For generations our society supported a misogynistic culture in much the same way that it supported racism. It was normal. Women were trained to see themselves as at the mercy of men; their place was to serve men. It was their job to stroke the egos of men and fulfill their needs. Men were trained to expect women to admire and obey them. Women aspired to become wives, and wives were expected to “love, honor, and obey” their husbands. Their job was to be available to their husbands on demand; and refusing them sexual favors was prohibited. Men were entitled to have their sexual needs met.
This attitude carried forward into the workplace. Male executives have their “office wives” and expect similar treatment from their female subordinates. The sense of male entitlement is pervasive throughout the culture. The more power a man holds, the more entitled he becomes. Men aspire to gain more power; money is power. Men covet all of the tangible representations of success – a fancy car, a Rolex, a high-end address, an Armani suit. They learn to strut, like a peacock, showing their plumage to attract women.
Women have gained their success by associating themselves with a man; finding a successful husband became a woman’s mission. Her sexuality became her means to that end. She offered it up as a way to gain the favor of success, powerful men.
A male-dominated culture created the rules of engagement, supported by religious and social mores, beliefs, and traditions.
The Suffragette Movement of the 1920s and the Women’s Movement of the 1970s spurred social change, at least in so far as both movements raised the consciousness of women, but not enough to effect the seismic cultural revolution necessary to change the male dominated culture. There was a fifty year gap between these two powerful movements. For real change to occur, there must not be another fifty year gap.
The recent spate of allegations of sexual harassment has brought the issue of male abuse of power and sense of entitlement, especially with respect to women, once again to the fore. These allegations and how they are handled have the potential for changing the consciousness of men, creating a cultural shift, that changes the way in which men relate to women. Women will no longer be silenced. If this takes hold, men will be reluctant to exercise power, at least in the workplace, in an attempt to exact sexual favors from women; and women will cease using sexual seduction as a means for gaining power.
Every day we hear about new allegations of sexual impropriety levied again entertainment celebrities, politicians, academics, and corporate executives. And there will be many more to come. We are at the beginning of a social and cultural revolution that has the potential for changing the way people interact, especially in the work environment.
Historically, the workplace has been both a venue for earning a living and developing a career as well as providing a built-in social environment. Office parties, going out for drinks after work, developing friendships, and finding romance – all have been integral to the workplace. These interactions, especially between those who are in positions of power over others, e.g., supervisor-supervisee, employer-employee, teacher-student, doctor-nurse, etc., will be regulated. The rules of engagement will be modified and a new paradigm will emerge.
Once we understand that this cultural shift is not just relevant to the way men and women interact, but how people in power relate to their subordinates or anyone with whom a power imbalance exists, we can see just how widespread the problem can be. The workplace should be a safe haven where people can do their job without fear of harassment from either their employers and supervisors or from the customers they are hired to serve.