George H W Bush. Kevin Spacey. Harvey Weinstein. James Toback. Ben Affleck. I am not randomly listing Hollywood royalty or former US presidents.
These, so far, are the men that have been accused of sexual harassment in a global tornado of a spirited war against abuse.
I have been meaning to write this piece for months now. There has been a tug of war in my mind about this article. To write or not to write? So, it has been stewing slowly in my head, as I distill my thoughts and await that moment of clarity.
Indeed, the idea has now matured in my mind. And as French poet Victor Hugo once said, “you can resist an invading army; you cannot resist an idea whose time has come”. Truly, nothing is as powerful as an idea whose time has come.
Let’s talk about the Brilliant Jerk syndrome.
I haven’t seen a conclusive definition of “Brilliant Jerk”, plus, I hate to bore you with definitions. For this reason, I will explain what a Brilliant Jerk is, briefly so.
A Brilliant Jerk, simply put, is an extremely talented person – more often than not a man – who is incredibly successful, has an admirable work ethic, is results driven and even surpasses expectations, but is also an arrogant, prideful and haughty man who cannot get along with anyone.
Brilliant Jerks, in most cases, are often the perpetrators of sexual harassment, employee harassment, they are ill-mannered and most of them are generally known to “use people”.
The idea of Brilliant Jerks came alive in July when the CEO and founder of Uber, Mr Travis Kalanick was embroiled in a sexual harassment scandal that threatened the world of tech (does that sound familiar, Kenya?).
Even though he was the founder of one of the most valuable companies in the world, Mr Kalanick was forced out of the company by the board of directors. The board said Uber will have “no more Brilliant Jerks”, according to an article in The Guardian, published in July.
Most industries and, our society in general, allow Brilliant Jerks to get away with bad behaviour because, well, they are performers. There is no denying that they get the job done and are very good at it. They are rich. They are successful. They are untouchable. Some even own the company.
Brilliant Jerks are the men who determine your future, the industry captains and the who’s who you see on television and in business news. Most of the time, companies will turn a deaf ear to a barrage of complaints of harassment and ill-treatment because they do not want to lose this Brilliant Jerk and also, after all, don’t we all have our weaknesses?
It is for this reason that Brilliant Jerks continue to prosper. They work and live in enabling environments, protected by a system and a society that does not want to confront its greatest weaknesses.
It is why the likes of Harvey Weinstein, the Hollywood mogul who has been accused of sexual harassment by countless women, continued to work and prosper for close to three decades. It is why, for years, employees of Uber stomached gross sexual harassment, which was perpetrated and endorsed by the big boss, but nothing was done for so long because the guy was simply too brilliant to be dispensable.
We also have our generous share of Brilliant Jerks walking among us. We have ill-mannered politicians, businessmen, and even pastors whose bad behaviour we overlook and choose to focus instead on their money, their brilliance and success.
That said, I am happy to report a change of tide. There is a gradual shift in our society because of a crop of women taking on these Brilliant Jerks head on. This is not about women engineering the downfall of a Brilliant Jerk, but about women who have been oppressed for so long, finally finding their voice and compelling society to stop, listen and take action.
That we renounce these victims is a whole new dynamic and a story for another day.
I see progress. You will remember Kevin Spacey as the man who plays Mr President in a popular Netflix drama House of Cards. Well, turns out that Mr Spacey is not just a gay man, but faces allegations of being a sexual predator who made advances to boys as young as 17.
The show, House of Cards, will be cancelled at the end of this season. Good riddance (never really enjoyed the show, anyway).
Repeat after me, “No more Brilliant Jerks!”