Several days ago, the Globe and Mail published an opinion piece by Lisa Kimmel, a female CEO of one of Canada’s top communications and consulting firms. She posited that #MeToo was, in fact, worsening the divide between men and women, as White Feminist Organizations ® like LeanIn.org were purporting, through a survey completed by nearly 9,000 employed adults in the United States.
The key finding she cited was that now, after #MeToo, men were three times as likely to say that they are uncomfortable mentoring women, and twice as uncomfortable working alone with a woman.
Somehow, in this centreing of the male experience, we forgot to ask women how they feel about this movement and its effect on their experiences. Perhaps, women now feel three times as comfortable speaking up in meetings, or that they feel twice as safe alone at work.
This also assumes that men ever actually wanted to mentor young women in the first place, without the ulterior motive of attempting to seduce them. Men who truly do want to mentor women in the workplace very possibly still feel good about doing so. What #MeToo has done for others is either a) put them off mentoring women because they were using it as a way to be inappropriate in their workplace (which, in my our humble opinion, is actually a good thing), and b) given misogynists who don’t actually believe women belong in positions of power a now dubious-but-condoned excuse not to be a mentor because they afraid of false allegations of sexual assault.
Cue the pearl clutching! What are we, as young women in the workplace, to do without men to mentor us!? Look at the state of the world right now! Look at all these men in power, and how WELL the world is going! This is the way we’ve always done it, and women, with their silly ideas about equity and the ability to work free from harassment are ruining everything. (Before you point to women in power who have failed, ask yourself whether or not she was a victim of the glass cliff - the phenomena of a woman rising to power when the chance of failure is highest.)
Let’s propose something new. What if, instead of looking to men to mentor women, and women accessing power the way we’ve always done it, we try something else. Perhaps we have programs in which women are given space to mentor women. This, of course, complicates things by requiring women to be in actual positions of power. But imagine the possibilities if someone like Lisa Kimmel spent time and energy in mentoring the women who work for her, rather than bemoaning the state of men’s lives without due process (which, by the way, is actually built into every single workplace sexual harassment policy ever, by the very nature of them being policies.).
Kimmel ends by cautioning us against further gender polarization, lest “its resulting consequences,” ensue. What are these resulting consequences of gender polarization? Is she alluding to some sort of vague “the pendulum has swung too far” allegory, and that our future might somehow involve matriarchal polyandrous societies where men are so oppressed by lack of due process they have no power? That seems like an absurdist plot of a dystopian feminist short story (and actually, one we may eventually write; we like its potential.). However, in reality, what we might see as #MeToo continues, and women are given safer spaces to work, live, and meaningfully participate in, is that we may find that in twenty years, we may not have to fret about the lack of male mentors for young women. We may find that women are three times as likely to feel empowered by other women, and twice as comfortable coming forward when their workplace is unsafe. That’s a future we're okay with.