Harvey Weinstein is facing more than 20 allegations of sexual misconduct, harassment and assault, and stories continue to trickle out. The horrifying allegations have kicked off discussions about the way industries like Hollywood enable abuse, and the shame attached to the big and small violations women deal with on a daily basis. But for some men, the takeaway from these allegations is that men should avoid meeting with women.
On Tuesday night, Seb Gorka, former Deputy Assistant to President Donald Trump, tweeted, “If Weinstein had obeyed @VP Pence’s rules for meeting with the opposite sex, none of those poor women would ever have been abused.” (Mike Pence has previously stated that he follows the “Billy Graham Rule,” and won’t eat a meal alone with a woman except for his wife or attend events where there is alcohol present without her.)
This morning, conservative radio host Erick Erickson wrote a piece asking everyone to “revisit Mike Pence’s rule about meeting with women alone” in light of the Weinstein allegations. “Mike Pence could never be accused of wanting to have sex with someone other than his wife in these sorts of situations because he avoids putting himself and the other person into these situations,” he wrote.
There are a few obvious problems with the suggestion that men must avoid being alone in a room (or at a restaurant table) with a woman in order to avoid committing sexual harassment ― or at least avoid charges of harassment.
First, it implies that men are unable to control their own behavior when in the presence of a woman, and that men have no way of gauging the difference between a professional relationship and a sexual or sexually violating one. (Men, you deserve better than that! I believe in your ability to interact with a woman and not harass or assault her!) It also implies that when women agree to a one-on-one professional meeting with a man, they are putting themselves in harm’s way ― just a hop, skip and a jump away from “asking for it.”
Additionally, when men, who tend to still be the gatekeepers of any industry, decide that they must roll back spending time with their woman colleagues or employees, it can have real, lasting impact on those women’s careers.
A recent New York Times report looked at the ways powerful men across industries have begun scaling back their interactions with female colleagues because of a fear that they might end up facing harassment allegations.
“In Silicon Valley, some male investors have declined one-on-one meetings with women, or rescheduled them from restaurants to conference rooms,” reported Claire Cain Miller. “On Wall Street, certain senior men have tried to avoid closed-door meetings with junior women. And in TV news, some male executives have scrupulously minded their words in conversations with female talent.”
Professional intimacy and relationship-building are key to advancing in any industry. That’s how lower-level employees find mentors or sponsors, or find out about new professional challenges. People give opportunities and recognition to people they trust, and that trust is built through person-to-person interaction ― both at the office and outside of it.
When men decide to limit their interactions with women in order to “protect” women (and themselves), the only people who lose out are those women.
Ultimately, the problem isn’t that a woman might be asked to meet a film executive or an investor or her male boss at [insert any company here] for coffee; the problem is that the film executive/investor/boss might use that meeting to exploit her. Let’s put the onus for professional behavior where it belongs ― on the male power-brokers ― rather than punishing the women who have to deal with their predatory behavior.