Amid the tidal wave of sexual misconduct allegations taking down Matt Lauer, Charlie Rose and other titans across industries — causing swaths of men to lose their jobs and some to even face civil or criminal suits — it’s imperative that the “Me Too” movement define exactly what the boundaries are surrounding sexual harassment. And once those needed parameters are clearly defined, women must not move the goal posts randomly and thus cause further confusion.
Yes, most levelheaded men know that texting pix of one’s genitalia to co-workers is taboo and could — and should — get you fired. Same with groping, making overt sexual advances and proposing sexual acts in exchange for money or career advancement.
But what about the more opaque everyday cultural exchanges between the sexes, such as flirting or asking a co-worker out? Is it OK to invite a colleague to an event or to a bar for drinks outside the workplace? Can you hug a co-worker or touch each other in any capacity? And while we examine these interactions, what about a man’s giving a female co-worker a compliment about her appearance? “You look great!” or “Nice outfit.” Should he be sent to human resources and slapped with a sexual harassment charge?
If you’re unsure, you’re not alone.
In a recent poll taken by YouGov surveying women in five Western countries, the responses to what is considered sexual harassment varied widely. There isn’t even consensus in just the United States. Different generations of women have different sensibilities when it comes to what constitutes acceptable workplace behavior.
What we do know is that most men will respect reasonable parameters — if they know what they are — but the danger zone for the average male today is the lack of clarity on this important topic.
Corporations of all sizes must provide a safe place for women to work and thrive — but they must also protect their male employees from getting their careers and/or reputations shattered without being provided clear boundaries or even the benefit of the doubt.
We know from history that not all accusations of sexual misconduct are true. The discredited 2014 Rolling Stone rape story at the University of Virginia, in which several members of the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity were falsely accused of gang rape, is one such abhorrent example. There are also many harassment allegations that are factual and cause offenders to rightfully be held accountable. All the more reason every place of employment must not make knee-jerk determinations based on gender but rather make judgments based on facts and evidence.
As with most things in life, the truth matters.
All Americans must insist that both men and women be protected in the workplace, and that begins with both sexes understanding what the expectations are. The onus is now on women and the “Me Too” movement to define such boundaries.
Not a minute too soon.