Power, privilege and workplace harrassment

Harvey Weinstein, synonymous with the scandal that surrounds him, stands accused of over 70 separate incidents of sexual misconduct, including charges of rape, assault and rampant workplace harassment. Ashley Judd was the first woman to go on record with the New York Times about her first hand experience with the Mira-max mogul. Instead of being shamed into silence, as so many victims are, she spoke up.

And when she spoke out, the world listened.

In 1997 almost 2 decades ago, before her rise to major stardom, actress Ashley Judd was invited to the Peninsula Beverly Hills hotel. Here she was to meet with Harvey Weinstein, in what she expected to be a breakfast meeting. However, on arrival she was sent to his hotel room and greeted by Weinstein in his dressing gown. Disgustingly he used this intimate situation to coerce her initially for massages and then for sexual relations.

Judd, acutely aware of her situation, recalls thinking  “How do I get out of the room as fast as possible without alienating Harvey Weinstein?”.  For not only was there a distinct threat of sexual violence , he was capable of significantly impacting her just blooming career. In this situation he held all the power and he took full advantage.

The Harvey Weinstein scandal and the following #metoo movement, was a movement in which people found solidarity in shared experience. Once one person was brave enough to make their voice heard, the flood gates opened for millions of women worldwide to speak up about their experiences . The Harvey Weinstein scandal became a catalyst for for collective outrage.  Women were not only in speaking out against the maltreatment of women in the workplace, but also were being emboldened enough to pursue legal justice too.

Power can be undoubtedly corruptive. One example, that is far from fiction for many women, is being punished by your boss/manager/superior because you dared to turn down their advances. With ease, they can create an uncomfortable work environment, in which you are powerless. And as power increases in an individual, the more of an effect they can have on the resources, wellbeing and social behaviour of others (Keltner, Gruenfeld & Anderson (2003).

People who have a low-power and subordinate status, are far more careful in their attention to others, but especially in potentially threatening situations. Similarly how when Ashley Judd felt threatened in the hotel room with Harvey Weinstein, she acted with elevated care so to try and escape unscathed. Another Concerning finding when you look at the effect of power on subordinate status is that it can significantly disrupt cognitive and memory processes. So, not only can power corrupt those who are powerful, but also can inhibit and negatively impact those in low power, subordinate statuses (Keltner et al,2003).

Additionally, men in high power positions are often more likely see sexual interest from women, when the behaviour may have in fact been ambiguous (Keltner et al,2003). For instance, a polite smile, or hello in the hallway might be misunderstood by the boss to be an indication of your sexual interest in them, rather than just polite deference.

Also, high power people will also be more likely to invade another’s social space and will approach a subordinate at distances that would indicate intimacy. A hug for instance can be on one hand a friendly gesture, but if a hug lasts for a long time or if hands move to the lower back, it can turn into a more uncomfortable and intimate act. Not in any way to diminish the severity of harassment;  men in high power positions may not always be aware of the inappropriate nature of their behaviour and the negative impact it may be have. Although, the most vile cases are where bosses intentionally use power to get away with harassment, fully aware of the effect of their actions.

One survey by USA Today found that 94% of women employed in the American film industry have experienced sexual harassment or assault (https://www.usatoday.com/story/life/people/2018/02/20/how-common-sexual-misconduct-hollywood/1083964001/). A wholy shocking figure. Those found to be perpetrators of harassment and assault were mostly older, more powerful males, like that of Harvey Weinstein. The allowance of workplace harassment and poor treatment of women in work environments highlights how women are truly valued. Not as highly as men. As even if a women does come forward in the workplace to complain of harassment, often she will be the one to suffer a negative reaction from her co-workers. Seen as a troublemaker, while the boss,manager,co-worker can continue relatively unaffected.

As an individual’s power increases, so does their ability to act without serious consequences (Keltner et al, 2003).  For instance, although Harvey Weinstein has had a backlash for his actions, he still remains a free man, despite all the evidence against him.  Another man notorious for his misogyny is Trump, the 45th President of the United States. Due to the fact that he is of the most powerful men in the world, Trump can openly boast about assaulting women, saying that he can ‘grab ‘em by the pussy’ (recorded on Access Hollywood tape, which surfaced in 2016), and suffer no real repercussion.

Moving forwards means there being accountability and consequence for those in positions of power, regardless of their status. No longer should people be able to get away with perverse treatment and denigration of their subordinates (Keltner et al,2003). So in future men like Harvey Weinstein will think before they act. For women deserve to be treated with the same respect as men in the workplace.  As anything less will not be acceptable.

It may seem that this drive for retribution has appeared from nothing, but this is an issue that has been brewing for years, decades, centuries.  And as ever women still have much fighting left to do for equal treatment in the workplace.

But the #metoo movement is a good start.

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