The #MeToo Backlash Should Get Its Act Together

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Sir Isaac Newton's 17th-century laws of motion include his famous observation about equal and opposite reactions. Nothing in physics makes a value judgment about the worth of those reactions, but in the workplace, we can go further with the metaphor. This is especially true when it comes to warping the very makeup of your colleagues.

The Harvard Business Review has published a preview of some concerning new trends emerging from the #MeToo movement to condemn sexual harassment and assault. Forthcoming research shows that both men and women are more cautious about interacting with or even hiring women, especially if they're deemed "attractive."

As HBR puts it, "19 percent of men said they were reluctant to hire attractive women, 21 percent said they were reluctant to hire women for jobs involving close interpersonal interactions with men (jobs involving travel, say), and 27 percent said they avoided one-on-one meetings with female colleagues; only one of those numbers was lower in 2019 than the numbers projected the year before."

Setting aside the outsized way this sort of reaction impacts early- and mid-career women, this is an absurd way to do business. "The idea that men don't know their behavior is bad and that women are making a mountain out of a molehill is largely untrue," study coauthor Leanne Atwater told HBR. "If anything, women are more lenient in defining harassment."

Arwa Mahdawi, writing for the Guardian, frames the issue another way: Men are "angry that they've been made to think about their behavior, made to interrogate power dynamics they always took for granted, and they are punishing women for it by refusing to interact with them." In short — don't be creepy. Your best professional self is the one that recognizes every coworker as worth your respect and support.