Lady Business: When Men Are Condescending at Work

Thank you, academia, for proving what I always suspected was true—the gender revolution cannot happen as long as men are douchebags to women. The study “Marriage Structure and Resistance to the Gender Revolution in the Workplace” made the following findings: 

We found that employed husbands in traditional marriages, compared to those in modern marriages, tend to (a) view the presence of women in the workplace unfavorably, (b) perceive that organizations with higher numbers of female employees are operating less smoothly, (c) find organizations with female leaders as relatively unattractive, and (d) deny, more frequently, qualified female employees opportunities for promotion.

I wasn’t able to read more than the abstract, but Jezebel had a little more information about this study by Harvard, NYU, and the University of Utah:

They presented male employers with identical job applicants—same experience, same qualifications, same resume—except one was named Dave and the other Diane. Then men in traditional marriages rated “Diane” significantly lower than Dave. Because, you know, vagina. Every woman has felt that—that moment when you can see a man’s engagement switch off, and realize that he will never take you as seriously as he would if you came back with a chest-merkin and a handlebar mustache. But it’s an almost impossible feeling to quantify, and an even harder one to communicate to people who have never felt it. An argument that can be vaporized with an emphatic enough “nu uh!” is a difficult argument to win.

You all are quite smart, so you know my full name is not Joshua. But this has not been the case in several circumstances, like every time a guy has called me at work and asked for “Mr. Sanders.” In fact, one sheriff—who had met me in person—refused to spell my name right, even though we had an email correspondence dating back to 2005.

As Jezebel points out, there’s nothing wrong with choosing to be a housewife or being a woman in a traditional (some read this as antiquated) marriage. The problem is that patriarchal beliefs don’t seem to have room for women to be equal at work while also being submissive at home. It’s troubling to see the double standard so clearly for women, though, who are at once penalized for getting ahead at work, even when it’s harder for them to do so, and praised for being independent even though it means they probably don’t have time for relationships and therefore, can’t be in one of those “traditional marriages.”

Do you encounter male condescension at work? Does it come from men in traditional marriages—which I assume means partnerships in which women don’t work? Was it verbal or in the form of failing to promote you? I was trying to figure out if I ever had this experience with women being condescending, too, because I wasn’t operating according to the corporate culture the way they deemed I should. I think I can count more women like that on both hands than I can men—but that might just be my experience.

Previously: On Confidence and Self-Advocacy, When Men Get Credit for Inventing the Internet

Joshunda Sanders, a Black woman with short black hair, smiles brightly at the camera
by Joshunda Sanders
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Joshunda Sanders is the author of I Can Write the World, How Racism and Sexism Killed Traditional Media: Why the Future of Journalism Depends on Women and People of Color, and The Beautiful Darkness: A Handbook for Orphans. She lives in the Bronx, New York, and sometimes tweets @JoshundaSanders.

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19 Comments Have Been Posted

I haven't experienced male

I haven't experienced male condescension at work, but I did during my college career.

There was one individual in my creative writing class who was assigned to lead the discussion on my essay, and he didn't say one positive thing about it during the entire half hour critique. It really wasn't that bad. Would he have been that harsh if I had been male?

Another experience of male condescension I had in college was in the form of a blog entry written by my replacement for my editor position at the college paper. After my last day as editor, this person wrote a blog entry calling me stupid and talking about how bad I was at my job. It reminded me of something that one would experience in junior high, except that this time a male was the perpetrator.

I haven't had any really negative social experiences involving women since graduating from high school. I guess women grow out of being catty, but being a jerk is forever.


i work with a large amount of females (housekeeping)... if they were catty in high school they will NEVER stop being catty. first hand experience. the men are far more friendly and accepting then the women, especially since i tend to go to work make-up-less. however, while working at a farm stand/nursery (for plants, not for babies), the fellas would saunter up to me ask about our pricing. after giving them the run down, they'd ask my fellow employee (who just happened to have a penis) the same question. he's politely say "i'm pretty sure she just gave you our price list" and walk away. it depends on environment, culture, individual up bringing, and well, just that individual person.

Sports related industries

For a few years I was a director of a youth sports basketball program and ran into a LOT of condescending behavior from men. There were a couple things happening; 1. Men underestimated me because of the immediate assumption that I didn't know much about sports and 2. Lack of respect because of the position I was in at my age (early 20's). Those reasons, along with the fact that I was a female in a very male-dominated industry presented a lot of situations for men to be condescending. Luckily this wasn't the case with everyone I worked with, but it was prevalent among the parents I dealt with every week - many of them did not want to accept my authority of any situation and would continuously try and go over my head. Now I work in another very male-dominated industry (Digital Marketing). I don't feel condescension at work as much, but I definitely feel it at industry events. Thanks for the article!

Advice needed

I'm just wondering how you dealt with it in your early twenties? I'm in a really similar situation at the moment. In my job I have a number of both female and male employees that answer to me, and a male peer. At 24 yrs old ( I tell everyone but my boss I am older to garner some respect) I am much younger than my male counterpart. How funny then that the only employees I struggle with, who speak to me in the most patronizing way, who seem to think that everything I say is a joke, and when I am not sickly sweet to them and actually stand up for myself, complain to my counterpart about what a bitch I am and how badly I speak to them . I have found this article quite enlightening as YES they are mostly all married - although I'm not sure what role their wives have at home. If you have any advice for dealing with people like this in the workplace, I am all ears.

i work with a large amount of

i work with a large amount of females (housekeeping)... if they were catty in high school they will NEVER stop being catty. first hand experience. the men are far more friendly and accepting then the women, especially since i tend to go to work make-up-less. however, while working at a farm stand/nursery (for plants, not for babies), the fellas would saunter up to me ask about our pricing. after giving them the run down, they'd ask my fellow employee (who just happened to have a penis) the same question. he's politely say "i'm pretty sure she just gave you our price list" and walk away. it depends on environment, culture, individual up bringing, and well, just that individual person.

Ok, slightly off-topic (not

Ok, slightly off-topic (not that I don't love the post, because I do) but may I just say how inspired I am to make a t-shirt reading: "The gender revolution cannot happen as long as men are douchebags to women. " Brilliant!

Lady Business: When men are condescending at work

As an educator, a field traditionally populated more by women, I have not directly experienced condescension from males at work. I have, however, noticed that there are more males in the top tiers of education: principals, superintendents, school board members. The people that hold these positions tend to legislate my job without ever coming into my classroom. From my perspective, they sort of "rule from on high." The lowly teacher does not have much of a voice in this scenario, and is often seen in a negative light. Thus, there is an attitude that if students' scores are low, the fault must lie with the teacher. While this is often true, there are many other factors to consider such as the organizational functioning of the school: i.e. does the school as an organization support high achievement, support high achieving teachers, and demand excellence from all stakeholders? On the other hand, I have noted what the author refers to as "women being condescending, too, because I wasn't operating according to the corporate culture the way they deemed I should." To stand out in the teaching profession can be a dangerous endeavor. To achieve excellence through non-traditional methods can earn one poor reviews and evaluations for lack of team cooperation and failing to fit in with the organization's ideals. In these cases, students' scores are irrelevant and teacher's personality is of utmost concern. This topic deserves further investigation, but I can imagine that my claims would be difficult to quantify. I also wonder about the statistical correlation between the percentage of women in the field of teaching and the consistently low salary rates for a very demanding job. The article was thought provoking; frustratingly thought provoking.

I would totally rock that t-shirt!

I love it.

The condescension I

The condescension I experienced was less about being a woman and more about what kind of woman I am. I'm in a traditionally male department, and when I first started, I was thrown to the wolves. My supervisor would wait until a project was almost complete to let me know things needed to be redone to conform to the set standards (that I was just expected to glean from daily production). However, when another woman came to the department who was girly and cutesy who flat out said she had no idea what she was doing, the men in the department leapt to her aid at every turn, even walking her through things I had to figure out on my own. So the lesson I guess was to be as non-threatening and clueless as possible, and then you'll be accepted by your male peers.

I definitely get the idea

I definitely get the idea that some of these men find me scary and unapproachable, because there are a lot of feminine things that I don't do.

I once was an intern at a medium-sized company in the tech industry. I was one of the only technical women there, if not the only one; I forget. Only one man who worked there full time, who was a friend of mine from college, would deign to talk to me; I thought it was because I wasn't seen as being worth anyone's time. Near the end of the internship, he told me that lots of his coworkers had asked him <i>how he got up the nerve to talk to me</i>. It wasn't that they didn't want to talk to me, it was that I was so terrifying for some reason that they just didn't want to. I still don't know if it was just because I'm a lady and they were a bunch of young dudes with poor social skills, or that I'm a SCARY lady who isn't particularly cute, or what.

Types of women who get crap in the workplace

Ugh. Lucritia. Yes.

So, if you're a "cute girly girl" then I think I prompts all kinds of male behavior that is in line with chivalry. I believe it plays on the male ego and may be more pleasant to be around than (god forbid) a woman who lives a self-approved life, may be more masculine of center, as one of my acquaintances put it recently, or anything that falls outside of what most men think they are able to wrap their brains around.

The code word for black women in corporate circles who don't aspire in anyway to assimilate their appearance (wearing naturals instead of weaves or perms, for example) is "intimidating." So in this respect, I've always been considered daunting or intimidating, particularly by white men and women who 1) don't know any black people 2) assume because I have dreadlocks and don't smile all the time that I'm militant and "one of those mean black girls and 3) rarely have had to interact with a woman who truly wants to be judged by the quality and merit of her work rather than what she's wearing/what she looks like and whether or not she's striving to be a part of society's ready made containers for who she "should" become.

I do experience this

It was a great comfort for me to read that article, actually. I work in software, and I definitely experience this. I thought that I was just being paranoid, or something, but it's definitely true. I can almost tell you what someone's expectations for a heterosexual relationship are, based on how they treat me at work.

I would argue that "traditional marriage" is not an institution to be respected- it brings a whole lot of baggage about gender roles with it, baggage that you don't necessarily adhere to even if there's a husband and a wife and children, and the wife stays home with them. I know people in relationships like that, and the men in them don't condescend to me, and the women in them aren't expected to do a bunch of submissive bullshit, either. I think it's the "women must submit" part that makes a traditional marriage awful and poisonous. I have very strong feelings about this, as a woman married to a man. We've managed to form a more or less egalitarian partnership, while being horrified at the model for marriage that society presents. This is also a huge reason why I'm so pro gay marriage, because anything that opens up the definition of what a good marriage or partnership looks like directly benefits and supports my own relationship with my spouse.

I've experienced

I've experienced condescention more from women than from men...but that may be because the men I work with are pretty cool. I also look a lot younger than I really am and I think at first they are all 'oooh look at this young firebrand making a name for herself' then they find out how old I am but they still retain the respect at how hard I work and how I get the work done... but because I am now becoming a woman of a certain age and I don't have children (I can't) the women that I work with are brutal... I can't have a legitimate opinion because I haven't been through the crucible of child birth or rearing and therefore I'm not really forming a mature opinion.

I think some men can be d-bags...but I find that women are much worse.

Yes, women can be very cruel to each other

This idea right here is one of the reasons I've had difficulty with some women:
"I can't have a legitimate opinion because I haven't been through the crucible of child birth or rearing and therefore I'm not really forming a mature opinion."

Sociologists and other researchers have written a bit about how women are considered girls, essentially, until they have children and have proven by the crucible of childbirth (I love that phrase) that they are now "real women." I don't believe that, by the way, but I think the way that women who don't have children can be condescended to by women who do is actually more of a pervasive problem in the workplace than male challenges and worries about inadequacies.

It makes me think of "Mean Girls" except...we're not supposed to be in high school and I can't stand a bully, no matter what said bully has experienced that I haven't.

Male Condescension

I haven't experienced male condescension at work so far in my career. I am only 23, and can imagine that I will at some point. However where I work now, I went from being the a clerk to a manager, and while I don't plan to spend the rest of my life working in a grocery store, I am proud of that. Many of my colleagues who are mostly male support me in moving up even further in the company.However, in general I feel like managers of all genders and those who interview me do not take me seriously because I am a young woman. In my eyes I see a PERSON who has managed to move up faster and been just as efficient and dependable or even more so as anyone else so that gets irritating.

Not exactly in the workplace,

Not exactly in the workplace, but I'm in grad school, and my advisor constantly belittles me and says condescending things. I'm also reasonably sure he's married with a stay at home wife. I am so happy I am graduating soon and will not have to put up with his shit for much longer.

Feministas Unite!

Please do not confuse the "bitchiness" of female coworkers with the soul-crushing condescension of the "hey little lady" male attitude.
Working in the construction industry I have experienced this more times than I care to admit.
Despite any qualifications, merits, or achievements you will always be a nameless female to them.
When addressing you, they will cycle through every female name they know before they (maybe) settle on the right one.
Sometimes they never even bother pretending; after two years one man kept greeting me as "Georgia." (And not ironically.)
I am continually referred to as "young lady" instead of my name.
I was once told, to my face, that as a "girl" I would have to work harder than my project manager male counterparts to command respect.
My boss once told a group of managers that I looked "ragged and worn out." Since I and my fellow coworkers wholeheartedly disagreed with this assessment, I can only assume that is how he interpreted my lack of make-up, high heels, and skirts; signs of a wumun who done know'd her place in society.
I've had a man come up behind me and stroke my hair after a fresh haircut. A former boss, who fancied himself my grandfather, would pinch the back of my neck and comment on how cute I looked in my grown-up clothes.
I've sat through meetings where jokes about marriage and wives cut through the air like knives and lodge in my chest with a thud as everyone looks up and realizes there is in fact a female sitting at the table.

If I sound bitter and jaded, that's because I am. I am only 27 years old.
This wasn't something I was prepared for; I was raised without gender-defined limits and it never occurred to me that others would try to put them in place for me.
I am concerned that the new wave of feminism is so busy trying to prove a point by taking its clothes off that it is missing the opportunity to educate and provide the next generation of women with the tools they need to fight back.
Sexual freedom is important, but total sexual liberation is never going to really free us.


You put into words exactly what I was thinking as I was reading the other replies. Go on girl, preach.

Yes, all the time . . . but what to do?

I feel the need to chime in as one of (I suspect this must be true!) the silent majority: YES! I have and do experience condescension from men in the workplace. It is really affirming/reassuring to read that it has been scientifically proven that this is not my imagination (though frankly I'd given up on that explanation). I work in a traditionally male-dominated field that is now closer to reaching a gender balance, but the culture lags behind. I can't count the times I've been interrupted in meetings while I'm speaking, not asked for my input on matters directly concerning my department (which I head) while a male in the room is asked. When I purchase equipment with an employee in tow (almost always male) the suppliers always speak to them and ignore me. Some days I get a chuckle when they are corrected, other days I am just over it. I've had men literally turn their back toward me in meetings, closing me out of the circle. When there is something exciting going on in my department, I have stood there while men ask other men about it who know nothing about the matter. I am probably at a further disadvantage in that I am small and look younger than I am (I know, nothing to complain about, right?). I am still trying to figure out how best to handle these situations. I feel I should stand up for myself and be assertive, but at the same time I'd love to see some of these guys fall flat because they don't have the information that I alone can provide! I used to get a kick out of surprising people with how capable I am despite (?) my gender, size, age, etc. but as I grow older, I realize how much harder I have to work to prove myself. God forbid if I want to take some time off to have kids - then my credibility will totally be blown. To be clear: there are men I work with who are not only great, but also notice that this is going on. I think they are as clueless as I am as far as what to do about it though.

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