This year has been, to put it mildly, a weird one.
Besides everything happening in the White House — which maybe you’re into, maybe you’re not — this is the year when everyone from Harvey Weinstein to Matt Lauer to Garrison Keillor lost their jobs after accusations of sexual assault or harassment.
Now, according to a recent article in the New York Times, one of our most time-honored holiday traditions — getting drunk on the company’s dime — could be at risk. Some managers interviewed for the Times’ piece would like to cancel office holiday parties altogether, while others suggest neutering them to the point that everyone would prefer to work.
With women empowered to call out inappropriate behavior, some companies predict that boozy after-work events for the holidays could be combustible this year. While many companies used to have the parties on Thursday or Friday evenings, some are moving them to late Monday or Tuesday afternoons, said Sarah Freedman, the vice president of operations for 23 Layers, an event planner in New York whose clients include Google and West Elm.
Open bars are being replaced with game zones. One client recently asked for an extremely watered-down “John Daly” to be the party’s signature drink, which Ms. Freedman found strange but probably wise.
This is, of course, ridiculous, as the overwhelming majority of humans know how not to sexually assault someone.
But if you, like the men interviewed by the Times, are worried that any of your behaviors could be “misinterpreted,” fear not. Here is handy list of FAQs about socializing after hours with your office’s womenfolk.
I just got to the holiday party and noticed that she looks really nice. Can I tell her?
When deciding what you should and shouldn’t say to your female coworker, pretend for a moment that she’s Clark from IT. Would you, straight man, tell Clark that he looked good? Probably not, but if so, you would likely say something along the lines of, “That’s a nice blazer, Clark.” You would not say, “Wow, someone cleans up nice. You look amazing in that blazer, Clark.” Comment on her outfit only if you are genuinely interested in said outfit and would be comfortable telling this boldface lie to Santa.
She smells really nice, too. Can I tell her?
No. Presumably, you have smelled many things throughout the day and didn’t comment on them. This is no different. You shouldn’t tell her she smells good for the same reason you didn’t walk in the conference room and ask who farted — you’re an adult at work, and adults don’t do that at work.
What amount of touching is appropriate at a holiday party?
Let’s bring Clark back for a minute. Would you shake his hand? Yes — handshakes among coworkers are always appropriate. Gentle, congenial shoulder tap? Sure. Lingering shoulder tap? Doubtful. Lingering shoulder tap with slight rubbing? Absolutely not. Any tap below the shoulder area? Stop that right now.
So you’re saying I shouldn’t grab her by the you-know-what?
No. Unless you’re the president of the United States of America, this will almost assuredly cost you your job.
What about drinking? Is drinking OK?
After the past 12 months we’ve had, drinking is definitely OK. Drink as much or as little as you would like, then call an Uber as needed. If, however, drinking causes you to sexually assault women, stop drinking immediately and forever.
And what about dancing — is dancing OK?
With very few exceptions, it is almost never a good idea to dance at the office holiday party — these days, even Carol in accounting knows how to post a video to Facebook. But again, as long as you refrain from sexually assaulting anyone while doing so, you’re good.
Not to get off track, but might this conversation be a bit privileged? With all of the violence being committed against women, it seems irresponsible to waste this space talking about holiday party etiquette.
This is a great point. Some people will say that you can care about both having your ass grabbed in the mailroom and about Cyntoia Brown, a child sex-trafficking victim serving life in prison for killing her abuser. Others would say this is an ugly symptom of white feminism, which has long failed to address — and has at times knowingly and systematically added to — the struggles faced by women of color. Wherever you fall here, know that Cyntoia Brown is spending Christmas in a Tennessee prison.
Glad we cleared that up. About the after-party: Is it OK to invite women?
Yes! In fact, it’s more than OK — it’s really important. As empowering as it’s been to see companies finally firing predatory creeps, it’s worrisome to think that men might simply stop socializing with female coworkers. Lunches and happy hours are where the real networking happens, and women need to be part of these conversations. So, yes, invite them to the after-party, have a good time, and keep them in mind when a great new position arises on your team. (Signs you’re one of the predatory creeps? You’re trying to turn that last sentence into a dirty joke.)
Monica Weymouth is a writer and enthusiastic supporter of the office party. @iproposetoast.