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Discussing Weinstein Means We Need to Talk about Female Allyship Too

“I bet she’s just a gold-digging whore.”

I blink, unsure if I’ve heard correctly. But one glance at my colleague’s face, leaning over my shoulder to look at the court documents open on my computer screen, confirms that yes- those words have come out of her mouth.

Over the past several weeks, we have begun to seriously discuss as a society, symptomatic sexual harassment and abuse within our culture.

What began as a discussion largely instigated by the revelations of Harvey Weinstein’s decades-long track record of abuse, has now evolved into a broader societal dialogue on the frequency of abuse and harassment, with men and women coming forward, sharing stories on social media about their experiences.

While the primary emphasis on this growing discussion has been on the role that men can play to be stronger allies, colleagues and supporters of women, there needs to be an honest examination of how women can be better allies, as well. Because for every mass demonstration of public support for an individual like Rose McGowan, there have been less influential, less famous and less protected women, who have come forth with their claims and have been shunned, ridiculed and judged by their female colleagues.

Over the course of my relatively short career in politics, I’ve been in the position of witnessing two large-scale sexual harassment claims unfold in the workplace. Both were filed against men at the top of the political hierarchy, by females who were professional subordinates and had nothing to gain by coming forward. In the case of one of the men, the claim was only the latest in a series of accusations that had dogged him for years, much like Harvey Weinstein.

Though I wasn’t necessarily surprised at the reaction of the men in the office toward the claims — 100% of my male colleagues were unwavering and unquestioning in their support of the accused, including my then-boss — it was the reaction of female colleagues that surprised me, and has made me question how we can do better for our future generations.

After each claim was filed, about 95% of my female colleagues chose the route of openly questioning the women who had filed the complaints. There was an immediate comparison of notes on the women involved, followed by endless, daily speculation on the complainants’ motives. The general consensus was that because the accused were locally famous, these women were “obviously” looking for some kind of financial payout.

There’s a crossover term in psychology and popular lexicon that seems broadly applicable to this phenomenon: Queen Bee syndrome. First defined by G.L. Staines, T.E. Jayaratne and C. Tavris in 1973, it references the idea that “…a woman in a position of authority who views or treats subordinates more critically if they are female”, a phenomenon most famously documented by the 2004 film Mean Girls, where Lindsay Lohan’s Cady Heron is tormented by Rachel McAdams’s Queen Bee Regina George.

While the criticisms of the women in my office weren’t from those in a job-related position of authority, there was a moral hierarchy that clearly developed as soon as word of the sexual harassment cases became public. There was an indisputable air of better them than us, emphasized by every crude and flippant comment, including a heated discussion of the type of car one of the complainants drove — as if a gold Lexus was somehow indicative of a person’s trustworthiness and overall motive.

In so many words: my coworkers were performing the modern-day, professional equivalent of asking why the complainants’ clothes were too sexy or too tight. I can only guess at their personal and professional motivations, but the end question of all of this behavior should be:

How do we become better allies for fellow women, particularly as we stand up for younger generations?

Like many of the dialogues that have taken place in the past days and weeks, the first step has to be with an honest acknowledgement of the problem. While most women generally don’t like to admit they are anything but 100% supportive of their coworkers — a point illustrated in a 2017 Atlantic article by Olga Khazan, titled: “Why Do Women Bully Each Other at Work?” — reality is, we all have experiences where we’ve witnessed that lack of support, particularly in situations like what I experienced. We need to be able to discuss these problems accurately and honestly.

Because there is a power in words, and there is unity in speaking up with one voice. As Reese Witherspoon recently stated at the Elle Women in Hollywood dinner in response to the Weinstein news, and sharing a revelation of her own assault at the age of sixteen:

In tandem with that discussion, there must be recognition on the importance of speaking up in the workplace when such situations arise, coupled with a push toward cultural acceptance of those who do speak up. This is a particularly vital lesson that we must share to future generations — it is okay to say something, if you see something.

In those two specific instances, I didn’t speak up. I kept silent through every conversation and cruel remark, and I kept silent after one of the accused men posted a copy of the confidential settlement between him and the woman who had filed the complaint on his Facebook account in an action that can only be described as spite, and my coworker gleefully declared to me that it was proof that the complainant was a “…gold-digging whore”.

In hindsight, my reasons for not speaking up — fear of personal reputation, and fear for my position — were really no better than those who criticized our colleagues. At the very least, I could have helped foster a gossip-free environment for the women involved in the cases, while also setting an example for the younger women in our midst- particularly our high school-aged interns. I can’t make up for the fact that I didn’t say anything at the time, but I can start speaking up now.

So I’m asking all of my fellow women to speak up, and be more vigilant in the workplace. We need to not only have each other’s backs, we need to show young women — as Witherspoon stated in her speech — “…life is going to be different, because we’re with you, and we have your back.”

Let’s start now.

Political staffer| Global security/intel at @johnshopkins . | Bylines in @thrillist @marieclaire @curbed |Views are my own. Repped by @byobrooks

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