As the list of celebrities and media personalities who have fallen from grace continues to grow in the wake of an unprecedented movement to out sexual predators and serial sexual harassers, it has caused a national dialogue about what is acceptable and no longer acceptable behavior between men and women.
This conversation, recently, has started to shape into two extreme points of thought – as most issues tend to get whittled down into. One extreme will ready pitchforks and torches as soon as an allegation is levied, not really caring if the charge has any validity. The other extreme is now raising their hands up in the air in exasperation with every new piece of breaking news – “Another one? This is becoming a witch hunt!”
As is universally the case, it is important to approach this issue with rationality and a measured temperament. A lot of people are essentially asking, “Where is the line, and how will I even know if I’ve crossed it anymore?”
To address the men who have expressed fear that it will soon become unacceptable to make eye contact that somebody deems too aggressive, slow it down. The slippery slope fallacy is ridiculous enough when it is used to justify shaky political agendas and bad drug policies, but it is a mockery to use it in this situation where all women are asking for is to not be predated on a daily basis by their male peers.
This completely imagined fear that, one day, it will be impossible to even flirt with a woman if you are a man is completely ludicrous and is primarily based on the very misconception and harmful train of misguided thought which gets most men into trouble in the first place – the idea that a man has a right to sexually pursue any woman he wants, whenever he wants, and regardless of whether or not she has even expressed or indicated any kind of interest in being pursued.
Defining the “line” is a pretty simple concept, in reality.
Telling your female coworker, whom you find alluring, that you think she handled a work task particularly well and that you were wondering if she’d be interested in getting a coffee sometime outside of work – perfectly acceptable. Non-threatening, non-assuming. If she says “no thanks,” you move on, and at least you know for certain whether or not she’s interested. There’s no harassment there.
Now, if you continue to ask that coworker every week if she’s “changed her mind,” wait for her by the water cooler or the elevator so she can’t avoid your presence, or stare at her lustfully while you say, “That’s a really nice dress you have on,” then you’ve entered the harassment zone. You are not barred from talking to women, but you are going to have to accept that you don’t have an unalienable right to their personal space or attention.
The world is not becoming “anti-man” simply because women in the developed world are finally standing and calling out in unison that they won’t accept being preyed upon or pursued by unsolicited, overtly sexual coworkers and work superiors.
Now on the other side, we must be extremely cautious about how we go about these types of allegations in the coming years. In the case of Weinstein, Charlie Rose and now the most recent case of Matt Lauer, the sheer number of allegations from corroborating victims who had no interaction with one another creates a very strong case against the accused.
However this will not be the case for all such accusations. We must retain the ability to see the difference between a truly villainous person with a proven streak of predacious behavior, and an isolated incident, which was never repeated or perhaps even atoned for. When dealing with accusations that can potentially end careers and cause tremendous emotional trauma, nobody should wield that power fraudulently or lightly, and there should be severe consequences for anybody who levies a demonstrably false charge.
As with any area of human progress, some will be slow to convert to this new radical way of life – where woman are treated as equals instead of objects of affection and sexual desire. But like it or not, these public displays of women not taking the abuse anymore are not going to slow down now.
Even if the horrid behavior happened years ago, perpetrators gave up the right to not be shamed publicly when they chose to be a sexual predator, and there is no statute of limitations in the court of public opinion.