Back in the day, powerful men were all-powerful …and young, pretty women were super-impressed. Or they were supposed to be. Or–they became unwilling prey. Or they were both super-impressed and willing prey in a tradeoff that some of my fellow feminists want to pretend didn’t happen.
It is, in fact, entirely possible for pretty young women to say no, now, and it was possible back in the day, too.
Of course, they may not have gotten the part they wanted, the job they were going for. And that was oh-so-wrong. Power should never be used in that way. But that’s how it was used. Power corrupts.
Was there another way to get the work they wanted? I don’t know. Maybe yes, maybe no. Maybe there was but the pretty young women didn’t know how. Or maybe they just believed there was no other way and wanted success so badly they compromised their values.
Now, I’m not just blowing smoke. I was a pretty young girl once, considered prey by men who were older and more powerful. For some reason, I never traded in that way. Figured I didn’t need it. That I’d find another way.
He did become a big cheese
Once I came back from vacation to find my boss had replaced me, just weeks after I’d spurned him. I was, after all, pretty, young and married. But I just found another job and moved on, never thinking about him or that job again. It wasn’t a career spot. Over the years he became a major figure in the community. He might have been able to help me. But I never thought about that. I didn’t think I needed that kind of shortcut.
As a Silicon Valley executive pretty senior in her career, I had a close-up view of the double standard for men and women. In fact, I left because of it. Because I saw that even Human Resources was complicit and I didn’t want to deal with it.
I found an incredible different job. Well, it was incredible for many years, and then it wasn’t. Then it was only a good place if you were male, white and let a crazy person think they were in charge. Actually, they were in charge. And preyed on pretty young women. Which I was no longer. But the younger women talked to me.
This is in fact the way the work world has been forever and to really change, a few big things have to happen.
Keep shining a light on it
The light now shining on this stuff is great. It had to happen. People had to see it so clearly they couldn’t deny it. So they couldn’t pretend it happens only rarely.
Policies have to change. HR has to hold executives to a high standard. It has to happen.
Predators have to be shamed. It has to be so uncomfortable once they’re caught, the come-down so great that the shame becomes a deterrent.
But women have a role, too. Women can not be so willing to trade their self-respect for work, even if it’s work they really want. For success. They have to trust that they are smart enough to find another way and if they don’t? They have to see that it’s not worth the trade-off.
The allure of wealth and fame
Money and fame are attractive to so many. But when we are so willing to give up our self-respect in trade for them, we have larger societal and personal problems than simply sexual harassment. It’s a values-deep problem.
Now I know some people aren’t going to like what I have to say on this.
Men don’t like other men to be called out on this stuff, sometimes because they know that they, too have crossed the line. Some women would prefer to be cast as unwilling victims without agency. And really everyone has a lot to say about everything, when I look around social media. Sometimes it’s laughable: white women scolding other white women for being racist, for not being feminist enough, blah blah blah. I see women defending themselves, that they aren’t racist. I see other white women telling them they are racist for saying they are not racist. They just don’t see their own racism. I see see threats to unfriend or shun or whatever..
I think all this is pretty much bullshit. What did Willie Shakespeare say: “Sound and fury signifying nothing.”
The rubber meets the road in how we treat one another, not in what we say. And what we know to be true about ourselves. Our self-respect. And that’s true for both genders.
What’s real is this: If you have a good heart… if you treat others the way you’d like to be treated–or the way you’d like your daughter to be treated (or to act)….
…if you hold yourself to a higher moral and ethical standard without waving the Bible, just out of self-respect, then I think you’ve got it pretty much together. And if more people were like that, then the way it IS can change.
Exposure is uncomfortable
But right now we’re in that uncomfortable stage of exposure. Women are vilified. Men are shamed without due process. We’re kind of stuck there, I fear. At least for a while.
Still, if we continue to shine a light on this bad behavior my hope is that it will become intolerable. Truly intolerable, not just pushed into the shadows. And institutions will change.
Because they haven’t changed yet. Not really.
Your thoughts? Have you had to face these issues in your life?