Be afraid, men. Be very afraid.
But are your actions really even what you should be afraid of?
If you were to ask a man, it’s unlikely they’d find it difficult to define what it means to not harass or not assault a woman. But the definition of harassment and even assault is becoming very fluid in conversations among a specific group of people. And this is what is worrying people.
I had a chilling conversation with a group of men recently where they honestly opened up about their own stories on this topic.
All I did was participate in the conversation she started. Later she was angry about something unrelated, and used the conversation as ammo.
We’ve all been hearing the recent rash of allegations, and frankly I’ve never heard men so scared as they are right now. We sat around one afternoon and I listened to each one of them tell stories of a news piece, of a coworker’s story, and of their own encounters with claims of harassment or worse. The common thread among the stories they were telling was the mistunderstanding or downright manipulation by women who’d claimed harassment or assault when neither of those things had occurred.
Even long after the claims were proven false, the history of it has always followed them.
These stories also had a common element of witnesses, investigations, or evidence that proved each of these women had falsely accused someone. What stood out for each of the people telling these stories was that the supposed assailant’s reputation and careers were threatened by these claims. Even long after the claims were proven false, the history of it has always followed them.
It isn’t as simple as not doing something you would consider harassment or assault; it’s also trying to predict the unfair reactions of women who know damned well they can claim harassment against a man and bury him in an instant.
I’ve personally seen this happen. I’ve known and heard painful, personal stories of women who’ve done this. Women who’ve been caught and men who’ve been ruled innocent. Women who haven’t been caught, and who’ve destroyed men’s careers. Women who have a vendetta against men and they know they can claim some form of sexual predatory behavior against a man and they’ll always be taken more seriously than the man the claim is against.
It is these situations that the men I talked to are most afraid of. It was hard for me to say they weren’t completely justified in being very scared given everything they’ve each seen and experienced as well as what’s going on in this recent rash of allegations. They really don’t know what some women might claim is harassment or assault.
I see men all around me starting to roll their eyes
What’s additionally chilling is with each new allegation in the media, I see men all around me starting to roll their eyes. “How can all these people really be sexually assaulting people without anybody doing anything?” That question is a valid one. And while there are plenty of reasons very real assaults or harassment aren’t reported, some of those claims are also proven false or can’t be substantiated. The claim is backed up by no evidence. Or the claims are from women who’ve previously been caught lying about similar serious allegations.
What I see is people getting sick of hearing about it. People are doubtful that many of them are even fair claims of asault or harassment given the smattering of false accusations. And given their own histories of women claiming something just for revenge or attention.
So men are worried. And from what I’ve seen and heard, they should be. These are strange times, with ever-changing rules and boundaries that fluctuate seemingly from day to day.
Additionally, many of us women are also worried. And we should be.
I’m a women in tech. Now we’ve all heard those stories of supposed horror as well. But I’m not just any woman in tech either; I am at a senior level at a well respected software company. I have spoken at conferences around the world. I keep a high profile among a group of predominantly male peers.
Because of what’s occurred in recent months, I see my position among some of these men changing. They are afraid to talk to women. They are afraid to even engage in professional conversations, and so they keep a distance they believe will protect them.
because the definition of harassment and assault are so subjective for some people, it’s easier to simply remove the risk
When I’ve talked to some of these men, they aren’t worried they’ll do something so much as they’re worried they won’t know what they’re not allowed to do. You see, because the definition of harassment and assault are so subjective for some people, it’s easier for those men to simply remove the risk.
Who loses in that scenario? All of us. I lose the intelligence, insight, and experiences of my male peers, and vice versa. Professionally, I am sidelined and black-listed by some peers because, as a female, I am a risk. I can’t be angry at those men for doing that either because I can empathize with how difficult and confusing it must be for them in the face of all these very dangerous claims.
Will the fears of those peers be substantiated and their belief that all women are a risk be confirmed?
Me and women like me also lose in the event that some form of harassment or assault does occur, how seriously will those claims be taken? Will the fears of those peers be substantiated and their belief that all women are a risk be confirmed? So myself and women in similar situations then have to seriously consider the risk of even reporting something if it does occur. We have to weigh if revealing that event is worth the possible backlash of our community, our peer groups, and our professional lives.
Here are some thoughts I’ll leave you with:
Are there really more sexual predators these days? Or are we just redefining what 'sexual assault' means? Are we being responsible or over-sensitive? What happens when someone is assaulted or raped and everyone is too sick of hearing about it to even care anymore??
I really worry for the teeter-totter effect of extremist behaviors and responses from either ends of each issue's spectrum. I fear for the over-exposure of topics desensitizing people and creating the wolf-crying effect instead of the claims of education for prevention.
What is assault?
What is harassment?
What is a false allegation?
Why aren’t assaults reported when they happen?
After posting this, here are some of the responses so far…
It’s statements like these that reaffirm that more open conversation needs to be had around these topics. This isn’t a one-sided issue, and the extremism isn’t without serious consequences among both the innocent and the guilty. This is impacting all of us.