The media sphere is abuzz with so much news and stories about women who have fallen prey to men. Men are the abusers, the haters, the ones who perpetrate the crimes against women. But, what about women who perpetrate crimes against men and other women? I may be castigated for asking this question, but, here is my story.
It was an average day, just another meeting between friends over coffee and lunch. The conversation then turned to responsibilities as managers in our different industries. It was at this juncture that one friend happened to relate a story to us that chilled us to our very core.
“The one regret I have is not knowing that there was a young man in my team who was being bullied and sexually controlled by a senior in the team – a woman. I only wish I had known.”
Huh? Hang on – did you say a young man was being bullied? And controlled? Oh, come on! He probably enjoyed it and the sexual attention he was getting. Stop right there! Now, let’s play devils advocate here: what if that young man was a woman and what if that senior was a man? Guaranteed the world, the media, activists and gender activists would cry foul! Hashtags would be created and people would lament the issues that women face in the workplace. Surely, men – young or old – really would love it if a woman gave them the attention and the time of day? Wrong!
Not all men are sexual predators, paedophiles, women-bashers or haters. There are some young men who enter the work sphere and need guidance and protection, support and advice just like any young woman needs. It’s not about men on one side and women on the other – its about people. Many companies have policies and procedures in place to ensure that work goes on without difficulties, profits are made, visions, missions and business is achieved and values are upheld but what about protecting people from false accusations? The group was stumped. More and more policies lean towards protecting the rights of women and that is fantastic. But, does this also mean at the expense of ignoring the rights of people – the other women AND the men.
My friend runs quite a young team. Youthful exhuberance is something that generations pride themselves on – letting the young people get along and learn more about the world. Its fascinating to learn insights from young people and watch them grow and prosper, but how do we protect them from stalkers, “the great pretenders” who believe they actively fight for gender justice but are the actual perpetrators of gender crimes – men and women?
The story goes that this young chap was paired with this woman who was to be his mentor – someone who would help him understand the crux of the job. Little did my friend realise that this young chap was being bullied and asked for sexual favours. At first, everyone in the team took it as a joke – they would go out together for work, they worked closely together so surely there would be a different level of friendship that developed? Maybe even a sexual friendship? The height of it came when my friend found out that this senior woman would often touch and hold the young man without any coercion on his part. She was a buxom woman, tall in stature and free in her display of affection, especially towards men. It was after a professional meeting that she allegedly removed part of her clothing and rubbed herself inappropriately against this young fellow. He froze, not knowing what to do. If he reciprocated he would be committing a heinous crime in the workplace. If he didn’t he would be labelled as losing out on a great opportunity – to be the boy-toy for this senior woman who was rising to the top. My friend found out that this continued for a while. Work became difficult for him. He began searching for other jobs.
Social media is full or articles claiming that people leave good jobs because of bad managers. While there may be some truth to this, how often do we ask whether the person has left because of bad colleagues? We don’t. Because colleagues are great, afterall. They are supposed to develop good social relations, have drinks after work, meet and even create friendships. But how much of those friendships are detrimental to other colleagues? How many of those friendships are a hinderance to the completion of work and detrimental to the workers’ mental state? Companies never ask those questions because, “Ag, he is a man so he must be enjoying the attention!”
The sexual favours and bullying continued until he found another job. He hated his manager because she noticed a spiral in his behaviour and told him that he was being influenced by the wrong set of friends. His manager didn’t know that he was the victim in this cycle. He never told her because he felt that he could handle it as a man. In reality, he was ashamed and embarrassed. This senior woman considered herself a “powerful” person. She put on the façade that she was happily married with children, a very spiritual and religious person, and that she suffered with her own demons – that she was battling a medical condition, and was the victim of workplace jealousy that led to her an inability to rise and shine her own light and climb the ladder to success because there were too many other people at the top doing better than her and basically, stunting her growth. She played the victim very, very well. She earned the sympathy of her manager – also a female. The senior regularly painted herself as the one who was wronged. Eventually, the young man left. The manager only found out later from team members that the senior had been harassing this young man. Yes. That’s it. Plain and simple. It was harassment. In his new place of employment, the youngster flourished. He was surrounded by strong men and women who taught him the beauty of his career of choice – the beauty of being an upstanding gentleman in the community and the beauty of living a life where he will no longer be harassed by a woman who claimed to be the victim in every situation.
My friend cried. “I wish I could have saved him from this sexual predator.”
I tried to explain to my friend that there was nothing she could do unless the young man came forward. Making sexual advances towards a co-worker – man or woman – is wrong and uncalled for – especially in a professional environment. Women tend to speak out more now because they are empowered. But, what about men? Are they doomed to suffer in silence. The basics of this scenario is respect, limits and boundaries. Had the young man told the woman to leave him alone, the senior would have run to management and slapped him with all sorts of charges and threats. He couldn’t afford to ruin his career so early on in life. He left, Sought greener pastures and is really flourishing. The senior in question, stayed, and went on a sort of rampage of her own: blaming, pointing fingers, laying charges – but, honestly, forgetting that she was the issue here, not anyone else.
Companies need to instil the values of respect for ALL employees. It’s a basic, fundamental human right enshrined in the constitution but often not put into practice. The rest of us were stunned. At what juncture does the victim become the bully? How do managers notice this and help employees – male and female? Being human can help. Regularly talking to employees can help – giving them the outlet to vent without blame and complain constructively with a view to resolving the issue rather than causing disruptions and sowing the seeds of hate. And trust, When trust is broken it takes time to repair.
“My one regret is that my company has lost a good employee at the expense of protecting and saving this senior woman, who is now trying to make the team self-destruct, hindering work and output and ultimately affecting the company.”
I heard it said once in a movie – I think it was Spiderman, “With great power comes great responsibility.”
That’s something that is missing in society now – responsibility. We need to be responsible and accountable for our actions. There was nothing this manager could do unless she knew. But, there was something her colleagues and team could do rather than just laughing off the spectacle that the senior sexual predator put on. So, basically, if we don’t respect people – both men and women – ultimately, do we even respect ourselves? This, in no way, means that women must now be silent against Gender-Based Violence. No. Women AND men need to stand up, speak out and become champions of equality, fairness, equity and balance, Women AND men need to support each other, recognise each other as people first. It’s a difficult test but hopefully, by you reading this you will understand what is needed to build a better world, a better society, a safer environment for all our children – the next generation – to flourish.
To sexual predators: be warned – people know who you are and with this empowerment, they – the men and women you’re targeting – will no longer be afraid to speak out.
Who is a sexual predator?
A sexual predator is a person seen as obtaining or trying to obtain sexual contact with another person in a metaphorically “predatory” or abusive manner. Analogous to how a predator hunts down its prey, so the sexual predator is thought to “hunt” for his or her sex partners.
Disclaimer: The views & comments expressed in this piece are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of Indian Spice.
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