Are all men sitting ducks in this cultural climate?

The great 2017 Advent Calendar of Workplace Pervs continues to reveal creep after creep, day after day.

And I am astonished. Not because I had no idea such things went on in the working world, but because the story has not blown over yet. I thought there would be a flurry of high-profile accusations after Harvey Weinstein, and then the herd would get bored and move along to graze elsewhere. Instead, the story endures, as it should.

Predictably, the longer it stays in the headlines, the more I hear a growing panic among some men (and some women, too): Isn’t this going too far? It seems like a man can lose his job just because some woman makes an accusation! We all have targets on our backs now! No man is safe.

Let’s take a closer look at this fear. How rational is it?

First: If it’s recent headlines that are making you nervous, let’s recall that every single man who was fired for inappropriate sexual behavior is accused of doing something very serious. Matt Lauer didn’t get the axe for calling someone “hon.” Al Franken isn’t under fire because he had dust in his eye, but some lady thought he was winking. These men are not accused of accidents, misunderstandings, or fleeting comments made in a weak moment of poor judgment.

They are accused of committing overtly sexual acts, of repeatedly using their power to do predatory things to the bodies of women, just because they thought they could get away with it.

So let’s dispense with the idea that phalanxes of men are losing their livelihoods over trivial accusations. At least in the high profile cases we’ve been seeing, that simply isn’t what’s happening.

Second: Nobody fires a star without solid evidence he’s guilty. These guys have the best contracts money can buy. No news channel or Hollywood studio is going to risk being sued for firing their top guy for no good reason. Think about it: If they fired someone, it’s because they know they have an airtight case. They investigate the claims and find out if they are plausible, if the accuser is credible, and if there is a pattern.

So not only are these men accused of serious offenses, but the accusations must have merit. If they didn’t have merit, no corporation in its right mind would run the risk of being sued for wrongful termination. Think about it: Someone who works for NBC installed that secret door lock button for Matt Lauer. They already knew what he was up to. They fired him because they’ve had tons of evidence for years, and it suddenly became fashionable to act on it, that’s all.

Nevertheless, I have some sympathy for men. America is not known for its temperance. We do tend to overcompensate; and so, yes, from some quarters, there are calls for all men to suffer. One woman said on Twitter that she didn’t care if innocent men get unjustly accused, since so many women have suffered injustice (and one writer says a major news outlet tried to get her to argue that men do not deserve due process.). So I can understand how even a completely innocent man might feel some unease, wondering if they’ll get swept up in an undiscerning mob that started out seeking justice but ends up just looking for blood.

So how should an innocent man behave in the workplace? Is there anything he can do to remove even the possibility of being accused unjustly, without acting like an alien?

My friend Kate Cousino suggests implementing The Rock Test, in which men simply visualize women as Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, and then magically find themselves taking no liberties whatsoever. Ta dah!

For a more nuanced approach, I’ll turn the rest of this essay over to another friend, a man who is a finance director at a large company. Here’s what he says:

I’m a guy who manages a team which for the last three years has been composed entirely of women, so I’ve thought about harassment type issues a fair amount well before this whole blow up.

Does this mean that I refuse to mentor or be alone with women? No. 

What do I watch myself most carefully on? I don’t make comments about how people working for me are dressed. Yes, this took a little work at first. With a guy, if he comes in particularly well dressed some day, I might joke, “What, interviewing for another job?” With a woman, if I wasn’t conscious of these things, I might have been tempted to say something like, “Wow, you’re looking fancy today!” But you know what? I’m glad that I’ve trained myself out of saying that kind of thing. The women who work for me don’t need to know my opinions on their fashion, and several years in it is an important aspect of the comfort we all have with each other that there is zero sense of tension on the team. They shouldn’t be thinking about what I’ll think about what they’re wearing anyway.

If I want to lean over someone to do something on her computer, I ask her first. And that’s not awkward, because honestly, I wouldn’t get that physically close to a guy normally either.

I don’t worry about meeting alone with a woman on my team in a conference room or in an office, but like virtually any corporate office building all our rooms have windows so there’s no fear of being out of sight.

And though I’ve traveled with one or more of my female employees, it would frankly never have occurred to me to ask of them to meet me in a my room. It’s always convenient to meet in the coffee shop, lobby, or restaurant. My room is private and so is theirs.

Honestly, it’s not hard, I’m not scared, and while some of the habits I’ve formed took some deliberation at first I think that they’ve actually turned out to make it easier for us to all feel comfortable and have a very low stress team dynamic. 

Over the top precautions are not necessary, and sensible ones are actually helpful in allowing you to work with people of the opposite sex without anyone feeling uncomfortable.

Makes sense to me.

Do you notice how, once he got used to taking these precautions, it actually became easier for everyone to work together? I could actually feel my shoulders relaxing as I imagined working in an environment like this. If is truly your goal to get work done at work, then there can be no objection to adopting these guidelines. You may need to tweak them for your individual job. Hey, at least you get to tweak something.

A final note. It is true that many men are, for the first time, becoming hyper aware of the potential sexual connotations of their working relationships with women. One woman told me, with outrage and incredulity, that her male friends now felt the need to leave the door open when they were alone with a woman in a room.

To this, I say . . . oh, well? It does not seem to me to be overly burdensome to expect men to think twice about the things that many women have to think of all day long.

I am not a paranoiac, and I do not feel as if I’m under constant threat of rape when I leave my home. And yet there are precautions that I take habitually, that I have taken ten thousand times since hitting puberty, just because I am a woman. I have to think about leaving my drink unattended. I have to think about looking around me when I cross a parking lot. I do not go out alone at night. I do not run alone without my cell phone. I am on high alert when I step into an elevator with a man. I am careful about what kinds of jokes I make around men, lest they get the wrong idea. I think about what I am projecting by what I wear. I will sometimes walk out of my way in the supermarket, rather than pass through a group of men whose eyes I don’t like. It’s not especially burdensome. It’s just life.

If minor precautions like this become part of the life of men for the first time in history, I say again, “Oh, well.” If women can survive thinking twice about relationships, then men can, too.

And if innocent men resent having to work so hard to protect themselves in the current cultural climate, then who should they blame?  Women who fear being preyed on? Or the predatory men who gave them reason to fear?

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22 thoughts on “Are all men sitting ducks in this cultural climate?”

  1. Yes, anna lisa, I hear you. I was an engineer with IBM for 23 years before retiring 12 years ago. A woman, “Susie” propositioned me on more than one occasion. I said to her; I’m flattered Susie, but, I am in-love with my wife. She then said; your wife won’t know. My response was; “Susie, I’ll know!” That ended it. Many men take the bait, too bad for them. Btw, Emily and I will celebrate our 50th wedding anniversary next September. I am still madly in-love with her.

  2. We are pissed now with predatory men and don’t get me wrong, let them be brought to justice.

    At the same time, people are entertained with movies about the same actions women do such as with Mary Kay Letourneau

    People become infatuated with her interviews

    People flock to the movies to see Jennifer Lopez have a love scene with “The Boy Next Door.”

    And while a summary I found is that he is “19 years old,” Don’t hand me that B.S. of “he is over 18,” it is implied he is this is a teacher and underage high school student, hollywood just changed the age to avoid controversy.

    I hear crickets chirping in the direction of everyone who projects these predators onto every man, when you see week after week, month after month a woman teacher being arrested for a fling with a high school student and shoulders are shrugged.

    As my parish priest pointed out, we are celebrating Hugh Hefner one week and pissed the next week with the rotten fruits of the sexual revolution.

    The other thing, boys aren’t allowed to have their aggression because man’s aggression (as I have heard in college) is the cause of the world’s problems. We emasculate boys who turn into emasculated men but at the same time, women are allowed to have that same aggression and assertiveness they bemoan in men. People are pissed when men don’t know how to stand up for women anymore but when men do at different moments it is sexist because the woman is independent. Women can be independent, there is no need for this idea of gender but when these predatory behaviors happen all of a sudden we believe in gender differences again. Society needs to make up it’s mind.

  3. Spot on, Simcha. You nailed it in every way as far as I am concerned. I am a professor at a university, and I have taken the same precautions as your friend — almost identically. And I have noticed that female students appear to feel completely at ease around me. I also leave the door open with every student or colleague who enters my office — whether male or female. If the student or colleague wishes to close it, they may do so themselves, but I still have a full-length window in the door even in that case. Very seldom does someone choose to close the door.

  4. About the door-lock button, which undoubtedly sounds very creepy and can be used for nefarious purposes (ala Lauer’s lair), it’s supposed a common device for high level execs (at NBC at least). It’s a security measure (if building is put on lockdown, etc.) and it’s also a way to ensure that there are no interruptions during an important phone call or meeting. There’s no need to interrupt a landline call to get up and lock the door.

    Per anna Lisa’s comment about female predators (at church!), I find that shocking but I guess I shouldn’t. I’ll take the priest’s word for it. And Lauer definitely had me fooled. I bought into his family-man reputation.

    I’m glad for the exposure of all of these offenders, but I’m also hoping that there’s an end in sight for this widespread moral/sexual panic. It’s wearying and depressing to boot.

  5. As a (female) manager, I do comment on the appearances of my folks, but these three things are key:

    1) We are in a client-facing profession where appearance matters.
    2) I pay attention to and comment on the clothes of both the men AND women who work for me.
    3) I’m specific. And I comment on the CLOTHES themselves and not the PERSON. Ex. “That tie looks really great with that shirt” or “Those socks are fantastic” or “That coat is magnificent!” or sometimes “Those shoes are too casual; please find a more formal pair for tomorrow and going forward.”

    So that’s how you comment on clothing without being a creep.

  6. I can’t find the original article any more (there are so many covering so many angles and I don’t want to blow through my 10 freebies). The info to which I was referrng, is however, cited in the Atlantic –

    “The Times reported that the button is a “regular security measure installed for high-profile employees” at NBC.”

    After I read that, I imagined it to be something to be used if the building went on lockdown, etc. It does not change what he did, or what management ignored, but at least I no longer believe that they sent an electrician in there with the express intention of facilitating his crimes.

    1. Sorry – I didn’t manage to put this in the right place. This want meant to be a reply to the question about why the locks were considered necessary!

  7. I read a report today about SNAP apologizing for wrongly accusing two priests of abuse (after one priest sued them for defamation after the accusations were found to be bogus). In the meantime, his reputation suffered. My husband taught in a private school in our early years of marriage, and occasionally he wonders if some troubled student might pop up to accuse him of abuse. He followed all the rules – keeping doors open, never being alone with a student – and he was a favorite teacher, but he knows when it comes down to it, just being accused would be enough to ruin his reputation. In today’s atmosphere, he’s glad he works at home (where the only harassment experienced is from me).

  8. Also, men: if you can’t stop worrying that you might be accused of being a pervert, take some time to seriously consider whether that unshakeable fear is in fact the cry of your long-silenced conscience.

    1. Maybe that fear comes from the knowledge and experience to know that some women can be vindictive and manipulative and know how to play the game just like all victim groups seem to do when they don’t get their way and have to act like little children. Also it comes from the realization that some women are so hateful of men that in their anger they will lie and not care whose reputation is ruined so they can feel a moment of empowerment. . . . . .

      1. I recently retired from a professional position and have seen a shift over the last 20 years in how some companies have used Human Resources to discipline “at will” employees. All company employees are expected to follow the rules. Every sexual or work place harassment complaint should be investigated by HR. However, in my experience, HR has often been used as a management tool to more easily discipline or ultimately discharge an employee “without cause”. I’m referring to incidents that don’t come anywhere close to what has been recently published. Companies do have an appeal process but they are rarely used or successful. Union employees
        were rarely disciplined for similar incidents. Perhaps the grievance process was viewed as a higher threshold to show wrong doing.

        Companies have rules, some of which are vague and arbitrarily. They can be litigated in court with large financial backing, much personal time and no assurance of a successful outcome by the grieved employee.

      2. Sure, maybe, which is why I’m encouraging men to examine their consciences and *find out* instead of just announcing that I know they’re all terrible. Also, it sounds like you kind of hate women (ah, but only “some women”), so maybe get off your high horse, eh?

        1. High horse for you. Me it is just reality and you can go ahead and play the hate card cause it works for some but not for me.

  9. I agree, no big whoop to make some changes. I’d say to these men, also, that turn about is fair. For instance, when you have female coworkers who dangle themselves over you, touch you, make sexual comments, etc be prepared to report this. It is unfair how onesided this whole situation is. I have personally seen many women in workplace situations behave in completely inappropriate, overtly sexual ways.

    1. I’ve been thinking along those lines too. My husband has been aggressively pursued. He has even had pornography sent to him from a woman. What took the cake though was the lady from our CHURCH who propositioned him. She apologized to me because she was worried I’d tell her husband. When I flipped out to a priest friend, incredulous that a person isn’t even safe in church he replied very cryptically. He wouldn’t elaborate, but apparently women hit on him. He would only agree that women are a little bit better than men when it comes to sexual predation. I’m not sure if I believe him, but he’s the one in the confession box. Statistics don’t lie though. If he is right, then the difference has to do with violence–men use force and women, cunning? I don’t know.

  10. NY Times is reporting that all the high – ranking NBC types, presumably women too, have those locks. I thought the lock was creepy, too, but that one aspect of the story is not what we imagined it to be.

    1. I could maybe understand a remote method to close the door, although even that seems like a waste of money/pointless display of power, but to lock it?

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