A little info about me and my journey on becoming the opposite of femme fatale. In the early days of my career, I was working for a Professional Theatre while at the same time pursuing my interests in costume design and wardrobe for theatre, film, television, commercials, etc. One can imagine that when Creatives work together on projects, excluding emotions from the process is pretty much impossible. The best art comes from an emotional place. Due to the volatility of the creative process, the long hours, time commitment, and steadfast dedication it takes to have any hope for success, the impact on relationships can be detrimental. Consequently, Creatives tend to date, partner, or marry other Creatives.
Sex in the Workplace, why yes you can!
While working at the theatre and in the film industry, I found myself getting involved in various relationships with actors and directors. Typically, we are socialized to believe that one should not take up relationships in the professional environment, but it was evident that others were doing it, and successfully it seemed. It was not out of the ordinary, because there was an exceptional level of understanding amongst creatives for the reasons mentioned above.
The lifestyle is tenuous. After engaging in a few of these relationships, some of them short in duration but dense in sexual passion, I started to notice a trend in myself. The vitalization and energy generated from the relationships actually started to help me be more productive and creative.
This was a significant epiphany for me. Working in Theatre and Film is not a 9-5 job; it is long hours with extreme paces. I found that my sexual workplace entanglements were an incredible energy source that made hours feel like minutes and made me more excited to come to work with creative solutions, more gas in the tank, and just generally happier. To be clear, there was no sexual activity of any kind going on during work hours. Not that I discourage that; I’m just saying, in my case, the fun was primarily out of the scene and off stage.
As I continued to progress in my career and pursue other areas, I took along with me this idea or concept (not yet fully formed in my mind as it is today) of having a crush at work or liking someone, or even better, if we could be ‘involved’ a little bit. It was half instinct at the time. None of these relationships were meant to be long-term necessarily, and I made my intentions very clear. None of these lovers, partners, boyfriends as it were, had any position of power over me, and if they did on paper, it was never exerted upon me.
Sometimes, the guy didn’t even know I had a crush on him. Because the point was, I want to experience the extraordinary feeling, energy, the neurochemicals that came from all of that. Feeling the feelings was enough. If ever one of these encounters resulted in a full-on relationship, that would have been ok too. I’ve always been open to possibilities; it’s hard to predict much in this world with any level of accuracy. I genuinely liked them all.
There were real emotions involved, obviously; otherwise, the whole concept falls apart. Nobody was “using” anyone. I care for each of them, and I still do, many of whom I’m still friends with. The difference was that I didn’t need the relationship to go any further; I was happy to flirt and crush, and so were they. We enjoyed a few escapades and our moments together from a place of love and respect.
I’ve never used my sexuality to advance my career. When I think back, I cannot think of a scenario where that would have been possible even if I wanted to. I’ve never been propositioned by a person of power that I may get something in return for sexual favors. I’ve never used my sexuality to get a raise, be hired, or manipulate anyone, man or woman, for any reason. I’m not sure that really works in the way people imagine in their minds (or in the movies).
Over time, I learned a lot about myself and others. I learned that I am open, comfortable, and confident in my sexuality, and I don’t hide that. I’m not yet sure how I became so, still reflecting on that. With all the judging and pretending we do, a little room for authenticity is always appreciated. The result of this is that I bond and connect with people easily. I have many deeper relationships with people in my professional world than most because of this connection. My relationships are rarely superficial.
What has this done for my career? Great things! Not because people think they are going to get into my pants. But because, like I’ve said, people feel safe and not judged, and more importantly, because people feel good. When people feel good about being around you, AND you are really great at the work you do, well, amazing things happen.
To illustrate the point
“People will forget what you said. People will forget what you did. But people will never forget how you made them feel.”, anonymous
“All things being equal, people will do business with and refer to business, those people they know, like and trust”, Bob Burg
“If people like you, they’ll listen to you. But if they trust you, they’ll do business with you” Zig Ziglar
The Sex-Positive Female Archetype
It may seem like money and power are the most essential things in our world, but the truth is, its love, sex, and relationships. There are two sides to a coin, they say. Two sides to the story, the angel and the devil, the positive benefits to technology, and the nefarious activity of hacking and data privacy, all sorts of various binary comparisons. If being a sexual manipulator is the dark side, what is the light side?
I can tell you what it is not:
The woman who never dresses sexy, the woman who never speaks about sex or thinks about sex, who never flirts, that is not the other side of the coin. She doesn’t exist anyways.
We have a movement in Artificial Intelligence called AI for Good, but what about Sex for Good? And you know I’m not talking about reproduction. We only talk about women and sex in negative terms, historically. We chastise women who sell their bodies, who are sex workers, or who work in porn, just to name a few examples. She dresses slutty, she’s fucking her way to the top, she’s showing too much cleavage, she only cares about her looks, she’s a dumb blonde.
If she flirts, she’s manipulating you. In what case can we (or do we) celebrate a woman and sex at the same time, in the same sentence? We do not yet have an archetype for the opposite of the femme fatale, and my question is why? This is a bigger question that our society needs to undertake. Because I think she is me. And she can be any woman who wants it.
Then #MeToo Happened
Suddenly, what used to be something I mostly did for myself, was now seriously compromised. Experiencing the beautiful and productive sexual energy that my body produced from neurochemicals such as dopamine, norepinephrine, serotonin, oxytocin, and vasopressin became problematic.
Any hint of sexual anything in the professional or business environment was to be wiped out and obliterated. These behaviors were either going to get men in power charged with sexual harassment (sometimes rightfully so) or lead men to believe that any show of sexuality on the women’s side would be an invitation or manipulation. Any woman who dares show her sexuality at work was either asking for it or contributing to patriarchy or is anti-metoo and by extension, anti-feminist. Any form of sexual expression was demonized, which led to new “cautionary” behaviors promoted to women and all males who encountered me. Well fuck.
What’s worse is that I started to notice how this was now affecting women’s advancement in business in ways that #metoo movement indeed did not predict or certainly did not intend, just the opposite. But it was happening. Now, my male colleagues, mentors, and collaborators were concerned and overly wary about going to dinner, being alone in the office, and paying a compliment.
One of the #metoo movement’s critical outcomes was the heightened level of awareness among men in the professional and business world (in the Western culture). I know a massive number of incredible men, and they were reflecting on their own behaviors, asking me how to improve, what are the good things to do and say, and how can I help support women in this cause? They were also careful to seek consent from me, asking questions like, is it ok to go for dinner and drink wine (in the context of a professional meeting)? Are you alright with that? Can we take the same car to this event? Would you rather go for coffee?
All of this was great, but I was worried about how many women create a safe space for men to ask for consent. How many men won’t ask for consent and will just shut women out of opportunities for fearing their own careers or business are at risk? I was starting to see the implications. Fewer mentorship opportunities reduced chances to build a relationship, mandatory open-door meetings (or glass walls), no traveling together on business trips, and certain companies literally stopped hiring women out of fear.
All the while, I’m still continuing to be myself and do what I do. I’m not giving up on this, it’s become part of me. But not without conflict and trepidation. I was really struggling with this part of myself. This is one of my most remarkable ways of connecting, it was one of my personal realizations that really mattered, and it was incredible to be more creative and productive! But how will people now perceive my behaviors through this #metoo lens?
What will people think now? Will I get accused of being a sexual manipulator (for those who don’t really understand the sexual energy process)? Will I be accused of being anti-feminist? Will people think I’m unprofessional? I was feeling the resistance from men and women in my own career.
Everything felt extreme, and I wondered if we will be able to get to a place where men and women find a way to interact that is not leading to sexual harassment and not shut down relationship opportunities. Because I need those, on many levels. So, I wrote a book about it.
The Struggle is Real
As it turns out, there is tons of research out there about the benefits of sexual energy, and how flirting in the business or in negotiations can actually help build relationships. Many men have been struggling with the concept of “being a man” or society’s version of what it means to be masculine when most men don’t meet those ideals any more than women do. Men are trying to figure out how to make that shift in the patriarchal system, which is archaic and destructive to both men and women. The list goes on.
There is too much research about women’s lack of confidence, especially regarding their own personal sexuality and how that intersects in business, most strikingly in terms of sexual harassment. We are struggling with so much; we have important overlaying social movements right now. It is a really critical time for humanity.
There is a massive amount of research on “what is” and much less on “how-to,” but in a way that is understandable given the differences in each person’s experience, culture, gender, race, and hundreds of other intersecting identity data points. One thing that remains in common is the importance of love, sex, and relationships. This is a subject we all share. I believe this is where the solution lives.
The Sexy Elephant in the Room
They say, one must face the problem, you cannot run away, don’t sweep it under the rug, the elephant in the room, you cannot change what you do not acknowledge, and yet we seem to do this when it comes to the subject of sex.
I like to use the car analogy. We do not usually start driving a car without driving lessons and a license. Otherwise, we would crash the car. Nevertheless, we do get into car accidents, in striking numbers, sometimes with fatal consequences. And yet we do not throw out all cars and pretend like they were never in existence.
No, we put in safety precautions, like seatbelts, airbags, antilock brake, and mandatory car seats for kids. People “get together” at work in statistically relevant numbers as it’s the second most popular way of finding a partner or spouse.
We do spend more than half our lives at work, in professional capacities, or in business. We are meeting at work; we are indeed having sex at work! It will be impossible to eliminate this, despite some corporate and feminist best efforts, so better to face it head-on.
You cannot sweep love, sex, and relationships under the proverbial rug, no matter what HR policy you put in place. My steadfast belief is that the only way to eliminate sexual harassment is to create a sex-positive environment that includes education and training. The added benefit to that? A more productive and creative workforce and I can personally attest to that.