Power, status and abuse

Power, status and abuse


Power, status and abuse

Two recent scandals involved two powerful men: Dominique Strauss Kahn, who was IMF chief, was arrested on charges of attempted rape and sexual assault, while former California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger recently disclosed that he had sired a child with his housekeeper. When it comes to men in positions of power abusing that power, or having extramarital affairs and collecting them like trophies, the list is long. Think Bill Clinton, former US president, think golfer Tiger Woods...

What is it about some men in power that leads them to behave the way they do? Gautam Ghosh, Product Evangelist, with vast experience in the corporate world, explains this phenomenon. “Achievement-oriented men, in their single-minded rush to rise to power, end up sacrificing intimacy and relationships. So when they rise to the top they often feel a void in place of emotional connects.This is aggravated in the case of leaders and celebrities because they are always  being observed minutely by their organisations, the paparazzi and the public. Sex becomes a proxy for their search for intimacy. The need for sex is a dysfunctional way to deal with it.”

So, what do incidents such as the DSK gate tell us about men’s attitudes towards the women they abuse?

Kiran Manral (39), now a freelance writer and formerly a journalist, says: “First, it is the assumption that they will not be punished or prosecuted by virtue of being in powerful positions or having enough wealth to buy themselves out of trouble. Second, they assume that a woman from a not-so-privileged background will not protest or pursue legal recourse if she is raped or sexually harassed by a powerful or rich man. Third, it is the attitude of seeing a woman as purely a sexual object rather than a person.”
Would women in positions of power behave in much the same way? Manral observes, “Yes, I have seen a female boss sexually pursuing a male subordinate, but I think women are far more subtle.”  Is it more about power and less about gender, really? “It is more linked to the feeling of invincibility that being in power gives.”

Sagarika (30), who talks about her personal experience as a copy writer in a leading advertising agency in Bangalore, explains: “I’ve worked with both male and female superiors and they have misused their power in their own ways, and this is not necessarily about sex. The female boss made me run personal errands like delivering parcels from office to her residence because she preferred to work from home. The male boss was a slave driver. I would do all the dirty work, polish it and he would take credit for it.”

Sushma, who is in her early twenties, works as an account executive in an ad agency. She recalls an occasion when she declined a job offer because she got to hear that the boss in question had harassed women employees previously. She was almost forced to take up that job, but she eventually declined. At that time, she was new to the city and was desperately looking for a break, which probably made her seem vulnerable.

“A friend of mine is going through a similar situation, where her manager is sexually harassing her. The company’s Human Resource  investigation is doing no good, paving the way for her exit which seems to be the only solution,” Sushma explains.

From her experience in the ad world so far, she points out that women at the helm of affairs seem to have more balanced views and, unlike men, are not prone to abusing power.

Neeraja Ravichandran, who is her mid-thirties and works from home for a transcription company, insists that she personally hasn’t had any experience with manipulative or abusive bosses. But she admits that she has often seen men misusing their power over women, especially the “weaker ones”. She hastens to add that some women employees  are “equally manipulative”.

“In the transcription industry, I have seen women trying to be in the good books of managers who usually assign files or work to them. If you keep the manager happy, you have the easiest files lined up for you, else you end up spending half a day cracking a difficult dictator. I don’t think women in power would do that,” she says.

Vijayashree,  senior technical editor with a leading software services firm, says that some of her male bosses have made suggestive comments. “Women in positions of power don’t do that, because a large percentage of women are still conservative, when it comes to their sexuality,” she adds.

Rashmi, who is in her late twenties and works for an IT firm, explains: “In absolute terms, I think women are equally likely to abuse power (for whatever ends they want to achieve) as men. But statistically speaking, it is probably less common (for the simple reason that there are less women in positions of power the world over; women have traditionally filled “supporting roles”.) And most women don’t see sex as a conquest and don’t feel validated by the number of notches on their bedpost!”

(Some names have been changed on request.)

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