Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Bystander apathy in all its forms

Working extensively as I do in the area of equal opportunity, harassment, sexual harassment and bullying, sadly not a lot surprises me anymore. I've seen it in the board room and the boiler room. But I was filled with compassion and admiration for Jane Marwick this week when I read her gutsy piece in which she claimed to have been sexually assaulted by Rolf Harris, a celebrity she admired, when she was a young star struck radio host.

She works in the media. They have lawyers. They let her publish her article. The word "alleged" was nowhere in sight. She was prepared to face whatever came her way even though she said in the piece that her friends and family had cautioned her against it. I respect her for doing it.  I love her co-host Gary who reportedly wanted to go after Harris once Marwick told him what Harris had allegedly done. Yes, I used the "allegedly" word as I wasn't there and I'm not that brave.

In my work, I do see examples of people who are willing to defend the indefensible. Good people behaving badly. Executives do it because they don't want reputational damage.  Unions do it because the other party isn't a union member. Team leaders do it because they don't want their teammates to think the power went to their heads. Team members do it because they can't stand the person who complained.

There's another way to defend the indefensible. It's to sit back and say nothing when grave injustice occurs. It doesn't always mean people don't care. It's more likely to be because they don't want to deal with their shame. In today's Australian newspaper, Bettina Arndt makes a perfectly valid point when she questions the deafening silence in the media and from feminists about Clive Palmer's attack on Peta Credlin, our PM's Chief of Staff who was open about her struggle to bear a child. 

The day any feminist, male or female, decides who is or isn't a victim of sexism or misogyny based on their political proclivities is the day we've lost our souls.

Edmund Burke said all that has to happen for evil to occur, is for good people to do nothing.
Jane Marwick was brave and should never be victimized for telling us what we would rather not hear. And Peta Credlin should not have been thrown to the wolves no matter how assertive she might be because she sits on the wrong side of politics to labour feminists.

We get the culture we deserve. We get the behaviour we're prepared to tolerate.