I’ve lost count the amount of times I’ve been called aggressive during a discussion or a debate. But it’s a lot, an awful lot.
The Oxford dictionary meaning of the aggressive is, ‘ready to attack or confront’. It denotes that those subject to it might fear for their physical safety. Furthermore, it unequivocally implies that you are utterly unreasonable. As a result, not only can your arguments be thoroughly dismissed, but your character badly stained.
It is worse than shameful that far too often Black men and women, and women in general, who dare to seek a leadership role, defend a position, or be passionate about a particular subject they are labelled ‘aggressive’.
I only caught the last twenty minutes of the popular TV show The Apprentice, but during the formulaic grilling of the losing team one the women turned to Alan Sugar and claimed mixed race contestant, Joanna Riley, was aggressive. Another woman alongside her jumped on the theme to concur. The look on Joanna’s face was of utter devastation. She pleaded with Alan that she was passionate not aggressive.
Having been in Joanna’s shoes so many times I thought it best that I watch the whole programme on BBC iPlayer before passing comment.
Of course we only get the edited version, but we can be sure that if there were any moments that demonstrated Joanna’s intent to ‘attack or confront’ we would have seen it. Ultimately, conflict is what these programmes are about. Instead we saw a woman who is persuasive in her arguments and someone who sought to lead from the front. She probably lacked diplomacy, and might have won over her colleagues if she had shared that small moment of glory, instead of responding ‘me’, when asked by a potential buyer, whose idea was this.
But the real question is should we care? After all isn’t this just a reality TV show where, at times, it’s difficult to know where reality ends and fiction begins?
I believe we should care, because what was played out during that programme occurs often in the workplace and affects people’s lives. A white man displaying Joanna traits would not be labelled aggressive, and as such his pathway to success and positions of power becomes that much easier.
Like many before her businesswoman Joanna, 25, will have learnt that she will neither be accepted nor promoted if others feel unjustifiably threatened by her presence. It also begs the question, how do her and our talents get recognised if we are judged by a different standard?
By Simon Woolley