Thus tweeted Geraldo Rivera in defense of Matt Lauer, after Lauer’s firing but apparently before the disclosure of the extent of his transgressions. In doing so, Rivera joined a few other public figures in trying to downplay or otherwise explain away the deluge of harassment allegations that have come forth since the Weinstein scandal made it safe for women to finally go public with predators’ behaviors. Joining these voices are some who considered the predators, both accused and admitted, as friends, and tried to put forth some form of “he’s not a monster” defense on their behalf.

These efforts have typically come across as “victim shaming,” as tone-deaf, or as blatantly partisan (i.e. Predator X is on the good side of issues, so we need to give him more chance at redemption than Predator Y). They also completely fail in recognizing that there is a stark, miles-wide chasm of difference between attraction and predation.

We are human beings, and we are biologically wired to pursue procreation. This manifests in various ways, and there’s no need to get deep into science and psychology in order to recognize that people like to look good, people like to be appreciated when they look good, and people are attracted to those they think look good. This is all perfectly good and normal human behavior. Women can and do appreciate a handsome, fit, and sharp dressed man, men can and do appreciate an attractive and stylishly dressed woman (and, yes, men to men, women to women, and whatever other permutations… you get the idea). And, yes, these reactions happen everywhere, including the work place. To deny this is to deny reality. And, yes, sometimes people act on these attractions, even in the work place. Office romances (and affairs) are a fact of life.

The Weinstein deluge, that is to say, the liberation from fear that Weinstein’s rapid downfall produced in women who’ve been harassed and worse by men of power and the subsequent flood of revelations, has nothing to do with men and women being attracted to each other, in the workplace or elsewhere. Every story you hear is about someone in a position of power leveraging that power to coerce those in a position of relative vulnerability into non-consensual behavior. Even actions that the person of power might consider innocuous or “fun” (e.g. Al Franken’s grope of a sleeping Leann Tweeden) exploit the power dynamic. This is what the explainers and apologists either fail to understand or don’t properly explain. Louis C.K. reportedly liked to masturbate in front of women, and reportedly asked their permission to do so first. The fact that these women were in a subordinate position, where refusing might put their jobs, careers or reputations at some risk, eliminated any notion of consent in such situations, and C.K.’s failure to understand that is what changed his behavior from consensual to predatory.

What of superior-underling flings? Obviously, they happen, and obviously, not every one is a coercion by the person in a position of greater power/authority. There are, I’m sure, more examples of such affairs than can be counted, of all gender mixes. The propriety of such can certainly be deemed suspect, and there are at times selfish motives on one or both parties’ parts (lets not kid ourselves – some bosses won’t ever think to coerce but won’t object to advances from attractive underlings, and some underlings are perfectly willing to flirt, fling, or have long affairs for career advancement or job security), but they’re a rather different matter than what Weinstein, Lauer, Franken, Spacey, C.K. and many others have allegedly done.

This distinction matters, and it matters that we understand it and apply it, lest society devolves into a crippled, dysfunctional war zone, where no superior dares be alone in the presence of an underling, where genuinely innocent people (both superiors and underlings) get unjustly tarnished, where people spend all their time in a heightened state of tension, and where defensiveness (including pre-emptive defensiveness) destroys opportunity.

How do we do this? First, by treating people as individuals. Predators and their enablers should get their full comeuppance. The current buzz around Lauer, for example, is that his predations were an open secret, and if that’s the case, NBC brass should get what they deserve (i.e. the shit sued out of them by every woman that Lauer coerced). BUT, even as we support just deserts for every predator, we must also remember that not every boss or higher-up is a predator, that there are plenty of people in positions of power who behave normally and would never even think to intimidate, coerce or harass an underling, and that it’s also wrong to categorically presume that every man is a predator. Campaigns like that of a woman running for Michigan Attorney General, where it is suggested that people should vote based on whether candidates have or lack a penis, aren’t going to help matters, because there’s nothing that’ll harden someone against supporting a cause faster and more thoroughly than dropping an unjust accusation on him or her. Want to speak forcefully against predation in the work place? Go for it, but don’t expect sympathetic ears when you overreach and declare that all male bosses are predators.

Back to Geraldo and his “flirty business.” I’ve no doubt he’s right. News readers are not chosen solely for their oratory skills, and on-air personalities are not chosen solely for their journalistic talents. It’s no accident that the people we see on television are attractive, and it’s no surprise that this attractiveness might be noticed in the hallways of those organizations. The same, obviously, holds true in Hollywood, and it’s a deliberate detachment from reality to assert that this shouldn’t be so. As I noted, we’re all human, and there’s nothing wrong with being attractive and/or attracted. It’s absurd to think that flirting doesn’t happen, and not just between peers. It’s an overreaction to presume that every flirtation is a predation.

The stark line is in our behavior. What a person does when he or she finds another attractive is what matters. Whether they like it or not, bosses accept, as part of their jobs, the notion that it is wrong to leverage those jobs for personal sexual satisfaction. Does that mean that there should never be a time where people of different “ranks” end up in a relationship? It’s going to happen, not every such situation is predatory, and while I’ve always thought it was a bad and stupid idea, I’m not going to declare that it should be verboten. That’s simply not realistic, and it can do as much or more harm as good. Furthermore, we should remember that people can be legitimately attracted to each other, that such attractions can happen in situations where it’s frowned upon, and that not every office romance is coercive or predatory.

The key here is to understand, truly understand, and embrace what “consensual” means, that it’s a two-way street, and that the dynamics of the workplace affect it. I think it’s safe to say that a boss should never initiate, and that even flirting is a bad idea in this day and age, but we should be wary of overreacting, because trying to quash basic human nature never works, and can create as many or more problems than it purports to solve. It’s also vital that we, as outsiders, stand up when someone comes forth, as those that Weinstein et al abused have. For decades, these women have kept quiet out of fear for their futures, both personal and professional, and while we shouldn’t automatically accept all accusations without judging credibility, we absolutely mustn’t allow matters to regress to where predators can once again act with impunity.

Finally, it is vital we remember that everyone is an individual, judge everyone individually, and not fall prey to guilt-by-identity generalizations.

Peter Venetoklis

About Peter Venetoklis

I am twice-retired, a former rocket engineer and a former small business owner. At the very least, it makes for interesting party conversation. I'm also a life-long libertarian, I engage in an expanse of entertainments, and I squabble for sport.

Nowadays, I spend a good bit of my time arguing politics and editing this website.

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