‘It’s easy with us guys, we can just talk and resolve things quickly. The problem with this office is that it’s full of women,’ he says.
Scene: I was in between jobs, and I’d committed to a freelance project over two weeks. It was my last day and I’d just run down to the canteen to grab my morning coffee before getting started with work. This man, whom I had never chatted to before that moment since the day I was introduced to the office two weeks prior, was walking back up to the office with me from the canteen when he saw fit to share this rough gem of wisdom. The twist: the company was owned by women, the product they produced was targeted at and bought by women, their team was mainly made up of women. Yet, here he was, this man whose livelihood depended almost entirely on women, saying that women were the problem.
The fact that we’d technically just met minutes ago at the canteen made it that much worse. Was there some dirty stench, some Eau de Misogyny that I’d sprayed on this morning that made him feel as though it was perfectly okay to be so Trumpian?
Admittedly, in the two weeks that I’d been there, I could tell there were major infrastructural challenges, I told him as much and got back to my computer and we never spoke again. What really stuck in my mind from that moment was my response, or lack thereof. Even though I told him what I thought the problem was, I never took a moment to tell him what I thought about his views.
And as shocked as I was that this man would say this to someone that he’d just met, I wasn’t totally surprised that he held such views. This wasn’t the first time I’d heard this particular strain of bullshit logic. I’ve heard similar thoughts expressed many times, by men as well as women. I can’t speak to anyone else’s experience; I certainly can’t speak to women’s experiences with other women, but I know a bit about bigotry, perhaps even more about patriarchy. As a side note, if you want to make blanket statements about how men do things, please also take a look at the world we’re living in, the good and the bad, take a look at the many men who have proclaimed themselves its leaders and subjugated so many to maintain their control. Take a look at the many ways our world continues to suffer. Take your time, I’ll wait.
What I won’t do is look at all that and say men are somehow automatically faulty beings because of the actions of some. I know a bit about ideas based on the faulty logic of intolerance and prejudice, and false ideas repeated enough as to be truth. I’ve heard people blanket entire groups in these ideas, ‘We just can’t find black people who can do this or that…’ or ‘women can’t be this or that…’ If you truly believe that any group of people are this or that, we are going to need far more than a single page column for your exorcism.
As for my personal experiences, my own career choices over the last two decades have led me to offices that are mainly staffed and led by women. I have had some of the most amazing growth experiences and incredible support in those spaces. I also have a couple of women bosses who were so terrible to work with that if I saw them in public, and they greeted me, I might pretend not to know them just to throw some shade in their direction.
But here’s the thing about bigotry, wherever the initial prejudiced ideas may come from, if we leave them unchecked, we tend to then use our anecdotal experiences that we pick up along the way as a way to feed those prejudices. But those experiences don’t make the initial prejudiced idea any truer than if I were to say men are terrible to work with just because the few experiences I’ve had in male led teams were my worst.
Bigotry is not some dirty little thing that exists only amongst easily identifiable sexists, racists, transphobes, homophobes and xenophobes. It is very much alive around the average South African dinner table and office. It’s the unkind comments about different races, people of different sexualities, genders, etc. We let them pass, without pause, like I did with that man. What is that Edmund Burke quote? ‘The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.’ And for good women to do nothing, too. Bigoted ideas aren’t nurtured in some fringe club somewhere; these ideas don’t only flourish from mindless repetition by those who have internalised and believe them to be true – no, they soar on the calm wings of our silence.
This article originally appeared in the December 2016 issue of ELLE South Africa