Thursday 11 January 2018

#MeToo - The difficult truth that no one wants to mention

I daresay that of all the blogs I've written, this may be the one which upsets the most people. But it would be dishonest for me to not to speak honestly. The last year has seen the rise of the #MeToo movement and its efforts to promote equality and end harassment in the workplace. I completely support these objectives. I firmly believe that if someone does a job, they should get paid the going rate. If you look at the FTSE top 100 firms boardrooms it is clear that there is a hell of a long way to go. How can firms serve their customers if the 50% that are female are marginalised by the boards of the firms that run them? As to the behaviour of people such as Harvey Weinstein, it is simply unacceptable for such people to be able to act with impunity.

One of the things which really upsets me is the fact that just about every woman I know can recount some sort of incident of completely inappropriate sexual behaviour in her life, many by people in positions of some sort of authority. In virtually every case, the perpetrator, bosses, priests, teachers, family members, prospective employers and even professionals such as doctors, policemen and dentists, have got away with it. The reason? It was deemed not worth bothering doing anything about it. Some of what has happened has perhaps been comical, such as the policeman who asked my wife out for a drink, when she reported her handbag stolen. On the face of it, an incident to be laughed off. But what if she'd been vulnerable? The policeman was quite aware that she was in a relationship and at the time I thought it was hilarious. It was however, in hindsight, highly unprofessional. I am unsure as to whether such incidents are worth making a fuss over or are even wrong. Is it better to laugh such things off. My wife is an adult and she had the choice. She declined the offer and no one was hurt. If she'd accepted the offer and run off for a life of bliss with PC Plod, would it have made it wrong? Clearly I'd have been rather less amused, but we are adults. We meet people in all manner of ways. Just suppose that PC Plod was the person she'd been looking for and vice versa? I'd probably be sitting here writing a bitter blog about it and she might have five blissfully happy kids and a fulfilling relationship thanking her lucky stars that the chance encounter bagsnatcher gave her the opportunity to escape a life of hell with me. I chose this incident, out of all the horror stories that I've been told, as it is the most trivial. I suppose we can all say that PC Plod shouldn't have rung her up (using information obtained in an active investigation to ask her out), but most of us would also say that it doesn't really matter. Where do you draw the line?

Then there is the other side of the coin. When I read of the behaviour of men, such as Weinstein, I wonder why we never hear too much about the behaviour of women. Whilst stories of abuse of power with a sexual element are seemingly few and far between, presumably due to the lower number of women in positions of authority, I've seen some pretty dodgy cases of it during my career and I think it is far more prevalent than is generally realised. I can recount two cases personally. One was comical. I spent a week decorating a flat for a young lady in Deansbrook in the early 1980's, when I was working as a painter and decorator. At the end of the job, she suggested we have a drink and a chat. Lets just say that she wasn't one of the most morally righteous people I'd ever met. The long and the short of it was that payment was made in a non pecunary manner. Whilst at the time, it seemed like a very good idea, it meant that I'd not earned a penny all week and had to live on baked beans until the next job was done. I realised that I'd quite literally "been had". I can't say I was overly gutted at the time, however it was a lesson learned. I know who got the best deal and I also realised that men can easily fall for such things. There are two things. It was entirely consensual and I learned an important lesson.

The second was maybe far more difficult. In the mid 1980's I worked for one of Britains largest companies. My boss was female and it is fair to say we didn't really hit it off. When I joined, I was working with a chap, who I thought was a decent enough bloke. I am fairly open with people and I discussed all manner of things with him. As my career progressed, I noted that everything I was trying to do was being thwarted by my boss. She almost seemed psychic and seemed able to anticipate what I was trying to do, to put roadblocks in the way. Things pretty much came to a head when my Father died unexpectedly. She behaved in a beastly manner. I determined to leave the company, to escape the oppressive atmosphere. I must add that I'd done a very good job and when I handed my notice in, was offered a promotion and a great job in another department. I didn't take it as I felt I simply had to get away. About ten years later, I met one of my ex-colleagues. We were chatting and he told me something which shocked me. The colleague who I'd been confiding in, had been having an affair with the boss. He'd been feeding everything that the rest of us were saying straight back to her. She was also manipulating appraisals etc, to ensure that he got the credit for the work everyone else was doing. All manner of things became clear when I realised that this inappropriate relationship was explained. Knowing the two people, she was a very alpha female and he was a quiet chap who lived with his mum, it was also clear to me who instigated the relationship and why they did.

From what I've seen through my studio, where we have thousands of people a year passing through, Alpha females are as likely as males to use and abuse sex both as a tool and for slightly innappropriate pleasure in their dealings. At  the studio, we observe all manner of people coming in, hiring rooms, having working relationships. We see how people treat colleagues and how they talk about them as soon as they are out of earshot. If I had a pound for every time and attractive woman has fluttered her eyelashes at me to try and get a discount on studio time, I'd be a rich man. I dismiss such things as harmless, but men never try that! I would say that there are women who are attractive and are outrageous flirts, with no shame, who as a matter of course use this as a central strategy to any negotiations they undertake with heterosexual men. I don't blame them. I can also understand why some men get it all wrong. It doesn't excuse the Weinsteins of this world, but there is a huge grey area in the middle that I really don't get the rights and wrongs of. Whether it is randy policemen, single mums who want their flat redecorated for free or dodgy workplace relationships, used to disadvantage others, I've seen all manner of things which I really don't know what the rights and wrongs are. I do think that sexually inappropriate behaviour is not a male only thing. I also think that when we have a more equal society, we'll see more bad behaviour from females as they are able to exploit their positions more easily.

Of course, that is purely a personal opinion.

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