News & Politics

Will #MeToo Start a Period of Victorian-Era Morality?

The charity WaterAid recreates a Victorian London street scene outside Parliament. (Rex Features via AP Images)

Schadenfreude may be at an all-time high as America watches a string of abusive men receive a public shaming, but no one is thrilled to find out how many women had been suffering in silence.

However, there is also a potential dark side to this era. When coupled with the liberal political slogan “Believe All Women,” perhaps we are laying the groundwork for something I don’t think anyone wants.

Megan McArdle, writing at Bloomberg, sees something on the horizon:

Let’s say that we do manage to establish a social norm that a single accusation of “inappropriate sexual behavior” toward a woman is enough to get you fired and drummed out of your industry. It’s the crux of the issue so eloquently explored recently by Claire Berlinski: What would a reasonable and innocent heterosexual man do to protect himself from the economic death penalty?

One thing he might do is avoid being alone with anyone of the opposite sex — not in the office and not even in social situations. You might, in other words, adopt something like the Pence Rule, so recently mocked for its Victorian overtones. (Or worse still, work hard not to hire any women who could become a liability.)

This would obviously be bad for women, who would lose countless opportunities for learning, advancement, friendship, even romance — the human connections that make us human workers superior to robots, for now.

On the radio recently, I pointed out that this might be a logical result of a “one strike and you’re out” policy. The host, aghast, remarked that this was obviously not what we wanted. And of course, that isn’t what anyone wants. It might nonetheless be the logical result of the rules we’re setting up.

As I wrote last week: Do we want a world in which sexual harassment is rampant? Obviously not. But do we want a neo-Victorian regime where an accusation is as good as a conviction, and tight chaperonage is necessary to protect priceless, irreplaceable reputations from being unfairly besmirched?

As McArdle notes, the idea of believing all women is dangerous. Yes, it empowers women, but it also empowers them to do horrible things. Blackmailing men for favors would be easy, especially since nothing is required except the threat of a sexual harassment allegation. Male competition can be removed with just the hint of impropriety.

It would become a dangerous time, and an extreme form of “abstinence” is literally the only perfect remedy. Adopt rules similar to Vice President Mike Pence’s, or you are at risk. Pence was mocked and scorned by many — but guess who has nothing to fear these days?

Unless something changes, that’s our future.