There's no point pretending that power dynamics and grey areas don't exist. So here's a manifesto for a better way forward—without sliding into lazy moral puritanismby Christiana Spens / December 18, 2017 / Leave a comment
In the wake of #MeToo, there is fresh confusion about the fine line between the personal and professional, and between flirtation and harassment. Over the past few weeks, I have felt conflicted, with various questions about the ethics of workplace attraction confounding me. Is all entanglement between work and sex out of bounds now? I have wondered. When is a relationship between unequals ‘wrong’, and does that mean it isn’t worth pursuing regardless? And how do we decide what is ‘wrong’, anyway?
I haven’t been alone in asking these questions. Recently, Allison Benedikt wrote an article for Slate on “the upside of office flirtation”—which, for her, was marriage and kids following a relationship with her editor when she was in an entry-level job aged 23 (beginning, she writes, with a “non-consensual kiss”). She warned of taking a black and white approach to workplace sexual morality, which she suggests risks penalizing and scapegoating men for behavior that is not always “wrong,” especially in cases where there is disagreement over whether something even is “harassment.”
Later that week, Lorin Stein, the editor of The Paris Review, stepped down as a result of an internal investigation into his “behaviour towards women.” The resignation referenced a consensual affair he had with a female writer, whose work was subsequently turned down by the magazine.
Citing this, Josephine Livingstone then wrote an article responding to Benedikt’s, warning of “the perils of extracting universal principles from fairytale endings”—as, clearly, not all office romances work out so well as Benedikt’s.
In her discussion of Stein as well as her own relationship with a tutor at university, however, Livingstone seemed to extract universal principles from negative manifestations of the workplace romance, whether direct or not. She wrote that while she had no regrets about her relationship, she still thought that her tutor had been ‘wrong’ simply because he had been her superior. She also considered it important to insist on the ‘wrongness’ of such a relationship, whether or not it also had benefits, in order to ‘protect’ younger and less powerful women from potentially negative consequences.
While I commend Livingstone’s considered and intelligent article, I take issue with this last point, particularly. I don’t think…