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  • Hubert Marlin

#Metoo backlash is sparking gender segregation


As a wave of sexual misconduct allegations against prominent men crested during the year 2018, relations between men and women in workplaces across America, and the western world have shifted — sometimes toward more honest discussions of what's not OK at work, but also toward silence and exclusion, a quiet backlash against the righteous pride of the #MeToo movement 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. Change has come for both women and men, as women feel emboldened to speak out against inappropriate behavior, men think twice about what's acceptable at work. No more dinners with female colleagues. Don’t sit next to them on flights. Book hotel rooms on different floors. Avoid one-on-one meetings. In fact, as a wealth adviser put it, just hiring a woman these days is “an unknown risk.” What if she took something, he said the wrong way?

Across Wall Street, men are adopting controversial strategies for the #MeToo era and, in the process, making life even harder for women. Call it the Pence Effect, after U.S. Vice President Mike Pence, who has said he avoids dining alone with any woman other than his wife. In finance, the overarching impact can be, in essence, gender segregation. men are refusing to do anything alone with a woman. Male executives are refusing to have lunch with female subordinate executives. They're refusing to travel. They are refusing to put themselves anywhere even near a scenario where they could be tempted or be lied about, either way. And so the predictable reaction of feminist is simple, "These men are denying women business opportunities, promotional opportunities. These men are segregating themselves and preventing once again women from having access to the glass ceiling." And that is the backlash. 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? “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. Male concerns about accusations of sexual harassment in the workplace didn’t start with #MeToo, or #Balancetonporc in France basically snitch on your pig, and the movement has prompted a lot of soul-searching at both the individual and corporate levels, said Chi Nguyen, CEO of Toronto-based Parker P Consulting, which helps multinationals, non-governmental organizations and higher education institutions promote gender equality in the workplace. The onslaught of reports about sexual harassment has many men asking themselves “what is my complacency and what more can I do to stop this from happening,” Nguyen said. Employers, meanwhile, are taking a hard look at their gender equality policies.

In Canada, the Liberal government’s most recent budget hinted that a pay equity law could be coming. South Korean women have reported instances of being shunned at work by male colleagues afraid of being caught up in the country’s growing #MeToo movement against sexual harassment. According to the Chosun Ilbo, female office workers have been subjected to the so-called “Pence rule”, which describes the US vice president’s reported principle of never dining alone with a woman or attending an event where alcohol is served without his wife. Men advocate of me too are also feeling the heat. In March 2018, a group of Hollywood elites signed an open letter asking men to take more responsibility for creating workplaces that are free of sexism. The letter was in response to the #MeToo movement that spurred people across the world to use social media to bring attention to the prevalence of sexual harassment and abuse. The letter signers pledged to act as advocates for victims and to speak out openly against sexism, thereby launching #AskMoreofHim, a movement that highlights the role that men play in preventing gender-based violence. It seems reasonable to assume that men, especially those occupying positions of power, are in a unique position to act as advocates and allies for victims of sexism and sexual abuse. However, recent research suggests that men may face a backlash for speaking out on behalf of others. Janine Bosak at Dublin City University and three of her colleagues published a study suggesting that men who take on an advocacy role in the workplace may suffer penalties for going against how we typically expect men to behave. While the study did not look at men who speak out against sexism per se, it strongly suggests that men who advocate for others in general may be seen as less competent. Backlash against atypical men poses a serious dilemma for those who believe that men are vital to helping battle workplace inequality. We know that men, and in particular White men, are more likely to hold leadership positions in a variety of industries.

Movements like #Askmoreofhim rest on the assumption that men will be motivated to advocate for others if they are sufficiently convinced to do so. However, the present research suggests that men may shy away from advocacy in order to avoid being perceived negatively by others. Common stereotypes about men hold that they show ambition at work and focus most of their energy on promoting themselves and their own accomplishments. In contrast, stereotypes about women involve emphasizing other people’s feelings and welfare above their own. Social scientists have shown that people who act contrary to these stereotypes tend to elicit “backlash” from both men and women. This backlash may take the form of being seen as less likeable, less competent, and less suitable for certain jobs.

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