Organizational Dynamics is about to publish a new study which has found that, following the #MeToo movement, men are significantly more reluctant to interact with their female colleagues. A few highlights from the research include:
The data above was collected in early 2019, in the USA, from workers across a wide range of industries. Researchers had asked the same questions (albeit to different people and with more of a focus on future expectations) in early 2018, just as #MeToo was in full swing, and depressingly, things appear to have got worse. In 2018, 15% of men said they would be more reluctant to hire women for jobs that require close interpersonal interactions with women, compared to 21% in 2019.
It’s not just men who are afraid of women. Women also appear to be increasingly wary of hiring women. The 2018 survey results found that 10% of men and women said they expected to be less willing than before to hire attractive women.
There’s been a lot of talk about “grey areas” in #MeToo. All this harassment business is very difficult for men, we’re told, because nobody even knows what sexual harassment is any more. Men are afraid to even shake a woman’s hand in case she thinks it’s harassment. Easier to just avoid contact altogether. What’s really interesting about this study, however, is that it thoroughly debunks the argument that men are confused about what constitutes unacceptable behaviour. The very first thing researchers did was look at 19 behaviours (emailing sexual jokes to a subordinate, for example) and get people to classify it as harassment or not. Surprise, surprise, both genders basically agreed on what harassment entails.
“Most men know what sexual harassment is, and most women know what it is,” Leanne Atwater, a professor at the University of Houston and one of the study’s authors, told the Harvard Business Review. “The idea that men don’t know their behaviour is bad and that women are making a mountain out of a molehill is largely untrue. If anything, women are more lenient in defining harassment.”
So there you go: most men are perfectly aware of the difference between a friendly hug and a creepy hug. They are perfectly aware of what constitutes harassment and what doesn’t. Which makes you wonder why so many men are afraid to interact with women at work?
The answer to that question, perhaps, is that a lot of men aren’t so much afraid of being accused of anything as they are they are angry that #MeToo ever happened. They’re angry that they’ve been made to think about their behaviour, made to interrogate power dynamics they always took for granted, and they are punishing women for it by refusing to interact with them.
It’s worth noting that the Harvard Business Review article previewing the study’s 2019 results is headlined The #MeToo Backlash. You see that phrase a lot and that framing subtly implies that #MeToo went too far, that a backlash is only natural. Perhaps it is just another form of victim-blaming; another way to quietly put women back in their place.