Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Abuse, power and gender: what needs to change after Savile

I love the BBC. I can’t imagine my cultural life without it. I don’t know whether this is the worst crisis at the BBC for 50 years. But I’m pretty sure that’s not the question. Or at any rate the only question.

And it worries me a great deal that at a moment when we have an opportunity to focus on the issue of abuse, a self referential media has decided that the media itself, in the form of the BBC in this instance, is the big story. If we need reminding of the way power relations can be reinforced by elites, we need look no further than the current discourse.

But there are some other things about power that we need to remember and here are two. First it’s gendered. And second it’s about culture. And that reminds me of two articles from the world of sociology and social policy, both as it happens written by men. Academics are sometimes (rightly) criticised for living in ivory towers. But they can sometimes help us think about big issues and ideas and enable us to look at problems through a different lens. Men are rightly criticised for colluding with gendered power relations, but sometimes they have something to say about them too.

Where gendered power is concerned I’m reminded of a ground breaking article, Naming Men as Men, published in the academic journal, Gender, Work and Organisation in 1994. The authors, David Collinson and Jeff Hearn, discussed the way in which men and masculinities are frequently central to organisational analysis, yet rarely the focus of interrogation. Rather they remain taken for granted and hidden. Is this ringing any bells? Collinson and Hearn went on to argue that to understand gendered power, we need to examine the management of organisations in much more detail.

And they highlighted five masculinities which are routinely embedded in managerial discourses and practices: authoritarianism, paternalism, entrepreneurialism, informalism and careerism. I don’t know whether these accurately describe masculinities at the BBC or for that matter across the media. But I’d hazard a guess that they aren’t too far removed from either the culture that allowed abuse or indeed the culture that’s mishandling the fall out now. I’d certainly draw on Collinson and Hearn’s framework if I wanted to take a closer look.

Where organisational culture is concerned I’m reminded of a piece by Ken Young about the implementation of equality policies. Young argues persuasively about the importance of understanding the appreciative context within organisations. He referred to that context as the constellation of images, beliefs and values at work in organisations. And he suggested that when thinking about the implementation of policy it was as important as formal policy frameworks and procedures. Since there’s already talk of whether we need more legal powers to prevent abuse (we might) it’s worth remembering that any amount of regulation won’t work if values and behaviours don’t change. And when it comes to abuse, that’s first and foremost about male values and behaviours.

I absolutely agree with those who have argued that the tragic and shocking story of abuse that has given rise to the current crisis at the BBC must not be drowned out by the story of that crisis. But since everyone is talking about it and because it’s real, let’s please make sure we focus on what actually needs to change in organisations like the BBC if we’re to stop powerful men abusing again.

1 comment:

  1. In all of the stories breaking at the moment there is the thread of girls (and boys) not being believed because no one believes that adults can behave so badly. In Rochdale police told parents that their daughters had made "lifestyle choices". In the O'Hagan article the Beeb furiously refuting allegations against "Uncle Mac" by a single boy.

    We talk about equipping our children to recognise abuse and how to protect themselves but we don't talk about men changing behaviours. Women talk about "However we dress, wherever we go..." meaning we shouldn't have to be self policing in the way of closing down our lives. Feels somehow that children are being given the responsibility of stopping themselves being abused instead of the world stopping adults from behaving like that.

    Not sure if that makes sense but I want my son to have a life where he isn't "suspicious of the kindness of strangers".

    Not sure how coherent this is but it is about men (and women) changing their ways so that children don't have to.