Let’s talk about sex

Transgressive behaviour has become part and parcel of the social debate. Unsafe situations are now appearing in new forms and in a variety of places. Fear has taken hold. There could be a Marc Overmars behind every tree or boardroom door. On the other hand, seemingly innocent gestures can also be inflated. And there is no unequivocal answer to the question of what exactly constitutes transgressive behaviour. 

Simone Kaper, Kaper Nooijen Advocaten

No one wants to take responsibility for allowing an unsafe situation to continue. This is understandable, but that also often leads to managers rushing in to intervene once any signs of insecurity or undesirable behaviour begin to surface. Research is sometimes flawed and the standards for what is and is not permissible are often unclear. 

Sometimes people get cancelled for nothing, or just to be on the safe side. That doesn’t feel right either. Some say nothing and don’t do anything wrong, but in a way that’s also unsafe (being branded a perpetrator out of nowhere). 

More than ever, placing a greater focus on undesirable behaviour and feelings of insecurity in the workplace is much needed, important and meaningful (and in other hierarchical relationships, such as in educational settings or the treatment sector, for example). The many cases that have surfaced show the great need in society for a new perspective on social etiquette. Finding a new standard together But where do you find that?

Raising your voice can lead to feelings of insecurity. So much so that a chairperson who mostly had a reputation for being extremely knowledgeable and committed, left the field in disgrace. I also know of a case of a manager who said to an employee in passing: ‘You aren’t supposed to play solitaire during working hours’. Years later, that incident was brought in by integrity investigators as an example of harassment and even transgressive behaviour by that supervisor. And a national coach who – and I’m not joking – was considered too performance-oriented because he said to an athlete who had not trained for three months: ‘You have to start training now otherwise you can’t stay in the squad.’ The athlete had perceived the threat of being expelled from the selection as unfair and unsafe.

According to Claudia de Breij, you can only say those things you would also say to your mother, but I wonder if our mum would have agreed.

Government Commissioner for combating inappropriate behavior and sexual violence, Mariëtte Hamer, describes it as follows ‘When you cross the line and do something that the other person does not want. If two people are joking around together then everything is fine until the moment one of them stops enjoying it.’

The dominant view in 2023 seems to be: does someone feel uncomfortable with a certain behaviour? Coupled with that is the desire to move towards a more sensitive society where we develop a better sense for that in each other.

But before we get there, we still need to do something about the standard. Because unpleasant and culpable are not synonyms. Is something feels unpleasant to someone, that is every reason for the other person to stop the behaviour, but that does not automatically mean that the other person was wrong. 

A cultural shift is generally accompanied by excesses, magnified through generations. It is not possible to establish a new order without those excesses, which we may now be in the middle of. We desperately need both the perpetrators who are not allowed to say anything anymore and the victims who take offence at even the slightest wrong in this process. We need to keep exploring the boundaries between comfort and discomfort, to determine where those boundaries lie. And that can also vary by sector or situation as well. 

We can’t just make a quick sketch of that new standard on a beer mat, we have to live it. A sometimes overblown sensitivity and moral condemnation on suspicion rather than evidence may be part of it. Bringing with it all kinds of damage. It’s easy to damage a reputation. Repairing it is sometimes impossible. As impossible as getting rid of PTSD or other residual damage that victims have to live with in their lives. 

We all have a price to pay in correcting the shift in how we interact with each other into a standard that feels right for everyone. That means that there are ‘victims’ on both sides: the reporters of transgressive behaviour who are not heard enough and the alleged perpetrators who believe, in retrospect, that there was hardly anything blameworthy done. Casualties of change? Let’s at least try to minimise those casualties and learn how to do better as soon as possible. 


Druk op enter om te zoeken of ESC om te sluiten
Press enter to search or ESC to close