minority here -- a woman in a male dominated field -- yet as I mentioned, I'm at the same level as you. Do you think your acerbic, inconsiderate, opinionated nature is hindering your advancement at this company, and have you thought about making some changes in your behavior? If you're unable to make those changes on your own, do you think an occupational therapist could help? Or how about just a therapist that specializes in behavioral problems?"
posted by Devils Slide at 12:54 AM on July 8, 2006


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