“This is not about Trump’s treatment of women, it’s about ordinary Australian men…”

1 May


Guest post by Dr Stewart Hase

Thanks to No Place for Sheep for letting me share this experience. Apologies in advance for all the people who will nod and say,’ Well what’s new’. But I think we need to keep shouting this sort of experience as often as we can and support each other when we do. Let me explain…….

Men just don’t get it

This blog is not about the appalling behaviour of Donald Trump and the way he unashamedly treats women as if they were just lumps of meat. It is about the failure of just ordinary Australian men, in this case, senior members of a volunteer, not for profit organisation, to understand what sexual harassment means to women and the effect it has on victims. It is also about a failure of leadership when even ordinary, not even great, leadership would make a profound difference. And, to indulge myself perhaps, it is about what can happen when you become an advocate for victims in a tribe that has no empathy with the victims: when you become a pariah.

I must have thought we had come a long way since the Australian Sexual Discrimination Act of 1984 that defined sexual harassment and determined that it was unlawful in certain circumstances. That idea has been shattered, despite the Australian Human Rights Commission making it clear that they know that there is still a major problem with sexual harassment, discrimination and abuse, here in the ‘lucky country’.

The shattering of my illusion began a few months ago when I took on a relatively senior role (voluntary) in a large voluntary, not-for-profit organisation. A program leader told me she had submitted a written complaint of quite nasty sexual harassment, some 12-months previously, to the senior leadership team and had no response since other than being fobbed off by the organisation’s legal officer. Given my role, I rode like Don Quixote into the fray. I need to point out that I am used to this, having been a psychologist for more years than I like to say, and familiar with advocating for victims, enlightening perpetrators and dealing with the darker side of organisations. I have seen the effects on victims of harassment and abuse.

This latter fact I repeated several times in my communications with the senior leadership but with no acknowledgment that they agreed. Instead, I was threatened with being sued because I had suggested that not responding to the complaint was a failure of leadership. I was told I was angry, to not forward my correspondence to the victims and generally shut down. Whistleblowers might be aware of similar problems. My role has become untenable.

This, of course is nothing, compared to effect of all this on the victims of this sexual harassment. They are angry, disappointed and, most importantly, disempowered. After all this time, now 15-months, there has been no apology from the perpetrator (who still holds a senior position in the organisation) and no apology from the ‘boss’ of the organisation to whom the complaint was made. This latter issue seems to be the most important to the women because of the lack of recognition, the pushing of the issue under the table, ignorance of what the sexual harassment meant. The writer of the complaint has been subject to gossip, been snubbed and suffered negative comments from other volunteers, one a member of the senior leadership team. So the harassment continues. Needless to say, the senior decision-makers are all men.

We received all the usual obfuscations, untruths and avoidance that is common in organisations, and it seems with increasing frequency in these days where not accepting accountability is the norm. That policy was followed (no it wasn’t), a brief but impotent acknowledgement from the wrong person providing the ‘sop’ that it wouldn’t be allowed to happen again. And the threats to me and my becoming an outsider. No doubt I had let the blokes down.

I don’t think that these men are evil people. They and the organisation do great things. They are no more evil than the blokes down the pub, golf club and around the bar-b-q that make racist and sexist comments as a matter of course. But I am past being an apologist for us. That we have to have legislation to stop sexual harassment, to ask people to behave with respect towards women is deplorable in itself.

What is clear to me is that men just don’t get it. They don’t understand how women feel and the impact on them when they are sexually harassed and, I suspect, this might be extrapolated to sexual abuse. And when they are offered the opportunity to learn, to acknowledge clear wrong doing, be given expert advice about what sexual harassment means, when it is clear that people are experiencing significant emotional distress, they don’t act. They shuffle away and protect their mates. A massive moral and leadership failure. Leaders stand up when it matters.

I’d like to think that this is an isolated case, but I know it’s not. At a cultural level we have a long way to go. The attitude that ‘boys will be boys’, ‘he’s just being naughty’, that making unwanted sexual comments to women is just ‘messing around’, and that women need to get a sense of humour when they find jokes that sexually denigrate women, still exists. And sometimes, as I found, some women in powerful positions think this too. I suspect it is just too hard.

I’ve heard debates about the role of men in standing up for women in these sorts of situations. That we need to get our act together, rather than advocate. That women need to stand up for themselves and they don’t need men to do it for them. Not being a woman, it is hard for me to take a stand on this. And I live in a grey world rather than one of opposites.

Would I advocate again in the same situation? You bet I would. Am I still angry? Yes, I am, and disappointed too, at a time in my life when my cynical self should take control and shrug my shoulders. Am I going to find more windmills to attack with my trusty lance? You bet and even more so after this appalling event.

Dr Stewart Hase is a registered psychologist and has a doctorate in organisational behaviour as well as a BA, Diploma of Psychology, and a Master of Arts (Hons) in psychology. Stewart blogs at stewarthase.blogspot.com 

 

 

 

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18 Responses to ““This is not about Trump’s treatment of women, it’s about ordinary Australian men…””

  1. Elisabeth May 1, 2018 at 8:30 am #

    Good to read a man stand up on this issue of sexual harassment and say it as it is. And just to reinforce the point see: https://www.facebook.com/TED/videos/10160335292835652/UzpfSTEzODUwMjU5MDA6MTAyMTYxMjY3ODM4Mjc0MTA/

    Liked by 1 person

  2. stewarthase May 1, 2018 at 10:42 am #

    Thanks Jennifer.

    Stewart

    On Tue, May 1, 2018 at 7:04 AM, No Place For Sheep wrote:

    > Jennifer Wilson posted: “Thanks to No Place for Sheep for letting me share > this experience. Apologies in advance for all the people who will nod and > say,’ Well what’s new’. But I think we need to keep shouting this sort of > experience as often as we can and support each other when” >

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Nell Butler May 1, 2018 at 12:45 pm #

    Great description of organisational behaviour around sexual assault, thank you.

    Men do “get it” though. They understand the impact of harassment and sexual assault on women and they pick up on cues that women are uncomfortable as well as women do- they just don’t care.

    This article includes research proving that men pick up cues for discomfort or refusal. When one group has so much power, it just doesn’t matter how much awareness of the others pain they have, if they don’t have to care to maintain their position in life, they won’t. https://yesmeansyesblog.wordpress.com/2011/03/21/mythcommunication-its-not-that-they-dont-understand-they-just-dont-like-the-answer/

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jennifer Wilson May 1, 2018 at 3:19 pm #

      That is a fascinating piece, Nell, many thanks. Have tweeted it.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Anonymous May 1, 2018 at 4:04 pm #

      Great, thanks for the article. It’s very disconcerting. If it’s true that men do pick up on the cues and ignore them, then they rate very high on a psychopath scale, don’t they? Or do some men do this and others don’t simply understand the impact? Are so many men autistic in that they don’t get empathy? It would be a good time to check out the actual research and will do that.

      Thanks again.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Nell Butler May 1, 2018 at 4:47 pm #

        You’re very welcome. You ask some really interesting questions. I actually think it’s an unrecognised cultural norm to ignore others rights if they have less power.

        Most adults see children verbally abused and do nothing, many adults see children being hit and do nothing. I asked one mother in the supermarket why she hit her son and she said ‘he’s my son.’ She was not at all upset by his distress.

        So there’s a sense that if we have a powerful position in relation to another person, we are entitled to use whatever (threatening, violent, harassing, humliating) behaviour we like to get what we want from them. Men are just following a cultural norm. They have more power than women so they can do what they like and ignore women’s feelings.

        I don’t know why sexually harassing men lack the empathy that might stop them, or why that mother lacked empathy for her son. I’m pretty sure the choice of action is about power though, and choosing not to be empathic. Otherwise 30 years ago all adults were psychopathic because it was seen as fine to hit kids. I don’t think humans change that fast.

        Perhaps the answer is that men are not psychopathic, instead all humans are far more selfish than we usually want to recognise. We’ve all ignored others pain when it’s really inconvenient.

        And empathy travels upwards, not downwards. Those with less power are far more aware of the feelings of the powerful, than the powerful will ever be of theirs. The survival of those with little power depends on knowing what their oppressors feel so they can predict their actions.

        Like

  4. doug quixote May 2, 2018 at 7:57 am #

    That men don’t understand women should come as no surprise to a psychologist. Freud had no idea, and the thousands that have since taken up the profession seem little advanced.

    To advance Quixote-like towards the windmills one perceives as giants is regrettably to be defeated, disappointed and disabused much more often than not. But as Dr Hase points out, he will do it again. The battle can never be won if you never try.

    As for the tendency of organisations such as the charity to come together, circle the wagons and repel all boarders (to mix the metaphor) that should be no surprise. Every organisation will know certain of its officers are more valuable to them than others; a perceived attack upon a senior officer is seen as an attack on the very organisation itself.

    To overcome that institutional inertia the evidence must be strong, the pressure must be great; it has taken a Royal Commission into child abuse within the Church and such like institutions to open the eyes of those who are willing to see. I am certain many still are purblind.

    Quixote may not succeed in his charge, but perhaps others can take courage from his efforts – witness the Me Too movement. We’ve come a long way; we can go further.

    Liked by 1 person

    • stewarthase May 3, 2018 at 9:34 am #

      Thanks Doug. Great post. Bring on the windmills-there’s a lot out there!!

      Like

      • Mal Kukura May 21, 2018 at 4:54 pm #

        Be on the lookout for the new movie – “The Man Who Killed Don Quixote” Terry and Amy Gilliam have engaged the man from La Mancha

        Like

  5. doug quixote June 1, 2018 at 12:23 pm #

    Kim Jong Un’s letter to Trump :

    accurate translation:

    “You fucking dotard running dog imperialist narcissist bastard, I won’t give up any nuclear weapons and I’ll send missiles to blast your stinking White House to the shithouse.

    Yours sincerely,
    Kim.”

    The version Trump reads:

    “Hi Donald, how they hanging? I’ll give up all my weapons and missiles pronto and after licking Xi Jing Pin’s arse, yours is next. Hope to see you soon.

    Yours sincerely,
    Kim.”

    Like

    • Mal Kukura June 3, 2018 at 1:27 pm #

      The new diplomacy. Three way circle jerk Nobel peace prize?

      Like

      • doug quixote June 4, 2018 at 10:09 pm #

        Nobel must be spinning in his grave over some of the selections over the years.

        The only award Trump would get is Narcissist of the Century. I’d do one of my Mirror on The Wall spoofs if it were possible to satirise the moron any more than he satirises himself, unintentionally. Even Samantha Bee and Alec Baldwin struggle to sound like anything other than straight reportage.

        Impeachment soon?

        We live in hope.

        Liked by 1 person

        • rakum8 June 7, 2018 at 2:52 pm #

          Facing such a future (impeachment) tends to leave one all too Pence-ive.

          Like

          • doug quixote June 8, 2018 at 10:31 pm #

            Yes, that is problematic. But you’d hardly expect a Bernie Sanders as Republican VP.

            Like

  6. Barry Waters June 8, 2018 at 10:10 pm #

    Thank you for your comments, especially for highlighting the absurdities the two ministers used to justify their positions.

    Like

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