I've been active in politics for over 10 years, most recently as a Chief of Staff to a progressive State Legislator in Silicon Valley, California. But before that, I served as an public official myself. I've run for office, I've successfully helped high profile leaders in their campaigns for higher office, and I've organized student groups and women's rights groups around issues of social justice. I've dedicated more than 10 years to public service, because I believe it's there that I can be a most effective agent of change.
As women in a man's profession, there's one thing that we almost all fear -- smear campaigns. Because a smear campaign -- particularly one with great force and violence -- can tear down your entire career and reputation within a matter of days (or less). Smear campaigns often have no basis in fact or reality. And if it is perpetrated on you by someone in a position of power -- you may never have a fair chance to respond or prevail.
Women in male dominated industries often find themselves tip-toeing around their work environment. You have to play a million roles, unlike your male counterparts:
* Tough BUT NOT unpleasant.
* Outspoken BUT NOT a loud mouth bitch.
* Candid BUT NOT a nagger.
* Humorous BUT NOT ditzy.
* Social BUT NOT a floozy.
* Smart BUT NOT a know-it-all.
* Hard working BUT NOT a show-off.
* Formidable BUT NOT overshadowing.
* Productive BUT NOT demanding.
* Strong BUT NOT forceful.
* Assertive BUT NOT bossy.
* Confident BUT NOT overly ambitious.
Once you cross any of these lines, you may find yourself the victim of a full fledged smear campaign. If you've attempted to speak truth to power, to stand up for tough decisions, or even if you've reported work-place intimidation...you will most likely end up with a target on your back. Smear campaigns are often a cowardly tactic utilized to victimize women, with the ultimate goal of forcing them out of their positions -- or into silence.
The thing about smear campaigns is they require involvement from two players: the ruthless perpetrator who leads the campaign...and the gang of "useful idiots" he or she enlists to help carry out this assault. And that is the definition of a "smear campaign" - it is an assault: on your character, on your reputation, on your career, on your well-being.
The term "useful idiot" is not a phrase I use out of frustration. It is an official term used to describe people perceived as propagandists for a cause whose goals they are not fully aware of, and who are used cynically by the leaders of the cause.
Smear campaigns would actually die dead in their tracks, if not for the useful idiots that have been manipulated into carrying forward the brutalizing assault. Some do it out of loyalty to the perpetrator, some do it out of fear that they'll become the next victim, and some do it as a way to snag attention in a confrontation. Most do not realize the irreparable harm they are causing. But some of them do.
As women face more brutally charged situations in their workplaces, I write to ask that you take pause in your day-to-day interactions within your organization. Question the gossip you've been asked to pass forward. Express concern if you've witnessed violence, assault, abuse, or intimidation. Otherwise you may become a manipulated pawn in a ruthless perpetrator's attempt to intimidate or smear a colleague, a coworker, or even a stranger.
Bystanders now possess the ultimate responsibility in standing up for our collective fight against injustice, bullying, violence, and intimidation. "IT'S ON US"...is a new campaign spreading, to suggest that bystanders should no longer look the other way. And to reiterate that proverb that we all know to be so true, "Silence is never neutral. You must always pick a side". In this case, we hope you will choose #courage over #fear.
Please think long and hard before you agree to look the other way when someone is victimized by violence or abuse. And instead of passing around gossip like it's candy on Halloween -- consider the source and the motive -- and choose to rise above it. Consider the role you would be playing in perpetuating a character damaging smear campaign. And realize that smear campaigns are most often the handy work of cowardly and insecure personalities. Otherwise, open dialogue and healthy confrontation, in the light of day, would replace these dark, brutal tactics.
In the end, we all have a choice. #Courage...or #Fear. Please choose #courage.