Sexism at Work

Some time ago I worked in an office with limited space, so the coffee machine was put in the same room as the printer. This meant you’d often find someone getting themselves coffee when you went to the printer and vice versa. The room was small so you’d have to squeeze past one another, which involved a bit of cooperation.

There were quite a few people on the floor: engineers, managers, admin staff, etc. with the last group being mainly middle-aged women. Usually when a dashing young man like me walked into this room, any women present would respectfully make way for me and say a polite “hello”. The men would too, but they’d move a fraction more slowly. I notice these things.

Then one day I walked in to pick something off the printer and I found the way blocked by three or four of the secretary/admin ladies. One of them saw me in her peripheral vision, glanced at me, and didn’t move. Nor did any of the others.

“Ey up,” I thought. “What’s going on here?”

I politely said “excuse me” and they shifted aside, just enough to let me past. As they did I saw they were all chatting with a man, who so happened to be one of the big bosses on the floor. As I waited for the printer to rumble into action I listened to them, clucking like hens around this high-status male in their midst. Had he not been there, I would have held the high status and they’d have stepped aside, but with this chap there I was just a pleb who could be ignored while they gave him their full attention. Once I’d worked out what was going on I couldn’t stop myself from grinning. If any of them noticed it on my way out, they ignored it.

I suspect the women’s behaviour was subconscious, and none would have had any recollection of it afterwards. In other words, it was quite natural. Now men arse-lick bosses all the time, more so than women in my experience, but this wasn’t quite arse-licking. It was more an adjustment of body-language to reflect the relative status of the two men in the room and if you weren’t looking for it you’d miss it.

I’ve been thinking of this incident in the wake of the Harvey Weinstein allegations and the tidal wave of women who’ve come forward claiming they’ve been sexually harassed at work, usually by a man in a position of power over them. I turned on the news this morning to find the British Defence Secretary has resigned for having placed his hand on the knee of a journalist some 15 years ago, despite the woman in question not thinking it any big deal and appearing rather uhappy about what’s happened:

The resignation comes a day after a spokesman for Sir Michael confirmed that he was once rebuked by a journalist, Julia Hartley-Brewer, for putting his hand on her knee during a dinner in 2002.

The spokesman said Sir Michael apologised when it happened.

Ms Hartley-Brewer, a former political editor of the Sunday Express and regular political commentator, told BBC Radio 4’s The World Tonight: “If he has gone because he touched my knee 15 years ago, that is genuinely the most absurd reason for anyone to have lost their job in the history of the universe, so I hope it is not because of that.”

If a knee-touch 15 years ago is enough to bring down a cabinet minister, then we’re going to be in for interesting times. For while the world and its dog are demanding men change their behaviour in the workplace (or at boozy parties vaguely connected with work and, going off one example I heard on the BBC, company ski holidays), they are refusing to even discuss whether women’s behaviour plays any part in all this. A couple of months back I said:

It could be that when a woman acts like a “lad” and engages in alcohol-fuelled banter of an insulting or sexual nature – even in jest – it brings out the worst behaviour in the men around her.

So there’s that. Of course, there are plenty of women who’ve not behaved like this but nevertheless been sleazed over at work, because there is the odd lecherous man everywhere and these guys need to be thinned out. Then there is the vast majority of women who behave well and so do the men around them, but they don’t make good headlines.

But what’s interesting is at the margins you’re going to find men behaving well until, almost subconsciously, they make the wrong move or say the wrong thing. It might even be too subtle to notice, unless there is an entire HR and grievance industry forcing women to spot anything that may look like harassment and lodge an immediate complaint. If a bunch of women can subconsciously modify their body-language when a high-status male is in their presence, and change their approach to male co-workers depending on which other men are in the room, then it’s likely men are acting in similar fashion – only for now it’s just one party that’s getting in trouble for it.

What we’re seeing here, at the margins, is human nature working as it’s supposed to. Merely designating a territory a workplace is not going to eliminate all non-professional interactions between men and women, any more than you can stop men making fun of each other in the office. Was Weinstein acting at the margins? No he wasn’t. Was Fallon? Maybe not, but it’s less clear-cut. If things carry on like this, there is only one solution and it’s simple: segregate men and women in the workplace.

Now big companies won’t get on board with this, because the hardcore feminists have other plans, which is to take over the major organisations and ensure any men working in them are cowering with fear of the sexual harassment sword of Damocles hanging over them. But I can see a drift towards segregation in the overall job market. I’ve written before about how smart young men might begin to shun the major organisations and set up in bunches of twos and threes and scoop up the work the big players have rendered themselves incapable of doing. Men being branded sexist pigs from the outset by power-skirts in HR is only going to speed this process up, and with Tinder and other apps it’s not like they need to work among women to meet anyone anyway. Fast forward ten years and we’ll be seeing a lot of tiny outfits working the gig economy made up of men who treat women they meet online like disposable napkins, while women sit in giant organisations holding meetings to find new ways of torturing the grovelling betas who report to them. And complain bitterly they can’t meet any decent men who want to settle down.

How this is a future any sane woman wants is beyond me, but that’s what third-wave feminism will give them.

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20 thoughts on “Sexism at Work

  1. I have to say that I am becoming seriously depressed about this. We have an awful confabulation of a dying media industry that has taken to describing everything in hysterical tones; a febrile political atmosphere that sees everything as an excuse for a witch hunt; and alpha females who are seeking to gain extra advantage by claiming they are suffering from discrimination/harassment , at the same time as implying that women lack any form of agency.

    Together this is turning into a really dangerous war on male sexuality.

    I know people round here have a low opinion of politicians, but what man, in their right minds, would sign up for the gig? No one, male or female, can withstand every aspect of their life being subject to this sort of tendentious scrutiny. When I see the latest victim being lined up, all I can think is that, there, but for the grace of God, go I.

  2. “If a knee-touch 15 years ago is enough to bring down a cabinet minister, then we’re going to be in for interesting times.”

    I can’t believe that’s the whole story; it’s much more plausible that Fallon saw which way the wind was blowing, and got out before something much more serious caught up with him. And, given his role, something with security-compromising implications. I agree with the main point you make, but it might also be the case that some alpha males who have fought their way into very influential roles are engaging in grossly offensive behaviour just because they like the thrill of it. A few heads will roll, but the major impact lower down the food-chain will be a continuation of the “chilling effect” which we have seen over the last 20 or so years.

  3. I can’t believe that’s the whole story; it’s much more plausible that Fallon saw which way the wind was blowing, and got out before something much more serious caught up with him.

    Absolutely. My first reaction is that he didn’t want to be in the cabinet much, possibly because May is a disaster, and thought “now’s my chance to get out”.

    I agree with the main point you make, but it might also be the case that some alpha males who have fought their way into very influential roles are engaging in grossly offensive behaviour just because they like the thrill of it.

    I’m sure of it, but they won’t get touched because women will queue up to defend them. Instead, everyone else will get hounded into submission.

    We saw this with the banks and money laundering. Stringent new rules were brought in which allow jobsworths in banks to demand granny bring in eighteen pieces of paper all notified every time she wants to do anything, but a Nigerian with a great sack full of cash or a Russian billionaire still gets welcomed with open arms.

  4. I know people round here have a low opinion of politicians, but what man, in their right minds, would sign up for the gig?

    Or sign up for anything with women in charge.

  5. Reality does not consist of fixed concepts like ‘equality’ and ‘justice’; it is instead a continual and ever-changing process of trade-offs – weighing the (not just economic) costs of all decisions.

    If feminists are going to make for men the (personal, emotional, political), costs of working with women very high, of course men will opt for whatever alternatives make their lives easier.

    As it’s men who seem to have the most productive human capital, take more risks etc. (and I say this as a woman), it’s only going to be women who lose out economically – in terms of job opportunities, salaries, general economic prosperity. And then, as you say, they won’t even be able to find a suitable partner for any kind of financial support.

  6. “I can’t believe that’s the whole story; it’s much more plausible that Fallon saw which way the wind was blowing, and got out before something much more serious caught up with him.”

    The stories that aren’t out yet derive from a (possibly mistaken, I don’t know the guy) belief that he’s a Junker-style drinker. The rash actions that have been talked about are apparently a symptom of someone who gets a bit pissed a bit too regularly.

  7. “Or sign up for anything with women in charge.”

    Funnily enough- my place has just got a woman CEX, replacing an old white guy.

    She’s really bloody good. I mean, seriously impressive.

  8. Before third wave anything, it was conspicuous how often a secretary would fawn over her boss: she would see him as clever, hardworking, blah, blah, blah. Even when he wasn’t. I’m not suggesting hanky-panky – that’s a different matter.

  9. There are still jobs that are pretty much 100% male. or least the sites are.
    But they bitch all the time, often about stuff which is even more trivial than touching someone’s knee.
    We humans are just not as cooperative task orientated and goal focused as we like to think.

  10. She’s really bloody good. I mean, seriously impressive.

    Some are. I don’t mean men will avoid a place with “a woman in charge”. I mean “women in charge”. There’s a subtle difference.

  11. As it’s men who seem to have the most productive human capital, take more risks etc. (and I say this as a woman)

    A woman called jeff? Well, there’s a first for everything! Welcome, and thanks for the great comment!

  12. While someone resigns after touching someone’s knee fifteen years ago, no-one important seems that bothered that the Shadow Chancellor encouraged the lynching of a female political opponent.

  13. While someone resigns after touching someone’s knee fifteen years ago, no-one important seems that bothered that the Shadow Chancellor encouraged the lynching of a female political opponent.

    Which tells you that none of this has anything to do with sexual harassment.

  14. The media live on stories of minority victimization.

    Now that there’s a perception that we’re all tired of “I lost my job because I was a Uzbek” , “I was discriminated against because I like to diddle kiddies”, “he dissed me because I hide my face to serve allah” and “no, you HAVE to pay the doctors to remove my penis”, they’re moving on to what they think is a foolproof plan – advocate for a minority that makes up 52% of the population.

    And they act surprised and outraged to see that some are now advocating for people specifically because of their whiteness or maleness? What did they expect?

  15. For many years I worked as a consulting behavioural specialist in a local early intervention program. As most people will realise early childhood services are essentially maternal services. Some of the ladies appreciated my assistance and we got on well as a team. Others needed me because, as an outside consultant and a male, I could raise the ‘hard’ or confronting issues that needed to be discussed and fathers also related to me man-to-man. However these other ladies really did not want a man working in their ‘maternal’ territory and eventually, in the late 1990s, formed a conspiracy to have me removed. Using formal department rules and procedures I took them apart: one lost her job and the others were reprimanded. I’m now retired, but if I was still working in a government welfare service I would be documenting every interaction involving female workers and recording meetings. I must add that in my 50 year professional career three of the best managers I knew were women, but they were not captured by modern Feminist theory and they never played the role of victim of male oppression. In fact they were well aware of women playing such games and kept them honest.

  16. these other ladies really did not want a man working in their ‘maternal’ territory and eventually […] formed a conspiracy to have me removed.

    I had that happen once and it cost the company a great of hush money in the form of severance to keep me from suing them in open court. It has been my experience that people that petty are rarely as smart as they think they are and are likely to hang themselves if you give them enough rope.

    I would be documenting every interaction involving female workers and recording meetings.

    I live in a one-party recording consent jurisdiction, and I discovered a trick long ago: bring a somewhat clunky digital voice recorder to any meeting you suspect will be particularly fraught. When you are told to put it away and that you will not be allowed to record the meeting, sigh and do so. Meanwhile, of course, record the meeting with your other filament microphone equipped smartphone or digital recorder.

    Most people really have no idea how small a recording device can be, and will say things they wouldn’t normally if they think they have plausible deniability.

  17. For many years I worked as a consulting behavioural specialist in a local early intervention program.

    Ooh, that’s interesting. The more I work with people in large organisations, the more I find their behaviour fascinating.

    However these other ladies really did not want a man working in their ‘maternal’ territory and eventually, in the late 1990s, formed a conspiracy to have me removed.

    I suspect this is quite common, and we’re gonna see a lot more of it.

    I’m now retired, but if I was still working in a government welfare service I would be documenting every interaction involving female workers and recording meetings.

    When I found myself dealing with a particularly dishonest person, I took to making records of conversation immediately after each meeting and emailing them to her. It’s a practice I would do again.

    I must add that in my 50 year professional career three of the best managers I knew were women, but they were not captured by modern Feminist theory and they never played the role of victim of male oppression. In fact they were well aware of women playing such games and kept them honest.

    Good for them. I work, and have worked, with some excellent women too and on balance they’re certainly no worse than men.

  18. It has been my experience that people that petty are rarely as smart as they think they are and are likely to hang themselves if you give them enough rope.

    I’ve generally observed that most managers are walking lawsuits waiting to happen. They are protected purely by employees not wanting to rock the boat, harm their careers, lose their job, or develop a bad reputation.

  19. Daniel Ream: “It has been my experience that people that petty are rarely as smart as they think they are and are likely to hang themselves if you give them enough rope.”

    Absolutely correct! The three conspirators were so stupid that they made defamatory statements [their ‘complaints’ about me] in public to nearly 30 parents [Read: witnesses] and in writing within the government department for whom I worked. The Department, faced with me and my lawyer and the real threat of a defamation case, quickly investigated and the three ‘witches’ got burned.

    In my experience most office conspiracies are not well planned, especially if women get involved, as they act on the spur of the moment out of personal spite. Careful investigation and using Departmental procedure and regulation about correct ways to make and document complaints quickly uncovers the truth.

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