After #MeToo, have the rules changed?

In the wake of the recent flood of allegations of sexual harassment against so many men in so many different positions of power, the refrain has begun, “The rules have changed.” Frivolous concerns about office holiday parties threaten to trivialize the remarkable transformation of women finally being believed, and men finally beginning to be held accountable for their actions.

The rules have not changed. What has changed is that, at long last, there are now real consequences for breaking the rules. Jobs lost, reputations shredded, punishment for the perpetrators instead of the victims for a change. We haven’t yet gotten around to actual reparations, but the emerging default stance of “believing the women” is at least a baby step in the right direction.

The rules have not changed.

It was never appropriate to solicit sex in the workplace. Bullying was never acceptable behavior. The abuse of power was, is, and always will be despicable. The only difference is that for too long, nothing happened to the perpetrators when the rules were broken. There was no punishment for misbehavior.

Now there is. At least for the moment. Just ask the women who brought down Robert Packwood in 1995. They thought they got something started. Oops. What’s another twenty years or so? Then again, with the internet and social media, maybe this time really will be different. We can only hope.

As for the good men out there (who I choose to believe constitute the majority) you have nothing to worry about. Continue treating everyone in your workplace with respect, refrain from sexualizing professional encounters, don’t abuse your power with bullying behaviors, and you’ll be fine.

As for those of you who may have skirted the line in the past, consider coming clean now, with real apologies, and cut it out going forward. But quit complaining that the rules have changed. They have not.

Lucy Hornstein is a family physician who blogs at Musings of a Dinosaur, and is the author of Declarations of a Dinosaur: 10 Laws I’ve Learned as a Family Doctor.

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