Toxic workplaces and the awakening

There is a lot of toxicity in the world. It is in our bodies, in the environment, the oceans, our lives. Wherever we live, we find it. We have become so used to living with toxicity we no longer see it. It has wafted into our lives in its varying forms and there it stays.

Why have we let this happen? Because we do not recognise it. We do not slow down enough. We are too busy doing ‘things’ and making ‘things’ happen. When this happens we lose our centre. It is lost in a world of toxicity.

Our world of toxicity is no more present than in the workplace. But the status quo of work, the expectations, the demands, continue unchallenged. If women stop for a moment, respect and stand up for ourselves would things be different? If we take time to slow down we would find there are ‘things’ in our workplace that are unacceptable.

For many women, the workplace is the only place that can provide independence. It gives women financial security, and self-actualisation. Work is a necessary part of women’s lives, similarly for men. Yet not every workplace provides women a safe place to work. Women are subject to bullying, sexual harassment, and assault. The workplace can be unsafe, an unsafe battlefield.

A place which should offer security and safety, becomes a war zone. Women find themselves in the middle of a gender war. Not all men are at fault. But there are men who prey upon women. They see women as a trophy, talked about in the pub – something to conquer. If it is not in the pub these thoughts and imaginations form in hidden places. In the mind of men, when they are alone. There is thinking and planning, a cocktail of unhealthy thoughts.

Sexual harassment and assault is not noticed by all as is it devious. It likes to live in the shadows, underground. And there it exists. There are things a woman can do to protect herself. Yet there are other times of vulnerability when she cannot escape the toxicity.

How did we get there? To a place where workplaces are unsafe for women? If a woman claims their workplace is safe and fair, are they in denial? Awareness demands action. Yet a woman’s ability to speak is hampered. It is obstructed by the known consequences. There are too many aftereffects if she lets her voice speak.

Thus, men know they have the power and abuse it for their own benefit, and to control women. Some even use this power unknowingly. Others believe it is an entitlement. Patriarchy has shaped their beliefs and values since birth. But they were not aware of it then, nor are they aware of it now. Hence men too, can be part of the awakening.

There are many men that feel uncomfortable when they do not have control over a woman. In one of my workplaces, I was the senior manager, supervising men who were team managers. One man made it obvious he did not like having a woman in this role.

He wanted me to stay late to talk things over, work things. The previous female manager did it and he demanded it of me. It did not happen. Then he asserted his control by demanding I sign documents without reading them. It did not happen.

Then when that was not working, he tried to embarrass me. He talked loudly in front of others, about my management style, to intimidate me. That did not happen. Then he turned up at my office door, proud of his efforts. He said to me ‘You did not expect that, did you?’ I then knew it was time for a chat. I had to speak to him about his attitude and workplace manners. Fortunately, for me I had found my voice. I had awakened from my slumber; my voice was no longer silent.

selective focus back view photo of three women in bikini tops and denim shorts standing together overlooking the ocean
Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on

That particular workplace experience of mine was bullying behaviour. I was caught up in a gender war. There was an inherent belief in that man about his place in the world and the place of a woman. He had to act on his beliefs and values. The normative paradigm of patriarchy was his usual dwelling place. That is, he believed men were superior. A woman should not hold a place of authority, or have more authority, more than him, in the workplace. It was a battle for power and control. He believed that a position of authority was not suitable for a woman, one he could not control.

Last weekend, the ABC Insiders program, interviewed the Federal opposition leader, Anthony Albanese. He confirmed the root cause of toxic workplaces. That is, we are living in a patriarchal society. But men do not want to believe it, and many women are in denial. Women will tell you they are liberated. Patriarchy is ancient news, it happened back in Roman days. But patriarchy has influenced both men and women. Women now believe a lie, believing they have equal rights to men. These women are stuck, together with men, in the normative paradigm of patriarchy.

If anyone tells you anything different, they are not telling the truth. It is because they have grown into the culture of patriarchy. Women and men know no other way. Until the awakening.

Then there are women who have taken on patriarchal characteristics. They protect the men, protect the team. The Brittany Higgins matter has exposed the facts. The subtleties of patriarchy, of a culture controlled by men, is that she had to acquiesce. Even women caught up in the paradigm will have a sense of relief, when she does not speak. The other option is too unwieldly, too damaging, too unsettling for everyone. It challenges the normative paradigm of patriarchy. So, let us let leave it alone. Let us deal with it quietly. But the awakening is not quiet, it does not acquiesce.

It is time to let her voice speak.

Women must allow their voices to speak. First, one at a time, and then in unison with others. Only then will we see transformational change in the workplace. Only then will women break out of the clutches of patriarchy. The first step in the awakening comes once she hears the sound of her own voice, and lets her voice speak.

The fissures are forming. More women inside the normative paradigm of patriarchy have questions. They are questioning their function, their place, their value. Let her voice speak. Let the awakening have its way.

Note: There is more to the awakening then what I could include in this article. Next week I will write more about ‘the awakening.’

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