The epidemic* of men being fired for sexual harassment and assault has laid bare the scale of men abusing their power at the highest levels—and the depths to which their depravity extends.
Pundits, journalists, reformers and the public are talking about what can be done to solve the problem. For some men, solving the problem doesn’t so much mean decreasing the incidence of sexual assault as it does protecting themselves from getting fired for allegedly committing sexual assault.
Proposals have included refusing private meetings with women (i.e. students, coworkers, and partners in deals) and invoking US Vice President Mike Pence’s personal policy. If I don’t meet with women, I will never be accused of assault!, the thinking goes.
One obvious problem at the start is that men often have to meet with women to correct papers or discuss topics relating to their work. Shutting women out could deny women opportunities—simply because of improprieties committed by other men.
I would propose what might be a better idea: not sexually assaulting women. Reading the cases from Harvey Weinstein, Louie CK, and Matt Lauer to Roy Moore, Al Franken, and Donald Trump, it’s amazing how many of these controversies could have been avoided if only they didn’t sexually assault people in the first place.
Louie masturbated in front of women in his office. Lauer locked women in his office and attempted to seduce and/or coerce them. Weinstein allegedly raped a dozen women.
The Washington Times paraphrases Jay Richards of the Catholic University of America:
The entry of women into the workforce since World War II, followed by the sexual revolution and the erasure of well-established sexual mores, has left men and women with little guidance as to how to interact in the workplace, Mr. Richards said.
Don’t give women sex toys, like Lauer did, for starters. Don’t make passes at every woman in the office, particularly employees in low-level jobs, and use appurtances of power to pressure them. Don’t meet your subordinates in a hotel room, as Weinstein and Trump made a practice of doing.
Basically, not doing things against someone’s will is a pretty easy and universal rule. While there might be gray examples around the edges, the incidents reported about most of the high-profile people who have been fired are crystal clear. Young professionals today, in addition, have been growing up in co-ed schools and work environments, so the culture shock that might once have been a slightly plausible excuse for Don Draper’s generation is not a problem for future generations.
The fear expressed by many is of false allegations. But there are few examples from the events of October through November of people being fired on the basis of clear false allegations. Most of the accused have admitted to all or part of the claims. And for others, like Roy Moore, the evidence is so overwhelming that his denials hold no water (in his radio interview with Hannity he did even come close to admitting that he had “dated” minors).
Those who have looked for evidence of false or exaggerated allegations have spent more time sorting through tweets on the #MeToo hashtag. Certainly there are examples of misunderstood intentions and things that don’t go to the level of sexual assault within the thousands and thousands of tweets. But a tweet that doesn’t result in sanction is not the same as a news report, vetted by journalists and internal investigations, that results in real action.
Certainly there is the possibility that people will be falsely accused. There have been people falsely accused and convicted of rape in the past. There have been people wrongly convicted of assault, robbery, and murder. None of this will change.
Sexual assault claims, because they often don’t involve physical evidence or because motivation is disputed are in fact harder to verify than many other crimes. (When someone gets shot to death, there’s typically not a question of consent on the part of the person taking the bullets.) It might be that our current moment, driven by social media and pent-up demands for justice, is disproportionate in some ways or others.
But if some of the details of the overdue response are a bit excessive, neither should powerful men on the other hand take excessive responses like cutting off all contact with females.
*to use a word in vogue today