Every day, there seem to be new allegations of sexual misconduct or harassment flooding the news. Stories of women who finally came forward, overcoming shame and implied threat of retaliation to voice the treatment of men in positions of power who allegedly abused their access to female employees.
I’ve been watching the debates going back and forth on my own timeline social media and I have felt a range of emotions. As some voice their own experiences, I feel compassion. But, I also feel compassion for those who voice their confusion as to where the lines are blurred and possibly questioning their own conduct in the past. Fear is pervasive. But, this is a learning opportunity if people choose to take it.
It is easier to condemn either the abuser or victim, then it is to look at what brought us here or our own attitudes towards sex and sexual consent. I see many jumping on either side of the fence rather than to admit that they may have crossed a line a time or two or even that they may have remained silent when something inappropriate happened to them. The culture of silence has made many women complicit in the harassment of another woman as the man was free to work with more unwitting women as they moved on and vacated their position. There is possibly guilt and shame at not being the one to say something.
No matter what the reason. This is where we find ourselves. And, there is a conversation that can happen if people can bring down their defenses and are willing to listen.
We like to think that we can erase the human component when we are involved in business, but we can’t because it is intrinsically apart of business. We network and do business with personalities we enjoy or feel like we can trust. Consumers buy from companies that they like based on emotional aspects the company project to the consumer to build loyalty. Companies also lose customers when they break trust. Advertising and marketing are designed to invoke emotional feelings towards a brand. And, in the office, many of the things that makes someone successful in dating is what makes them successful in business. Being confident, charismatic, and having a warm disposition is usually what draws people into a great salesperson or leader. It’s also no lie that attractive people are generally hired more often and make more money.
All of this means the office is breeding ground of potential sexual tension and confusion of intentions. Most of the time, it can be resolved easily by sitting two people down or moving someone to a different location. But, occasionally, you have someone who uses his or her power to try to coerce a subordinate to fulfill their needs. It is generally more about power than it is about sexuality. And, the culture has been to remain silent because of fear of not being believed or retaliated against by superiors.
There is a history of women being treated as sexual objects. While “Mad Men” is a fictional representation, there was a time where women were propositioned daily by superiors and subject to uninvited advances or expectations. In old Hollywood, it even had a name, “the casting couch.” We have become more progressive in many ways, but also in many ways, we haven’t actually dealt with it. The bones have come tumbling out of the closet. Now, people are recognizing the problem is bigger than anyone thought. As powerful men are losing their positions, we can start to look at our attitudes towards how someone should be treated in the workplace. We can also examine how we think women should have to deal with unwanted sexual advances.
It is time we start relating to one another in different ways. The best way to figure this out is to figure out how your behavior affects the other person. The only way to do that is to listen and really absorb it. Sometimes, the behavior you think is funny is hurtful. Or, what you think is pursuing someone is really just making them uncomfortable. If what you are trying to accomplish isn’t getting the desired result, wouldn’t you want to know that? It’s time for uncomfortable conversations.
We have an opportunity to repair relations or we can keep pointing fingers and ignore feelings. How we move forward is up to all of us.