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posted: 4/13/2014 6:12 AM

Work advice: Jokes on men? Still not funny

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Some responses to a recent column on inappropriate workplace comments.

Reader 1: The points raised in your column are serious, but it is also important to acknowledge the constant (often incorrect) negativity directed at men. My other male friends and I (in my early 30s) regularly hear female colleagues talking about how "all" men are "evil" and "sexist pigs." This is often in workplaces where preference points are awarded to non-male employees, which may increase the sense of entitlement of non-male employees. How would you recommend men handle discriminatory and sexist language?

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A: It's tempting to just copy and paste my suggested response from the earlier column, when the demeaning comments were from men about women: "Wow" or "Really?" -- followed by a complaint to HR if it continues.

But what if you were to follow up with: "Where did that come from? Did something happen?" Maybe there's a work situation that needs to be examined. Or maybe it's unrelated to work, in which case a good-natured "Oh, thank goodness -- I thought it was something I'd done" might encourage them to vent their spleen off the clock.

Why the follow-up? Because the power dynamic in your case is more nuanced than in the previous reader's. Where you hear entitlement, I hear frustration (maybe something to do with being assumed to be diversity trophies?). Where you see all the power tilted in "non-males' " favor, I see two sexes balanced over a rolling fulcrum where each thinks the other's in control. In this scenario, it takes only a subtle shift to establish balance -- or demolish it.

Reader 2: Some years ago, a female colleague at our private organization passed around a sex-toy catalog. She and some other women found it funny when we men weren't amused. Our boss just rolled her eyes and said, "Typical of her!"

That same colleague occasionally grabbed or slapped my behind. I asked her to stop and told supervisors, but nothing changed. Once she even twisted my nipples through my shirt. People have told me to sue; I'm not. I'm leaving and need a good reference.

My sisters and mother endured workplace harassment. As a boy, I wondered why they didn't do something about it: ask the offender to stop; tell someone; find another job. Now I understand. Instead of asking victims, "Why don't you just ...," people should ask, "Why don't they just stop?"

A: Well put, and ... wow. I understand wanting to flee in silence, but asserting your legal right to protection against harassment -- well, assault -- and retaliation could embolden other victimized sisters and brothers to do the same.

• Miller has written for and edited tax publications for 16 years, most recently for the accounting firm KPMG's Washington National Tax office. You can find her on Twitter, @KarlaAtWork.

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