Women, Sex and Work
We are shocked and sickened by the revelations about the predatory sexual conduct of some men in power. The stories are so beyond anything we could ever imagine happening in today’s workplace. And so many men seem to have acted badly. Charlie Rose? Matt Lauer? Men who had it all yet demanded what they had no right to demand. It makes us wonder whether we have made any progress at all.
We think we did. Notwithstanding these horrors, we continue to be committed to the notion that women can, should and will be equal and full participants and contributors in all aspects of the working world. We fought hard to come out as women at work. We wanted to be seen and recognized for the women we are. We did not like gray pin striped suits that camouflaged our sex. We refused to give up our femininity as the price of participation.
Being women, however, cannot mean that we have to choose between isolation, on the one hand, and unwanted invasion of our bodies and personal spaces on the other. It would be a very bad outcome if the #metoo movement caused men, Mike Pence-style, to refuse to have one-on-one interactions with women colleagues. It would also be bad if we women failed to recognize that when humans interact there will be times when mistakes are made and boundaries unintentionally crossed. Life is complicated, and not every recognition of our sex requires condemnation—so long as we can rebuff the misfires—without collateral consequences that hurt us.
Women in the workplace bring sex into the workplace. There’s nothing wrong with that. In fact there is everything right with it. Women and men share the world, with all of its privileges and obligations. But we all need to agree where the lines are--especially when there is an imbalance of power. And our male colleagues must help us enforce those lines. Sexual harassment is not a women's issue.
Everything is on the table now in a way we never imagined. Let's take on sexual harassment, and take it down, without sacrificing what we have gained. We can help lead the way to a better workplace--for women and men.