I’ve not been able to stop thinking about this submission by Peridot. I know that many women (and men) are placed under inordinate pressure in the workplace, and that they are often singled out by one person for meaningless cruelty; I now some of our readers have has similar experiences, and how it systematically grinds you down. But Peridot writes about more than this. This piece deals with the issues of self esteem, of not wanting to change despite being who you are exacerbating the cruelty, of courage, of power imbalance. Of how this happens to the wrong people.
This is brave, wise, and will make you think. Over to you, Peridot. And thank you:
Everyone knows that children can be cruel. And it seems to be universally accepted that girls in particular can be very nasty indeed. But when you join the adult world, there are certain worries you put behind you, right?
But here I am at the age of 41 being bullied at work. This is the 3rd incident in my life – the first was at school and the last about 10 years ago. And I can’t help but ask myself in the midst of my misery, is this somehow my fault?
At school I was a bit anxious, a bit geeky and never quite fitted in amongst all the oh-so-cool girls at my all female school. Some of the coolest decided to pick on me – it culminated in one of them pushing me out of a moving train (coming to a stop – not that dramatic) whilst I was on crutches with a ligament tear. I moved to an almost all boys
school for the 6th form, reinvented myself and flourished – boys can be crushing but they don’t gang up on you for some unimaginable way that you don’t meet their criteria of acceptableness (yeah, I totally made that word up) and if you’re a girl in a largely male environment, they’re pretty nice to you!
Approximately 10 years ago however I took a job in an almost all-male, erm ‘unreconstructed’ team who really didn’t want some posh bird with a degree in their midst when they were discussing the new page 3. Or worse. I’d thought, yay, boys – I can totally fit in here. I didn’t and I couldn’t. I left but it all got pretty unpleasant and all I
remember about those dark days was crying and sleeping. And carrot soup, bizarrely, which I can no longer stomach.
And here I am, surely FAR too old to be feeling like this, in the same situation. I work in a blame culture where bullying isn’t only tolerated, it seems to be encouraged; it’s pretty toxic at the best of times and this is the worst of times. My deputy head of dept thrives on conflict and drama – she actually can’t sit still for glee when she has to slap someone down, she jumps up and down, wriggles and giggles; it makes me a bit nauseous. She also has a long history of forcing people she doesn’t like out. There are four that I know about in the last five years – it’s never been dealt with despite some official complaints so I imagine she feels invincible. She has two men reporting to her who try to ingratiate themselves – and I suspect bolster their own status in her eyes – by slavishly copying her. And she gees up her boss too. When she was on maternity leave, all was sweetness and calm but she’s back and worse than ever.
Last time she did this to me I was working directly to her (she has, of course, been promoted since then). I tried, in essence, to make myself small, to say often how I didn’t want promotion since I thought she might feel threatened in some needless way; it didn’t work. I don’t know why it’s got so bad now, but for a girl who hates crying, I’ve been doing a lot. Deadlines are suddenly moved from 3 weeks to 3 days; I’m not briefed on what is wanted and told I’m doing the wrong thing; I’m publicly humiliated in meetings and given impossible tasks to do (Phrygian stables? Pah, that’s nothing). A colleague I don’t directly work with messaged me to ask what was going on ‘because it feels like you’re being punished for something’. Amazing what people notice.
And I can’t help but feel ashamed that this happening to me. It feels like a weakness in me. I feel… diminished, smaller, sadder, more apologetic about being me.
I am, regrettably, a people pleaser. It’s not something I like about myself. When I read the Philip Pullman ‘His Dark Materials’ trilogy I reluctantly realised that my daemon (an outward expression of my inner self in animal form for the uninitiated. Who should totally read these books) was probably a Labrador. Sure, I’d rather it was a cool and elegant big cat but deep down, I have to accept that I’m a Labrador. I think this must mean that I am ripe for bullying but it also means I am loyal and loving. I don’t know how to be different and I’m not even sure I want to be. I just want it all to stop.