Sexism & Abuse: Why Some Of My Battles Need To Be Lost

A few years ago, I was managing a safari lodge in the Okavango Delta. Wasn’t I lucky? Who wouldn’t want a dream job, living in a unique environment, surrounded by wild animals and endless natural beauty? As it turned out – me. I wouldn’t.

While there was much to love about the place, there was also much to fear. I wasn’t unduly concerned about the elephants, the lions, the leopards, or hippos. Instead, my biggest fear was of my fellow humans. I was afraid of sexism.

What Does Sexism Mean For Women? Guides, Kings Of The Safari Jungle

I’ve always been a bit too confrontational for my own good, although I’m proud to say that, like a good wine, I’m getting better with age. In the Delta, that confrontational attitude was almost the death of me.

In any safari lodge, the guides or rangers enjoy a high status amongst staff and guests alike. They are the stars of the show and the kings of the jungle. Generally sociable, friendly, and well-spoken, these are the ones that find the animals, provide unforgettable photo opportunities, and woo their guests with stories of the wilderness.

They are also, by and large, focused on sexism, arrogant, full of themselves, and difficult to manage.

Solutions For Sexism

One guide, in particular, rubbed me up the wrong way. He would stride into my office as though it belonged to him. Then, he would ignore me unless guests were present, then he would laugh and flirt, showing them all how close we were.

He also stole. He liked to believe we didn’t know, but we did. He stole alcohol from the lodge bar almost daily, and I became determined to catch him at it if only for the opportunity to take him down a peg or two.

I had words with the barmen, hung around the bar at strategic times, trying to catch him red-handed. Finally, I spoke to the assistant manager about it, and then to the manager who said, enough is enough. Back down, he said, I’ll deal with this.

I was furious. Did he think that, just because I was a woman, I couldn’t have the satisfaction of knocking this arrogant man off his self-proclaimed pedestal? This is sexism at its finest.

The assistant manager took me to one side. “Listen,” he said, “I understand, but I want to tell you a story before you go on.”

A Story Of Battles Lost

“Two years ago, a young woman from South Africa, about the same age as you, was working here at the lodge. She had a similarly difficult relationship with one of her staff members. There were frequent conflicts and even the possibility of a disciplinary procedure.

“It didn’t last long, however, as the manager was found dead in her staff lodging, alongside the body of her killer – the staff member she’d conflicted with. Before killing himself, he’d raped and murdered his boss, putting a very definite end to the conflict”.

“Back off,” he repeated, “It’s for your own good.”

I have to admit that I didn’t immediately abandon my crusade, although I did put it on the back burner while working out what to do next. I’m not particularly proud of it but, in the end, I did back down. It was a boulder of realization that hit me – sexism’s meaning, and much more than that. Exactly how many sexism cases had there been?

I decided that this was not a fight I needed to risk my life to win. Of course, there’s no saying that the man in question would have resorted to violence but, in Botswana, where the murder rate was unexpectedly high and in the Delta, where news of murdered family members filtered through to the staff’s ears each month, I couldn’t be certain. Abuse in the workplace seems to be swept under the rug in many places of the world.

Battles Asides, There’s A War That Needs To Be Won

I didn’t give up the fight out of fear, but because I wanted to live to fight another battle – a considerably more important one. To collect stories from people like myself about abuse at work.

I wanted to live so I could fight the battle I’m waging right now – the one that demands we communicate as women and build our support for one another so that, together, we can fight the male chauvinists, the misogynists, and the bullies.

I chose to abandon my battle in Botswana so that I could go on to fight a war.

I hope that any readers out there who’ve had to back down also know that we get to choose our battles but that the war has already chosen us. We must somehow safely learn how to report abuse in the workplace. Do we really have a choice when it comes to fighting for the rights of women everywhere to live in a world free of the threat of violence? I don’t think so.