Has #MeToo killed the office romance?

Saturday 13 October, 16:0017:15, Frobisher Auditorium 1Identity wars: Feminism after #MeToo

Partners:

From film sets to the Houses of Parliament, the #MeToo movement has made its way into all kinds of workplaces.

Though it started with revelations about Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein’s abusive behaviour, many supporters of #MeToo now claim that sexual harassment in the workplace is widespread. The so-called Pestminster scandal ended in several high-profile British MPs being forced to resign over allegations of sexual harassment. Since then, examples and statistics on workplace sexual harassment have come to light, with some surveys claiming 20 per cent of women in parliament, 40 per cent of female lawyers and 89 per cent of hospitality workers have been effected.

In response, bosses in all areas of work have been pressured to do something to make the workplace safer for women. Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has pledged a #MeToo workplace revolution, making it easier for people to speak out against sexual harassment in politics. Some human-resources departments have suggested bringing in new and improved workshops to reeducate staff about sexual harassment. Netflix has instituted a policy which prohibits coworkers from asking each other out more than once, and warns, ‘if you stare at someone for more than five seconds, it’s creepy and inappropriate’. Drastic measures have also been taken, with Intel’s CEO resigning due to a relationship between him and another coworker that, despite being consensual, violated the company’s non-fraternisation policy. And global advertising agency FCB Worldwide sent round an office memo to its employees, stressing the line between ‘responsible fun’ and ‘stupid fun’ at office parties.

But not everyone is in favour of ramping up protective policies at work, or attending sexual-harassment training. Some argue that the #MeToo movement has created a panic about workplace relations, and that what constitutes sexual harassment has become too broad to take seriously. When jokes, hugging and even brushing someone’s knee can be considered harassment, are we in danger of problematising normal behaviour? What kind of effect will this have on relationships between men and women? A recent study showed that 64 per cent of senior men avoid one-on-one interactions with junior women. Some have even argued that chaperones are necessary in situations in which women are left alone with men.

Is there a problem with sexual harassment at work? Will new protective policies help or infantilise women? How will they be implemented, especially in the precarious industries most prone to sexual harassment, like the hospitality industry? And can good relationships between the sexes – as well as the office romance – survive in a more controlled, segregated workplace?