Janet Walkow Christine Jacobs

Tolerating Bad Behavior

Men in Power

The story about the Dominique Strauss-Kahn sex scandal is sad and upsetting.  One can only feel horrible for the woman who is to have been attacked while she went about her job as a hotel maid.  But it seems to be part of continual bad behavior by this man, who is Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund, towards women. He had previously been cleared of sexual harassment charges against a female IMF employee.  He was quoted in a French publication recently as saying that “[he] love[s] women and so what?”

Silvio Berlusconi of Italy holds regular sex parties inviting powerful men and young nubile women.  He also claims to love women.

Arnold Schwarzenegger now admits that he fathered a child with a member of his household staff while married to Maria Shriver and being in the public eye. And there were many women who claimed he improperly touched them in the past.

Senator John Ensign is alleged to have pushed his aide’s wife into a relationship by reminding her how dependent her family was on his financial and political largesse.

Bill Clinton disrespected the oval office and his position as President by having a liaison with a much younger intern. She thought they were in love but he knew it was a dalliance.

Over and over we read about men who use their positions of power to take advantage of women.  The women were in some cases willing participants but the imbalance in power and status puts a unique light on all of these situations.

Power and Sex

Many powerful men view sex to be part of their overall right or destiny.  It is an entitlement.  Studies of infidelity by rich and powerful men are inconclusive as to whether it is an addiction to risk, excess testosterone, a sense of entitlement or just over inflated ego.  But we hear about this over and over.

And many women go along with this.  The women in the relationships may consent for sexual pleasure or love or just to keep their jobs.  But they allow it to happen.

And the wives of the offenders just seem to play into the story.  Maria Shriver and Silda Spitzer:  Is your silence worth the price and your dignity? I am a fan of The Good Wife on TV and am happy that Alicia finally has had enough but she put on the compliant face for a long time.

But the public acceptance of bad behavior continues to feed the problem.

What this says about Women’s Equality

When men like Dominique Strauss-Kahn and the others view women as available for the taking, how can they view their female employees or compatriots as worthy of respect and equal footing?  Women who work with Strauss-Kahn refused to go to meetings alone with him for fear of unwanted advances.  In light of this, could they ever have been viewed as respected business professionals?

Over the years—mostly in my youth– I had many male superiors and peers who made comments to indicate that they were open to non-business liaisons. In every case, I felt uncomfortable and stayed far away from the instigators in future settings.  Did I report the behaviors officially or quietly?  No.  I should have but did not want to make noise.  Maybe I misunderstood (not likely) and there was no proof.  I did not want to be a troublemaker.  But by tolerating both this activity and the fact that I knew that my professional strengths were perhaps undervalued by my lack of compliance, I perpetuated the problems.

No excuses.  This was bad behavior and supports the problem women have in politics and business and all areas where they seek equality.

And it is time for it to end.

Christine Jacobs is an experienced corporate executive and a co-founder of Leading Women. Read her full bio.

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