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Red, The New Color of Professionalism

My first real professional job was at the special collections library of a well-known and highly-respected university. I was thrilled to get the job and thrilled to work with my boss, well-known in her field. Unfortunately, my boss was not thrilled to work with me. Why?

  1. She viewed getting an assistant as a sign that she was not doing her job properly, rather than viewing it accurately – that her boss recognized she was overworked and needed help.
  2. On the very first day of work, she brought me into her office, closed the door and yelled at me, “YOU’RE NOT GETTING MY JOB!” I was taken aback and said truthfully, “I’m completely underqualified to have your job and I’m here to learn from you, not replace you.” She sniffed and stuck her nose in the air and said, “Don’t lie to me. I know you’re here to replace me.” Okaaaaaaaaay.
  3. I was too attractive to be a  librarian and I wore the wrong colors.  Oh and I wore lipstick (note that I am not a make up girl and about all I ever wear is lipstick, so it’s not like I look likle Mimi from the Drew Carey show.) But…Yes, indeed. She told me that, “You need to uglify yourself. Stop curling your hair and wearing lipstick.  Also. Librarians may wear only navy, black, grey, brown, and hunter green.  No other colors. And our shirts must be button front and buttoned up to the neck.” I consulted the manual and the head of the library who told me that her ‘rule’ was most certainly not a rule and that I should not feel constrained by what the library head called “her old maid idiocy”. She further reminded me that, in fact, one reason I was hired was to do public relations with the students and increase our usage by undergraduates; she imagined I’d have to dress ‘younger’ and more fashionably to do so and that I should go right ahead with the way I was dressing (chic younger career wear with funky shoes or jewelry).

My boss hated the fact that I brought  more users into the library (even though our funding was based on use numbers, so the more the better) and would actually deride their research in front of them  as ‘new fangled and worthless.”  She would criticize my wardrobe in front of users, “I TOLD YOU THAT YOU CANNOT WEAR RED TO WORK. RED IS THE COLOR OF WHORES!”

She had also other issues. One was when she would get agitated – she would come out of her office and run around our long row of file cabinets like a greyhound dog at the dog park. No, I kid you not. She would run around and around in circles for half an hour or more to ‘calm down’. This was not only in front of us, but also in front of patrons. Aside from the manic bizarreness of watching a woman well-known in her profession act like a dog chasing a fake rabbit, she had heart problems, so we were all convinced that she was going to drop dead in front of us.

Another was her absolute fear of or rather, obsession with sex. She had been widowed at age 30 and proudly announced to all and sundry that she was “A good Catholic who had never felt the need to have sex with another man like so many other women who are just sluts.”  Frankly, we all felt that a little time between the sheets would have done her a world of good. But anyway, we had to hear her views on sex, our sin in having non-procreative sex with our spouses.

The kicker came one day after she’d been complaining for months about not having anyone to attend the symphony with her, because her long-time symphony friend had passed away. We had to hear these complaints daily and none of us felt the need to take up her hint and offer to accompany her to the symphony. Lo and behold, one night I’m at a reception and am talking with an acquaintance – a very nice older gentleman whose wife had died 2 years before and he was bemoaning the fact that he had no one with whom to attend the symphony. Aha! Still being young and foolish and thinking that if you are nice to others, they’ll be nice to you, I go into work the next day and tell my boss that I have a nice older gentleman who is looking for a symphony partner.  Before I can even finish, she screams at me, “I DON’T WANT TO HAVE SEX. DO YOU THINK I’M SOME KIND OF SLUT?” I am just taken aback and say, “No, What I thought was that you were looking for a symphony partner and this gentleman—“HE’S NO GENTLEMAN, THEY ALL WANT SEX! ARE YOU SOME KIND OF PIMP?”  For the love of god. I back away slowly because… yup. There she goes, racing around the file cabinets. The race is ON!

Needless to say, I stocked up on red shirts and wore them regularly after that.  1013-08

{ 14 comments… add one }
  • Claddagh Lass January 19, 2010, 1:44 pm

    As this boss has issues perhaps avoidance and only interacting with the person when necessary is the best way to go. It sounds like this boss could possibly have some neurological issues as well.

    To say that the writer stocked up on red shirts and wore them regularly sounds almost like she’s trying to get back at the boss. Maybe I’m missing something here.

    If a person wants to wear red and it’s okay in the work place more power to them. Wear red to your heart’s content. But to intentionally say one stocked up and did this regularly because a person didn’t “like” it sounds spiteful to me. Again, I could be missing something here.

  • Brenda January 20, 2010, 4:19 pm

    This boss should have been reported to HR for her behavior, instead of allowing it to continue. Sexual discussions, screaming, abusive comments, all issues that need to be brought up.

  • hyacinth January 20, 2010, 8:41 pm

    Sometimes when someone is in a fairly powerless position they do what they can to get some power back, so they can cope – like the poster here, hence the red shirts. I don’t think it sounds spiteful, I should imagine with a boss like that spite is the last thing on her mind, just getting through the day would be traumatic enough.

  • Alexis January 22, 2010, 5:27 pm

    I agree with Brenda. This ‘boss’ should have been fired for her behavior.

  • Fanboy Wife January 24, 2010, 9:42 pm

    Wow. Something must have really traumatized that boss, but that doesn’t excuse her terrible behavior.

  • Francesca January 30, 2010, 3:49 pm

    I’m imagining that this library was in a University that considers their librarians faculty and gives them tenure. That might have been one of the reasons that this nut was allowed to keep her position.

  • Patti March 16, 2010, 6:33 pm

    Talking openly about sex like that is called SEXUAL HARRASSMENT for which one can be fired for. Report her and encourage others who mention her issues to report her because it’ll take more than one reporting. Also document everything she does in case it comes up later.

  • Claire March 30, 2010, 8:50 am

    The red shirt clincher was just meant to be a humorous ending to the story. The writer may not have even bought more shirts.. With all due respect, Claddagh, lighten up!

  • Elizabeth April 16, 2010, 12:18 am

    Repeat after me:

    Human. Resources. NOW.

    I’m sure the OP’s problem is but a painful memory, but to all readers who might find themselves in such situations, the HR department is there for you. Frankly, I’m not sure what was wrong with the head librarian that she would allow such behavior, even though she clearly thought the boss’s comments were unacceptable. Maybe she just pitied that old bat, but that’s still no excuse to allow her to make life hell for coworkers.

  • zhoen June 13, 2010, 4:29 pm

    Even eccentrics need to make a living. I would have taken down every word she said, every odd action, and written a best-selling book. In the days of small town life, she would have been the source of stories for generations. Not gonna change her, tell stories about her.

    Good for you wearing red.

  • irish August 24, 2010, 6:19 pm

    Why does somebody always jump on the submitter for their final funny comment? That woman was a complete nutter, but how dare you wear red just to annoy her!! Wear whatever you want to. It’s good to have a sense of proportion.

  • Jumble Girl October 18, 2010, 10:07 pm

    This sounds more like a Bad Boss story than your regular breach of etiquette.

  • Lola March 8, 2011, 1:48 am

    Both my parents are librarians and I’m a library worker, so I uh, I know librarians are crazy. I’ve never met one quite *this* crazy before. Hopefully you enjoyed your time with special collections, though — working with rare books was absolutely the most interesting job I’ve ever had, and that’s “interesting” in a good way, not a “sex-starved boss who runs laps around the public areas” kind of way. Good for you for getting usage up, working around a difficult person, and not playing into her stupid stereotypes of what librarians should be.

  • NJ_Ed December 6, 2011, 6:49 pm

    In response to “Elizabeth” who says “…the HR department is there for you…”

    I would remind everyone (and especially younger workers) that the HR department is there for the COMPANY, not for you. Their number one priority is to make controversies “go away” as quickly and inexpensively as possible. While it is fine to utilize your HR representative, do not make the mistake that you’r well-being is the priority for them; they know who signs the paychecks.

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