In November of 2017, I wrote an article titled Are Men Who Avoid Women at Work Being Childish? In it, I explained the obvious reasons why men had begun avoiding women. In summary, the definition of harassment had become fluid, and presumption of innocence had been thrown out the window. Now, more than a year and a half on, the Guardian has published Men now avoid women at work – another sign we’re being punished for #MeToo, showing that some, at least, have learned nothing.
A new study, due to be published in the journal Organizational Dynamics, has found that, following the #MeToo movement, men are significantly more reluctant to interact with their female colleagues. A few highlights from the research include:
Sigh. It’s not fear. It is wise to be cautious when a single false allegation can be listened to and believed, leading to a loss of livelihood with no due process.
It’s not just men who are afraid of women, by the way. Women also appear to be increasingly wary of hiring women. The 2018 survey results found that more than 10% of men and women said they expected to be less willing than before to hire attractive women. (Note: the 2019 results for women are not yet public.) Internalized misogyny really is a bitch.
Interesting. Is it “internalized misogyny”, or do intelligent women realize that hiring an attractive woman who then accuses a man of harassment and forces the company to fire him may actually do harm to their careers?
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.
If that agreed definition was codified as an objective standard and men were not fired based on accusations without evidence, it would mean something.
“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.”
Not all women are honest.
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?
Bullshit. Just because on average, there is agreement on what is “creepy”, doesn’t mean there is any guarantee that a specific woman won’t interpret a “friendly” hug as harassment.
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.
Men who are wrongfully accused and fired without evidence are rightfully angry. The rest of us who see this happening are simply avoiding a losing proposition. If you want to sell your product, you have to make the juice worth the squeeze.
It’s worth noting, I think, that the Harvard Business Review article previewing the study’s 2019 results is headlined The #MeToo Backlash. You see that phrase a lot and that framing subtly implies that #MeToo went too far, that a backlash is only natural. It’s yet another form of victim-blaming; another way to quietly put women back in their place.
No one is blaming the victims. Those who are using this movement as a weapon against men are the ones that these behaviors are directed against. Withdrawing is not a backlash, it’s merely a defensive reaction. And yes, it is natural. If you want men to want to work with women, you need to make the benefit of doing so outweigh the cost. Apparently, the “21% of men” who “said they would be reluctant to hire women for a job that would require close interaction (such as business travel)” no longer believe that to be the case.