I’ve spent the weekend reading and thinking about the comments on my post last week. I’m thankful for them all. They represent the sort of range of opinion that my workplace discussions regularly generate. Many agree with my support for Ms Proudman’s position, my strong sense that if we are going to change anything we have to call out stuff that bothers us. Many think that Proudman has overreacted and/or don’t see a problem. Some of this latter group see the path I’m promoting as ‘political correctness gone amd [sic]’ and something that will lead inevitably to ‘a pit of mediocrity, a silencing of ambition.’ I still feel strongly that we have got to call this stuff out.
Of course, I get that there are much more important and far worse things going on (to women) in the world but would like to pick up on a couple of recurrent themes, because I think I can add something to each.
#1This was a private communication and Proudman should have gone back to Mr Carter-Silk privately.
#2 How would it have been if the positions were reversed?
#3 This is not ‘misogyny’
1. On the question of privacy, when it comes to social media, I don’t think any discussion actually is or should be viewed as private and particularly not a professional one – where you are representing your firm. Proudman proved that by screen shotting and tweeting the exchange; something she did in part because of Carter-Silk’s position of authority. More importantly I don’t think that her responding privately to a message of this type would have had any impact at all. Making no comment specifically about this recipient, Carter-Silk, but using my experience of coaching many people who have got themselves into trouble in situations of this type, I think that most (senior) men receiving a note of that type would have thought they had ‘picked the wrong person’ and made a note not to have anything to do with her in future. Only by doing something like she did can Proudman ensure that the recipient (and others) start to understand that such behaviour is unacceptable to many of us.
2. People always ask how the same behaviour would be treated if the roles were reversed. I think the question reflects a profound sense of fairness felt by most human beings. But I think it is misconceived and difficult to answer in a meaningful way. A man commenting on a woman’s appearance has a different significance to a woman commenting on a man’s. That is before you add in the power dynamic that was present in this situation of powerful men (or women) commenting on the appearance of aspirant women (or men). Whenever I am asked the question I say that if you are a bloke and you are walking home alone late at night and hear footsteps behind you, that can be quite disconcerting, for a woman it is probably far more so. Make up your own analogies, but understand that the playing field is not even.
3. Language evolves; ‘misogyny’ may once have meant one who hats women. Dictionary.com today gives me the definition: “Noun: hatred, mistrust or dislike of women, or prejudice against women.” The sort of objectification that we are discussing here would fall for me squarely inside a prejudice against women; a willingness to categorise them in relation to their appearance.