This is one of those posts that I probably don’t want potential employers to find. The kind that career advice sites advise you not to publish because it might make me look like a liability. Oh well.
I had a job once, with a coworker I really, really didn’t like. He wasn’t my supervisor, but he acted like it. A lot of the women on the job didn’t like him because he was condescending and verbally abusive. The kind of guy who didn’t say anything unless it was to tell me that I did something wrong and told me on multiple occasions that he wasn’t very impressed with my intelligence. In fact, that I obviously didn’t have the intelligence to function in my manual labor job. And magically, he only treated the women this way.
Some ladies took the high road. They smiled and played nice, and softened him up enough to deal with working the same shift. I’m not that nice. I acted exactly the way he treated me. If he didn’t talk to me, I didn’t talk to him. If he called me stupid, I acted stupid. And if he asked me to do something, I only did exactly what he asked me to do.
Still, I was surprised to get an email from my boss that said “Sorry to let you go. Your work up until now has been excellent, but your recent behavior is unacceptable”. But I knew what had happened. He went over my head and tried to get me fired. I replied, detailing the way he had treated me. He got a verbal censure. I got to look for another job.
I didn’t neglect any of my duties. And my work up until then was excellent. My work with my other coworkers was still excellent. Later, someone asked me why I didn’t fight back harder. I think it was because I knew that I wasn’t a pure victim of harassment. I was a jerk, too. A jerk in response to him harassing me and making me feel like crap, but a jerk nonetheless. What I should have done, was I a perfect employee, would have been to report him to my boss, first. But given how everything turned out, I didn’t report it because I didn’t trust that the system could do anything to make it better for me.
I don’t want to make my personal situation into something bigger, but I think it’s helpful for understanding resistance. Movements are built when people want to join in large scale resistance. It requires getting sympathy. Nonviolent resistance gets sympathy because in some sense, it makes the resistors into victims. Going through proper channels of legal resistance and publicity can get sympathy. Taking matters into your own hands gets less. Being an imperfect person opens you up to people saying “Maybe it’s your fault.”