A new book claims that male office workers are now so afraid of being on the receiving end of a sexual harassment case, they are reluctant to mentor, assist, befriend and even hold open doors for female colleagues.
Crushingly, Sex & The Office suggests men now view such ordinary, decent behaviours as “too risky” – and, in what will be a bitter irony for equality campaigners – claims that, as a direct consequence, women are now failing to advance at work.
This terror of being accused of sexual harassment is now so common it has its own term, “backlash stress”. It sounds like something straight out of a Claims Direct ad – where the only victims are men.
The book’s author, Kim Elsesser, a research scholar at the University of California, argues that a “sex partition” has sprung up, which impedes women from building the vital network of contacts both within the workplace and socially.
And the author should know about tough working environments: she’s a former equities trader at Morgan Stanley.
Tellingly, Elsesser adds that companies themselves are contributing to this mess, as they are now so terrified of legal action they send staff on sexual harassment training courses, and are duty-bound to follow up on any allegation, however minor.
Ludicrously, Elsesser cites examples of men who have been dragged in by their HR departments for simply opening a door for a female colleague or complimenting her on a new suit. “Stories like these spread around workplaces, instilling a fear that innocent remarks will be misinterpreted,” she says.
No s**t, Sherlock!
Of course, despite the fact that it is men who are getting the rough end of the pineapple here, this is all being painted as Officially Bad For Women, as they are failing to get on.
But how are men meant to react when we’re informed that, despite decades of being told women don’t need or even want men’s help, now they’re falling behind because we’re not helping them?
A phrase involving “cake and eat it” leaps to mind – although don’t repeat it at work, as you’ll probably be frogmarched to HR for “fat shaming”.
Elsesser’s book echoes an insightful New York Post article from earlier this year called ‘Powerful Men Now Hide Behind Open Doors’.
The writer, Naomi Schaffer Riley, paints a depressingly familiar picture of university lecturers who won’t even close their office doors when alone with a female student.
It would be easy to dismiss this as yet more campus lunacy, yet Riley claims this rot runs to the very top of American society. And how soon before we start feeling ripples cross the Pond?
Riley cites a US National Journal survey where a male Congress aide said: “Several female aides have been barred from staffing their male bosses at evening events, driving alone with their congressman or senator, or even sitting down one-on-one in his office for fear that others would get the wrong impression.”
In a lawsuit-happy culture, where claims can seemingly be made on a ‘he said/she said’ basis, men are now trying to ensure their actions are always covered by a third party witness. Increasingly, they want to make sure the walls have ears – just in case something “inappropriate” is said.
How sad. And, honestly, who’s got the foggiest clue about where “inappropriate” even begins these days? Holding open a door? Saying, “nice dress?” Smiling? Making eye contact?
By carrying on like this we are nurturing and mollycoddling victimhood and it is having profound impacts. Last month in Britain, “fearless feminist” barrister Charlotte Proudman publicly shamed Alexander Carter-Silk, 57, a senior solicitor, for complimenting her “stunning” LinkedIn profile picture – then claimed it was her career that had been “ruined”.
Amid this poisonous smog of mutual mistrust and, increasingly, contempt, is there any wonder men are becoming fearful of female co-workers?
Above all, Sex & The Office is proof, if any were needed, that The Great Workplace Equality Project has spectacularly backfired. Who, precisely, wins if men are terrified of lawsuits and women are falling behind as a consequence?
In this toxic, paranoid environment, women will never be trusted as advisers. They will be frozen out of networks – or, increasingly, create their own women-only networks, which on the surface promise advancement yet deep down increase gender separatism. Would the single-sex workplaces of the 1940s be safer for all?
This is the bed Third Wave feminism has made. Now we all have to lie in it: wide-awake, hearts racing, eyes wide open, waiting for the lawyers to come hammering at our doors.
Is that our collective future – one called “Fear And Loathing In Human Resources?” How can we make this waking nightmare end?