What outrages the modesty of a woman? How does one know if someone meant it or a woman is taking offense where none was meant? Is she at fault if she isn’t comfortable with what someone said to her? Or should she be trolled for speaking her mind?
These are some of the questions that come to my mind at the ongoing furore about the objection Ms. Charlotte Proudman had to the mail that Alex Carter-Silk sent to her. While my blogger friend, Ankita thinks Proudman over-reacted, I somehow find myself at the opposite end of the argument. And here’s my side of the story:
I came to know about this episode through a tweet which had this Mashable link on it which has both their mails. I, then, came across this photo in the newspaper the next day.
This set me thinking. This wasn't just some woman who got offended and wrote a mail and the matter finished. There is a whole lot of debate around it. I went back and read the mails. I discussed this with some people on Twitter. People seemed to be divided and there was no clear picture as to who people thought was right or wrong here. To my surprise, there are quite a few women who feel that Charlotte over reacted. She should have just shrugged it off as just another compliment instead of raising a rabble about it. But, I say, Charlotte found it offensive enough to write back on a professional network probably jeopardising her career prospects. This calls for digging deeper.
When I think about it, the first thought that comes to my mind is how I’d react if someone sent me a mail like this on a professional network. That makes me go back to the mail and consider what could be offensive to a woman. Basics first, this person is almost double the age. Somehow that calls for more awareness about how your message could be perceived. Secondly, this is his first mail he wrote to Charlotte. I have written and received several ‘thanks for connecting’ emails on Linkedin but I don’t remember that dwells on how I or someone else looks. If I were to have 2/3rd of someone’s mail dwelling on my DP and adding one last sentence about his interest in my skills, I will definitely find that odd.
I’d be ok even if he had just mentioned - you look stunning (though that’s not a word to be used in the professional context, not in the first mail) and moved on to his interest in working with her on the projects he found mutually beneficial. But he seems to be well aware of the implications of what he is saying, a seasoned lawyer that he is - “horrendously politically incorrect” and still says it. He himself uses strong words to say this might be very inappropriate - if he meant it just as a passing comment why couch it in defensive words so strong?
And he doesn’t stop there. He also awards her the best picture on Linkedin award. And when I read it, it feels like that’s all he is talking about and by the time he comes to her skills, it’s lost all meaning. It also looks like this guy definitely isn't aware of boundaries when he calls his own daughter hot!
Let’s give him the benefit of the doubt for a minute and say - he did nothing wrong. Let’s consider how Charlotte must have felt. First of all, I totally believe in women’s instinct and the vibes that people give out even online. I am a woman who is active online. I make decisions about who to follow and who not to follow. I have had people compliment on the first chat and it did not feel offensive. And some others did not come out right and gave me second thoughts with what they said even after a few chats. It’s the vibes. Can anyone decide for me? Can you tell me if I should have felt offensive or not? Can even I explain why I get a certain feeling about someone. That’s why it’s called instinct. A woman knows a touch, words, tones - she just knows it!
Assuming that Charlotte has even average intelligence, I don’t think she would just fly off the handle like this and create a furore. It must have come across as insulting to her. And I totally empathize with her. I am sure she has spent enough years becoming a successful professional and here is this guy only talking about her stunning looks. As an NLP trainer, I know that the onus of communication lies on the speaker, the person who conveys the message. If care is not taken to word/say it properly, don’t blame the receiver. If he is so innocent, I am sure she deserves the benefit of the doubt for being well aware of the implications of what she was doing by writing back.
And what makes her point stronger is she doesn’t back off amidst the ensuing controversy. But accepts that she is willing to “endure misogynistic backlash that accompanies calling out sexism in hope it encourages at least one woman to feel she doesn’t need to take it.’ This definitely is not a woman who reacted at the spur of the moment, or better still under the influence of hormones - the major contributor to all female tantrums!
And going by the headlines in newspapers and strewn all over the internet, it is pretty clear to me that once again, Charlotte is the victim. She is being called the Feminazi and isn't being supported by her own gender. If a woman feels insulted, do we question her - worse, even as women or do we support her? If a man chose to inappropriately express himself being fully aware of it being so, what are we doing by judging her? Should we target her with public shaming and silence all other women who may feel offended in the future but choose to endure it silently because we will not support her? Or should we strengthen one voice that had the courage to speak up against what she felt was sexist?
The ball is in your court!