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This post is ‘off topic’ for a landlord and tenant law blog but I make no apologies for it.

After all many women work in the property and lettings industry. I suspect many will recognise this story.

A story from the past

Many MANY years ago, in the 1980s, before I qualified, I worked as a secretary in a large firm of London solicitors. I shared an office with two other girls and we all got on really well.

In fact, I liked all the sectaries at that firm, they were all highly intelligent and most could have done the work of their boss as well if not better than they could.

Susan and Ron

One of the girls in my room, let’s call her Susan, had been working for a solicitor, let’s call him Ron for many years. Ron was a nice bloke, middle-aged, and liked a laugh and a joke. Unfortunately, some of his jokes were at the expense of Susan.

One of them was that Susan couldn’t spell. I think this may date from an occasion years ago when Susan had made a mistake, but Ron had developed a running joke about Susan’s inability to spell. In fact, she could spell perfectly well, but Ron liked to joke about it.

Now Ron had no idea that he was doing anything wrong. In fact, he probably thought his ‘banter’ was a friendly act towards his secretary, part of office camaraderie and maybe even an indication of his liking and appreciation of her.

He expected that she would see the humour of it and find it funny like he did.

Why Ron was wrong

However, Susan didn’t see it that way. If you are a secretary, being able to spell is an important part of your job. To have someone, especially your boss, constantly harping on about your failure to spell and expecting you to laugh about it, was humiliating for her.

But Susan liked Ron and didn’t want to upset him, so could never tell him.  And anyway she wasn’t really in a position where she felt could object. So Ron carried on with his friendly ‘banter’, believing that by doing this he was somehow being nice to Susan.

However, I am sure that if Susan had started making jokes about a mistake he had made in his legal work, he wouldn’t have liked it at all. He and no doubt his male colleagues would have found it highly inappropriate.

Advice to men (and anyone in authority)

Inappropriate behaviour towards women is not just inappropriate touching and sexual innuendo.  

Banter and ‘friendly camaraderie’ may seem to you to be a friendly act.  But it may not appear like that to the subject of the ‘joke’.  How would you feel about it if someone joked like that about YOU?

And if your answer is ‘I can dish it out and I can take it’ – consider that your secretary, or assistant or whoever may not be in a position where she can ‘dish it out’.  She can only take it.

And finally

If you are a man reading this you may think ‘well that also applies to women joking about their male assistants’.  Which of course it does.

However in the scheme of things most men tend to be in positions of authority.  For example, most secretaries are women.  

There is also the ‘people should be able to take a joke’ argument.  And indeed when Susan made the original spelling mistake, Ron taking it as a joke rather than being cross about it was a nice thing to do.  But not turning it into a running joke. 

A ‘joke’ that demeans someone is not really a joke.

Finally, remember that most men are physically stronger than women.  And male anger can be a very scary thing. 

That also has a subtle effect on the male/female relationship and is probably the reason why many women just put up with things rather than make an issue of them.

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