The #MeToo movement is more about attacking men than it is about stopping sexual abuse and it’s easy to see that when every reasonable concern is simply swept aside and blamed on sexism. For example, look at this drivel from Arwa Mahdawi in the Guardian in response to statistics that show that more men in the workplace are steering clear of women,
There’s been a lot of talk about “grey areas” in #MeToo. All this harassment business is very difficult for men, we’re told, because nobody even knows what sexual harassment is any more! Men are afraid to even shake a woman’s hand in case she thinks it’s harassment! Easier to just avoid contact altogether! What’s really interesting about this study, however, is that it thoroughly debunks the argument that men are confused about what constitutes unacceptable behavior. The very first thing researchers did was look at 19 behaviours (emailing sexual jokes to a subordinate, for example) and get people to classify it as harassment or not. Surprise, surprise, both genders basically agreed on what harassment entails.
“Most men know what sexual harassment is, and most women know what it is,” Leanne Atwater, a professor at the University of Houston and one of the study’s authors, told the Harvard Business Review. “The idea that men don’t know their behavior is bad and that women are making a mountain out of a molehill is largely untrue. If anything, women are more lenient in defining harassment.”
So there you go: most men are perfectly aware of the difference between a friendly hug and a creepy hug. They are perfectly aware of what constitutes harassment and what doesn’t. Which makes you wonder why so many men are afraid to interact with women at work?
The answer to that question, perhaps, is that a lot of men aren’t so much afraid of being accused of anything as they are they are angry that #MeToo ever happened. They’re angry that they’ve been made to think about their behavior, made to interrogate power dynamics they always took for granted, and they are punishing women for it by refusing to interact with them.
In a world where “sexual harassment” is whatever makes a woman uncomfortable, the difference between a “hug” and a “creepy hug” is far from black and white. Now combine that with the fact that men are often treated as guilty until proven innocent in the workplace and imagine that in your workplace, you have a woman who obviously has an ax to grind against men, like the author of this column, Arwa Mahdawi. Do you really want to put everything you’ve worked for at risk by spending time alone with her? Do you really want to bet your career that your definition of a “creepy hug” and her definition are the same? Because all it takes is one accusation from a woman who may be a feminist, may dislike you or may just want a way to get back at the company after she’s fired to derail everything you’ve worked for at your job. Do you know how you avoid that risk as a man? You don’t spend time alone with a woman at work.
I actually wish it wasn’t like that, but for that to be true, men’s concerns would have to be treated seriously. By that, I mean, there would need to be concrete guidelines, not arbitrary feelings-based decisions about what constitutes harassment and no more acting as if a man is guilty until proven innocent when he’s accused. When men’s concerns get taken seriously, great, but until then, I’d advise any man to protect himself. That woman you mentor today may be the very one who is accusing you of sexual harassment after she gets fired for incompetence six months down the line. That wouldn’t happen if you were mentoring a man, so you tell me, what’s the smart play?