Monday 19 August 2019

Ending harassment in workplace will definitely not stop true love

The #MeToo campaign is not a moral panic, however the reaction to it may well be

Harvey Weinstein
Harvey Weinstein

Ciara O'Connor

With every day bringing a new story and a new hollow apology, it seems the Pandora's Box of harassment has been well and truly opened - and there's no going back. For many, this has been welcomed as a long overdue re-examination of the often fraught relationship between men and women, the powerful and the powerless. Others, with tedious inevitability, have wondered whether, perhaps, we're going Too Far.

If this not-insignificant faction is to be believed, we are in very real danger of doing away with romance. In our rush to get rid of predatory old creeps in the office, we are sweeping away all possibility of any sexual interaction. After all, didn't so many happy couples meet at work?

This comes after Westminster's 'dirty dossier' revealed an apparent epidemic of politicians getting 'handsy' at work. A few names on the list are there because they entered into mutually consensual relationships with co-workers. This has been taken as evidence that we've lost the run of ourselves in the wake of Weinstein.

In fact, I've scoured the internet and literally no one has any problem with this. Even the most rabid of Twitter feminists think it's dangerous to lump these relationships in with the guys who make their secretaries buy sex toys for them on their lunch break. It helps no one to have happy marriages on the same list as rape. So we're all agreed - and yet hands are being wrung up and down the country that we're throwing the baby out with the bathwater. 'Me Too' is not a moral panic; but this reaction to it seems to be. For the first time in Cutting Edge history, last week the whole table seemed to agree that the whole thing has gone mad and extinction of the human race is nigh.

The fear is that if we do away with sexual harassment and creepy old pervs, there will be no flirting. People will stop meeting their soulmates at work because they will no longer be permitted to look at them. We will all die alone. The birth rate will plummet. Ireland will die. This appears to be the sentiment from Alan Shatter, who simultaneously appealed to "keep the world in a rational perspective".

Then again, I suppose, we've all been there, at a dinner party of couples. Someone asks the woman beside them, "So, how did you guys meet?"

"Well, it's funny actually," comes the reply, "I had just started as a secretary and he was my manager. He sexually harassed me for months - you know, talking about my body in front of a room full of people, insisting on conducting progress reviews a deux in this little French restaurant, blocking my way in the kitchen doorway and forcing me to squeeze past him, the usual!

"He was the boss so I couldn't say anything, of course. Eventually, after months and months of incessant texts, emails and drunken gropes I gave in and slept with him. That was 20 years ago and we've been together ever since - haven't we darling?"

Except no. No one's been there. If we all stop being so stubborn and bloody-minded, we would admit that we do know the difference between harmless flirting and sexual harassment. It is not the latter that ends in the marriages that the hand-wringers are trying to preserve. We know harassment when we see it, and we know harassment when we're doing it; it has more to do with power and entitlement than romance.

Why is our reaction to become so defensive of these reprobates that we've turned Bridget Jones's Mr Fitzherbert/Titspervert into some kind of misunderstood Romeo?

Conversations like the one on last week's Cutting Edge reveal who the real snowflakes are - and they're not 20-something liberal types. Alan Shatter's "Now I don't know where to put my hands in photos!" is the most audacious snowflake griping imaginable. You couldn't write it.

The last few weeks have shown us that there are thousands of women who have been made to feel uncomfortable by creepy dudes at work. But the thing we all have to remember is that now Cliff Richard doesn't like taking selfies. Losing perspective, indeed.

The real moral panic is from people constructing this imaginary bogeyman of fatal misunderstanding. Show me the man whose career has been ruined by saying he likes his co-worker's new shoes. Show me the celebrity who has fallen from grace after being seen with his arm around a fan in a selfie.

As if this needs to be said, but everything isn't harassment. Despite being one of The Feminists, I actually know a few men. I am hurt on their behalf that we're suggesting that they're too stupid or oblivious to know the difference between appropriate flirting and unwelcome harassment. Despite what the Alan Shatters say, men know what's creepy and what's a compliment. Like every woman, I've experienced both and I can tell you that if you're worried about your flirting being harassment, you're doing it wrong. If you think the Spacey stories are c**k-blocking you, you need to re-evaluate your technique. If you can't see the difference between chatting up someone you're interviewing for a job and chatting up a stranger in a bar, you need to have a chat with yourself. If you have to say 'it's not what it looks like', it's probably exactly what it looks like. If you'd be ashamed if your friends and family could see what you're doing, probably don't do it.

Does equality mean never being nice to women? No. It means not being a d**k.

So I would appeal to the real snowflakes here, those who say that ending harassment ends true love and normal human interaction: just stop it. You're the people whipping up the real moral frenzy, and it's not helping anyone.

And if the price we have to pay for a safer and nicer environment for women is that you sometimes second guess how close you sit to someone at a table, then fine. We'll take it. You'll be grand.

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