“Don’t hand me no lines, and keep your hands to yourself.” Way back in 1986 (that was 31 years ago, can you believe it?), the Georgia Satellites summed it up pretty well. But apparently not everyone was listening.
A few months ago, I was participating in #NextChat on Women in HR Tech. While we were discussing communication styles, my friend and fellow #HRTribe’er Anne Tomkinson (@annetomk) commented on the silly names she’s seen on training on how to talk to women (as if it’s some closely-guarded secret). I suggested we could simplify it and call it “How Not to Be a Jerk”. Apparently, it resonated, and it’s been a bit of a running joke.
A few months later, and the dam has broken on uncovering years of appalling rampant sexual abuse/harassment by high-ranking men in business, entertainment, and government. Much of which has been systematically covered up and swept away in order to protect reputations and careers. Many women who have gone silent for years are finally feeling empowered to stand up and say #MeToo.
As a man, I’m bothered by this beyond just being angry at what happened (which I am) and feeling sympathy for the women who had to endure this through their lives (which I do). I can’t help but put myself in the position of the men who did these things, and ask would I actually be able to act that way to another human being? Obviously, the answer is “Absolutely not!”, but why? What’s different about them that makes them capable?
- They don’t realize it’s wrong - The sheer number of high-profile men involved in these scandals pretty much rules this out. We’re talking about educated, driven, successful people. The possibility that they were sick from school the day they talked about courtesy and respect is just a little far-fetched for me.
- They’re privileged - As a society, we’ve created a social construct where people with money, power, talent, or whatever are able to wrap themselves in a cocoon of ignorance. They’re used to getting what they want in business and in life. Stepping on a few toes to get there isn’t that big of a deal. I wonder if at a certain point in their careers, their sense of empathy begins to wane and disappear.
- They’re scumbags - Maybe I’m over-thinking this. Maybe these guys have some faulty wiring inside and they just like to seek out victims. Maybe they are such narcissists that it doesn’t even occur to them that their actions may be hurtful/damaging to someone else. Their empathy gas tank is stuck as Empty, and they’re okay with that.
I don’t have the answers, but I know I’m sick to my stomach every time another story breaks.
Guys, keep your hands to yourself.
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