Recently, women who accused a powerful man of inappropriate conduct surfaced briefly. Surrogates were quick to point out that if the alleged incidents had occurred ten, twenty, and in some cases thirty year ago, then why did accusers wait so long to come forward? Surely, a lag period of several years (and the timing of pre-election release) must signal shenanigans afoot.
Why do targets remain silent subsequent professed sexual harassment/molestation and/or emotional abuse? According to Raynor (1996), the real problems begin once targets choose to say something: “You think you’ve got problems now? Just wait until you complain.” Correspondingly, “Victims have much to lose, and often little to gain by coming forward.” Power structure of society (and specifically of large companies) is comprised of individuals who are not for the most part female, who have never dealt with intimidation solo and who view “troublemakers” as suspect – individuals simply wanting their “ten minutes of fame,” wishing to distract employees from carrying on with the business at hand. The hard truth is that no one wants to believe that Big Daddy, a beloved father figure much like their own, is capable of lascivious acts. Both men and women would just as soon disbelieve an accuser’s story than to acknowledge untoward conduct. Not to mention that no one wants to invite problems into their career path at work.
The juggernaut spiral of push-back begins when Big Daddy sniffs his first whiff of rejection. A preemptive first strike, one that consists of trashing the target, serves to alienate her support base – while simultaneously casting himself as victim. What people do not see is the continual clockwork mischief that occurs behind the scenes: personal residence drive-bys and incessant phone calls in what the perpetrator considers his own personal version of a freebie 900 number. All of this unprovable in the absence of witnesses in what would undoubtedly be a contested he said she said – in which Papa Bear preserves his reputation by blasting the accuser with his oversized big mouth megaphone, broadcasting to the far corners and to anyone willing to pull up a chair. Not surprisingly, stalkers seem in a perpetual sh*t-faced stupor as to what constitutes appropriate comportment. Mudslinging under these circumstances goes one way. And even if you wash it off, people will remember the original stain.
Given this inconsonant, unbalanced state of affairs, who would believe the accusers? Because of the status hierarchy, because of internalized self-hatred, because of our tendency to blame the victim and to vilify the accuser sexual predators go scot-free. Women are thus fighting a battle on two fronts: (1) a stacked deck power structure; and (2) members of their own gender who wish to reside on the “winning” team. We have bills to pay. Families to feed. Careers to consider. So we remain silent; locked in a pattern of power abuse perpetuated from the top, as well as from our “peers.” So intimidated are we by the potential of blow-back that we sometimes we find ourselves apologizing to the accuser. The stakes are simply too high – with compatriot females seemingly AWOL, or in the worst case scenario on the attack. In abusive environments women direct their anger inwards (at themselves, and at other women); e.g.,: “Many women and girls believe the claims made by those who victimized them: that they deserve disparagement or abuse. They may blame themselves for the treatment they suffer at work, and focus on how to change themselves rather than confronting an abusive boss or co-worker” (NiCarthy, Gottlieb, & Coffman, 1993, p. 8).
Internalized misogyny and sexism are evident in women’s nomenclature of self-description. The pejorative “bitch” has for example become the canine catch-all through which women are simultaneously attacked by both genders. Popular media has sanitized phrases like “bitch slapped” and “on the rag” to the point where individuals use them without thinking. If a woman is irritable, she is “bitchy.” If a man is annoyed he is justifiably angry, his righteous indignation most likely evoked by an uncooperative “O.” Because we expect men to defend their territory and to uphold their dignity, we respect their explosions aimed at insipid, infighting, illogical Others. Not surprisingly, the pejorative of choice for men is “son of a bitch.” Protected by their place on the corporate totem pole, men’s self-image remains intact. Women’s self-image by contrast is deflated. I am somewhat doubtful that a woman who truly loved herself, who honored her goddess within, would refer to her resident divinity as “bitch.”
In dysfunctional cultures women are financially coerced into acts they would otherwise eschew. These include sexual banter, flirting, and socializing after hours – the mental disrobing that occurs afore physical conquest, the insertion of X ego into Os’ daily routine. Attractive women have the added burden of acting the part. After all, what reason could an attractive woman possibly have to look glum? With a desirable visage, she must be on top of the world. Reaction to an attractive females’ disgruntlement takes the form of anger, manifested from an entitlement mentality and a sense of managerial beneficence. Since we are tolerating you, how dare you look anything but grateful? Sexual deference is thus considered an accoutrement of power and an entitlement of position from executives who are accustomed to organizational privilege. Attractive women are expected to graciously accept comments regarding their appearance, and to flirtatiously smile for interested X onlookers and to leaders who have “good ole boy” indelibly stamped on their foreheads.
Because women still reside on the fringes of political/social/power networks, coming forward to complain (especially about a powerful network player) is tantamount to career suicide. Heinous acts of self-gratification are thus swept under the rug for posterity, and the women who are impacted quietly leave. The mind control electrode of emotional abuse is invisible to one’s peers, but manifest in constricted, subdued, and self-effacing target self-commentary.
It is a rigged system in which one gender is deprived of playing chips. Women are outnumbered and out maneuvered in a game not of their own making, confronted by company elders who lock arms to dissuade presumptuous elements.
NiCarthy, G., Gottlieb, N., & Coffman, S. (1993). You don’t have to take it!: A woman’s guide to confronting emotional abuse at work. San Francisco, CA: Avalon Publishing Group.