When I was a young woman, my dad, Pervis Spann “the Bluesman,” would say, “Melody, if someone steps on your toe, yell ‘Ouch!’ ” In other words, if someone harms you or crosses a boundary, you need to let them know.
As I matured, it became apparent that while he wanted me to honor this premise in all aspects of my life, his special caveat was my interactions with the opposite sex.
Sexuality is a difficult and uncomfortable conversation for men to have with their daughters, as these discussions are usually left to moms. But ironically, our mothers share the same female DNA that often makes us less likely to yell ‘Ouch!’ on affronts to our sexuality. This centuries-old issue has become a cosmic force in the #MeToo Movement.
But lately, some people, including women, are asking, “Have we taken it too far?”
#MeToo was the brainchild of Tarana Burke, an African-American activist whose original intent was to raise awareness of the prevalence of sexual abuse and molestation of poor young girls, which she experienced growing up in the Bronx. It’s the unfortunate story of many young women, who by 17 have had their first traumatic sexual experience and are rendered numb to future sexual offenses.
But today, #MeToo casts a far broader net, to snag men like Joe Biden and offenses that aren’t sexual misconduct. The four women who complained about Biden said they believe his touches and kisses were innocent, but his behavior still made them uncomfortable. Biden’s touchy-feely behavior may call into question his tactile form of politics (former President Obama once even joked about his shoulder rubs), but that behavior has now been weaponized to cast doubt on his suitability to be president.
Just about every woman I know has experienced sexual inappropriateness. Experiences like this can linger in a woman’s psyche, and we’re all susceptible. When I was 19, an older man who knew one of my dad’s friends propositioned me one day when I was at work at WVON. He came into my office and laid five $100 bills on my desk and asked me to meet him somewhere. I can still feel the uneasiness and embarrassment that I felt back then. I kept it to myself.
Today that would be considered a #MeToo moment, though it doesn’t fit Burke’s original definition. Neither does Biden’s behavior, but he’s been tagged with the scarlet letter of #MeToo and dubbed “Creepy Biden” in the kangaroo court.
Want to know who’s creeped out by all this? Men, and rightly so. When an uncomfortable but non-sexual exchange between a man and a woman gets stamped #MeToo, it legitimizes men’s fears of being falsely accused and allows them to claim the status of victim.
Get ready for the backlash, ladies, as men begin to feel uncomfortable and potentially endangered by being in certain settings with women. Professionally, we need to learn to use discretion on when to call a real foul — and when to yell “Ouch!”
Going too far with #MeToo could hurt women in the business world, where closing deals is all about relationships. Men have mastered this with the old boys’ network. They play golf, meet for pickup basketball, and stop for drinks after work. Some women have become honorary members of the network by joining the guys on the links and stopping by for happy hour. Savvy ladies know that you must play to win, and to win you must be in the game.
But in the age of #MeToo, some men will play it completely safe and avoid commingling with women altogether. If I’m denied access to the table where opportunities and ideas are discussed, has #MeToo served me well?
For women to move forward in our quest for equity, we must find a balance with #MeToo. We need a sensible approach that allows men and women to engage professionally in all settings — and brings both sexes to the table as equals.
Melody Spann Cooper is chairman of Midway Broadcasting Corp., which owns WVON 1690 AM and WRLL 1450 AM. She is the author of “The Girlfriend’s Guide to Closing the Deal,” due out this spring.
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