Friday, March 12, 2010

A Letter to the Top Executive of My Organization

Dear Ms. Top Executive:

You are the most powerful person in our organization. You are also a woman, as well as a mother. As such, you are a role model to the other women in this organization, giving hope to young new employees that if they work hard and work well, they too may aspire to holding the most powerful post in the region.

That is why I am so disappointed and, quite frankly, shocked and appalled by your introductory remarks at the recent Woman’s History Month training event. You told us of your own personal experience with sexual harassment during the course of your career with this organization. You told us of ugliness, inappropriateness, and humiliation. And then you excused it. You wiped it away. You told us it didn’t matter that you were subjected to such ugliness, that it may happen to us and when it does then we should just let it go and pretend we weren’t humiliated, that we weren’t made to feel inferior or objectified. That we should just go on with business as usual. Because, you said, these things are not intentionally mean-spirited.

You are wrong, Ms. Top Executive. Humiliating or objectifying behavior is always done with the smugness that belongs to the privileged, powerful oppressor. It is the behavior of one who wants to wield control over another person or group of people. And the intentional wielding of control over others is always mean-spirited. It is never ok, and should never be blown off in the cause of business as usual. I might have no choice but to put up with obnoxious behavior from some random stranger driving by while I am walking down a busy street because I live in a culture that accepts such behavior and propagates it through the silence and nonintervention – such as you advised to your staff. I should never have to put up with it in the environment where I spend 40 hours every week, giving my earnest hard work and dedication to a mission I believe in.

Will you tell your daughters one day, “That boy didn’t mean to rape you. You were on a date, you were drinking. It’s not like he was a stranger attacking you with a knife from behind a tree. It wasn’t intentionally mean-spirited.

The very thought makes me sick to my stomach.

When a person from a historically disadvantaged background acquires power and status traditionally held by some majority group, the disadvantaged person often has to assimilate to some extent with the powerful majority. During World War II in German occupied Europe, Jews often joined the local police department and did the bidding of the Nazi occupiers in hopes of securing status, power, and favor that would leave them and their families immune to the pain being inflicted on their community members.

It appears that you, Ms. Top Executive, have joined the Old White Man’s Club. You are playing the Man’s game according to the Man’s rules. You have accepted their terms, their behaviors, their dominant culture, and in reward you have the title you wear today. Joining The Club did not serve Poland’s Jewish policemen, and Joining The Club will not serve you, your daughters, or the women in this organization either.

You disappoint me, Ms. Top Executive. I have lost and esteem respect for you, as a leader and as a person. Your status as Top Executive remains, but your status as role model is gone.

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