This Woman's Boss Called Her Out For "Not Dressing Like A Lady," And I Just Wanna Know Where He Found The Audacity
Figuring out office dress codes can be tricky, especially early in your career when you want to make a good impression but don't have a big paycheck to blow on a whole new wardrobe for work. But for one woman on Reddit, her awful boss just made things even more uncomfortable.
Recently, u/elliegantt took to r/AntiWork to share that her boss at her internship called her out for "not dressing like a lady," as if that's even a thing. She wrote, "I'm a 20-year-old female. I'm currently an intern for a small business company, and it is my first work experience. You can literally just guess the dress code is typical formal office clothes stuff for workers."
Sounds pretty normal, but her story takes a hard left turn from there. "So, one day I met my boss as we were all about to go out for a meeting which was 20 minutes by car. We were waiting for our cars to arrive by the entrance of our building to go [to] the meeting. He suddenly commented about how I should learn on how to be like a 'lady' from one of my female colleagues."
First of all, if you identify as a lady and you're wearing clothes, you're dressed like a lady in my book. But the story continues. She wrote, "I looked at myself up and down to see what I was wearing since I was confused as to why he would say that in the first place. I was wearing a long sleeved, button down blouse with some wide pants. I had minimal makeup on (concealer, eyeliner, lip tint, mascara), wore a necklace and a ring, and had tied my hair up into a low ponytail since the wind was messing up my hair."
She went on to write, "So I asked him what he meant, and he just mentioned 'your appearance.' I had other colleagues who wore the same thing as I did, too, yet he didn't care to mention this to them. What should I do about this matter?"
And before we even get to the discussion in the comments, she added an edit that just makes things worse. "Apparently, my HR is scared of my boss (probably scared of being fired), and my other colleagues are telling me to adapt to it and saying, 'He's always like that, just let him be.'"
She also added in a comment, "Sure, one comment doesn’t matter, but then he also started calling me lazy since I don’t do manicures like my colleague. He told me to cut my hair and says 'it will grow back' when I tie my hair up nicely. Told me to get new glasses so I can 'focus better.' If it’s once in a blue moon, fine. Every fucking time I meet him, he has something to say."
In the comments, some people speculated about why this dude even felt the need to comment on how this intern was dressed. One user wrote, "This may be an attempt to make you feel insecure about yourself, which would make it far easier to manipulate you in his favor. Like business/workplace negging."
And another person pointed out that women wearing pants in a professional context is a shockingly recent development. "If he is over 50 years old, he is most likely referring to the fact that you're wearing pants. It took until the mid-20th century for men to accept that women can wear pants. Yes, I know how stupid this sounds. It took until 1972 in the USA for girls to be able to legally wear pants to school. Women were not allowed to wear pants on the US Senate floor until 1993."
Title IX of the Education Amendments Act of 1972 made it illegal for schools receiving federal assistance to require women and girls to wear dresses and skirts. And in 1993, the dress code for the Senate was loosened after Senators Carol Moseley-Braun and Barbara Mikulski bucked tradition and came to work in pantsuits (I truly can't believe this happened during my lifetime and not, like, 30 years before I was born).
Another commenter took on the defeatist attitude of the intern's coworkers and HR. "This is what my friend calls the 'squeaky stair' problem. Everyone is told, 'Oh yes, that stair always squeaks, that's just the way it is.' You get told to avoid it, or just accept it squeaks. But does anyone actually go out of their way to fix it? Nope, it seems so much easier just to tell folks to avoid or accept it rather than face the issue head on. HR in this instance is the group telling you to avoid or accept it, because it's just easier for them to do that than to address the problem head on and actually fix things. He's an ass and needs to be held accountable for his actions, but the folks that could do that find it easier to downplay the situation and tell folks to just avoid/accept the situation."
And other women shared that they intentionally try to look less feminine at work. One wrote, "I used to work with a bunch of engineers (I'm a woman), and I would 'de-sex' myself on purpose as to not get any unwanted attention (I know, sad, but it actually helped) by wearing a polo, khakis, and leather tie shoes everyday. The nerve of that asshole."
I also loved some of the more sarcastic responses, like this person who wrote, "Thanks for the feedback, boss. By the way, you dress pretty well for a misogynist."
And this person who had a delightful idea: "Tell him you need a raise in order to afford a new wardrobe. Then buy pantsuits."
Someone else suggested that the boss could maaaybe use a taste of his own shitty medicine: "Give the boss pointers every day on how to look professional. Lose weight. Wrong color shoes. Get a better fitting suit. Get a more fashionable suit. Get better shoes. That tie doesn't really say what it needs to. If he wears glasses, get better frames. Has he thought about a hair piece? Grow a mustache. Lose the mustache. Trim the sideburns. Concealer isn't for women only. Trim the nose hair (e.g. 'You've got a nose hair sticking out'). Same with the ear hair."
People also suggested some solid serious solutions for the intern, and I'm super curious which of these three you think she should choose:
Solution one: Document, document, document, then take it to HR and the school. One person wrote, "So, this is textbook sexual harassment. Never be alone with him, and document every single piece of BS out of his mouth (including time/date/location). Also, calmly ask him if whatever criticism he makes hampers your ability to do your work, and when he says no, you can ask him to stop the comments about your appearance as they make you uncomfortable. Note this, too. If (when) he opens his slimy trap again, that’s when you make your complaint. (At this point you can establish a pattern of behavior and that you attempted to solve this issue quietly). I’d also suggest that you talk to your school. They have a duty to protect you from this as much as the employer."
Solution two: Keep HR out of it, but look for local legal protections. One commenter wrote: "Gender expression — which your boss is critiquing for you — is protected in the workplace in many states. If he ever fires you for it or whatever, that shit gets into the illegal category, if you’re in a state that’s good about that anyway. And also remember that HR is not there to help you, it’s there to protect the company that’s paying them. If you need help, go outside for it."
Solution three: Since the internship will only go for a couple more months, it might be best just to put up with it, get the experience, and get out. One commenter wrote, "Complete your program and don’t let some creep's comments negatively impact your career. As long as you are dressing appropriately, ignore him. If you can, try to avoid ever being alone with him [to] do that. If you needed this position long term, I would give different advice, but with a short stint like this, just get the experience and leave."
If you were in this intern's shoes, which solution would you pick? Let's talk about it in the comments.