Why do they hate me?
June 27, 2008 6:42 PM   Subscribe

Everyone at work makes fun of me. How can I deal with it?

I recently started working at a new job. I'm a man, and most of my co-workers are older females. At first, things were fun. But, now I've noticed that my co-workers like to make fun of me. They make fun of my implied nerdiness, my sense of style, and anything else they can come up with.

It's supposedly in good humor, but sometimes I feel as if I'm being attacked for no good reason other than being there. Unfortunately, I'm not quick-witted enough to come up with zingers, but feel like telling them I'm hurt will only make me seem more weak.

What can I do?
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (46 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I realize this is pretty much the standard Ask MeFi answer to job situations, but maybe you should find a job where the office isn't full of obnoxious harpies.

Is this job really awesome enough in terms of work and personal fulfillment to endure your coworkers' lame attempts at being funny, which are probably only funny to them? I somehow doubt it.
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 6:59 PM on June 27, 2008 [3 favorites]

I'm occasionally the kind of guy who picks on coworkers, especially the ones I like. I do it for no good reason other than they're there. It's almost always in good fun, but every once in a while somebody tells me to cut it out.

My guess is that they like you and do it just to engage you in some kind of conversation. As they get to know you, there'll be much more to talk about and they'll probably pick on you less.

I could be totally wrong, though.
posted by stubby phillips at 7:04 PM on June 27, 2008

It maybe seem obvious, but you say it's mostly females, so are there are other guys you can sort of find allies in, or at least find sympathy with? Or with some of the less annoying, more level-headed of the women?

You could inquire about and relate your situation to someone, and maybe they'll have enough standing with the rest to convey your frustration on your behalf. Maybe it's something others have gone through as new employees, and it's just a matter of time until it dies down. I'd think it'd have to get old even for them after a while.
posted by TheSecretDecoderRing at 7:04 PM on June 27, 2008

They probably think they're being light-hearted and flirty. Groups of women can be pretty aggressive with the flirty teasing, especially if you're the only guy in the group and especially if you're younger. I'm a woman and I've worked with groups of women, and I know that we tend to egg each other on in the teasing department. But the truth is, if the genders were reversed, we wouldn't put up with constant teasing from a group of men, so you have a right to stick up for yourself.

Since you're bothered by what they're doing, you have a right to say something and to not be thought less of because of it. My advice would be to talk to one or two of the women individually, especially if there are one or two with whom you feel more comfortable. You could say something along the lines of "Hey, I know you all probably don't mean any harm, but your teasing makes me feel uncomfortable/awkward/attacked. I'm not humorless by any means, but it's gotten to be too much. Could we come to some kind of understanding/truce/etc.?"

Hopefully they'll respond favorably to your request. They probably don't even realize that they're going too far. But, if it goes unfavorably, or if they ramp up the teasing after you talk to them, then it's time to go to a higher-up and/or find another job where you're not made to feel so uncomfortable. Good luck.
posted by amyms at 7:12 PM on June 27, 2008 [4 favorites]

I agree with a lot of what amyms says. Are there flirtatious undertones to the teasing? Sometimes women take on a flirtatious tone when attempting to strike up a friendship with a man. It's not to say they are looking to pursue a relationship with you. But sometimes that's how women (especially groups of women) break the ice.
posted by saturn25 at 7:19 PM on June 27, 2008

Make fun of them back -- for making fun of you. "Are you getting paid by the insult or something?" "Wait, are you trying to make fun of me? What is this, middle school?!" "Remind me -- why are you so concerned about my fashion sense?" That kind of thing.

If you're serious and confrontational, they'll just think: "what's with him, he can't take a joke?" If you stay within the jokiness, they can't have that response, but hopefully they'll get the hint that their schtick is getting old.

If you don't get the response you want from that, you could just try making a point to not laugh and respond to them as if they're being serious. They say something sarcastic? Respond as if you don't get the sarcasm. (Have you seen The Office? A lot of the humor, at least in the American version, comes from the fact that most of the office has a dead-pan response to jokiness. Maybe take your cue from that.)
posted by jejune at 7:19 PM on June 27, 2008 [1 favorite]

I'm one of these people who simply chooses not to be insulted. Maybe it's because I usually don't mean ill will when I break people's chops, so I assume they feel the same way when they give it to me.

I realize it's easier said than done, but you have the choice to either take this as playful banter among co-workers, or as a stone-cold assult, so why not choose the one that makes you happier?

try it, you'd be suprised how easy it is!
posted by Mr_Chips at 7:21 PM on June 27, 2008 [2 favorites]

three questions you should ask yourself:

1. would you still want this job if nothing changed?
2. do you want to talk to HR/your supervisor and make your case for their intervention?
3. are they seriously mocking you or could you be misunderstanding them?

I would speculate that taking option two at this point is still in the cards for you. you mentioned it's a new job and I assume you haven't already burned bridges that would you get treated this way. so have a casual chat with your supervisor (or a more serious conversation with hr) and see what happens. if nothing changes, consider other options. some workplaces are just poison.

I'm reluctant to outright suggest harrassment but whenever I substitute male and female with the opposite genders in your question that's where I end up.
posted by krautland at 7:34 PM on June 27, 2008

If these women didn't like you they wouldn't make fun of you. They would only ignore you and try to escape your presence, or count down the minutes it takes you to leave their space. That being said it sounds like this routine is getting old.

You need to talk if you're being too quiet. You're the odd guy out. They probably think they're being cute and funny since you're not saying anything. You're an easy target. Make them take you more seriously. You can do this by acting more serious and professional. Look straight ahead. Pull your shoulders back. Look preoccupied.

Catch them off guard -- ask questions:

"Doris, what do you think of your Prius? I'm debating over the Honda or the Toyota."

Most likely you will get a genuine response. You can follow up with a "thanks for the info" and leave.

If by chance they something like, "Oh, Wally. I thought you enjoyed riding your ten speed into work. You look so cute in your helmet!"

Ignore this. Follow up with another serious question: "How much mileage do you get in the city?" Etc.

State the facts:

"Hi Doris. I installed your new mouse. The new keyboards should be here next week. Have a good lunch." Walk away.

Pretend you didn't hear them:

Act distracted, busy, and too cool for office nonsense. If they're teasing and making fun, act busy, glance up nonchalantly and say, "What's that?" They'll be forced to repeat themselves. They probably won't.

On preview: Mr Chips gives good advice. Do this too if you can.
posted by LoriFLA at 7:38 PM on June 27, 2008

Couple of questions. If you like, you send answers to this or other comments to the mods via the contact form at the bottom of the page and they'll post your responses.

They make fun of my implied nerdiness, my sense of style, and anything else they can come up with.

Do they make fun of others? Do they make fun of others within their group? In previous jobs, have you been made fun of for these things or has being teased been something that's usually happened to you? The post title says everyone, is it really everyone or just a select group? If it's just a select group, what do others outside of that group say about how to deal with them?

Since they make fun of "anything else they can come up with" I'm betting it's not all fun and games. They've figured out they can attack you and that you don't know how to fight back, because (I'm guessing here) you either don't know how to fight back or you don't know how to fight back against older women.

What can I do?
Based on the tone of your post, it doesn't sound like you're the type for verbal jousting back and forth. Yet asking them to knock it off or stop will appear as weakness and they'll either get worse or do something worse. I'd suggest reading through these previous posts about comebacks to gain an understanding of how to deal with people like this.

On preview
If these women didn't like you they wouldn't make fun of you.
This may or may not be true.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 7:45 PM on June 27, 2008

How's your fake patient smile? If you can possibly sell it that your young manly self, allegedly nerdiness not withstanding, is kindly going to throw these poor feeble old gals a bone by putting up with their quite-possibly-motivated-by-sexual-frustration teasing, that would might bring in some balance. Don't laugh and go along with their teasing, just try to respond as though, even though it's taking up your time, you're going to indulge them in their foolishness because you know they have so little in their lives.

And yeah, just talking to them about whatever would also help.
posted by Lesser Shrew at 7:54 PM on June 27, 2008 [1 favorite]

When someone makes a joke to me that I consider inappropriate, I find a cool stare and silence works well. After that you can either change the subject or excuse yourself and turn/walk away. They'll get the point.

I want to make a very tentative suggestion, though.... Is there any possibility you are being too sensitive? I've generally worked in very good environments for most of my career, and in every workplace there were always a few co-workers who considered themselves badly treated though they really weren't — they had unreasonable expectations of how others should treat them and/or were reading too much into situations. Of course you may be being perfectly reasonable here and these jokes are truly objectionable, but if you are the sort of person who has often found yourself feeling picked on and offended in other work or social situations, it might bear thinking about.

On preview, Brandon Blatcher has some good advice on how to figure out exactly what the dynamic and problem is. If you're not good at verbal jousting, for instance, there's no reason you need to engage in it. But do be aware that other people who do it often don't mean to hurt you.
posted by orange swan at 8:02 PM on June 27, 2008

I don't think that they hate you - but it sounds like they haven't figured out where you fit in the "pecking order" of the office. What they are doing is feeling you out and trying to put you in your place at the same time. I'm a woman, and I went through a similar "hazing" when I started working at my current job with older women.

What can you do? The easiest thing is to pick your niche. Pigeonhole yourself - be the straight guy, be the geek, be the nice guy that tries to schmooze - whatever suits you and is a schtick that you can feel comfortable conforming to over the next few months. Eventually they will get to know you and the teasing will abate, but until you prove that you mean no harm and give them something to chew on it will continue.

Whatever you do - don't show them that you are pissed off - they will eat you alive. Have fun!
posted by The Light Fantastic at 8:06 PM on June 27, 2008

I seriously doubt these people mean anything by it. It's probably just absent minded flirtation, like someone else said. If you want, just tell them (individually) that it bothers you and they will probably stop.
posted by delmoi at 8:07 PM on June 27, 2008

You're not my spin instructor, are you?

Seriously, we older gals do tend to tease folks a lot. We do tell the aforementioned instructor that he's fun to pick on and that we wouldn't do it if we didn't like him simply because he's the type that doesn't know how to tell if someone is simply teasing.

Maybe you should pick the least obnoxious female in the group and ask her privately what's going on? And for what it's worth-whether it is goodnatured or not, if you ACT as if it is that is the best way to deal. They will respect you for it. Acting hurt, etc. may mark you as a target, and not in a good way.

If it does turn out to be a hostile work environment and not just old biddies being silly, that's a horse of a different color. But I am betting it is the latter.
posted by konolia at 8:33 PM on June 27, 2008

How are you currently reacting to them? We have a guy at our workplace that looooooves the attention. If he wants us to leave him alone, he acts clueless. He'll say things like:

"I'm not sure what you mean?"
"Hey, did you see this news story" (completing changing the subject)

Or, he might grab his phone and run off quickly like he's got better things to do.

We don't hate him at all. It's not malicious at all. If he got pissed, we wouldn't believe it and wouldn't probably make fun of his pissiness!

Try to have fun with it.
posted by ick at 8:53 PM on June 27, 2008

If you want to make them uncomfortable, when someone says something like that make eye contact and don't break it. Remain silent. When they look away, walk away.
posted by blue_beetle at 9:21 PM on June 27, 2008 [1 favorite]

I'm obviously not there, and I don't know, but I'm going to suggest a possibility.

Maybe you are dressed inappropriately.

When people make fun of other's clothes in the office sometimes its to gently warn them that they are engaging in inappropriate behavior. I once said to somebody "Nice suit, are you goiing to a funeral after work?" This was an entertainment technology company and he was dressed like an undertaker.

Specifically HOW are you non-stylish or nerdy?
posted by TigerCrane at 9:39 PM on June 27, 2008

In my experience with various work environments, people who are disliked get mocked behind their backs. If they're doing it to your face, it's not because they dislike you.
posted by jacquilynne at 9:55 PM on June 27, 2008 [4 favorites]

depending on the type of older women that they are, they might just be flirting and/or mothering. maybe they are lonely and starved for attention, and know that getting a rise out of you is one way to get it.

or maybe they are all menopausal and hormonal.

whatever the case, i doubt they are doing it to deliberately hurt your feelings. next time someone says something catty, just say in a playful way, "ooh, someone's cranky today!" or just ignore it.
posted by thinkingwoman at 10:06 PM on June 27, 2008

At my work, the people who aren't liked are ignored, not teased.

It's probably the same at your work too.
posted by Kololo at 10:10 PM on June 27, 2008 [1 favorite]

They don't hate you. They like you. Otherwise, they wouldn't pay any attention to you at all.
posted by wv kay in ga at 10:12 PM on June 27, 2008 [2 favorites]

They are older women working in an office mostly full of women. They are trying to be witty and flirty toward the new sweet young man, but they are older and more isolated and as such are out of touch with subtlety. Add rough edges in proportion to any apparent desperation and/or pathetic marriage on their part. Think "female Deliverance."

I know what it's like to get attention as a quiet nerd, and I'd say these women do like you even if it doesn't sound that way. You don't have to play their game by zinging back at them, but you can say things like "Oh Wanda, you're going to have to do better than that to get on my good side." If you're in IT you can threaten to replace their mouse and keyboard with crappy ones. "Who wants a 14" monitor?" "Yo, Tina Turner called and wants her wig back." Okay, those are on the snappy side, but you get the point. Ask them where they got their shoes because your mom has been looking for some like theirs. "Pretty stylish for orthopedics." Tell them if they could pull themselves away from the Lifetime channel they'd know your style is all the rage. It does sound like they are predictable in their taunts, so you can use some of your spare time to compile a list of retorts. Nothing too specific, but groups roughly in the categories you've listed here: fashion, nerd/social status, misc ("how many $their_job does it take to screw in a lightbulb? A: that's why you're still doing $job")

The fact is, these women are being bullies. Unfortunately, they will continue to be bullies until fought back against. This doesn't have to ruin your relationship with them but it'll let them know you're waiting for them to come up with better jokes. I'm not a big fan of creating uncomfortable silences, so this advice is meant as an alternate route around that. Humor is a great weapon.
posted by rhizome at 10:15 PM on June 27, 2008

I think thinkingwoman has the solution in a nutshell. Every time they dig at you, just do that "ROWR" cat noise while making the claw motion with your hand. Like in the "cat fight" bit in that one Seinfeld ("The Summer Of George," I just looked it up).
posted by rhizome at 10:22 PM on June 27, 2008

there is a young guy at my work who gets picked on by some older staff (not by me). I recommend to use the "ignore" method as in, ignore the jabs at you with something blithe like "ah, ok" as if it's cute of them to say that but you don't really find it all that interesting. I'm sure like everyone else you've been in situations where you have to politely listen to someone blather on, and it's boring and lame but you can't say that so you just humor them for a little while.

that's what is happening when then make fun of you, it's just blather & so you act polite and a little bemused. and then as soon as possible, change the subject to say something serious about the work itself.

also you are younger than them, which means your "nerdiness" and "sense of style" is YOUNGER and therefore, MORE COOL. so be like, "yeah this is what's cool now, you guys should check it out sometime." WIN
posted by citron at 10:30 PM on June 27, 2008

They don't hate you, they love you.
Tease them back, they'll love it.
Maybe one of these ladies can even get lucky with you :)
posted by PowerCat at 10:32 PM on June 27, 2008 [2 favorites]

Throw the conversational ball back in their court.

Reply "Why would you be interested in that? Or "Don't you have work to do?" Maybe even "What kind of socks do you think I should wear, since you are such an expert in fashion?"

Just don't take it, give them a challenge.
posted by Ostara at 10:38 PM on June 27, 2008

Sounds like a hostile work environment. Lawyer up, see if you can make a buck.
posted by jewzilla at 11:09 PM on June 27, 2008

As a woman, I think amyms is probably right. It's possible that it might not be light-hearted, but without further detail I think they're probably doing what she describes. And yeah, that doesn't mean you have no right to be annoyed by it; everyone is different.

If they're doing it lightheartedly and you ask them to please not do it, things will probably be fine. They don't want to upset you. If they're being bitchy after all, then all the more reason to ask them not to do it. If they don't, or treat you worse because they see you as weaker, then you have reason to talk to your boss. Don't put up with it.
posted by Nattie at 11:23 PM on June 27, 2008

Man up.

I work in an extremely
We recently got a new hire, who looks acts and dresses lie he's 15. I promptly dubbed him "newbie". (Yes, like Zach Braff in "Scrubs"; I make no claim to originality.)

I don't dislike him, it's as part of acculturating him to our extremely stressful workplace, a kind of testing to see how he fits in.

That's what you're getting, plus probably some flirting. They don't hate you, they're teasing. Just smile when theyk do it, and very gently tease back to show you're not a chump.
posted by orthogonality at 11:45 PM on June 27, 2008

Thirding that people don't tease you if they don't like you, they talk about you behind your back instead, and ignore you when you're around.

Having said that, it's up to you to decide whether you feel like it's something you're just not used to (not everybody is socialized in a raucous, insult-laden playful environment, after all) or if it's something that will continue to make you unhappy in the long term. Based on what you decide, you might have to leave.

Still, in the short term, I'd recommend keeping on with your work, but pretend that you're trying to hide your smile; don't look right at them, but let a genuine smile slip onto your face and chuckle a bit if it's a (theoretically) good joke. That, and never fail to greet them and leave them with enthusiasm. Do that a few times, and it'll be really clear whether they're doing it to include or exclude you.
posted by davejay at 12:33 AM on June 28, 2008

I work with a group of 8 females, whose job roles go from my own level (ie, lowest) up to supervisor, and one guy who is the manager.

I get on with all the women, because I take their teasing one step further than they do. Once, they were discussing problems with menstrual cycles, in an effort to make me feel uncomfortable. When I involved myself in the conversation, and mentioned that I thought that amenorrhoea might be caused by a faulty diet, the conversation died.

Once I showed them that I didn't fit into the mould they expected me to fit into (as in, a guy will never talk about a menstrual cycle, and will leave the room as quickly as possible, like my boss does) the teasing about it stopped. My boss is extremely uncomfortable around the women, and constantly wears this half-smile to try to cover up the fact he has no idea how to deal with them. As a result, they tease him unmercifully.

Perhaps you could take the teasing at face value, and ask them if they have any hints about how to dress for the workplace. For added value, take one or two of them aside, and have a serious conversation about appropriate workplace dress. Mention that you thought their teasing earlier might be their way of telling you that what you wear isn't appropriate and that you'd really appreciate any advice they have to give.

Finally, I don't think they're teasing you. Or if they are, I don't think it's malicious. When you get a single sex group of people of either sex, they change their behaviour. Eg, men will talk about cars and breasts. That's a generalisation, but you get the idea. In your case, this group also has to deal with one outside of the group, but they're still in "group mode" when they talk to you, which is why it doesn't always come across as what you're expecting to hear.
posted by Solomon at 1:16 AM on June 28, 2008 [1 favorite]

I recently started working at a new job.

Your Mom just started working at a new job.

I'm a man, and most of my co-workers are older females

Your Mom is a man and most of her co-workers are older females.

At first, things were fun. But, now I've noticed that my co-workers like to make fun of me.

At first, Your Mom was fun, but now Your Mom has noticed that her co-workers like to make fun of her.

Unfortunately, I'm not quick-witted enough to come up with zingers

Unfortunately Your Mom isn't quick-witted enough to come up with zingers.

As you can see, 'So's Your Mom' is an appropriate response to any insult. It also has the benefit that it will not offend people in the way a proper insult would.
posted by Mike1024 at 4:12 AM on June 28, 2008

reverse the genders, and everybody here would be shitting themselves advising you to sue the pigs for harassment
posted by matteo at 4:17 AM on June 28, 2008 [4 favorites]

"They don't hate you. They like you. Otherwise, they wouldn't pay any attention to you at all."
Worst. Answer. Ever.
Umm yeah...if the poster was a woman, you'd say "file for sexual harassment".

I'm in human resources. Are you being picked on because you're a man?

You know, the standard mefi answer to this question IS..."get a new job".

Sure, go ahead and do it...but before you do, talk to human resources at the company, and TELL THEM why you are leaving. They will do a couple of things:

1.Get you to stay...change things in the office...have the people make life hell for you.
2.Pay you some hush money.
3.Implement changes AFTER you leave that will change the office.

By you being bothered by this, I can tell that you aren't the type of guy who would say "Please stop insulting me" to this group when it would be most effective (at a meeting). So I'm not going to give you suggestions that you would never take.

But you should talk to someone in the higher-ups if you really are feeling unwelcome.

Either way...man up and talk to someone.

Good luck.
posted by hal_c_on at 5:15 AM on June 28, 2008 [1 favorite]

Ignore this advice, especially since this is a work situation:

As you can see, 'So's Your Mom' is an appropriate response to any insult. It also has the benefit that it will not offend people in the way a proper insult would.

Doing this is walking up to the House of Trouble and begging to be let in. Saying "Your Mother" to older women will fall flat AND piss them off, prompting them to visit HR and have your bacon fried.

It's hard to say from just this post, but you may be overly sensitive on this, but generally speaking, people who genuinely like you don't make fun of "anything else they can come up with" concerning you.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 6:05 AM on June 28, 2008

I doubt that they continue picking on you because they're too clueless to notice that it makes you uncomfortable. I'm one of the most socially-clueless people I know, and even I can tell when my biting sense of humor is not appreciated. I think they've found you a satisfying target, for whatever reason. They don't hate you - if they did they'd just avoid you - but they pick on you because it's fun and there's no reason for them to stop.

I think you're right that complaining to HR would make you look weaker to them, and your best bet is to handle it yourself. There's a double standard here; it might be OK for a woman who feels harassed by male coworkers to go to HR but the reverse doesn't apply. Sucks, but people are pretty sucky sometimes. You'll get more respect if you solve your own problems. (Conversely, if you don't at least make a visible effort before running to HR, there will be disastrous effects on your reputation in the workplace.)

There are a few things you can try to make them stop. If you're in a one-on-one situation, a cool stare, a cocked eyebrow, and silence are very effective. Just keep looking at them with a "What did you just say?" expression but don't actually say anything. Protracted silence will make most people quite uncomfortable and if you train them to expect discomfort when they pick on you, they'll eventually stop.

If you're in a group setting, the silent treatment won't work because somebody will jump in to break the silence. In this case, I think having a supply of stock zingers would work best. It's not nearly as much fun to pick on somebody who fights back and can even best them at their own game.

Their teasing probably follows predictable themes (e.g., "He's so young!" "He's new here!" etc). Forewarned is forearmed, and you can probably think up a bunch of retorts to fire back when they start in on the usual topics. If you're young, they're old (you can up the ante to "over the hill", "obsolete", etc). If you're new, they're lifers who couldn't get a job anywhere else. But be careful here - the degree of meanness in your retorts should be carefully calibrated to the tone of their teasing. You don't want to escalate hostilities so much as show them you can hold your own.

Practice on friends or even in the bathroom mirror until you can hold that Spock-like expression or whip out a zinger with deadpan delivery. Good luck!
posted by Quietgal at 8:53 AM on June 28, 2008

Instead of coming up with a zinger to play along, you could turn their taunts around and make it so they've put their foot in their mouth (feet in mouths?), provided you have no compunction about lying to them.

The next time they make fun of something of yours, look a bit dejected and tell them it was a gift. From a recently deceased relative. Maybe a middle-aged aunt who died of breast cancer. Let the awkwardness build for a few seconds, then excuse yourself and go back to work.

If the teasing is good-natured and they aren't complete harpies, they'll have realized that it has crossed the line.
posted by CKmtl at 10:48 AM on June 28, 2008 [1 favorite]

Ignore them.
posted by Ironmouth at 10:59 AM on June 28, 2008

I once said to somebody "Nice suit, are you goiing to a funeral after work?" This was an entertainment technology company and he was dressed like an undertaker.

The last time someone asked me that question, I was going to a funeral after work. Every office needs an asshole/retard who is universally loathed.

Ignore most of the advice in this thread and go directly to HR. Document everything. If the sexes were reversed, and it was a group of older men discussing and taunting a younger woman's looks, I guarantee you none of this bullshit advice would be posted.

Document everything. HR will do nothing, and the sad divorced old ladies with esteem issues and nothing else to do will keep wasting your time and the company's money. Then you will contact an employment lawyer and you will sue the company for allowing and encouraging a hostile work environment. Because you are a man this will be ten times more difficult. But it can be done.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 12:00 PM on June 28, 2008 [1 favorite]

Not every situation between persons of the opposite gender in an office is sexual harassment, and "if the situations were reversed" is not a reliable guide. It is okay to communicate with one's co-workers directly, rather than running to HR or a lawyer for every dispute right off the bat.

Certain types of women working together do tend to take the sisterhood too far, and it does start to feel like hazing. There is a certain power-grabbing/pecking order element as well. It doesn't likely occur to them this could be considered serious harassment, because they don't have any true power over you.

The Light Fantastic has good advice for a coping mechanism -- pick your role and acknowledge it.

Make one comment, and then get back to work. They tease you about being nerdy, you point out that someone's gotta be nerdy and teach them how to make columns in Word again (or whatever other trivial computer task you helped them with three times last week,) then excuse yourself to get back to work. They tease you about being a man, you sigh wearily and point out that someone's gotta be around to kill spiders and lift boxes, excuse yourself to get back to work. This type of strategy worked well for a young guy I worked with in a small office of all women -- acknowledging the game but participating in only a cursory fashion.
posted by desuetude at 12:37 PM on June 28, 2008

My best suggestion is that you tell them, either individually or as a group, that you are insecure. Say that you appreciate their good intentions, but explain that your self-esteem isn't as strong as theirs, and that you like them, but their comments aren't enjoyable. It's important that you aren't criticizing them and that you are owning up and admitting your insecurity. Once you've admitted it, you don't have to pretend or act like you are secure. It takes that burden off you. I suggest acting patient, but uninterested in the banter.

Crowd and group behavior sometimes brings out the worst in people. There may also be a dominant individual setting the tone. Could be useful to figure out who, if that is the case. If you are upset enough to ask about it here, then I would guess the situation feels pretty bad. The problem, if I understand it, is that the comments are in a grey area between hostility and humor. Reminds me of adolescence. I also suggest writing down the offensive comments. Keep a record. Your emotions are likely affecting your memory, so it's best to be sure. The point of the record is to look back on it at some point in the future, perhaps after you've left the job, to feel better about what you endured. Or you could show it to friends or therapists outside the job, who should have a helpful perspective. Also, if you keep an accurate log, you may see patterns or something that will help. Don't tell your co-workers that you're keeping a log, of course. The "recording" process may also help you develop a bit of detachment. You could also begin to rate and compare the comments, perhaps some are more clever than others, some may be more overtly hostile. Looking at them from an analytical point of view may also increase your detachment.

Good luck.
posted by conrad53 at 3:53 PM on June 28, 2008

I'm skeptical about the advice that you show controlled hostility in return, or stare at them, or otherwise make things uncomfortable. You might be the "sweet, young guy" in the office right now, but you definitely don't want to end up downgrading yourself into the "creepy guy." That just makes things even more awkward. You may as well punch a hole in the wall. Maybe you can give a slightly exasperated look before walking away (not in a huff), and maybe it'll plant the seed that you might think they're kind of annoying.

And yeah, "Your mom" might work as a (friendly) retort to guys your age, but definitely not with women, of any age. The same goes for "Hug it out, bitch." If you can see a sort of pattern in their humor, and you think you might be able to play along, go for it, even if it's just on occasion. It could do wonders.

I still think befriending someone else at work (and making fun of the others behind their backs, and maybe playing elaborate pranks) would seem to be the best way to weaken the effect of their ribbing. Unless you honestly think it's that abusive, reporting to HR, lawsuits, and the like seems a bit overreactionary.

And yes, I did make it a point to include an "Office" reference in each paragraph. Just make sure your new ally isn't cute and engaged. Then you'll end up posting to AskMeFi for a whole 'nother problem...
posted by TheSecretDecoderRing at 5:34 PM on June 28, 2008

Assuming you don't want to engage in the banter, here are some approaches that have worked well for me in overly jokey/tease-y work environments.

For a truly inappropriate joke, ignore it completely. If s/he continues to make the joke, say "I don't really think thats appropriate for the workplace" then go back to your own work.

Make them feel like their jokes aren't funny. If you can say "yeah, good one" or "that's funny" in a completely flat unamused tone, you can make the joker feel dumb.

"I don't know about you, but I've got a lot of work to do over here."

"You know, that wasn't that funny the first dozen times you said it."

Silence for a long beat, then "so, did you need something?"
posted by Cranialtorque at 9:38 PM on June 29, 2008 [3 favorites]

This one works great with an older, male co-worker, "Oh right, this is when you start being a dick".

Other options are:
"Well, I'm gonna go to my office and cry."
"That must be what they said in the 50s when you were my age."

Since they are older women anything that references their age would be good.

Good luck.
posted by KathyK at 8:55 AM on June 30, 2008

I realize that incessant teasing, especially when you feel like you'rr being ganged up on is annoying. However, if you try and stare them down, make a snide comment, or generally try and take it out of context and turn it into some sort of conflict - you will be even more miserable.

I've seen people do this - they turn what is an almost instinctive and harmless reaction to a new person into some sort of battle royale - and no - they aren't teased anymore - but no one likes them.

If your feelings are truly being hurt, try talking one on one to one of the ladies that seems most sympathetic to you. Let her know what is specifically bothering you (maybe you're sensitive about your height or something along those lines). Bring one of them to bat for you and it ought to help.

I just really recommend that you don't use some of the tactics mentioned above. They're not appropriate to the situation, and will make it so much worse for you. Better to be teased and liked than ignored and disliked - trust me on this.
posted by The Light Fantastic at 3:17 PM on June 30, 2008

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