Picture the scene: a typical lunch room in an office. There’s people from all teams gathered around tables, people are joining in and out of conversations as they finish their lunch or as the topic changes.
A coworker mentions that he fasts all the time. I joke to someone else at the table that I could never do that because I get “hangry” (angry because I am hungry).
My male coworker immediately says “lots of things make you angry, don’t they?”
This coworker has a history of pushing boundaries that I set, including my one hard and fast meeting rule – unless I have asked you to do so, or you are presenting at this meeting, do not bring your laptop to my meeting (or at the very least do not have it open). I have instituted this rule because in my experience, when running certain types of meeting, if people have their laptops open they will browse, work, or otherwise not pay attention, and require me to have to repeat things multiple times. It’s inefficient and disrespectful to whoever is presenting. I make this rule clear and I enforce it equally. This coworker repeatedly brought his laptop anyway, refusing to close it, only closing it halfway then peeping in through the partly open gap, etc.
Back to the lunch room, I am surprised that the coworker has decided to make such a statement in the lunch room, in front of all my colleagues, when it is actually untrue. I, knowing that I had just reminded him the other day about my laptop policy, try to brush it off with another joke like “ha, yes, I do get grumpy when people bring laptops to my meetings”.
“Lots of things make you angry, don’t they?”
And then he starts to list times he feels like I have been angry in the office.
I interrupt him to ask “are you keeping a list?!” and he says “yes”. I say “that’s actually pretty creepy” and then attempt to just start a conversation with another person.
I don’t need a rundown of times I’ve been “angry” from a man who threw a tantrum one day because I asked that developers set their Jira stories to “in progress” when they were “in progress”.
Notable is that, actually, my coworkers haven’t seen me angry at all. The one time I have been genuinely angry at a work situation, I left the office for a few minutes for a brief walk to manage the feeling. My coworkers have seen me express disappointment that a commitment wasn’t met. They have seen me gently and then more firmly enforce a policy that they agreed to and that I have made clear. They’ve even seen me make clear at the start of a meeting that any less-than-cheerful tone they may sense from me is a holdover from a previous difficult meeting and that it is not a reflection of them, and that I’ll be working to ensure it doesn’t impact their meeting. But angry? No. This man has not seen me angry.
That day he didn’t even see me angry. But I was. And I was disappointed that everyone else just sat there and let a coworker announce to the room that he kept a list of times he felt I was angry.
I am 100% certain that he would not describe these behaviours as angry if they had been exhibited by a male coworker. When women assert themselves in the professional space we are bossy, we are talking too much, we are shrill, we are angry. We are never assertive or firm or powerful. But we aren’t doing anything different. Too many people think that anything other than sitting quietly, smiling prettily, and being agreeable are the only acceptable behaviours for women in the workplace and are affronted when you do anything else.