Macho, Money, and Me: My Business School Story

This article was written by freelance contributor “Medusa.”

Editor’s note: This article discusses examples of sexual violence at the University of Lethbridge. Reader discretion is advised. You can find on and off-campus resources that support victims of sexual violence at uleth.ca/sexual-violence/get-support. The author of this article, given its nature and content, has requested the use of a pseudonym, Medusa. The Meliorist has granted this request and has confirmed the author’s identity.

“And when you’re a star they let you do it. You can do anything.”
“Whatever you want.”
“Grab them by the pussy. You can do anything.” 

In October of 2017, The New York Times and The New Yorker published their stories of Hollywood executive Harvey Weinstein’s decades of sexual assault and harassment. The #MeToo movement rapidly emerged from the chaos of firings, accusations, and rumours of sexual violence. The MeToo movement itself predated the Weinstein story and the movement we now associate it with by over a decade. Originally conceived in 2006 by Black activist Tarana Burke, the MeToo movement looked to connect survivors of sexual violence with each other to safely disclose and to collectively heal. The appropriation of the movement into a hashtag and media blitz is now considered part of a greater movement to end sexual violence. 

Companies globally have clumsily grappled with the ramifications of the movement, adopting Diversity, Inclusion, and Equity committees and distributing memos to women on how to avoid getting raped by their bosses. This piece too, is a small drop in the vast ocean of sexual violence allegations and discourse around sexual violence. Since MeToo first began in 2006, there seems to be no shortage of allegations to feed the news cycle and no decisive action to change the culture that produces them.

How many future Weinsteins graduated from the University of Lethbridge this year?  How many in all the years prior? The institution would like to say none, that through the gleaming light of Liberal Education we will fiat luxius away the attitudes of rape culture produce sexual violence. These efforts especially won’t hold a candle to the greater structures of patriarchy that rape culture originates from when the institution’s own patriarchs brush away policy when inconvenient in the same way that countless colleagues do for the Weinsteins of the world.

Our well-meaning University has had previous stunning failings with regards to sexual violence in the past, exposés of which have been published in this very newspaper. These failings have caused increases in the robustness of the University’s Sexual Violence Policy, though not an increase in administrative uptake or implementation.

It is growing increasingly clear that dramatic policy implementations in the wake of scandals of bigotry and violence act as more of a gaslighting tactic towards the marginalized than as a tool of accountability and equity. 

‘If there is such a robust Policy, and such a well-staffed committee for sexual violence prevention, and such an expansive awareness campaign, how could there be sexual predators hiding in plain sight on our campus?’ 

Much like the multitude of companies that engaged in systematic victim blaming and legal ass-covering following #MeToo, our University has taken quite a few efforts to cover its own liability tracks when it comes to sexual violence. 

This is not to disparage or dismiss the intensive efforts of the people who sit on those committees. It is quite infuriating and disheartening to work towards change in a deeply bureaucratic institution that is by-design opposed to it. We only do ourselves and activists a disservice by pointing the blame towards ineffectual committees and not the institutions that appoint and ignore them.

The Dhillon School of Business has a problem with sexual violence, as does the entire campus and our wider culture, but the Dhillon School of Business just happens to fail just so spectacularly at it that it ensures the production of Weinsteins in the business world for decades to come. 

If you take the elevator to the top floor of Markin Hall and take a right turn you will find yourself looking towards an office with a red “Make America Great Again” hat in the window (as of the last time I was on that floor many months ago). This is also the floor of the Dhillon School of Business Faculty offices. The quote from the Access Hollywood interview at the beginning of this piece was carefully selected. The purpose was not to be eye-catching and provocative, but to point out an often-forgotten part of the interview: the other man in the conversation talking and validating the abhorrent sexual violence being discussed.

Far worse things about Donald Trump have surfaced before and since that tape, and they are likely not going to change the minds of any red hat wearing white supremacists, including our respective business instructor. The Access Hollywood interview demonstrates what we already know about rape culture: it is perpetuated by bystanders like Billy Bush, and all those colleagues who kept Weinstein in a position of power. The brazen support of Trump on a campus in a different country should be interpreted as no less than that same tacit approval of rape culture Trump embodies.

I don’t have to speculate about that, however, as that instructor systematically photographs and harasses the women in his class.

The idea that those who commit sexual violence are an unfortunate anomaly in our culture and not a by-product of it is a lie that does plenty of work to discredit survivors. It is also a convenient myth that the people who commit sexual violence are some depraved and uncharismatic “incel” caricature— “an ogre” as some people have referred to Trump. 

The Weinsteins and Trumps of our world are quite charismatic. It can’t be understated that they are also incredibly wealthy white cisgender men with immense power. Charisma follows power, however, and buys the confidence that you can commit sexual violence with impunity even from your wealthiest peers. 

“Grab them by the pussy. You can do anything.”

Machismo. Macho. Toxic masculinity.

Even at the relatively low level of a business school charisma is the currency that pays for the hiding and dismissal of sexual violence. Charisma can grant you quite a bit beyond impunity in rape culture. It also follows quite closely with success in the business school environment. The Dhillon School of Business Faculty website explains “The Dhillon Difference”, their vision of producing “students who are empowered to become the next generation of business leaders and entrepreneurs.”

These empowered leaders are also empowered opportunists.

I was once an unaware trader in charisma myself, earning a few thousand in grants for my start-up company over the course of a couple months. It was during these few months where I was exposed to my ‘innovative’ peers. 

A lot of “vaporware” and nonsense ideas get very far in Agility and the Dhillon School of Business on the word of charismatic individuals who have a smile, a suit, and a firm handshake. You don’t have to listen to a conversation between marginalized business students long to hear rumours about one of the men that the Faculty and University put on a pedestal. You don’t have to be around one of those men very long to see it firsthand. 

I was appalled to hear two men’s basketball players in my first-year Introduction to Management group discussing how easy it was to get first-year women drunk enough to have sex with. I was similarly horrified to hear business majors in the fraternity discussing spiking women’s drinks to later rape them. I was disgusted and furious to see it in-person as a man in a third-year course took pictures of my colleague’s cleavage. None of these people were properly held accountable for their violence.

That case of voyeurism I mentioned was brought to the Faculty and for it the man in question was not allowed to take the next course in the series, was released from the burden of finishing the course, and still received the grade that the women in his group worked for.

When I saw the name of that man cross my feed in the October digital edition of The Meliorist I was just… tired. Charisma carried this man far since I had last heard his name. He won $10,000 towards his start-up company, a company that intends to digitize voting (of all things) and according to the University’s own press release, will “potentially [blow] open the political process, creating easier access to voting for marginalized populations such as the disabled community that might have difficulty accessing polling stations, or First Nations [sic] and rural citizens who face long commutes to cast a ballot.”

Given the slurs I’ve heard him say, and the sexual violence I’ve seen him commit, I sicken as I imagine what this man’s hope for revolutionizing the “political process” entails. Rape culture is just one child of patriarchal structures that produce men like this, the other offspring that take root are just as ingrained and harmful. It was a failure of the Faculty to not hold one of their students accountable for sexual violence against another. 

While the University’s Sexual Violence Policy has a formal complaint procedure that could have been initiated by my peer but wasn’t, they nevertheless can still abide by this clause in Section 5.8.1, “[t]he University may act at its own discretion in the absence of a Complaint or if a Complaint is withdrawn, once it is made aware of an alleged Misconduct”, and I believe they have a duty to given Section 4.3, “[i]ndividuals in supervisory, managerial, and leadership roles play a key role in supporting and guiding the University towards an environment free from Sexual Violence, and in addressing issues that would detract from such an environment.” 

This was not the image of a ‘he said, she said’ situation that sexual violence has come to be framed as. It was a ‘she said, she said, she said, and he said’ situation in which women were once again disbelieved and disregarded by men in positions of power despite overwhelming evidence. This is all assuming the Faculty members that were made aware of this harassment were also aware of their responsibilities and rights under the Policy. 

If they were, I’m disgusted and furious, if they weren’t, I’m disappointed and frustrated. I wonder if the members of faculty, admin, and staff who put these men in the spotlight are aware of the rumours around them or if the veneer of a “Shining Student,” a firm handshake, and macho charisma successfully cast predators as “the next generation of business leaders.” The Weinstein production line continues to run, the people in positions of authority continue to disregard policy and ethics, and the #MeToo movement continues to produce endless stories of women failed by the former two. Sexual violence appears to be business as usual in the business school environment.

“Hashtag Me Too” is an uncomfortable phrase that often makes an appearance in business professor’s lectures, said in four rushed syllables, and always sure to produce a silence.

“Hashtag Me Too” is an uncomfortable phrase that often makes an appearance in business professor’s lectures, said in four rushed syllables, and always sure to produce a silence. The movement to end sexual violence has been twisted through the apparatus of business education to become the movement to end management liability. Reconciling the facts of sexual violence with the dehumanizing liability management required of capitalism is evidently uncomfortable for professors. Especially uncomfortable while engaging with the macho posturing and casual sexism of their upstart business students.

Although my original outrage was from the continued platforming of a man who has demonstrably harmed women, I did not include another experience. I was sexually assaulted by one of my business school peers, this one now an alum of Mount Royal University’s business program. The day after that night I went to deliver an impassioned speech to once again cash in on my dwindling charisma and energy as a female business student. I still deal with the trauma of that and other sexual assaults, though putting that assault into context with the systemic production of  the ‘best and brightest’ business school grads with hidden and lurid pasts of sexual violence I just feel tired.

And I am so tired.

I don’t feel safe going to business school events where I’m forced to shake hands with men I’ve heard and know stories about. The University would like to think of itself as an institution that produces students of liberal mind, glowing with opportunity. At best it feels like they are committed to a system that produces predatory start-up founders with institutional grant money launching them into careers, and people like me, with the trauma from those founders and student debt from a degree I’m not even comfortable taking anymore. There’s no place for non-binary people or women like me in the workforce the Dhillon School of Business is producing. 

My distaste for the macho culture of my male peers is bound to get me labelled as a shrewd, unemployable bitch. This essay certainly will. Macho sexual aggression and money—both publicly funded and salaried—seem to shake hands in an implicit deal, and I’m not even at the table.