"But how can you live and have no story to tell?" Fyodor Dostoevsky
Half of UK women report sexual harassment in the workplace. Similar figures arise in other places. In Asian societies, it’s doubtless under-reported.
And the trouble is, you are up against a deeply ingrained culture. Boys will be boys is the attitude. But get those boys to imagine it's their sister or wife who is on the receiving end of the sexual harassment. Then watch attitudes change.
The current furore is having an impact beyond Hollywood. As a man in a workplace populated by females, I’ve curtailed my jocular behaviour with female staff. I fear a misunderstanding leading to an accusation. The whole tone of my discourse with ladies has become less personal, more formal and guarded. I’m not sure that’s healthy.
The #Me Too movement that sprang up on the back of the Weinstein saga proved cathartic. It shone a light on unacceptable conduct, empowering women to speak out. And that’s a good thing. However, it's derailed to some extent by what are frivolous claims. A woman alleging a man holding a door open is committing sexual harassment (true story) detracts from the serious stuff.
I’ve seen my fair share of harassment, recognising that I’ve engaged in banter that some would find uncomfortable to hear. Much of that was alcohol-fueled bravado. It’s conduct I’d not join-in now. Times have changed.
For a new work-place climate men need to be involved. There’s not much sign that’s happening at the moment. We are still in the throws of an emerging story that is swallowing up the offenders on a daily basis. It’s too early to move into the neutral ground for a reasoned debate about how we redefine the conduct of both sexes.
Before that happens, both men and women need a consensus on what constitutes sexual harassment. Flirtation by either sex is now a high-risk activity because you don’t know how the other side will react. Exposure as an alleged culprit is a threatening situation. That does nothing to ease male/female relations.
I’ve seen many office romances, with a good number leading to happy marriages. I’ve also seen what can happen when an affair turns sour. Vitriolic imputation, allegations and general nastiness. None of this is pleasant. By imposing a blanket ban on workplace liaison, you may impact legitimate love. Is that something we’d like to see?
Without wishing to mitigate against the offensive conduct of some men, ladies are not above behaviours that are a concern. I've seen men chasing women, and by the same token, women chasing men in the workplace. In one case I saw a young lady transfer to work with a married boss. She then relentlessly pursued him. Such was her behaviour that it became a standing joke in the office.
She created situations to be alone with him, making signs that she was available, including dressing in a provocative manner. Her Friday ‘slut-look’ was awaited with glee. A warning from HR about her appearance failed to register. She caused a divorce. Her blatant actions, while extreme, laid bare the lie that only men are guilty of such behaviours. Granted she did not harass; her approach was seduction and teasing.
Ben Shapiro brought into sharp focus the double standards that permeate this issue. Ellen DeGeneres, a prominent lesbian, released a Twitter photo of herself ogling a women’s breasts. That this act raised no outcry, gets cited as hypocrisy.
Poor Matt Damon. He tried to start a discussion by suggesting that sexual harassment is a spectrum. What he missed is that as a ‘privileged white male’ his views are invalid. The feminist mafia immediately sought to shut him down by attacking him as a man. The validity of his argument doesn’t matter
Meanwhile, there is evidence that much of the sexual harassment training provided by companies is ineffective. Staff understand the issues, stride through the mandatory training, and then go about their business. The underlying culture remains unchanged.
What I would focus on is not discouraging workplace relationships, that’s an impossible task. Instead, sex between people in a direct reporting relationship needs addressing. The difference in rank and power amounts to coercion. Exploiting the hierarchy for sexual gain is the issue. Because, with a predominance of men in senior positions, women are placed at a distinct risk.
A taboo against supervisor-supervised sex would render the working relationship a neutral affair. Uncharged by any possibility. That’s the discussion we need to have.
To change behaviour, men and women need to work in concert. Giving men a kicking is easy, although ultimately this may prove unproductive. After all, nothing will change the culture quicker than having the men policing other men.
Walter De Havilland was one of the last of the colonial coppers. He served 35 years in the Royal Hong Kong Police and Hong Kong Police Force. He's long retired.