Jacques: Life in a Mike Pence world (thanks to #MeToo)

Ingrid Jacques
The Detroit News

Mike Pence is starting to look really wise.

You may recall that in March the Washington Post profiled the wife of the vice president. In that piece, a 15-year-old interview Pence had given to another publication was dragged to the surface.

The shocking revelation? The vice president apparently has a rule that he never eats alone with a woman (other than Karen, his wife) and doesn’t go to events serving alcohol without her by his side.

Feminists let out their collective roar, claiming Pence’s strict stance places women in the workplace at a disadvantage over male colleagues. And plenty of liberals wasted no time in mocking him for this somewhat puritanical view.

“In Pence’s worldview, men have no self-control, and women are either temptresses or guardians of virtue,” claimed a headline in the Huffington Post.

Now, just months later, many of these same outraged feminists have fueled the #MeToo movement which risks turning every man in the workplace into Mike Pence.

#MeToo started this fall with a mission to bring women together in their shared experience of sexual harassment and abuse, and many powerful men have lost their jobs and reputations — some deservedly so. Some, not so much.

Many women are taking this moment too far by refusing to differentiate between actual abusive behavior and other actions that would be better placed in the awkward or distasteful category. Women jumped all over actor Matt Damon when he tried to make such a distinction in a recent interview.

All men who currently have jobs must be terrified. The standard for what constitutes harassment is alarmingly low, as was made clear last week with the Detroit Free Press’ rash firing of Editorial Page Editor Stephen Henderson. As Henderson has explained on his radio show, the two women in question hadn’t accused him of harassment. But the company’s zero tolerance policy didn’t care about the facts.

The implications are huge. As a woman in a traditionally male-dominated field, I am concerned about what the #MeToo fallout means not only for me but for the women journalists who will come after me.

Men (the smart ones anyway) are going to be scared to death of interacting with their female counterparts, for fear of their actions getting misconstrued.

For instance, a recent poll from The Economist found that young people (18-30) have some very strict ideas of what’s acceptable behavior. In the U.S., about one-third believe it’s sexual harassment for a non-partner to compliment a woman’s appearance. Similarly, 25 percent think it’s always or usually harassment if a man asks a woman out for a drink.

Wow. No wonder an October poll by the Wall Street Journal and NBC News found that all the news about #MeToo has made nearly half of men think about their interactions with the opposite sex.

A lot of men are poring over their past encounters, extremely worried that some comment or gesture will get them fired — even if it was consensual or happened decades ago. I’ve heard from a former colleague who had some concerns (he didn’t need to) about our interaction. And I’m sure many women have gotten similar calls or emails.

Not only does this fly in the face of normal human sexual behavior (we’re not robots after all), but it could do extreme harm to men mentoring women. All of my bosses in the media business have been men, and I’ve learned so much from my time working with them, and developing friendships with the experienced professionals I respect.

Yet younger women may not get that chance, as men may not think such platonic relationships are worth the risk.

The feminists who made a parody of Pence should take a close look at the implications of what they’re supporting now. It’s much more serious.