Guest post: Oh, and it would be better if we women didn’t speak up in meetings

Originally a comment by Katydid on Horror of the female.

About 6 years ago, my company brought in a sub-contractor. Before he started, there was a meeting to tell the women that because this man was an Orthodox Jew, he would not shake hands with us. Okay, fine…who shakes hands with a co-worker they see every single day anyway?

Then he started, and our seating arrangements had to be changed because he couldn’t tolerate sitting in an area near any of the women. Then, in meetings, the women had to wait for him to seat himself and arrange ourselves as far away from him as we could because his special, special self couldn’t tolerate being in a meeting with women. Oh, and it would be better if we women (all software engineers) didn’t speak up in meetings, because it made him uncomfortable, you see.

Then our “snack table” came under attack; we had a long-standing tradition in our office of bringing in snacks on Fridays–usually some form of baked goods. Suddenly, the women had to stand back and wait for him to serve himself because he couldn’t touch food if a woman had been near it.

It went on and on–this kind of behavior wouldn’t have been tolerated by any random misogynist, but because this guy could cry RELIGION, suddenly it was perfectly acceptable to (expletive deleted) all over the rights of the women forced to work with this guy.


  1. Al Dente says

    This “religious” person insisted that others who weren’t Orthodox Jews follow the dictates of his particular cult. It’s a form of bullying. I would have insisted that if he didn’t want women to sit near him that he park himself in the corner. If he didn’t want women to eat snacks they brought in before they did then he should bring in his own food and eat it by himself. If he wanted to bully other people then I would have bullied him back. I wouldn’t have eaten a ham sandwich in front of him but I would not have stood for his bullying.

    Jeez, I hate bullies.

  2. moarscienceplz says

    Did this happen in the USA? I don’t think even our ridiculous obsequiousness toward religion would allow someone to demand that he gets to sit and eat first like some sort of king.

  3. says

    I’m a member of a branch of pastafarians that insist that we get half the pizza (each of us) and if we don’t want to eat it all we get to allocate it as we see fit. True doctrine!! I once saw one of our high mojomubujumbus put his spare slices of pizza on people’s heads, like little hats! Praise be!

    Seriously, one would wish that Human Resources would have resolved the problem pretty quickly. 🙁

  4. says

    The man in question is bad enough. What’s worse is the company management that failed to protect their employees by saying “That behaviour is not acceptable here”.

  5. quixote says

    Depending how important a subcontractor he was, it might not have been possible to bully back without losing one’s job. That’s misogyny persists. It’s the one bigotry where every other consideration must take precedence.

    However, all that is unimportant now that I have found my one true spiritual home. Where do I sign up for that branch of pastafarians? Pizzastafarians? How often do they take communion? Oftener than once a week, I hope? Maybe five times a day? Mmmmm.

  6. sc_770d159609e0f8deaa72849e3731a29d says

    Suddenly, the women had to stand back and wait for him to serve himself because he couldn’t touch food if a woman had been near it.

    And who cooked the food to begin with?
    I think this has been improved by memory or Katydid and her colleagues were stitched up by a bullshitter. Orthodox jews have so many dietary and culinary restrictions that they wouldn’t eat food they hadn’t personally checked came from- or had reliable guarantees as coming from- proper sources, and having been cooked according to proper methods with proper equipment by the right people.

  7. says

    People love to freak out over Islamic Misogyny but when Jews or Christians do it, we have to RESPECT THEIR RELIGION.

    Joshie Berger calls Orthodox Jews the American Taliban and while it’s a bit hyperbolic, the difference really is in degrees, not in kind.

  8. Katydid says

    Is it bad form to comment on your own comment? I’m the one that happened to, and yes, it was in the USA. Here’s what happened next; several of us women went to HR about this and we were told we couldn’t infringe on this guy’s religious rights (to discriminate against us). So some of us started fighting back–we’d bring in cakes with lit candles and sing Happy Birthday (Orthodox Jews won’t tolerate a woman singing) until we were told we could no longer celebrate birthdays in the office, no reason given (gee, what could have POSSIBLY changed?). Then we started singing along with our iPods at our desks…and iPods/headphones/any music-making device was forbidden. We ordered pepperoni pizza and put it on the snack table on Friday for everyone to share (meat and milk is forbidden, pepperoni is made from pork). Know what happened? The two ringleaders (that would be me, plus another woman) suddenly “lost funding” for our position and were laid off.

  9. Katydid says

    @all who commented: I have no doubts this guy was an Orthodox Jew…and also a bully. Clearly he was enjoying the chaos he was causing in the office, and one argument we used with HR was that the company would not tolerate this type of abuse by any run-of-the-mill sociopath, so why were they letting him get away with it simply because he claimed it was his religious right to do so? We also pointed out that if he couldn’t cry religious freeee-dumb, his mental issues would have been considered his own problem to deal with. I take satisfaction with the fact that company lost that particular contract (because the non-crazy talent fled), and I haven’t seen the problem guy’s name pop up in my tech circles, so I suspect he couldn’t find any other companies willing to let him abuse their employees. BTW, this happened in 2008, not 1958.

  10. Kevin Kehres says

    So, according to federal labor laws, companies must make “reasonable accommodations” for employees’ religious practices. Seems like this was not “reasonable” at all.
    I once interviewed a potential hire for the role of meeting planner. She explained that she was an observant Muslim — and I said “no problem”. Except for the fact that she wanted every Friday off to go to mosque, and ALL of the meetings she would have been planning required her to travel on Friday.
    She didn’t get the job, because you cannot “reasonably” accommodate someone who can’t work on the specific days the job requires.

  11. says

    …he couldn’t touch food if a woman had been near it.

    Did he have a problem touching his paycheck if a woman had processed it?

    This guy is an asshole and a bully — no better than an animal getting first in line for prey, really — and his “clients” are being appallingly spineless in letting him act like this.

  12. says

    Did this happen in the USA? I don’t think even our ridiculous obsequiousness toward religion would allow someone to demand that he gets to sit and eat first like some sort of king.

    Yeah, this is looking kinda close to “title of nobility” territory.

  13. Uncle Ebeneezer says

    @Katy- Just want to say I love your fighting spirit with the singing. Sorry you ended up getting laid off because of it. That part (along with the guy’s behavior and the company kowtowing to him) is lame.

  14. Katydid says

    @Kevin, I feel certain that if the bully followed another well-known Abrahamic religion and made these demands, he would have been let go. But he belonged to the ‘good’ Abrahamic religion and therefore “had to be accommodated”.

  15. Katydid says

    @Uncle Ebeneezer; thanks for the sympathy! I was shocked when it happened, but I have some pretty solid job qualifications and a name in my field, so I was only unemployed for a couple of weeks before I took a job with another company. As a woman in the IT field, I was used to a certain level of misogyny, but this Orthodox guy took it too a whole new level. I have no idea why Orthodox Jewish women stay in the faith–can you imagine having to live with this b.s. fulltime?

  16. says

    Katydid @ 10 – no, not bad form at all! That would be very unfair. 🙂

    That story is really amazing. I think that HR department must have violated various equal employment laws up one side and down the other.

  17. Sylvia McIvers says

    Katydid, it sounds like you had the fun of working with a bully who knew how to work the system. I work with an Orthodox Jew and yeah, no sitting with the gurls, so he tries to get to meetings early and grab the seat furthest from the door. Magically, no one has to walk past him to get to their seat!

    He won’t take anything from the cafeteria except for soda cans and certain factory-wrapped foods, so no problem being ‘first’ at the cafeteria. If your allegedly Orthodox guy ate standard commercial food, he’s not the real deal – they take their food restrictions very seriously.

    Hand shaking – he politely explains that he doesn’t touch any woman but his wife and relatives. No problem with eye-contact or talking – seriously, your guy didn’t want people of the lady persuasion to talk??? Never heard of that.

    Ladies singing – for happy birthday and such, he sort of ignores it and happy-wishes to the birthday person after the singing is done.

    Basically, his religion, his problem – and he’s a nice enough guy that most people will accommodate him.

    Your guy sounds like an aberration, religiously and morally. Glad I don’t have to work with him.

  18. trinioler says

    Katydid, I wonder, can you name the company so I can stay as far away as possible? I’m a programmer, and I refuse to help a company like that make money. I can understand if you can’t or won’t, I won’t pressure you. 🙂 Or you can respond privately to trinioler attt

  19. Igor Cash says

    Here is a similar story with a happier ending. I was Chief Engineer on a large cellular phone software project for (at the time) one of the largest companies in the cellular business. I was directed to have a segment of the software developed by our Israeli subsidiary. That was fine since other portions were already being done in Poland and Singapore and the Israelis had a good reputation for quality.

    Two of the Israeli team came to Chicago for the project launch meeting. One was Orthodox and almost immediately started with some of the same demands in Katydid’s post. The biggest sticking point was my system architect and lead programmer was an Indian woman and he did not want to talk or even listen to her.

    Luckily my management backed my authority to tell the Israeli Program Manager that it stopped now or we would pull that segment back and do it in house. He went back to Israel the next day and we never heard of him again. He may have still worked on the project but if so he was hidden from everyone else.

    I can’t begin to explain how angry his behavior made me, I can only imagine and sympathize with the women on the project. Though none approached about it until after he was gone, I could see the distress in their faces.

  20. guest says

    One thing I noticed while in Oman, which surprised me, was that (at least in this part of the world) observant Muslims prayed at the mosque on Friday mornings–and then went about their regular business. A lot of work got done on Friday afternoons. Maybe that wasn’t this woman’s tradition, but it’s clearly not mandatory in all versions of Islam, as it seems to be in strict Judaism or Christianity, to not work or act for an entire day a week.

  21. Katydid says

    @Igor Cash; I applaud your company’s management for looking the bully in the eye and telling him to cut it out. They get away with that behavior in Israel, they get away with it in Brooklyn, they get away with it on airplanes. They think they can act that way…because nobody calls them on it.

    My company found it more expedient to punish the victims than to face up to the bully. As I said earlier; women in IT deal with a constant level of misogynistic crap (I hope this doesn’t shock anyone to hear), but this really went over the line and it was demoralizing to come in to work every day and have it demonstrated that this jerk and the management of the company considered us less-than-human simply because of our chromosomes.

  22. says

    I wish I had been there, Katydid. My family is Jewish, some are Orthodox, and I know some Orthodox rabbis. Incidentally, those Rabbis would have demanded that the company fired him and explained to them that he wasn’t an Orthodox Jew by any stretch of the imagination.

    Biggest red flag? No Orthodox Jew would eat food they personally could not vet the origins of. If he was truly Orthodox, he would have brought his own food. Perhaps he was a Conservative Jew using that as an excuse to cover his extreme misogyny, but he outed himself as a liar the moment he put food he could not personally vet as Kosher on his plate.

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