By Kyle Smith
Men are scared, and feminists are delighted. But the urge to call out and punish male sexual transgression is bound to clash with an inescapable truth: We’re all in this together, men and women.
Consider what’s happening in the capital of Florida. Female staffers and lobbyists have found “many male legislators will no longer meet with them privately,” reported The Miami Herald. “I had a senator say, ‘I need my aide here in the room because I need a chaperone,’ ” lobbyist Jennifer Green told the paper. “I said, ‘Senator, why do you need a chaperone? . . . Do you feel uncomfortable around me?’ ‘Well,’ he said, ‘anyone can say anything with the door shut.’ ”
“I’m getting the feeling that we’re going back 20 years as female professionals,” said Green, who owns her company. “I fully anticipate I’m going to be competing with another firm that is currently owned by some male, and the deciding factor is going to be: ‘You don’t want to hire a female lobbying firm in this environment.’ ”
This kind of thinking is catching on in aggressively P.C. Silicon Valley, where men are taking to message boards like Reddit to express interest in sex segregation — sometimes labeled “Men Going Their Own Way,” or the “Man-o-Sphere.” How will that work out for women in the tech industry, where they already face substantial challenges?
Across industries, “Several major companies have told us they are now limiting travel between the genders,” Johnny Taylor, president of the Society for Human Resource Management, told the Chicago Tribune, citing execs who tell men not to go on business trips or share rental cars with women co-workers. UCLA psychologist Kim Elsesser, the author of “Sex and the Office,” sees a nascent “sex partition.” If men start to back away from women, at least in professional settings, it’s difficult to see how that will aid the feminist cause.
As is characteristic of movements led by the left in general, #MeToo faces the prospect of being seen to push too far, too fast. Not long ago, the British magazine The Spectator depicted the cause a feminist Reformation, with a modern woman nailing her demands to the door of a church like Martin Luther. These days the entirely justified anger and calls for change are venturing into iconoclasm: Let’s knock over some innocent statues and shatter all those stained-glass windows!
‘Several major companies have told us they are now limiting travel between the genders’
Outraged feminists triggered by “Thérèse Dreaming,” a suggestive 1938 painting of a clothed pubescent girl by the Polish-French artist Balthus, demanded the Metropolitan Museum of Art remove it. (The Met refused, to its credit). Moms are dressing their sons in humiliating “the Future is Female” T-shirts. The women’s Web site Bustle banned the word “flattering” because it implies there’s an ideal shape for a woman, and we all know women aren’t interested in looks.
Companies are firing perverts and sexual harassers, which is great, but those who can’t find any bad behavior to punish are casting around angrily looking for random things to attack. Jordan Peterson, the University of Toronto professor and author of the bestseller “12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos” who has become a YouTube sensation by rebutting crazy left-wing students, has been lambasted on social media for citing sociological studies that say women are more agreeable in the workplace and suffer some salary repercussions because of it. Although this is essentially a restatement of the thinking behind “Lean In” — if you want it, push for it — Peterson found himself being subjected to an absurdly hostile interview by British broadcaster Cathy Newman in a confrontation that went viral and led to more abuse being heaped on Peterson.
Writing in The American Interest, Claire Berlinski calls the #MeToo movement “a frenzied extrajudicial warlock hunt that does not pause to parse the difference between rape and stupidity” and “a classic moral panic, one that is ultimately as dangerous to women as to men.” She tells a story about how she just discovered she has a new power: the power to ruin the career of a professor she knew at Oxford who grabbed her butt 20 years ago while drunk at a party. “I was amused and flattered,” she writes, saying, “I knew full well he’d been dying to do that. Our tutorials — which took place one-on-one with no chaperones — were livelier intellectually for that sublimated undercurrent. He was an Oxford don and so had power over me . . . But I also had power over him — power sufficient to cause a venerable don to make a perfect fool of himself at a Christmas party. Unsurprisingly, I loved having that power.”
Reformers should keep her underlying point in mind: Change may be good, but be wary of unintended consequences. Turning men and women into hostile opposing camps is not going to be good for either sex.
Kyle Smith is critic at large at National Review