Sunrise hosts copped criticism for their one-sided discussion about the #MeToo movement. Picture: Channel 7
Sunrise hosts copped criticism for their one-sided discussion about the #MeToo movement. Picture: Channel 7

Real cost of ‘scared’ #MeToo men

It's been more than a year since the #MeToo movement took the world by storm when countless women demanded change, not just in Hollywood, but in every workplace.

As the movement pushes for a cultural reset on the way we interact, a side effect of #MeToo is forcing its way to the surface - and ironically, the people winding up most affected are women.

Last year, a 2002 comment from US Vice President Mike Pence resurfaced after the Washington Postran a profile on his wife Karen.

Mr Pence told The Hill he never attends events where alcohol is being served without his wife by his side and never eats alone with a woman other than his wife.

"If there's alcohol being served and people are being loose, I want to have the best-looking brunette in the room standing next to me," Mr Pence said, referring to his behaviour as "building a zone" around his marriage.

Twelve years later, in 2016, the Indianapolis Star ran another story on the vice-president's strategies to avoid infidelity rumours and "temptations".

One rule required any aide who might have to work late with Mr Pence to be male.

In the business world - the "Pence rule" - has taken shape in a similar way.

Since the #MeToo movement, dozens in the business world say men are adopting "tactics" and "strategies" to build their own "zones".

Some have banned one-on-one meetings, others make sure they're booked separate seats on flights, while others even ensure if they're on overnight work trips, that their hotel rooms are on separate floors.

Men in the business world are reshaping the way they behave.
Men in the business world are reshaping the way they behave.

Private meetings are done with doors open while one particular business executive said he won't meet women in rooms without windows anymore and is conscious of how much space he leaves around himself while in elevators.

"Women are grasping for ideas on how to deal with it, because it is affecting our careers," Karen Elinski, president of the Financial Women's Association and a senior vice president at Wells Fargo & Co, told Bloomberg.

"It's a real loss."

According to The Art of Mentoring, an Australian report done post-MeToo, 25 per cent of men admitted they were nervous about working alone with a female colleague.

And in the US, research found the number of men in senior roles feeling "uncomfortable" about mentoring a woman had tripled.

Earlier this week, Sunrise copped criticism after the breakfast program suggested the #MeToo movement had gone too far.

Sunrise host Sam Armytage said she knew men who were scared in the wake of the women's empowerment movement around sexual harassment.

"The #MeToo movement was meant originally to empower women and give some women the confidence to call out sexism. Has it been derailed a little?" Armytage asked the guest, author Bettina Arndt.

Armytage later said: "I know a lot of the men I know and love are quite scared at the moment."

Arndt argues the #MeToo movement has given women licence to destroy men on the basis of the most trivial accusations.

She gave one example of a Canadian politician who was offended when, while standing next to two male colleagues for a photo, one of them said, "This wasn't the sort of threesome I had in mind."

"This is just madness, this stuff," Arndt said.

"What started off as a really important issue has absolutely been derailed and given women the right to behave extremely badly and destroy men who have done something to upset them at any point.

"It's gone far too far. Most people would agree with that."

Despite Arndt's comments, discrimination and employment lawyers say men need to be careful putting up barriers.

Stephen Zweig, an employment lawyer at FordHarrison, said the male backlash from #MeToo could end badly for companies.

"If men avoid working or travelling with women alone, or stop mentoring women for fear of being accused of sexual harassment, those men are going to back out of a sexual harassment complaint and right into a sex discrimination complaint," Mr Zweig told Bloomberg.

"Some men have voiced concerns to me that a false accusation is what they fear. These men fear what they cannot control."

Comedian Amy Schumer lashed the "scared" mentality to #MeToo in September, saying it was "making fun of the terror and indignity most of us have faced in our lives".

"Any dude saying, 'I'm scared to be in a room with a woman now' or 'is it OK to stop to say hello? I don't know these new rules'. STOP," she wrote on Twitter.

"What you are doing is belittling victims who have been wronged...If you're confused about the new rules just ask and don't make it a joke. Because that's harmful and we don't want to hear that kind of joke right now. Mmmmkay?"

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