Belonging to more than one group can cause conflict and disempowerment when the boundaries become blurred. Caught in such circumstance, an individual may find it difficult to draw a line and make a stand against questionable or inappropriate behaviour because there is a risk to self.
This blog looks at the school setting again as well as aspects of characterisation (techniques) in 'In and Out of Step' and some of the issues related to BELONGING.
School management is comprised of concentric rings: each ring functions independently but also interactively. Managers often have membership in several rings. They are viewed as 'leaders among equals' and they usually lead through influence rather than direction. In order to lead by influence, school managers need to maintain their membership within the faculty team - they need to belong. Coachman's changing status within his faculty reflects that such membership is a delicate and difficult one and can lead to exclusion and loss of influence if mismanaged or to the leader becoming compromised.
When Coachman assumes a supervisory role, his staff label him The Hitman, and he is subject to mockery behind his back as in the Fickle Finger of Fate scene. Having been seen as a member of their group, Coachman's decision to temporarily change roles and exercise his supervisory power results in group resentment. The resentment is a response to the ambiguity of his position in the group.
His staff recognise that Coachman's flexing of 'the power muscle' is often linked to his fluctuating status and influence within the school executive. Selton and Van der Huffen's satiric commentary in their HG and Roy persona use Coachman's predicament for levity while understanding and accepting the situation as well as Coachman's need for status. (Ch 31)
Because Coachman is, at times, focused on maintaining his membership within the faculty, he compartmentalises his roles, usually restricting the supervisory one to interviews with his staff in his office separate from the faculty space. The place symbolically cues his staff which role he in.
New to teaching and to that faculty, Cassie doesn't understand Coachman's mode of operation. In Chapter 8, when she approaches Coachman in the staff room in his role of supervisor, she breaks etiquette without realising it. Consequently, she is rebuffed. From his perspective, her action denies him his group membership. With Coachman in the role of group member, Talbut then sexually objectifies Cassie with ribald humour, brief though his response was. His behaviour goes unchecked because to censure Talbut would compromise Coachman's acceptance by the group as a member. It also goes unchecked because male culture lagged the 1984 legislation against it.
Coachman's failure to censure Talbut's behaviour at that time unintentionally cues acceptance of sexual harassment. Subsequently, Coachman has difficulty dealing with complaints by his female staff about sexual harassment later in the story. If he were to censure his male staff, his continued membership in the group would be put at risk and his effectiveness in leading through influence diminished. As a result 'shoot the messenger' and 'ostrich with head in sand' syndromes developed. The unacceptable behaviour by some of the male staff continues unchecked and appears condoned.
The school subplot goes on to explore the options that women and men face in that circumstance, the ways in which the women in the 'In and Out of Step' were catalyst for change, and how both the men and women try to find a way to belong. The novel also explores the dilemma of the bystander, someone who belongs to the group but is a silent witness to the escalating events. Cassie, Selton, and Van der Huffen all face a similar dilemma to Mary Warren of 'The Crucible' - the blurring of boundaries between acceptable and unacceptable practice and the reactions to and pressures on someone who actually draws a line. Of course, there is a difference in scale in consequences.
You will find the complete discussion in Belonging: A Related Text Companion: In and out of Step. You can buy the companion from this website or fromAmazon