The #Metoo movement has had an impact on the public consciousness, generating
widespread awareness of the problem of sexual harassment in the workplace. There is
now a larger platform for sympathy and comfort for targets of sexual misconduct.
Encouraged by the increase in awareness and visibility, there are more reports of
sexual assault and harassment and some targets have brought charges against the
There have also been false or weak allegations or genuine miscommunication often
leading to inappropriate behavior. In the court of public opinion, those accused can be
punished without a legal proceeding. The result is damage to their reputation/professional brand, loss of work or their job due to public outrage, or the fear of the impact of that outrage on the employer, even if that outrage is based on poorly founded information.
A Theory of Change
It brings to mind Beverly Gaw’s Pendulum Theory of Change. A common idiom to
describe social change now, she recognized that a pendulum swings back and forth,
from far left to far right, from one extreme to the other. Momentum wants to keep the
pendulum going and friction (and gravity) want to bring it to the center. In the same way,
social forces and popular beliefs sometimes swing back and forth. One generation is
conservative. The next generation is liberal. Then the next generation is conservative
but maybe not as conservative as that previous conservative generation.
The “pendulum theory” is based on the idea that some ideology or belief system is
adopted and put into effect with energy and high hopes. Those that push for this believe
that this will create a new age of power, equality, peace, or whatever they are trying to
usher into being. But in practical practice there are always flaws. As time goes on,
people see the flaws and reject the basic ideology. Those folks try some opposite
extreme, thinking that THIS ideology is the better answer. That, of course, turns out to
be less than perfect too. So people react against that. And so it goes, on and on –
swinging back and forth, like a pendulum.
Ultimately there is an inevitable return of the pendulum to center.
The “Pendulum Swing” refers to the typically equal but opposite reaction to something. It’s Physics 101. The challenge is that unlike in physics, human interaction rarely just returns to center and stops. The assumption is that because of the impact of the swing experience, our knowledge has grown and we incorporate the new information and learning (what we think is best) from the two swings into our current ‘status quo.’ A ‘new normal’ is created.
How Far is Too Far?
Has the #MeToo pendulum swung too far? Does it make sense to disregard careful
due process and a thorough investigation because harassers have gone without punishment for so long?
Has social media made it impossible to slow things down for careful consideration?
When I first began conducting training programs on the topic of Sexual Harassment, I
read an article that described the harassment and discrimination laws as both a sword
and a shield. The laws were intended to shield targets from perpetrators of sexual
harassment and assault and the author cautioned that one claim could also ruin a
professional reputation whether the outcome found them guilty or innocent of the
charges. They warned the reader: the law was a double edged sword – used to both
defend and attack.
#MeToo can just as easily do damage to a reputation as defend and protect targets of
sexual harassment and assault. While it is heartening (and discouraging) to see so
many women come forward with stories of harassment and assault, giving an amplified
voice to the targets can also lead to an over-correction of past wrongs. If innocent people get painted with the same broad brush as true sexual harassers, then the #MeToo and #TimesUp movement can be harmed.
Understand the Line
The line between what is and what is not sexual harassment can be fuzzy and
sometimes appears to move while we are looking right at it! However, there are some
things that need to be understood by both targets and potential harassers:
- Sexual Harassment is in the eye of the target.
- If someone says “no’ or ‘no thank you,’ it’s the same as ‘please stop,’ ‘this makes me uncomfortable,’ and ‘‘’this seems inappropriate to me.’ Whatever you are doing – stop doing it. It doesn’t matter how well intentioned, confused, or misunderstood you might be.
- People change their mind so try harder to keep up. If it used to be OK to hug but
now it’s not – then it’s NOT.
- You may be at a bar and a bar is not the work place (a bar has a very social
purpose) but if you are the boss, you are STILL the boss.
- Keep your hands to yourself. There is a big difference between a hand on a knee
and a hand on an elbow; a difference between a caress and moving someone
out of your way. To avoid confusion, apply some tactile discipline. Everyone
knows where the line on their own body is and when someone crosses into a
Is it bad to be more aware?
When people are more aware of something, it can seem like they are now hyper-aware,
or overly aware. Perhaps before #MeToo, people were not aware enough.
Now they are.