You might have read about the South African Telecom CEO who is in hot water for saying in a recent radio interview that Women in general, including in the workplace, “have a bitch-switch and, boy, if you see two women fighting, it’s worse than two men having an argument.”
This gentleman, Jose dos Santos, is a prime example of the Rational Man Project (RMP) at work at high levels of corporations and government – men who are unconscious of their latent, and in this case obvious, misogyny. The RMP involves a brain that is “over-trained in rationality, has turned away from empathy and has mastered and normalized dissociation in its most severe dimensions; it is consequently incapable of recognizing the fault in its own system.” (Nick Duffell, “Wounded Leaders: British Elitism and The Entitlement Illusion”, 2014). This is the dominant system of our time. It has a hold on us, men and women. 300 years of Hyper-masculinity and Feminine suppression. (read more about the RMP here)
Mr. dos Santos has been excoriated for his comments, and rightly so, but there is more to be gleaned before simply throwing him under the bus.
Before his faux pas he said he hoped that one day his eventual successor would be a woman. That’s good. Then he discussed his company’s excellent record with respect to the hiring of and promotion of women, especially since he became CEO – which is true and progressive, especially in South Africa where he says, “Somehow we’ve failed as a nation to empower… women. There’s not too many women in leadership roles.” Again, good stuff really.
Then in the next breath he makes his ‘bitch-switch’ comment and also says, “We have good-looking women, we have clever women.”
Interestingly, when you listen to the whole interview he seems like a likeable and genuine chap. Indeed, though clearly not without self-interest, his top Women executives have come to his defence, releasing a statement that reads in part, “We agree that [Dos Santos’] choice of words on a specific matter was not appropriate. However, what we know is that the public outrage he is facing for that regrettable choice of words has far outweighed what he has done for every employee in this company, particularly women.”
Enter Public Relations – again. Mr. dos Santos: “I really want to say that I absolutely apologize if I have offended anyone; clearly a lot of people have been offended, and it’s a situation that I regret very much. It’s one of those things where this kind of language cannot be tolerated in society… I am not a sexist, and … if you look at what we have achieved in Cell C over the last three years, it’s really about women empowerment.”
Sounds familiar. The big issue for him and the Women Execs is his ‘language’ (ie) his choice of words. Besides, look at all the good things he’s done.
No doubt there was a lot of thought put into both official statements. Hand-wringing all around until… the PR Industry Standard Avoidance and Denial came to the fore in the form of an apology-lite (ie) the content is minimized while the focus is shifted to the ‘choice of words’, the ‘language’.
Just a slip of the tongue really. No basis in reality. How often do we hear from public figures post faux pas that their blunder was not indicative of who they actually are? Really, what we say and do out in the world isn’t us? Mr. dos Santos says 70s-style sexist things but he’s not sexist? No, if you’re Mr. dos Santos and the Women Execs – at least for public consumption. If you only knew him the way we do, in our special Institutional intimate way, you’d know that his verbal lapse was just an aberration – some external influence that momentarily possessed him to sound awfully boorish.
Then there’s, “if I have offended anyone”. IF? Isn’t the reason for the damage control that many people have most definitely been offended? How much of an ‘absolute’ apology is it when you don’t OWN what you said?
I’d guess that Mr. dos Santos truly believes that he is not sexist because hey, look how many women he’s brought in – as if those two things are mutually exclusive. Not sure how he would respond to Maya Angelou’s statement: “When people show you who they are, believe them”. Sometimes, that’s hard to accept, especially when we’ve been jerks ourselves – and then shifted the blame. But aren’t we what we think, eat and show? Always.
The problem is that under the auspices of the Rational Man Project, self-reflection, transparency and personal responsibility are not at the fore (as when someone cuts you off driving, you honk, then they give you the finger). Obfuscation is the order of the day. Honesty is on continuum somewhere between being either (1) too damn risky (2) or a non-issue because the Women Execs sincerely don’t see the sexism because they have become so desensitized to the endemic objectification during their rise to the top (sensitive and thin-skinned women tend not to go far in the Legal, Corporate or Government world). In short, moving right along. Nothing to see here.
Now, I don’t know Mr. dos Santos. He might be quite earnest. Or he might be a jerk. Either way, like most men and women in Anglo-based societies, whether he knows it or not, his unawareness stems from dominant adherence to the logical Left-Brain. This imbalance means that human qualities more associated with the Right-brain, such as Empathy, Conscience, Instinct, Cooperation and the Feminine, are not easily accessible.
Only when we allow ourselves to feel the shame of our actions can move through them. Hard to move through them when you have trouble feeling them. Instead, the logical mind creates a structure around the shame – the walls built of a myriad of justifications designed to mask the truth – from ourselves and others. This justification process is endemic to our cultures. We learn it from a young age because (1) most adults and parents engage in it (2) the ‘best’ of us, our leaders, those we aspire to emulate, are masters at it.
As children, between the extreme Left-brain nature of our societies and our own personal traumas, we create a Strategic Survival Personality (SSP) to cope. The defining component of the SSP is limiting emotional access so as to protect the self. While we all do this to varying degrees, when our connection to the Right-brain becomes compromised we are at risk of alienation, violence, depression and mental illness – all of which have reached epidemic levels.
To his credit Mr. dos Santos did say at the end of his apology, “This has purely been my observation and perhaps one of several reasons why women are under-represented in leadership positions.” If he is a decent fellow then maybe this has been a wake-up call for him. The public outrage is also a good thing because it is indicative of our decreased tolerance for ignorant and base behaviour. And while I have previously argued that very few women reaching top Institutional positions do anything differently than men it feels as if there is the potential for a tipping point of sorts somewhere over the horizon. Maybe one day there will be a bunch of RMP Women Execs running a Corporation or Institution having a meeting and it will dawn on them that the Old Boys Way is not the only way – that incorporating genuine empathy can actually be good for both business and humanity.
No doubt this might seem like wishful or absurd thinking – especially when you look around and see how firmly entrenched the RMP Matrix is. Yet, all of this is a process. We cannot flick a switch and undo millennia of misogyny and hundreds of years of the Rational Man Project in one fell swoop. Empathy is making its way to the fore, one day at time.
To read a more in-depth discussion on the Rational Man Project, as seen through the Ghomeshi Case, click here.