My parents met during the Great Depression of the 1930s, when life was tough. They were both teachers in small prairie schools. My father was older than my mother and after a brief courtship they married.
There’s nothing unusual about that story. In fact, it was very common. Many teachers met and married. In most cases, the man was older than the woman – that’s probably a feature of human mating that has always been true. Many young teachers actually expected – or at least hoped – to find mates this way.
And it wasn’t just teachers who formed lifelong relationships in the workplace. Principals married teachers, the secretary in the front office – in some cases even students or former students married teachers.
And lawyers married secretaries, doctors married nurses and bosses married employees. That’s how the world worked. The workplace was an acceptable place to find romance.
How many potential relationships didn’t come to pass because of misread signals or differing levels of ardour? How many awkward exchanges were there – some that might be interpreted as an unwanted bit of attentiveness or even an assault?
Probably very many. But we don’t know for sure.
The human mating game is very complicated. Some people are better at it than others. Some know when to pursue and when to retreat. Some aren’t so good at this delicate art.
Now, the #MeToo movement has arrived. Has the game changed forever?
Today’s men know that a misinterpreted signal can cost them their careers. Patrick Brown was forced to resign as leader of the Ontario Conservative Party as a result of accusations of non-criminal sexual conduct. Will he succeed in the lawsuit he’s brought against CTV News for airing the complaints?
Perhaps, but he will certainly never be a leader of anything again. The movement has done him in.
This is not to suggest that the movement has not achieved some valuable outcomes. The Harvey Weinsteins of this world have been put on notice that they prey on vulnerable women at their peril.
But at what cost?
Will careful men who value their careers simply avoid situations that could get them into trouble – including letting mating opportunities that might have resulted in successful relationships go by the wayside? Will business owners segregate workforces so men and women aren’t in compromising situations, or will they simply not hire women or not hire men for some jobs? Would segregating the workforce even achieve anything in an age when gay, trans and non-binary people are part of the equation?
Because the old rules have changed, companies will likely fire first and ask questions later.
Due process has never applied technically to workplace sexual harassment complaints but something quite similar was always the norm in the workplace. Employers used to consider the complaint, allow an employee to respond to it and then decide what to do.
Now, that’s not likely to be considered good employee relation practices. The company brand must not be tainted by an allegation, no matter how it’s made, whether it be tweeted, put on Facebook or suddenly appear on CTV News.
No matter how a complaint is made, if it’s made by a woman, it will be presumed to be accurate. The man complained about will probably be thrown under the bus – with or without a severance package. His future career prospects are, in all likelihood, grim.
The workplace has been an important part of the mating game for a very long time. Less advanced societies made use of a matchmaker for this very important purpose. Will something like eHarmony replace the workplace as a forum to find a romantic partner?
And what about the way #MeToo appears to regard our daughters and granddaughters as helpless victims in some never-ending contest in which evil men are out to exploit them. We’ve come such a long way in creating a world of equal opportunities for our daughters. Are they now to regard themselves as unable to conduct their sexual lives without the help of a cyberspace movement?
Is #MeToo some kind of substitute for patriarchy with Facebook majority rule?
It’s too early to know the answer to these questions. But we had better start asking the questions.
Brian Giesbrecht is a retired judge and senior fellow with Frontier Centre for Public Policy.