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I'm a man in his 20s working in a research center in one European university and I'm wearing a longer beard and completely shaved hair (my uni doesn't have any dress-code or something like that). Everything is good here, except one thing.

Everybody was ok with my appearance, until one of my female colleagues started publicly complaining about it. At first she usually put it as a joke, but lately, she started openly insulting me in front of other colleagues with "just shave that, you look terrible" etc. To make it even worse, she started to gossip about me with other colleagues and some of them came to me with similar appeals.

Today she confronted me again when I was drinking my coffee in the kitchen and she told she will make a petition and gather a lot of subscriptions for this.

To be honest, I feel very uncomfortable because of this and I don't know how to deal with this situation. Up to this day, I was trying to overcome it with smile and joking, but I feel really insulted every time.

I can't see any way out of this - I feel it's really silly to argue about my beard and haircut with people in their late 20s in a math department. Moreover, I don't want to appear aggressive or argumentative in comparison with a petite woman (no offense, just description). But of course, I don't want to be insulted, either.

How should I deal with this?

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    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – enderland Sep 15 '16 at 14:09
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    @SnakeDoc What the OP describes is serious harassment, or it would be described a s such if OP was a woman, and perhaps even get (male) harasser into serious trouble and talk with HR. I would definitely firmly and calmly reply that she should mind her own looks (unless she is absolutely gorgeous, but even in that case it may hit her nerves) and leave me alone. Of course, only the OP knows whether he wants to keep kind of good personal relations to her, I would not. And NO, that is definitely NOT "normal" amount of teasing! – xmp125a Sep 16 '16 at 6:57
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    You are being bullied. Do not tolerate it. But do not over-react either. Take appropriate actions through the proper channels. – Brad Thomas Sep 16 '16 at 13:35
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    Email her a link to this question. Not only does everyone think she's behaving inappropriately, she's now a talking point on the internet... – Basic Sep 19 '16 at 11:02
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    Would be interested to know: Did you get it to stop? How did you? Was it actually malicious? What would you recommend to someone in your past situation in addition to the existing answers? – Nobody Dec 14 '16 at 18:28

12 Answers 12

88

I looked pretty much like you describe for a couple of years. I think some people openly disliking it is probably normal (I was also accused of trying to grab attention) and with that kind of unconventional look you'll need to be able to take some abuse.

That being said, you don't need to accept everything. Some people in my case probably weren't even aware how insulting they were. Your question seems like you (understandably) tried to hide that you were insulted. But this also keeps other from noticing that they are going too far. So in my opinion the first thing you should do is start to just calmly but resolutely tell them to stop commenting about your looks like that. No, you can't expect them to know that, people are stupid more often than malicious.

If they continue, I would wait until she has that petition, then grab it and go complain with it. You don't need to wait, but it would be a really useful proof. Even if she doesn't literally start a petition on paper, her having asked around would still get you a lot of witnesses. No matter what you do: Don't rush anything and be sure to have a solid case against the perpetrators. You want to eliminate any risk of this backfiring against you. Prepare a chronicle of their comments, how you asked them to stop and how they didn't comply.

  • Take a joke once in a while - sure depending on a joke but to take abuse? It's abuse, you got to fight that kind of notion in the workplace. – Cthulhubutt Sep 14 '16 at 15:05
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    @Cthulhubutt It's life. You might perceive it as abuse, others might be joking even if you don't notice or might mean no harm. People are stupid. That's why I suggest actually telling them to stop in the second paragraph. No need to escalate it right away. But when you do, make sure your position is strong so you get them down right away without too much hassle for yourself, this is the third. – Nobody Sep 14 '16 at 15:14
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    Someone once told me that my beard meant that I was "trying to hide from other people". People would ask why I "grew a beard", and I would say, "I didn't. It just grows there naturally." They might as well ask why I tried to be so tall, or what motivated me to have blue eyes? Stupid. Pointless. – user37746 Sep 14 '16 at 15:15
  • @Nobody I agree that the usual notion is it "stuff happens" and you got to grow thicker skin and get on with work but if you already identified something as abuse, there's no going back to "banter" argument. I've dealt with that kind of behaviour at work the right and the wrong way, majority of time it didn't matter. Of course main point is to remain cool and snub these kind of comments, if they are abusive, when they happen. I definitely agree on third point, if you don't do anything and document - you're just waiting to snap and do a big boo boo at work. – Cthulhubutt Sep 15 '16 at 8:18
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    "people are stupid more often than malicious" - a beautiful tidbit of wisdom. – contactmatt Sep 22 '16 at 18:14
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At first she usually put it as a joke, but lately, she started openly insulting me in front of other colleagues with "just shave that, you look terribly" etc.

Thats not okay. You need to push back against this yesterday. If this is repeating, it could be sexual harassment, or creating a hostile workplace, or both. If your uni has an administration HR or HR department, you should go to them now. If they are unreceptive, you need to contact a lawyer specialising in employment law.

I can't stress this enough. This is not okay. Even though I'm not a lawyer and thus cannot give legal advice, any sensible HR department would put a stop to this immediately.

Today she confronted me again when I was drinking my coffee in the kitchen and she told she will make a petition and gather a lot of subscriptions for this.

Thats even less okay. Not only is she openly admitting with this that she is creating a toxic workplace environment, she is even trying to motivate others to join in on the harassment.

Don't stand for this.

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    One might want to wait for the petition to actually happen, as she'll document her own transgression this way. – Agent_L Sep 14 '16 at 13:34
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    How would that be sexual harassment ? Ok for the harassment part, but sexual ? – Tim Sep 14 '16 at 13:45
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    @TimF In the same way that a man commenting on a women's looks repetedly and uninvited would be. Depending on the jurisdiction you're in, either could work. As I said, I'm not a lawyer, but a lawyer will likely quickly identify something that may stick – Magisch Sep 14 '16 at 13:52
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    @TimF What if a guy repeatedly commented on a female coworker with short hair that it looks ugly and she should grow her hair out? Would that qualify as sexual harassment? I'm not actually sure if it would, and it could very well vary by jurisdiction. But if it would I think the OPs case would qualify as well. – marcelm Sep 14 '16 at 14:07
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    @marcelm I'm not a jurist either but I wouldn't give it the sexual qualifier on these. It's just harassment in my point of view. – Tim Sep 14 '16 at 14:21
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This is harrasment.

I am quite a direct sort of person. Whenever she starts this behavior I would simply state that since I am not ordering her around on how to look, she should not do the same to me. I would state that her behavior (petitions, gossiping,...) is offensive, verbally abusive and should stop. And I would do this in front of the people she is talking to. Maybe then she, or the others realize this is wrong.

If this bullying does not stop by your own defense, contact HR, or whoever deals with these issues at your university and post a complaint with all the incidents you can recall. You might even do this immediately.

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    This is the right thing to do. Step 1 could be as simple as "please stop commenting on my appearance". Make a note of the date and time, what you said, and how she responded. And talk to HR if she doesn't stop. If she circulates a petition, take that to HR too. – Dawood says reinstate Monica Sep 15 '16 at 19:49
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Does she know that it is not funny?

I think everyone agrees that what she is doing is completely inappropriate, but perhaps she does not realize that. I have seen several occasions where people joke about each other, and usually in a somewhat symmetrical way that nobody seems to mind. Perhaps she thinks that you are perfectly fine with some comradery.

In fact, I recently asked a colleague to stop calling another colleague fat, which kind of surprised him but he did follow my advice with a better atmosphere as result.

Before escalating the issue, try this:

  1. Let her know that you don't appreciate the jokes (anymore). Next time simply say:

    Can we drop the topic?

  2. If she does not seem to understand that it may be uncomfortable for you, try to make her feel it in a decent way. For example by responding:

    Would you mind if I start making negative remarks about your appearance?


Something that could work in a non-governed environment, but that is typically not a good idea in a workplace, is to give people a taste of their own medicine. So, avoid responses like like

Sure, I will shave it off as soon as you lose some weight

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    In England, the answer would probably not be "Can we drop the topic" but "my beard is none of your f***ing business". Not that I would recommend it, but it wouldn't come unexpected to anyone. – gnasher729 Sep 14 '16 at 14:29
  • @gnasher729 if it is not unexpected, maybe people could just cut to the chase and stop being childish in the first place? When does a good response generalize to a good guideline to not violate? Do people learn from others, or must they experience pain first? – user37746 Sep 14 '16 at 15:12
  • @Bohemian Perhaps conditional acquiescence with something a bit more equivalent? "I'll do that as soon as you shave your head." Of course, if she actually does shave her head... – Izkata Sep 14 '16 at 16:32
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    "This beard reports to me, I report to <insert seniors/leads name>. If you have any issues with my features, please do not hesitate to get in touch with <insert seniors/leads name>. Meanwhile I would really appreciate if you could stop going about and addressing people in demeaning and hurtful manner. Thank you. BEEEEEEEP." – Cthulhubutt Sep 15 '16 at 14:32
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    A direct response in the UK would be "Sod off, ya bloody c**t." or something to that effect. – Omegacron Sep 16 '16 at 23:16
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Write a log

Immediately begin keeping notes.

Calmly and dispassionately write down an entry for each comment or action made by this woman or by others. Write down exactly what happened, covering the “Ws”: When (date and time), Where (what room or office or event), What (exactly what was said, trying to quote exact words), Who (names of persons present who would have heard or overheard or seen actions).

Start this log now, by recreating as many incidents as you can clearly recall. For any new incidents, write down notes immediately to use in writing an entry.

If you have any allies willing to help you, ask them to do the same.

Then you have facts. Then you can show the real problem. Then you can demonstrate this is not a minor matter of mere bickering or petty jealousies. Where you go from there is up to you.

I would certainly file a formal complaint in your Human Resources department of your university and with the civil rights office of your university and the department head, providing each a copy of your log. If I suffered any blowback or negative consequences at all, I would consult an attorney about local, state, and federal laws regarding workplace, discrimination, and civil rights laws. But that is me; whatever you decide, a written log, and any written logs of other witnesses, gives you a range of options.

7

Don't laugh. Don't try to be funny.

If you don't like it, show that you don't like it.

I have a long beard too and my coworkers here told me to cut it or so at first; I decided to answer with fine jokes like "well, it's not that the beard is long is my hair that changed direction" (since I am losing my hair), or, with the boss aside, last year "if I lose the job i'll be ready to do Santa Claus", or stuff like that. But with other people (especially the less important ones) I usually simply don't care.

If they would harass me more (never happened in my company), I'll make them feel uncofortable, not giving explainations, staying silent, or better acting like having a displeased behaviour, for a bit of compassion that -at least- will make them even more embarassed and/or unconfortable.

And if she continues and tolds you things in a "hah, I am just joking" mood, just say "I am not", explaining: "we can have jokes on many other things but don't harass me more with my beard because it is none of your business". But if you want to be "friendly" you can go on with jokes telling her like "am I your boyfriend?" or better "You don't have a boyfriend that you need to harass in this way?" or, if she continues, "Does someone pays you to be so irritating?", and so on.

Try to make her feel unconfortable if she does the same to you. and remember: if someone is treating you in a disrespectful way, is also because you are allowing them to do so.

Put some stakes. Is healty for relationships in general, is especially healty for professional enviorments.

  • Gender ballanced stun: "If you can comment on my facial hair, can I comment on your pubic hair?" – Crowley Sep 15 '16 at 7:58
  • But she is not harassing, she is probably dealing with her realtionship to his girlfriend throug him. She uses different weapons: Gossips, negative comments etc. She is fighting on battlefield of her choice and her comfort. My point was to enforce different battlefield - respond in way she is not prepared to counter. – Crowley Sep 15 '16 at 9:13
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    @Crowley It will make you awkard, while when dealing with these kind of situation you want the support of other people to isolate her. – MarkWuji Sep 15 '16 at 9:22
  • I agree, the response must be acceptable (if it is funny, you get points extra) for the audinece and unexpected by your opponent. – Crowley Sep 15 '16 at 9:40
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You don't have to take any derision for anyone. It's very wrong if her.

You must politely ask that she stop making remarks about your chosen appearance, and that her remarks make you feel uncomfortable.

But if she follows through on the petition, here's how you can take turn her evil ways against her, and stop her forever:

When she shows the petition to you, grab it and run straight to the HR department and demand that she be severely dealt with. She will probably receive disciplinary action. HR use lawyers, and lawyers love hard evidence (her lawyers will equally hate it).


A previous version of this answer contained a suggestion that you encourage her to create the petition, but after comments I realised this may be seen as entrapment, which would weaken your case.


Practical note: If it's a hard copy, physically take it. If it's a web-based/soft copy do what you can to screen-shot or whatever. But having actual evidence will be very powerful for you.

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    Or, beter yet, don't say anything and let it happen. Saying something like this could hint the co-worker to actually not do it, since it is what the O.P. wants. I would really say: Do not say a word about it!. If the O.P. seems uninterested, the co-worker may get fueled by anger and REALLY do it. That is just my opinion and I may be wrong. But, if it was me, I would keep my lips sealed. – Ismael Miguel Sep 14 '16 at 15:20
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    @ismael actually, you're correct. I'll change my answer on that point. There's such a thing as "entrapment" which may weaken OP's case. – Bohemian Sep 14 '16 at 15:30
  • I think you could add my comment as an alternative answer. Now that you have changed your whole answer, I'm really curious about what "entrapment" is. And would probably help on the answer. Besides that, the only thing I would really change is the inclusion of the word sh*t. I would replace it with something else, but, that's just me. – Ismael Miguel Sep 14 '16 at 15:34
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    I'm sorry, but no. This reeks of the "just don't pay attention to the bully" advice that people used to give kids for years. It doesn't really work with kids and it sure as hell doesn't work with adults. Chances are this person is looking for reactions from other people as much as you, and then on top of that if they really are preying on you then they can probably read body language well enough to see that you're still being affected by the remarks. Nope. Sitting silently is for the ancient Greeks. – NotVonKaiser Sep 14 '16 at 15:42
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    @NotVonKaiser this isn't "just don't pay attention to the bully" -- she's already threatened escalation, so this is more "let her dig her own hole". When she starts the petition, OP will have concrete evidence to present to HR (and possibly even the police if he wants to go as far as a restraining order). As far as if it's a web-based petition, be sure to give its url to archive.org so even if she tries to take it down when the heat comes on, a copy will be preserved by an impartial third party to prove its existence. – Doktor J Sep 14 '16 at 17:26
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I don't think it justifies this behavior

No, of course not. If she is not your superior addressing a work issue, then she has no place discussing your appearance.

I'm fond of Miss Manners' suggested answer in cases like this: "I'm sorry, but I don't discuss my appearance." Just use that, and repeat as necessary.

"You should get rid of that beard."
"I'm sorry, but I don't discuss my appearance."
"But don't you think it would look better if you ...."
"I'm sorry, but I don't discuss my appearance."

Repeat until they go away.

Please remember that she is the one who is looking like a fool here, as well as anyone dumb enough to sign a petition. She's the one who will get laughed out of HR when she shows up with the petition.

  • I think discussing your appearance is fine if it bothers her. What isn't fine is judging it. – reinierpost Sep 17 '16 at 20:22
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    I would hope that HR wouldn't take such a petition as a laughing matter, but a substantial effort at creating a hostile workplace. – gnasher729 Sep 18 '16 at 17:06
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There's a simple way to analyze this. Flip the genders. Based on this, I'll rewrite your question.

I'm a woman in her 20s working in a research center in one European university and I'm wearing longer scalp hair and completely shaved sides (my uni doesn't have any dress-code or something like that). Everything is good here, except one thing.

Everybody was ok with my appearance, until one of my male colleagues started publicly complaining about it. At first he usually put it as a joke, but lately, he started openly insulting me in front of other colleagues with "just cut that, you look terrible" etc. To make it even worse, he started to gossip about me with other colleagues and some of them came to me with similar appeals.

Today he confronted me again when I was drinking my coffee in the kitchen and she told he will make a petition and gather a lot of subscriptions for this.

To be honest, I feel very uncomfortable because of this and I don't know how to deal with this situation. Up to this day, I was trying to overcome it with smile and joking, but I feel really insulted every time.

I can't see any way out of this - I feel it's really silly to argue about my hair and haircut with people in their late 20s in a math department. Moreover, I don't want to appear aggressive or argumentative in comparison with a portly man (no offense, just description). But of course, I don't want to be insulted, either.

How should I deal with this?

How would you deal with this in 2016? If you can answer this question, you are ready to act.

0

Your female colleague is desperately searching for your attention.She already tried all possible ways but you don't want to notice her.

Ask her out. Otherwise "Sorry you are not my type" is the best response.

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    I hope this is humour... If the OP does want to complain about the situation, this is not the best advice...The predictable outcome would be "He is just upset I did not want to date him..." – Rui F Ribeiro May 25 '17 at 16:52
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Whatever the reasons for it, i.e. she dislikes you, she doesn't like gentlemen with beards, she's a feminist, etc - it is still a toxic work environment.

If there is no policy against beards, you are not trying to harass her with it by tickling her or placing it on her face, and are otherwise trying to focus on work you can either go to whomever you Supervisor/Manager/Director is and have them try to get her to pull in the reins, or you can ignore it because as you said, only children get angry over superficial stuff like that.

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    I disagree. If OP was a woman and this would be similarly about looks, everyone and their mother would be out for blood and a lawsuit. Hostile workplaces are actually illegal in most countries and even though I'm not a lawyer, you could easily see this as criminal sexual harassment, too. – Magisch Sep 14 '16 at 11:29
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    @Magsich I do agree, however being in a company where pretty much 75% of the IT department are females, there are some things as a guy you have to let go, unfortunately in our convoluted PC times I have a feeling if a guy wanted to be out for blood IMHO no one would take him seriously and it would come off totally whiny and get nothing done. I speak from first hand experience, I had a boss (younger female) who was being way too sexually suggestive with me and I ended up resigning after being told to pound sand after bringing it up to our HR Director. So it depends on the OP – VaeInimicus Sep 14 '16 at 11:33
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    In that case, high time someone sue that company out of business. – Magisch Sep 14 '16 at 11:34
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    @AndrewTFinnell the UK is a first-world country where harassment is illegal; here are some statues. – AakashM Sep 15 '16 at 7:47
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    Why is this sensible and balanced reply downvoted? Have I missed something in the text? – Konrad Viltersten Sep 16 '16 at 8:44
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Seeing how long all the answers are here, I want to answer simply : your a kind guy who didn't want to make anything of this and thought it would pass by. Why not?

What you should have done when it was starting to get out of hand is simply impose yourself : tell her you like it, and it's not gonna change. It's a matter of simple affirmation, no need to push it or be angry. Just affirm yourself. You will be amazed at how much people can follow when somebody simply speaks their mind.

Now, as she's gotten proper toxic, do the same but be very firm. You may look angry, you don't have to be. You don't give the slightest fuck, it's just a detail to fix. It's just your neighbor's faucet that is leaking, you don't really care, but it costs you nothing to, just before leaving for work, going straight to the faucet, nonchalantly closing it, not waiting for any reaction (thank, hey what are you doing on my property... etc), and pursuing your business. She is a minor detail, not a problem, but she's a human too, just off, so avoid feelings.

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