The Art of Infiltrating Cultures

Things (White) Middle-aged Men Say

Privilege. Entitlement. Patriarchy.

All these centuries of having an upper-hand may unarguably turn anyone into an arsehole.

Is it white privilege? Certainly. Is it ageism and reluctance to change, at the threat of a highly capable – but opportunity-deprived – millennial generation? Definitely. Is it that most of the felonies, atrocities and injustices have the one common denominator of being inflicted by male humans? Who could argue that.

One could think from a theoretical perspective that those 3 factors put together in the same person is a recipe for disaster. However many of us live surrounded by those 3 factors and we manage to survive. I say “survive” because floating in “mild sexism” is no piece of cake, and neither is listening to jokes with a racist or xenophobic punchline. When it comes to homophobia it is all that more exasperating.

Does this ring a bell?

If you have read this far, nothing is yet surprising. You are familiar with all of this. You have lived it. It is probably all too real for you. You might be a woman who does not remember a week – or even a day – without some sort of sexism or sexual harassment in her life. You might be an LGBT+ person who knows too well that they suffer the most extreme end of the aforementioned harassment. You might be a non-white person and have experienced racism in the work environment or on social settings. Or you might be a decent male person who understand what toxic masculinity is and is brave enough to break free from it – if that is you, WE NEED YOU, the world needs you and more people like you in order to evolve into a decent human society.

Because I am constantly bombarded by these “mild comments” or jokes, I decided to start writing them down. I try to give you some context so you can judge where the quote came from. Everything remains anonymous, but you can probably see people that you regularly interact with yourself reflected in some of these.


“Oh, you didn’t tell me you were bringing a pretty, young girl!”

Context: A colleague to my boss, when we went to see the simulation he was running, which is part of the project I work on with my boss. For 2 years.

“You don’t want kids? But you need to spread those “pretty genes” of yours.”

Context: After replying for the 100th time that “no, I don’t need to start thinking about having kids”.

“Oh, if I close the door there might be rumours about us”

Context: A colleague about closing the door to his office while having a private conversation; he thought that a 60 year old man and a woman in her late 20s would raise a flag, at work, about having something more than a work conversation. He wasn’t against closing the door either, but rather needed to share his inappropriate thought which had never crossed my mind.

“Show us your hands; cuts and wounds show that you have been doing boys’ work.”

Context: To a male colleague who spent the weekend doing bricolage; the only female colleague present at the time has single-handedly done the entire plumbing and electricity in her apartment, and a few pieces of furniture too, but it is still “boys’ work”.

“There is a prostitution awareness seminar for those arrested while getting the ‘service’. I told my wife if she would let me go. You know, for curiosity”. Another colleague “oh, so that’s what you do on your weekend?”, chuckles.

Context: The way they said “prostitute”, like one would say “weed”, or any illegal but appealing activity that one would not openly confess about at work, was exasperating. When mentioning how dreadful the lives of these victims of gender subjugation and human trafficking are, which is what feeds the sex business, I was disregarded as a “not fun person”.

“But if I see a pretty girl in the street, why wouldn’t I tell HER that she’s pretty?”

Context: Over lunchtime, while explaining why street harassment is so prevalent in Paris. They kept arguing that they should be able to give “compliments” to random women in the street. They also called me “hysteric” at some point for emphasising how it is not OK.

“So she’s leaving, we’ll need to find you another pretty, young girl to share the office with you”

Context: To my officemate, when I was moving to another department.

“This is the difference between having a wife and having a girlfriend”

Context: The boss to a younger colleague, comparing how the younger one’s shirt was not properly ironed.

“One day the secretary went outside to her car and it started to rain so much that when she came back her shirt was completely wet”. “How old is she?”

Context: A colleague explaining a little anecdote to a partner from outside, while the secretary wasn’t even present. The partner asked about her age before I jumped in, stating how inappropriate that was. The partner, himself, could easily be a grandfather.

“You are in the corner office, I know. The other day we had visitors from Italy, and they were jealous when passing through your corridor, commenting that we have such beautiful girls. Then they got to Bob’s office [laughs]”

Context: Bob [not his real name] is a physically challenged male colleague. His office is right next to mine. I don’t even blame the colleague for the comment, but rather it comes to illustrate that male visitors as much as male colleagues think of young girls in the work environment as “nice objects to have around”.

“You don’t need to cry, it’s nothing serious.”

Context: One of the managers of human resources (nobody knows what this person actually does, he’s regarded as pretty useless, although he makes more than 13,000€ net a month) called me urgently into his office to give me a “pep talk” when I was applying for a permanent position after 3 years working there. Although he had never been my manager or mentor and there were 3 other people in my same situation, he would only call ME into his office. Often. Over the course of two years. In this particular case he sat on a chair right in front of me, and his opening line was that I didn’t need to cry – which I wasn’t – putting me in an inferior position from the start. (That line would have never been used with a male colleague). He then proceeded to bullying me, telling me how I was an underachiever and I had chosen the wrong team to work for and that my career was doomed. My job had nothing to do with him, by the way. My only explanation was that he probably had a bad day and needed someone to receive the punches. It was completely inappropriate.

“I know I mean something to you, there has been many a time your eyes have given you away, and I really like that.”

Context: Within a very inappropriate email sent to a much younger colleague by stalking her over social networks; the “relationship” he created in his mind had the foundation of both drinking tea sometimes, and she being nice enough to chit chat with him. Twice her age and projecting his fantasies on her in order to make her responsible of his delusion, this sentence was beyond creepy.

Are you creeped out yet?

“I can teach you French, and you can teach me to steal cars.”

Context: To a new Romanian recruit in the office. Just because he is Romanian.

“This is bilateral. You have been provoking this”

Context: A top manager had been harassing an employee (not in his team or projects) based on her origin and gender, and a harassment report had been filed. The harasser would target the victim on the corridor, whether she was alone or not, and even in her office, going out of his way to make her uncomfortable. During the confrontational meeting about the complaint, one of the managers on human resources (the same as above), took the harasser’s side. He stated that the victim was also to blame since this had been a “bilateral issue”, that she had provoked it due to her “personality”. He yelled at her as if she was a child.

“So the terrorists, with so many people demonstrating against Macron, why don’t they attack there?”

Context: After an stabbing incident at Opera in Paris the same weekend of a demonstration in the city against the government; apparently, terrorism is bad as long as it’s not killing leftists in the process.

“Those protesters, they should just hit them harder”

Context: While discussing strikes and police violence at the ZAD and at Universities all over France in 2018, tear-gas and sound grenades on top of military charges on the farmland in Notre-Dame des Landes.

“He still hasn’t sold you? But I want my porsche”

Context: a colleague to a colleague’s girlfriend, joking about having made a deal that he’d sell his girlfriend and buy him a porsche. When confronted that it is inappropriate to joke about selling women, he said “But he’s from Romania, that’s what they do!” Sometimes there’s no point in pointing out bigotry to people.

“Here, I corrected your business cards and ordered them”

Context: My manager at the time, 3 years into a graduate programme – which is a normal full time engineering job with normal responsibilities. I asked for business cards because I was attending meetings and conferences, representing the team. He changed my job description to “graduate student” and added my MSc degree – that I had finished 3 years before – instead of the job I was doing. He also “corrected” my last name, using a parental last name I had changed years before, because “he saw it somewhere”.

“This is XX, she is also a student”

Context: My manager (same as above) to a group of 14 year-olds that were visiting the workplace as part of their high school programme. I was twice their age and doing a full time engineering job for 3 years. He said I was ALSO a student, though. Which I was objectively not.

“Pilots nowadays don’t have to do anything”. “Yeah when they get a call to do something they are pissed off, having to ask the air hostess to get off their lap”. “Or from between their legs”. “He he he.”

Context: At the simulation room when visitors from the American counterpart of our organisation were given a walk to learn about our simulation capabilities. The two managers that made these comments are both top managers in their late 50s / early 60s. I was so mortified by those comments that I apologised in their behalf to our visitors. They took that, too, as a joke.

It is exhausting to work when surrounded by idiots!

This list is not even exhaustive. We had to keep some out because they were too hard to explain, or too specific. We also forgot most of the everyday comments in the course of 5 years so this is just a sample of the last memorable 2 years of sexism at the office. But in all fairness it’s not just them. It’s the CULTURE.


If you are interested in popular culture analysis, especially on sexism, Pop Culture Detective deal with how sexism and toxic masculinity is portrayed in the media (i.e. films and series), and they also analyse positive masculinity examples. Here is one: be more like Newt Scamander.

You might also like reading Toxic coolness : “I’m not one of those annoying feminists/vegans”.

What do you think?

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