Some time ago I worked in an office with limited space, so the coffee machine was put in the same room as the printer. This meant you’d often find someone getting themselves coffee when you went to the printer and vice versa. The room was small so you’d have to squeeze past one another, which involved a bit of cooperation.
There were quite a few people on the floor: engineers, managers, admin staff, etc. with the last group being mainly middle-aged women. Usually when a dashing young man like me walked into this room, any women present would respectfully make way for me and say a polite “hello”. The men would too, but they’d move a fraction more slowly. I notice these things.
Then one day I walked in to pick something off the printer and I found the way blocked by three or four of the secretary/admin ladies. One of them saw me in her peripheral vision, glanced at me, and didn’t move. Nor did any of the others.
“Ey up,” I thought. “What’s going on here?”
I politely said “excuse me” and they shifted aside, just enough to let me past. As they did I saw they were all chatting with a man, who so happened to be one of the big bosses on the floor. As I waited for the printer to rumble into action I listened to them, clucking like hens around this high-status male in their midst. Had he not been there, I would have held the high status and they’d have stepped aside, but with this chap there I was just a pleb who could be ignored while they gave him their full attention. Once I’d worked out what was going on I couldn’t stop myself from grinning. If any of them noticed it on my way out, they ignored it.
I suspect the women’s behaviour was subconscious, and none would have had any recollection of it afterwards. In other words, it was quite natural. Now men arse-lick bosses all the time, more so than women in my experience, but this wasn’t quite arse-licking. It was more an adjustment of body-language to reflect the relative status of the two men in the room and if you weren’t looking for it you’d miss it.
I’ve been thinking of this incident in the wake of the Harvey Weinstein allegations and the tidal wave of women who’ve come forward claiming they’ve been sexually harassed at work, usually by a man in a position of power over them. I turned on the news this morning to find the British Defence Secretary has resigned for having placed his hand on the knee of a journalist some 15 years ago, despite the woman in question not thinking it any big deal and appearing rather uhappy about what’s happened:
The resignation comes a day after a spokesman for Sir Michael confirmed that he was once rebuked by a journalist, Julia Hartley-Brewer, for putting his hand on her knee during a dinner in 2002.
The spokesman said Sir Michael apologised when it happened.
Ms Hartley-Brewer, a former political editor of the Sunday Express and regular political commentator, told BBC Radio 4’s The World Tonight: “If he has gone because he touched my knee 15 years ago, that is genuinely the most absurd reason for anyone to have lost their job in the history of the universe, so I hope it is not because of that.”
If a knee-touch 15 years ago is enough to bring down a cabinet minister, then we’re going to be in for interesting times. For while the world and its dog are demanding men change their behaviour in the workplace (or at boozy parties vaguely connected with work and, going off one example I heard on the BBC, company ski holidays), they are refusing to even discuss whether women’s behaviour plays any part in all this. A couple of months back I said:
It could be that when a woman acts like a “lad” and engages in alcohol-fuelled banter of an insulting or sexual nature – even in jest – it brings out the worst behaviour in the men around her.
So there’s that. Of course, there are plenty of women who’ve not behaved like this but nevertheless been sleazed over at work, because there is the odd lecherous man everywhere and these guys need to be thinned out. Then there is the vast majority of women who behave well and so do the men around them, but they don’t make good headlines.
But what’s interesting is at the margins you’re going to find men behaving well until, almost subconsciously, they make the wrong move or say the wrong thing. It might even be too subtle to notice, unless there is an entire HR and grievance industry forcing women to spot anything that may look like harassment and lodge an immediate complaint. If a bunch of women can subconsciously modify their body-language when a high-status male is in their presence, and change their approach to male co-workers depending on which other men are in the room, then it’s likely men are acting in similar fashion – only for now it’s just one party that’s getting in trouble for it.
What we’re seeing here, at the margins, is human nature working as it’s supposed to. Merely designating a territory a workplace is not going to eliminate all non-professional interactions between men and women, any more than you can stop men making fun of each other in the office. Was Weinstein acting at the margins? No he wasn’t. Was Fallon? Maybe not, but it’s less clear-cut. If things carry on like this, there is only one solution and it’s simple: segregate men and women in the workplace.
Now big companies won’t get on board with this, because the hardcore feminists have other plans, which is to take over the major organisations and ensure any men working in them are cowering with fear of the sexual harassment sword of Damocles hanging over them. But I can see a drift towards segregation in the overall job market. I’ve written before about how smart young men might begin to shun the major organisations and set up in bunches of twos and threes and scoop up the work the big players have rendered themselves incapable of doing. Men being branded sexist pigs from the outset by power-skirts in HR is only going to speed this process up, and with Tinder and other apps it’s not like they need to work among women to meet anyone anyway. Fast forward ten years and we’ll be seeing a lot of tiny outfits working the gig economy made up of men who treat women they meet online like disposable napkins, while women sit in giant organisations holding meetings to find new ways of torturing the grovelling betas who report to them. And complain bitterly they can’t meet any decent men who want to settle down.
How this is a future any sane woman wants is beyond me, but that’s what third-wave feminism will give them.