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SEXISM

The Awful Things Men Say to Women at Work Parties

Guys, please don’t tell women we look "fertile".

by Laura Bell
19 January 2018, 2:52am

Image via Shutterstock

This article originally appeared on VICE US

What is it about after-work parties? Though most of us make a genuine attempt to maintain professional relationships and not act like sexist creeps in the workplace, this decorum seemingly flies out the window when people have a few drinks.

Over the last six months or so, we’ve been hearing an endless stream of assault and harassment allegations, a fair chunk of them going down in these not-quite-work-but-still-with-coworkers settings. Here we see some men abuse the alcohol and casual social nature of a work function to exercise their self-proclaimed entitlement to women’s bodies and attention.

You’ll often hear this being explained away as harmless flirting, a lack of filter or just misjudging signals. As someone who recently listened to a coworker laugh about rape for seven minutes straight, I’m here to tell you it’s a full-blown epidemic and it’s probably not “harmless.” Particularly because the men making inappropriate or aggressive comments tend to be in positions of power over their female counterparts.

For too long this has been something women have put up with, perpetuating a culture of “acceptable” sexual harassment. To give these men who may have never been publicly called out a hint, I spoke to a group of my female friends, and collected their stories of gross comments made to them at work parties. From friends openly being warned off particularly “handsy” bosses or friends who are asked by their male superior to wear makeup and shorter skirts, it seems that workplace equality still has a long long way to go.

*Some names have been changed.

“Who ordered the hooker?”

I work in a particularly male-dominated industry where the majority of their time is spent in the pub guffawing about something to do with property or golf. In order to not miss out on this networking opportunity I too have to subject myself to this event every Thursday where their four pints are matched with my four large glasses of wine. Last week when I walked into the pub one of my male colleagues shouted across the room (in front of both clients and bosses): “Who ordered the hooker?” So as not to offend anyone by seeming “sensitive” I pretended to laugh along with the brutes. Ha. Ha. Ha. — Jane*, 24, London

“You’re a nice girl Clare, and have a nice arse”

This was a senior colleague at a work party, in front of other senior people. I would have hoped for an embarrassed apology on Monday morning but nothing came my way—perhaps he was too drunk to remember. Suffice to say nice me and my nice arse didn't stick around for much longer. — Clare, 25, London

“So how’s your sex life?”

I hadn't seen this man in a long long time. But apparently this is a perfectly acceptable point of conversation to initiate a catch up. He asked me how I was and how my sex life was—all in the space of one breath. He really caught me off guard so I just replied “Good and good” and then, worse of all, thanked him. “Good and good thank you”. After that there was nothing I could do but leave. Sad for me. — Marta*, 23, London

“Am I coming to your place or is it a pass?”

I was at a networking event at my college and I was quietly sipping my drink at the bar perfectly content. But alas, a lone drinker in such an environment is like a drop of blood in the ocean for the sharks of Saratoga and immediately I could hear the familiar da dum, da dum, of approaching douchebaggery. I watch as a man in a suit spots me, he then reaches into his pocket to pull out his phone and without dialling a number he puts it to his ear as he slides over. I can still see the home screen lighting up his cheek when he says “Haha, no you’re awesome. Bye man.” He sits down next to me and without waiting for a word from me says “You’re probably wondering what that was about.” “I used to be a pro hockey player and that was my teammate.” Hoping to cover up the empty silence I was leaving by not caring for him one bit he said “I know what you’re thinking, this guy is just brawn. I went to college too OK? Don't be so snooty.” It's always a good move insulting someone you’re attempting to seduce, and although being called snooty does wonders for my libido this exchange wasn’t quite hitting the mark with me and I followed this comment with more silence. After the initial effort of the sentences he obviously thought this was enough courting to precede a lay “Am I coming to your place or is it a pass?” “It’s a hard pass” was my response. With a shrug and a “fair enough” he went on his merry way. But hey, at least his imaginary pro hockey teammate thinks he’s “awesome.” — Morgan, 22, Saratoga

“Do you girls have Brazilians?”

I was doing a full on schmooze at a work event—working in property so it’s pretty much 15 men and me on a daily basis—when my boss interrupted me to ask me if I had a Brazilian wax. He then went on to ask the only other female colleague the same question. Apparently he was asking for his wife. Does that make it worse? — Amy*, Reading

“I’m going to lick your pussy clean”

There was a guy at work who I had an ongoing flirtation with—he was head of another department but we worked quite a bit together, so technically my superior. Whilst the relationship was mostly professional some low key flirtation was known to happen but never anything untoward as he knew I was in a happy relationship. At some rather bizarre work club night he started to put on the moves pretty thick and it was obvious I should shut it down. After I reminded him I had a boyfriend he then leaned in and in an attempt at a seductive whisper said “I’m going to lick your pussy clean.” Now a few years later I can’t remember if he said “dry” or “clean.” But to be honest I find both equally as unsexing. Why would he want to lick it dry and why would I need to have him lick it clean?—so many questions. I walked away after this and now every time I even think about those words I full on shudder and feel my legs fuse together for maybe the rest of time. There’s no need for him to lick it dry, I just have to think about him and I dry up like a bone. — Heather*, London

“New York is all about sex and art. She's damaged but in a hot way”

I was at the Toronto Film Festival opening party and got trapped in a conversation with one of the heads of the department explaining to me how if capital cities were women what type of women they would be. According to this wise soul London is the type of girl who’s “a little snooty, very slutty, but you would want to introduce her to your parents.” Apparently he digs New York the most—“New York is all about sex and art. She's damaged but in a hot way.” As he proceeded to recount 15 different cities and what their female attributes would be (Copenhagen has great legs) I started to realize that maybe this was my fault. I should have shut this down before it started. This man was important in the company though, so I kept my mouth closed and counted how many times he said “fucking” or “tit.” I lost count at 32 times. I still didn't say anything, instead I slugged three vodka sodas in the space it took for him to tell me why San Francisco has “a great pair of tits but is fucking dull.” "I've dated a lot of Londons," he says winking at me. Sadly I think even he was confused with his own metaphor by the end; was he just referring to the women who lived there or was he trying to make offensive and sweeping generalizations about all women whilst arbitrarily linking them to cities? The whole thing needed more work. Anyway I digress with trying to understand his madness, because literally who cares? — Kat*, Toronto

“I just love your vibe. You look so FERTILE”

This was an unprompted comment by a man I’d never met. He stopped me to say “I don't normally do this but I had to come over and tell you.... I just love your vibe. You look so fertile”. I wasn’t sure if fertile was a compliment, and I have since been unable to work out what he meant. I guess it will always be one of the universe’s great unanswered questions. — Emily*, London

“Just breast?”

I was in a semi-professional environment the first time I met my friend’s boyfriend (who is now her husband but let’s not open that can of worms). Like many initial social interactions he told me he was a lawyer. I’m an actress. Turns out he was thrilled to be able to talk to me about various parts of my industry that interested him. I’m more than happy to talk about what I do but I’m not sure how many times someone can mention my breasts in a tirade of questions before I become slightly weary of their motives. “Have you ever been naked in a role?” he asked. “How much would they have to pay you to get naked?” “Just breast?” “What would it take for you to take off your clothes on camera?” The strangest part of this interaction was that he was attempting genuine interest that I think he assumed wouldn't bother me. Sadly, that interest was solely in my being nude and I wasn't down for that. I’m an actress, not a porn star, and asking me which breast I would prefer to show to a camera “if I had to” is just incredibly socially weird and not a conversation I would ever want to have again. (But, just for the sake of clarity, it would have to be the right one.) — Daniella, 26, Vancouver

“Oh look at all these women and look at all these things”

Oh boy. Less funny more horrifying was the conversation that I had to endure with a white male executive producer talking about diversity in film whilst at an industry event in London. He was British with an international accent that he’d clearly picked up from living in LA for a spell after being an arsehole over there too. The conversation began when we started discussing diversity in mainstream film, to which he told me he thought it was just unnecessary “box ticking.” “Oh look at all these women and look at all these things,” he said. I’m not sure what he meant by “things” (complete with air quotes), and I actually think it best not to think about it. The conversation got heated as I vehemently disagreed with all the comments he was making; there’s nothing like being shushed while someone continues to be inexplicably offensive, I was honestly stumped. After a while I just shut up and let it wash over me. Afterwards I took a long, long shower. — Sasha*, London

“Cultural appropriation is a construct of the left”

I was on board a networking event on a boat in London—I know what you’re thinking: networking + the inability to escape makes for an excruciating time. You would be correct. The party had a small theme “hint of wild.” Personally I didn't participate in the theme nor did 99 percent of people on board. One man did, he came wearing a full African gown complete with a headdress of fruit, and he was white. When I told him I thought it was unbelievably inappropriate, he scoffed. He then asked if I was “one of those horrible liberals” and lamented that “cultural appropriation is a construct of the left.” We had an argument for about 20 minutes and then I remembered I was going to be stuck on this boat with him for the next three hours so I went to hide in the cockpit. — Lil, 23, London

“I hear you’re very sexually liberated these days”

I was at an alumni event a couple of years after graduating and was exposed to all of the people I’d severed ties to immediately upon leaving university all in one go. Half way through the event I was approached by a loose friend of a friend—we’re talking the kind of guy I probably introduced myself to each time I saw him because he was that unmemorable. Without anything preceding it he says “I hear you’re very sexually liberated these days.” I was then instantly reminded why I hadn’t seen these people for two years. — Meg*, Oxford

“Are we getting ready for a spit roast?”

I was working in post production as a runner and found myself in a conversation with one guy my age and our superior at some work drinks. A senior colleague then walked over and, in front of the room at large—it was a fairly tame work drinks so there was no drunken ambience to drown it out “What’s going on here—are we getting ready for a spit roast?” I was so surprised I didn't say anything. The most disappointing part is that at least 10 people heard and not one stepped in to call out the inappropriate comment, instead they giggled along as if to appease him. Media is weird. — Katie, 22, Colorado

“How much?”

I was out with a friend and her dad at a regular networking event. Admittedly, he was slightly older than the usual drinker but nothing out of the ordinary. We’re talking Jon Hamm age, not Hugh Hef. A guy in a suit started talking to me at the bar as we were waiting for drinks—he seemed alright, a little arrogant but just about bearable. I could see the barmen throwing a bottle of vodka around so I figured my Porn Star Martini couldn't be far off. After a few minutes chatting he said: “So… how much…?” and then cocked his head towards my friend’s dad. “How much for what?” I asked. “Well I know—and you know—that you’re not hanging out with this guy for fun, are you?” My jaw dropped and I looked from the man in the suit (and his smudged beard scratch, still plugged with a tiny piece of white tissue from a shave that morning) to my friend’s dad and back again. Man in suit smirked as I spluttered. My friend's dad was strangely flattered, but let's not explore that too much. That was the first time I'd been mistaken for a prostitute but considering it was only last week that an older woman claimed I “didn't look old enough to be anyone's girlfriend,” I'm pretty sure it won't be the last. — Megan, 25, London

“You have a bum like Kim K”

I worked in a pub with a lot of male colleagues who were both flirtatious with me and unbelievably rude. I guess this dates back to playground politics where if a boy liked a girl he would probably push her over and call her ugly. The men in my work place were sadly no different. Once I was asked if I was disabled because I was so short. The same guy at drinks after work the next day then told me I had “a bum like Kim K” because he’d seen me bending over the photocopier and liked what he saw—which is weird because I am actually too short to bend over anything. Then later in the convo he told me he liked tall girls with small bums anyways. What a strange man-child he was. — Constance, 24, London

“Are you wearing white panties?”

I was at an obnoxious “white party” which was an industry-wide event where everyone had to wear something white (which made the weirdly retro blacklight slightly problematic). All the people I work with on a day to day basis were there plus the people I hoped to work with in the future. Everyone was drinking and doing a good job of remaining appropriate and all was going swimmingly until I got trapped in a conversation with my boss—MY BOSS—who asked me in hushed tones if I was also “wearing white panties?” Panties! Nothing worse than someone saying “panties,” especially complete with a little lick of the lips. What was even worse was I had to work with him the next day. — Lucy, 27, London

“I’ve thought about it, and I think you’d probably look good naked”

I worked at a bar and after a prolonged purposeful silence one colleague said “I’ve thought about it, and I think you’d probably look good naked.” I don't know what was more offensive—the fact that he said “probably” or the fact that he thought that was an appropriate thing to say to his colleague and also that I would “probably” like to hear it! — Zoe, 20, Hampshire

“Then we’d fuck on the desk at work”

My colleague knew I had a boyfriend but this didn't stop him getting drunk at the Christmas party and begging me to break up with my boyfriend and be with him instead. The following courting/argument for said dumping was to go into grotesque detail about how he’d imagine us having sex. Apparently we’d “fuck on the desk at work” and luckily for me he added that I’d “really enjoy” myself. At least my pleasure was factored into his fantasy. However I had to politely decline. He then ended up going home with another colleague. They probably fucked on the desk at work. — Rhea*, London