My parents met during “the dirty thirties,” depression years, when life was tough. They were both teachers in small schools on the prairies. My father was older than my mother, and after a brief courtship they married.
There is nothing unusual about that story. In fact, it was a very common story at the time. Many teachers met and married. In most cases, the man was older than the woman–that is probably a feature of human mating that has always been true. Many young teachers actually expected–or at least hoped–to find mates this way.
And it was not just teachers who formed life-long relationships in the workplace. Principals married teachers, the secretary in the front office–in some cases, even students, or former students married teachers.
And lawyers married secretaries, doctors married nurses, and bosses married employees. That is how the world worked then. The workplace was considered an acceptable place to find romance.
How many potential relationships did not come to pass because of misread signals, or differing levels of ardour? How many awkward exchanges were there–some that might be interpreted by one person, as an unwanted bit of attentiveness, or even an assault? The answer is probably “very many.”
But, we don’t know.
The human mating game is very complicated. Some people are better at it than others. Some have a better idea when to pursue and when to retreat. Some are not so good at this delicate art.
But, what about today?
Now the #MeToo movement has arrived. Is the game changed forever?
The answer is “probably”.
Today, men know that a misinterpreted signal can cost them their careers. Patrick Brown is an example. He was forced to resign as leader of the Ontario Conservative Party as a result of accusations of non-criminal sexual conduct. Will he succeed in the lawsuit he has brought against CTV News for airing the complaints? That answer is not known, but he will certainly never be a leader of anything again. The movement has done him in.
This is not to suggest that the movement has not achieved some valuable outcomes. The Weinsteins of this world have been put on notice that they prey on vulnerable women at their peril.
But at what cost?
Will careful men who value their careers simply avoid situations that could get them into trouble–including letting mating opportunities that might have resulted in successful relationships go by the wayside? Will business owners segregate workforces so men and women are not in compromising situations, or will they simply not hire women or not hire men for some jobs? Would segregating the workforce even achieve anything in an age when gay, trans, and non-binary people are part of the equation?
Because the old rules have changed, nowadays, a company will fire first and ask questions later. Due process has never applied technically to workplace sexual harassment complaints, but something quite similar was always the norm in the workplace. Employers used to consider the complaint, allow an employee to respond to it, and then decide what to do. Now, that is not likely to be considered good employee relation practices. The company brand must not be tainted by an allegation no matter how it is made, whether it be tweeted, on Facebook, or suddenly appear on CTV News.
The Patrick Brown case, again, is an example of how things work now. No matter how a complaint is made, if it is made by a woman, it will be presumed to be accurate. The man complained about will probably be thrown “under the bus”–with or without a severance package. His future career prospects are, in all likelyhood, going to be grim.
The workplace has been an important part of the mating game for a very long time. Will this change? Less advanced societies made use of a matchmaker for this very important purpose. Will something like eHarmony replace the workplace as a forum where one can find a romantic partner?
And what about the way #MeToo appears to regard our daughters and granddaughters as helpless victims in some never-ending contest by evil men out to exploit them. We have come such a long way in creating a world of equal opportunities for our daughters, with the knowledge that they are the equal of men in most ways. Are they now to regard themselves as unable to conduct their own sexual lives without the help of a movement that exists only in cyberspace?
Is #MeToo some kind of substitute for patriarchy with Facebook majority rule? It is too early to know the answer to these questions. But we had better start asking the questions.