Dear advice columnist,
I am writing today so that I can show your response to the offender in this situation. I am too chicken to speak to him directly. I should start by saying that I am very fortunate never to have been actually sexually assaulted or raped. The one time I was with a guy who wanted to go further than I was ready to, I told him I was uncomfortable and left. I never saw him again, but he also didn’t try to force me to stay. I’ve never felt the lack of safety that many women feel.
That doesn’t mean that I’ve never been faced with the many “micro-agressions” that women face.
I have a colleague who called me, on our first meeting, “Sweetie.” “Sweetie” is what I call infants when I first meet them. It’s not what a man in a professional context should be calling a woman 20 years his junior.
He also brings flowers to us every Monday. What a sweet gesture, right? That’s what he thinks. And it was encouraged by other women. He told me the story of how this tradition came about: he wanted to let “the ladies” in his office know that their work was appreciated, so he started bringing them flowers. Then other women joked “why don’t you bring ME flowers?” and it grew from there. It didn’t bother me at first. Then I realized he wasn’t bringing flowers to everyone in the office; he was bringing flowers to the women in the office.
This week I asked him about it. “Do you bring flowers to everybody, or just the women?”
Earlier today we passed each other in the hall. I don’t remember exactly what he said, but I was too tongue-tied to respond appropriately. I gave a shrug. At which point he patted me on the back.
He’s not a bad guy. How do I get him to understand that calling women “Sweetie,” giving us flowers, and patting us on the back devalue our professional qualifications and experience?