The misery of the post-#MeToo workplace

Myths about rampant sexual harassment have led to calls to police everyday interactions.

Joanna Williams

Feminism has become boringly predictable. Campaigns to close the gender pay-gap were always more likely to result in big pay rises for female television presenters and company directors than for women who work in care homes or supermarkets. #MeToo was only ever going to lead to a huge rise in the number of women claiming to have been sexually harassed at work. So news that there has been a 69 per cent increase in complaints of workplace sexual discrimination in the past year is hardly shocking.

This trade in feminist misery-stats is both dull and depressing. To ‘celebrate’ Pride month, the Trades Union Congress (TUC) tweeted out a survey it conducted in 2016 which found that more than half of women have been sexually harassed at work. It followed this with claims that 7 in 10 LGBT people have been victims of the same offence.

To take these figures at face value, you would have to believe that the workplace has been stuck in a Mad Men-era time warp for the past 60 years. Such credulity demands we ignore the impact of the 1975 Sex Discrimination Act, equal-pay legislation and the revolution in women’s educational and employment opportunities.

Clearly, #MeToo has made everyone more sensitive to the issue of sexual harassment at work. When women are bombarded with the message that the workplace is full of predatory men, they come to interpret everything that happens to them through this lens. Younger women, in particular, are likely to define sexual harassment in extremely broad terms. A YouGov survey in the wake of the #MeToo movement found that 28 per cent of women aged 18 to 24 believe that winking is a form of sexual harassment.

The most common form of harassment noted in the TUC survey is jokes. The victims of this apparent harassment may not have been the subject of the joke or even the intended audience – they may have simply overheard an off-colour joke being shared. Perhaps just once, many years earlier. Yet, in the eyes of the TUC, this not only justifies the claim that sexual harassment has reached epidemic proportions — it also fuels a demand that something must be done.

Last week, a number of trade unions, charities and women’s rights groups launched a campaign, #ThisIsNotWorking, to end sexual harassment in the workplace. Their key demand is for new legislation to make employers responsible for protecting their staff from sexual harassment. Of course, there are already laws against more serious forms of sexual harassment regardless of where it occurs. And there are laws, such as the Equality Act 2010, that relate specifically to people’s rights at work. What’s more, many companies have their own strict codes of conduct that make sexual harassment a disciplinary offence. Now, under the banner of #ThisIsNotWorking, campaigners want the government to go further and make employers take preventative measures to outlaw sexual harassment. In other words, they want to stop sexual harassment before it even happens. Rather than rejecting this Orwellian thought-control outright, the government has instead promised a review of sexual-harassment legislation.

Let’s return to the colleagues sharing a rude joke. At present, the onus is on the trembling woman who just so happened to overhear the exchange to spill all to her line manager or union rep. Only then can the jokers be reprimanded. By this time, those behind the #ThisIsNotWorking initiative argue, the damage has already been done. Our poor victim cannot un-hear the sexist banter. Instead, rude jokes must be banned before they are ever uttered, hugs between colleagues must be forbidden before arms are spontaneously outstretched, and all contact between the sexes must be limited and policed on the off-chance someone says or does something inappropriate.

This latest campaign against sexual harassment speaks more to the dark fantasies of activists than it does to the reality of most workplaces. Many employment sectors continue to be informally segregated along gender lines. Although things are slowly changing, women are more likely to be found in care homes and men on building sites. Lots of people find work tedious with few opportunities for conversation between colleagues, let alone jokes, rude or otherwise. In the wake of #MeToo, human-resource departments dreamt up swathes of new rules to regulate the behaviour of their employees still further. Some companies have banned alcohol from work functions, others have banned hugging or cancelled Christmas parties or other social events.

Despite the fact that so much has already changed, new legislation designed to prevent sexual harassment before it occurs will have far-reaching consequences. It has already become common in schools and universities for male teachers to leave the office door open whenever they need to talk to a female student. The message this sends is that female students should be suspicious of male teachers and lecturers – not a good grounding for education. In the workplace, gaining promotion can often depend on networking or being mentored by the right person. If all interactions between colleagues and superiors are cast as potentially abusive, this won’t help anyone. And what if the workplace is a pub or a care home? If employers are to be held pre-emptively responsible for sexual harassment in these circumstances, they won’t just need to police the behaviour of their staff, but of every drunk looking to practice a corny chat-up line and every dementia-sufferer who behaves inappropriately.

Ultimately, unions are proposing that more power should be handed over to bosses to police the behaviour of their staff. This is a long way from their traditional remit of demanding more power for workers in the form of higher wages and better working conditions. Setting out rules for how men and women should interact turns the workplace into a school with employees seen as naughty children in need of constant supervision. We spend a great deal of our lives at work: it’s where many adults – men and women – meet as colleagues but may, through sharing jokes or gripes, forge lasting friendships and relationships.

If women want to be taken seriously at work they need to act like adults not like children running to teacher with tales of miscreant men. If a male colleague makes them feel uncomfortable, women need to show they are capable of standing up for themselves. A good place to start would be standing up to the interfering busybodies who want to police every workplace interaction on their behalf.

Joanna Williams is associate editor at spiked. Her new book, Women vs Feminism: Why We All Need Liberating from the Gender Wars, is out now.

Picture by: Getty.

To enquire about republishing spiked’s content, a right to reply or to request a correction, please contact the managing editor, Viv Regan.


Alan Jean

25th July 2019 at 8:05 am

@ Hugh Gibney

As a University lecturer, I can only agree with you …

wil will

13th July 2019 at 11:55 am

All this equalities stuff can be for one thing, to make the changeover from a democracy to a theocracy, adopting the ways of our new citizens from the middle East that much easier and less tiresome thana full blown coup

Jerry Owen

11th July 2019 at 3:26 pm

I no longer work in a ‘workplace’ as I run my own business.
However when I did there were more women than men. I have to say that it was the girls that would flirt and come onto a man in a way that only girls can, as a result I had a number of dates with some very nice girls over the years before i got married .. is a girl flirting with a man sexual harassment ?
Women are good at attracting a man , I think a man is just a bit clumsy and goofy when he tries to attract a girl not malicious.

My Name

11th July 2019 at 8:48 am

Claire d’s solution scares me – why do you want everyone to make babies ?
Is it my right to have a child or a duty ? The planet is overcrowded with enough unsuitable parents.
His/Her mantra to ‘find someone to love who loves you’ I find too simplistic and naive. I think you have love – and like yourself first before entertaining the thought of involving a n other.

Claire D

11th July 2019 at 9:28 am

It was meant in a light-hearted tongue-in-cheek sort of way.

Jerry Owen

11th July 2019 at 3:17 pm

Claire D
Apparently the planet is overcrowded … but she is happy enough to claim a spot on it and keep it !
Your comment on eugenics is well founded.

Claire D

11th July 2019 at 9:46 am

Beware of the idea of ‘ unsuitable parents ‘, that way lies genocide and ethnic cleansing.

Hugh Gibney

10th July 2019 at 7:25 pm

As for the 2016 TUC survey which found that more than half of women have been sexually harassed at work (has the TUC carried out any equivalent survey in the case of men?) it would be interesting to know something about the methodology employed in this survey. To adapt an old saying: the devil is in the methodology.

By the way, a point for ‘Spiked’: would it be possible to add a facility for editing and/or deleting one’s comments? Unless I’ve missed it, there doesn’t seem to be such a facility at present.

Jerry Owen

11th July 2019 at 3:19 pm

There is no facility for editing I have already asked. No facility for deleting a post either.

Hugh Gibney

11th July 2019 at 9:18 pm

Thanks for the info.

My enquiry was of a general nature as I don’t want to edit or delete either of my posts in this thread.

Hugh Gibney

10th July 2019 at 6:05 pm

Interesting article, as one would expect from Ms Williams.

Among other points, while male teachers and lecturers leaving their office doors open may indeed send the message to female students that they should be suspicious of the former, the truth is that, in the present #MeToo atmosphere, it’s the former who need, for the sake of their own safety, to be wary, and even a little suspicious, of female students whose minds may well have been poisoned by feminist propaganda.

Eras Bonus-Mus

10th July 2019 at 3:29 pm

“hugs between colleagues must be forbidden before arms are spontaneously outstretched”

I can get right behind this one. As a middle-aged man with boundaries, I hate having to run the gauntlet of the bloody huggers.

Mark Bretherton

10th July 2019 at 2:25 pm

These idiots need to work in an environment where women are the majority. Holy Christ, for downright dirty comments a group of women make men look like choirboys. When I was in my twenties, I had the misfortune to work for a major high street bank in one of their processing units. 103 women, 4 men. I actually ended up on a sex discrimination course at head office over a joke that I WAS THE BUTT OF! The unit boss was a man and he’d got to the stage where he’d just go along with the worst of the harpies for a quiet life.

gershwin gentile

10th July 2019 at 2:17 pm

I have to agree with comments about bullying in the NHS, perhaps Ms Williams will do an article on that… Of course I’m joking.

Alexander Nöthlich

10th July 2019 at 1:09 pm

Easy solution: don’t employ women or minorities. As always with social issues, you just have to go far enough in one direction to come out on the opposite end. And, let’s be honest, there might be some areas where it’s actually helpful to segregate men and women. What has a woman to do on a construction site or a guy in a nursery? Can we please acknowledge that men and women are quite different, that’s what attracts us to one another, that’s what we love (and sometimes hate) about the opposite sex, that’s what makes life worth living. Trying to make equal what’s not for the sake of business interests is a form of universal masochism.

anton de grandier

10th July 2019 at 11:39 am

TUC prattling on about Bullying should try tackling the issue in the NHS-widespread and overwhelmingly perpetrated by women on other women.I’m a guy and a Nurse,30 yrs,and have seen this happen time and time again.Ribald jokes?Christ,women do it all the time.Sexual innuendo/bawdy comments-women every bit as bad as men.The feminist trope of “poor,wee vulnerable woman” is ludicrous.Vulnerable?Tell that to the Surgeons I knew who were terrified of the Theatre Sister who ran that unit with a rod of Iron.Like so much leftist guff it bears little resemblance to reality and people just get on with their lives despite all this shite.Thank f*ck for common sense folk!

Claire D

10th July 2019 at 11:00 am

It seems to me there are several reasons for this development :
Women feel instinctively insecure in a world where marriage is no longer for life or even to be desired if you’re a feminist.
#MeToo etc, are weapons in the Feminist arsenal. Despite equal opportunities women have discovered that actually competing with men on an equal playing field is very difficult, so making them ‘guilty’ of the slightest of sexual misdemeanours is a useful sneaky weapon to bring them down and into line.
Earlier generations of men and women who shared the workplace grew up together playing outside on the streets free from adult supervision. Children learnt early to stand up for themselves and get along together. The opposite is true today, so ‘ adult supervision ‘ is still required even when they are grown up.
The biological fact that men and women are different and that their differences are a cause for celebration clashes with the Feminist lie of ‘ Equality ‘, which results in the differences becoming ‘problematic’.

The only solutions I can come up with are, don’t be a feminist, have courage, find someone to love who loves you, make babies and be happy.

Hana Jinks

10th July 2019 at 10:36 am

Crazy. The last paragraph is how it used to be, and how it should be.

Linda Payne

10th July 2019 at 10:08 am

Trade unionists might be on board with all this but they do nothing about real workplace bullying, to me nothing is worse than being a target for bullying and humiliation both of which I had from the NHS; and the instigators? all women and the main perpetrator was my line manager and union rep

D. C. Morrow

10th July 2019 at 9:29 am

Feminists demonstrate why our ancestors considered women shallow, fickle, irrational children.

Danny Rees

10th July 2019 at 9:20 am

Yet Williams writes accusing others of playing down/overlooking sexual abuse.

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