This week has been particularly bad for the exposing of men’s bad behaviours towards women in the workplace.
Adding to the turmoil at the CBC surrounding Ghomeshi’s alleged antics, the leader of the Liberal party suspended two of his members for apparently (not yet proven) behaving inappropriately toward other female members of parliament.
We also saw the woman in New York City being sexually harassed while walking along the street.
All of this ruckus highlights and makes public what many women have been complaining about for a very long time – men’s aggressive, abusive, demeaning behaviours toward women.
I wrote about many of the origins of men’s bad behaviours in my book, The Phallic Imperative: Why Men Are Hard to Get along With!? Not all men. Many of us, unfortunately.
As the workplace gender mix in many companies moves toward one in which women are slowly gaining more power and influence, many men seem to feel the urge to “put women in their place” by de-personalizing them with aggressive sexual remarks or actions.
So lets explore why men do these things.
First, many men have underdeveloped masculine egos.
You’ve often heard the phrase, “Boy, he has a big ego!” But exactly the opposite is true. A person with a “big ego” is trying to cover up his insecurities with bravado and pompousness. Kinda like the wizard of Oz.
If a man has a under-developed masculine ego he will easily feel threatened by women’s presence in the work place – especially those women who have organizational power due to their formal position.
A weak masculine ego is akin to a weak muscle – it cannot carry the load under the weight of equal interpersonal relationships. The man’s weak ego collapses into aggressive defensive actions which are designed to hide his weakness but in fact, betray his weakness.
By contrast a man with a developed masculine ego will not feel threatened because he will have a strong sense of his masculine identity. He is developed enough to gracefully and respectfully handle the demands of heterosexual encounters in the board room or shop floor. He does not question his masculine self, or if he does he recognizes that it’s his own very human internal insecurities, not at all related to women.
The same principle applies to homophobia. Homophobic remarks expose a man’s weak masculine identity.
So the problem in the workplace is that perceived (but not admitted) internal weaknesses lead to aggressive, abusive behaviours. Nobody feels safe. Not the abuser nor the abused.
Second, men tend to mysticize women.
Leonard Cohen, poet, songwriter, novelist and singer, gives a flavour of how men mysticize women:
“This man-woman thing . . . it’s all mysterious, like trying to speak about a nuclear reactor, or splitting the atom. (both of which, by the way, are perfectly understandable in scientific terms, but the mystery is created in the studied, romanticised ignorance of the feminine) . . . it’s just a longing – kind of unspecified longing and discomfort. I need women. I need one, and I need them.”
Phrases like, “What do women want?”; “Can’t live with them, can’t live without them”; “You can never please a women” are stupid statements made by some men who are not willing to put the effort into understanding women. Women, like men, are people too with all our quirks, foibles and unique personalities.
Maintaining the mystery is another way of de-personalizing the other. A man’s unwillingness to let go of the mystery, get curious and play in the reality of relationships with its good, bad, ugly and beautiful elements is a reflection of the hole left in a man’s psychological development.
In the workplace the “mysterious woman” is not to be taken seriously because when a man does take a woman seriously he has to grapple with his own short-comings in interpersonal relationships. Women, in general, are better listens. We men miss a lot because we don’t listen. Women are the underdog in the workplace which gives them the advantage of seeing the bullsh-t more clearly than men. In our denial we men wonder, “What the hell is she talking about? There are no gender issues around here! We treat everyone equally.” Yeah, right.
No matter how hard men may try to go back to the times when men were men and women were glad for it (as if they ever were), we can’t. The worm has turned. We men, do have a choice. We can either try – in vain – to recapture the mystery we have created of women, or we can redefine ourselves as individuals and as men in this changing culture so we can meet on human, respectful grounds.
Women are not right. Men are not wrong – except when we do bad behaviours. I do think men are going to have to learn how to develop a felt awareness of our independent, individual masculine identity. In failing to do so we become male dinosaurs on our way to extinction. Some men have already taken on the challenge. It’s simply a matter of stopping, looking and listening to what is going on, then mustering the courage to take those first frightening steps to breaking the collusion of The Phallic Imperative. Because men, like women, are people too.