For far too long, victims of sexual harassment and assault in the workplace have not been guaranteed clear avenues to report the misconduct committed against them. The mainstreaming of the #MeToo movement has forced companies and corporations to dedicate more time to the issue of workplace harassment. At least 200 prominent men publicly accused of sexual harassment have been fired or have resigned from their positions. Over 43 percent of these positions are now held by women.
Still, simply hiring women to replace men is nowhere near a foolproof solution. We have seen that women in powerful positions have both harassed and have been complicit in other people’s harassment. Recently, actress Lena Dunham publicly apologized in a letter in the Hollywood Reporter for defending her friend Murray Miller, a writer on the show “Girls,” who was accused of sexual assault by actress Aurora Perrineau. Dunham acknowledged that the “insider information” she claimed she had was actually “blind faith in a story that kept slipping and changing and revealed itself to mean nothing at all.”
However, research by Pew Research Center has reported that many find women leaders to be better at creating safe and respectful work environments. This is a start in eradicating the “boy’s club” environment that often pervades sections of universities, workplaces and social clubs, contributing to the culture of silence and repression that often makes it difficult or impossible to successfully report sexual misconduct.
On paper, it seems that steps are being taken to ensure that people feel safe from harassment at work. But despite the movement forward, a new problem has arisen. In attempts to reduce the risk of potential sexual harassment, companies appear to have started consciously minimizing the amount of interaction and mentorship between female employees and men in senior executive positions. This implies that companies would rather invest in male employees who may be potential abusers while simultaneously depriving women of crucial networking experience. Policies like this also make the broad assumption that only women are subjected to workplace harassment, which is far from the truth.
A survey done by LeanIn.org and SurveyMonkey reported that almost half of male managers reported that they felt uncomfortable “participating in a common work activity with a woman, such as mentoring, working alone or socializing together.” They also reported that senior men are “3.5 times more likely to hesitate to have a work dinner with a junior-level woman than with a junior-level man, and 5 times more likely to hesitate to travel for work with a junior-level woman.”
This information begs the question: What are these men so afraid of? A Forbes article listed several diagnoses. One was that men are worried that women emboldened by the #MeToo movement will falsely accuse them of harassment or misinterpret their behavior due to hypersensitivity and a lack of sense of humor. Another was that men are incapable of controlling their sexual impulses and are unable to distinguish between what is appropriate and inappropriate workplace behavior. These excuses are frankly pathetic. Men can surely get through a workday without emailing pornography to a coworker or making vulgar comments about someone’s clothing or body while still interacting with women on a professional level.
The crusade to end workplace sexual harassment is a noble one. However, men refusing to mentor and interact with women in the workplace is a terrible solution. It is unfair to deprive deserving employees of the chance to advance their careers because their superiors cannot be trusted to not objectify and/or assault them. A man who is unable to work with a woman without wanting to have sex with her has no business steering anyone’s future.
Annick Tabb is a junior double-majoring in political science and English.