Just the other day I read two articles, literally back-to-back, that struck me as emblematic of one of the glaring problems in society today. I’m going to venture to call it an epistemological problem, because it seems like what is happening is that people of a certain social and political bent have a serious case of cognitive dissonance, carrying two completely different ideas simultaneously and not even recognizing how they cancel each other out.
The first article was about using the word “guys” to refer to mixed groups of boys and girls. You might assume I would go off on a rant about how the author of that article was blowing things out of proportion and needed to get over himself, and at first you would be right. But I gritted my teeth and read the whole thing, and I found he actually had a valid point (yes, even I can admit I’m wrong from time to time). The key take away is this: words have power. Words have meaning. When we use words, deliberately or casually, we need to think through and own the effect those word have, including the unintended consequences.
This is important for several reasons in our society today, not just for the reasons he cited in his article. Too many people try to hide behind “I was just joking” or “I didn’t mean it that way”. Perhaps not but you still said it, so own it. I don’t intend to give free reign to everyone who wants to take offence to anything and everything (see my last post about outrage culture), but the flipside to rights is responsibilities. In the case of free speech that means accepting the consequences of your speech.
Which brings me to the next article and where the disconnect comes in. It seems that in what turns out to be a surprise to approximately nobody there has been a significant increase in the number of male managers afraid to be alone with women. Do I think this is a good thing? Of course not. But I saw this coming two years ago, and so did a lot of other people. Why do I bring it up in this context? Because the key take away is this: words have power. Words have meaning. When we use words, deliberately or casually, we need to think through and own the effect those word have, including the unintended consequences.
#TimesUp. #BelieveWomen. These men are taking you at your word that you will believe any woman, any accusation, prima fascie. There is no room for negotiation, there is no benefit of the doubt, and there is absolutely no reprieve. In the absence of iron-clad proof to rebut any accusation, they are unwilling to risk their own careers. So just like teachers who will not be alone with a student to prevent any accusations of misconduct when a simple accusation itself is a career-ender, these men have chosen the same path, and for the same reason. When the narrative is that it is better that a hundred innocent men go to jail than one guilty man go free, fear takes hold.
Is that an accurate narrative? Is it fair? Depends on who you ask. And that’s a large part of the problem. There are arguments to be made both ways and fingers to be pointed in both directions. But accurate or not, fair or not, this is the unintended consequence of a movement that has done a lot of good but also had some serious failures. Not acknowledging self-inflicted wounds like these and attempting to find ways to do better moving forward only exacerbates the problem.