The internet is slamming an engineer who told an employee he was mentoring that her teammates were intimidated by her beauty.
In a post racking up over 11,300 upvotes and 4,000 comments in eight hours, u/montague7533 asked the Reddit forum r/AmITheA**hole if he was in the wrong for his comments.
He says he works in the tech industry, and a few months ago, he was assigned a new team member to mentor, whom he calls “M.”
“She’s a bright, talented young woman with an impressive story. She’s also the only woman – and the only ethnic minority – on the team,” u/montague7533 wrote.
He says M joined the team when they were working from home exclusively, and she would rarely if ever turn on her camera in meetings. M was initially quiet, but started to warm up to her teammates. At least, until last week, when the team met up at the office in person for the first time.
“M came and it was the first time we saw her in person. The situation was highly awkward as a noticeable shift occurred. M is physically attractive and it’s clear that it caught everyone off guard,” u/montague7533 wrote. “For example one colleague almost spilled his drink on her and instead of apologising he just took off in a hurry.”
She asked u/montague7533 privately why her teammates were “being weird,” and he said that they were “a little intimidated and surprised.”
“She was confused and I explained that her appearance and demeanour aren’t something the guys are used to. She asked me what that meant and I said that she looks great and carries herself in an elegant, respectable way,” he wrote, adding that after they spoke, she “seemed even more withdrawn and uncomfortable.” Though her teammates continued to ignore her, he would make sure to include her.
He says when he told his wife about his conversation with M, she told him he “shouldn’t have told M that her appearance was the reason everyone avoided her because that puts the burden on M.”
“According to her I clearly made her feel bad and self-conscious,” he wrote. “She also said that my team are a bunch of “scared little boys” who would rather stick to “their little boy groups” instead of humanising and interacting with women.”
His wife also added that she sympathized for M for having “fragile tech bros” on her team. But u/montague7533 countered that M should have expected this.
“I explained to her that she must understand that a bunch of pasty, nerdy tech dudes wearing T-shirts are obviously going to feel intimidated when their coworker is an attractive woman with exotic looks,” he wrote. “My wife rolled her eyes and said that I’m ridiculous.”
Though u/montague7533 meant it as a compliment, calling someone “exotic” is generally not a good move, as many people of color find the term very offensive. MTV’s Girl Code star Nessa said in an episode, “Whatever you do, don’t say I’m exotic, ’cause I’m not a f**king snake.” And, as Nessa implies, “exotic” is a term most often applied to non-humans.
Terms like this can be seen as a “racial microaggression,” according to MTV News. Though often unintentional, racial microaggressions can still hurt; much like a papercut, an individual microaggression is painful but not a serious wound—but if someone had 1,000 papercuts, that would be a different story.
Writing for Rife Magazine, Jasmine Thompson says that the term is a form of “ethnic objectification.”
“If you look up the definition of exotic, it means ‘a foreign land, a distant place, an import’, and the most common reference is that of birds and food. I don’t feel I associate with the tropical birds or white sandy beaches. I’m definitely not an imported piece of fruit and I’ve grown up here in the UK, so if anything, roast dinners and rainy summers are much more relatable than any form of exotic dancing I’ve ever seen,” Thompson writes.
Former model Ariane Resnick agrees, speaking about casting calls for “exotic models.”
“Exotic roughly translated to ‘sexy’ and ‘vaguely dark,’ and it was used only for women, never to describe men. Usage of that word denoted to me that the job would be highly sexualized, and I’d keep on scrolling,” Resnick wrote in a Huffington Post editorial.
Redditors largely agreed that u/montague7533 was in the wrong.
“[You’re the a**hole]. You fetishized her. [The f**k] is wrong with you?” u/Euphoric_Round-5182 wrote in the top-rated comment with nearly 25,000 upvotes. “Your wife’s assessment of your coworkers is spot on as well.”
“‘Exotic’. What the actual? This isn’t a porn hub channel. She’s a human being. What a racist goddam remark,” they added.
“I’ve been called ‘exotic’ many many times and I am just Native American,” u/RealEstorma wrote.
Another user pointed to this as an example of sexism in the tech industry.
“Yep. There’s a reason that women leave STEM careers at a high rate – men use ‘being awkward’ as an excuse for treating women weirdly. As grownups we’re responsible for suppressing grade school embarrassment over our sexual attraction to others and for learning to behave like professionals at work. This is the definition of hostile work environment,” u/RainbowCrane wrote.
“Gotta love how THEIR complete lack of social skills around women due to their failure to see us as fully-realized human beings ends up being OUR problem,” u/celtic_thistle replied.
“[You’re the a**hole] – Im a tech manager and this actually crosses the line. It is also illegal and would be considered sexual harrasment. The saying ‘the truth shall set you free’ doesnt work in this case. You should have told her you will discuss this with your team. At the same time, you did the right thing and tried to get her involved in your work discussions. You and your team did not handle this profesionally,” u/ChewyRib wrote.
Newsweek reached out to u/montague7533 for comment.