The Me Too movement and the lessons we might learn

The Me Too movement, which enabled women to make case of sexual harassment public and question the role of men in superior roles, has been one of the most positive developments in the last few years. I would hope, though, that the energy and attention created here, would enable us as a society to question other aspects of power as well.

The issues addressed by the Me Too movement have a lot to do with the intrinsic power structures within our society. Here it is about the way men in apparent positions of power treat women under their influence. But the systemic issues here, can be found in many other places as well. Naturally, the fact that the Me Too movement addresses forms of sexual violence and intimidation, makes it quite hard to compare these issues to others, without sounding apologetic. That I don’t want. People like Harvey Weinstein and Bill Cosby, who have become the poster children for what has been going on, should suffer for what they did and yet, we should be able to look further into the topic. Otherwise this would be a missed opportunity.

Fortunately, I have never been in a situation, where sexuality and power intermingled in a way that felt uncomfortable to me. Yet, I have experienced plenty of situation, where power and power structures prohibited an open and free discourse. This was the case in pretty much every job I was working in. Most commonly this was an issue I was having with people in superior roles to my own. I guess that seems to be quite normal. Of course, your boss has more saying in how things have to go and in the decisions that determine the inner workings of a company. Right? But is this the only logical way to go forward?

I am not calling for a communist system, where everyone (in mere theory) has the same saying, but rather I wonder whether we might not be better off with a more open and honest debate culture? I am quite sure that most people have experienced a boss who has made bad decisions. But the fear created by hierarchy prevents people around him or her to speak out. The lack of opposition is then seen as silent agreement. I have experienced that frequently. Opposition is seen as something that is trying to undermine one’s authority. And that, I believe, is not the way things should be.

But we come to accept it, since we all seem to accept the game of power and hierarchy. Critique, very often, seems to aim at the position someone is holding, rather than something constructive. And the moment we are criticizing someone, another person might see this as an invitation to criticize us and therefore our position. Naturally someone has to make decisions, but to make the best decisions, the best and most open feedback might certainly be beneficial. Sure, sure, many companies try to implement ways for their employees to give feedback up the hierarchy ladder, but I think that this might work only in the rarest of cases. Power needs fear to work – one might call it “respect”, but in the end it is fear.

The fear we might feel in the presence of our boss might be the fear our colleagues experience when encountering us. And we ourselves might be as well guilty as charged.

Yet, the game is not an open one. Most positions are not reached through merit, but rather through the inner workings of the power structure, where many people promote those that suit their needs and wants best.

Maybe in the coming years the debate that has started with the brave women who have come forward to question the roles people with power play, might enable us to ask questions that go even further. The way I see it, is that an open discourse should be beneficial in most situations. But this, we would have to learn first.