I write this to you as a spectator of events over the last year. Of someone who is watching the unfolding of the weaponization of sexuality and sexual accusations. Of someone who has a deep concern of the ability of men to continue to have meaning and being of important in a modern society.
Originally as I thought through the genesis of this letter, I was going to mainly direct it at young men, because theirs is the most future at risk. But as I thought it through I realize that all men - yes, all, of any age, are at risk.
One does not hand a weapon to those who would seek to do one harm. "Anciently the skillful warriors first made themselves invincible and awaited the enemy's moment of vulnerability" said Sun Tzu in The Art of War. What I am proposing will at worst inconvenience you and at best protect you for years down the road.
My advice: Carefully monitor your time and involvement with women. If you are married, most carefully with anyone that is not your wife. If you are not married, then most carefully with any woman.
I know, I know. Some of you will find me an straight laced old Victorian for suggesting such measures, someone not in tune with "the modern world" and the modern business place. I understand entirely - I have to live and work in the same environment as you do. And therefore, perhaps what I recommend will strike you as somewhat unrealistic. But humor me.
In the modern context, any time you are alone with a woman you have immediately placed yourself into a battlefield - perhaps an invisible one you cannot see, but one none the less. You have put yourself into the situation of which there will only ever be two stories, yours and the other person in the room.
You believe that what happens in that room, that restaurant, that place, will be innocent. And perhaps it very much will. But you cannot see down the road twenty years, thirty years, when the moment of friendship or business is long past and you may have become an obstacle, a target, something or someone that needs to be removed. At the moment memories will fade but stories will take precedence -and in this climate of high stakes and media bloodsport, an accusation is enough to ruin years of patient work and good living.
These are harsh words, I realize. They are literally suggesting a complete reorganization of the way we have designed social interactions over the last 50 to 100 years. It represents an additional burden to labor under during regular life. If followed to the logical extreme I may be suggesting, it will definitely impact your life. But I will propose that having no chinks in your armor in this fashion will make you a stronger man, more capable to move into life without fear of being taken down or unjustly ruined.
What would this look like? A few suggestions I can think of:
1) If you are married, minimize or perhaps do not even have close female friends. This is a hard one for me, as best friends have always been female and I would argue I have given them no reason to mistrust me. But feeling I have not been untrustworthy does not prevent me from being accused of being duplicitous. (For the record, I have drawn the line at adding new female friends. It is now always in the context of another relationship - see below).
2) If you are married, do not be unaccountably alone with a woman. Have your meetings in offices with window, or in an open place. Eat out in public places. When you visit female acquaintances or colleagues, always stay in a hotel - never take up the offer to stay there to save costs or because it is simply more convenient. Consider taking different transports to and from a place rather than riding together alone, or make sure someone else is along for the ride. There should never be a time that you are alone with a woman in a place that no-one else cannot see or hear.
3) If you are single, all of the above applies with the additional complication of dating, if you are so interested and inclined. The only thing I can think to add to that is to avoid situations where you are (again) unaccountably alone. Group activities are probably your best friend here. (And my sympathy, for what it is worth. I cannot imagine trying to date in the modern minefield of human relations.)
4) If you have female friends, have them in the context of a larger activity. A spouse of your friend's in the context of dinner together or an activity is a perfect example. Friends who you share activities with - such as Throwing Heavy Things or Golf or Saving The Whales - are another fine example. In both of these cases, the activity or the thing done is the main focus, not the relationship between you.
5) There are a great deal more ways to communicate with others than there have been in human history - and every one of them is fraught with potential peril. The Internet means that anything stays forever. So every rule I have suggest above equally applies to communication. Think carefully about what your write or say because it will be around forever and may very well be used against you.
Please note in all of these there is no call or excuse for misogyny or treating women badly or simply ignoring women. They are human beings worthy of the same dignity and respect as you would treat anyone else and the current situation does not diminish that one iota. Nor do the steps that I am proposing make that any more likely: one can be a strong leader or manager, treat all employees exactly the same, and yet ensure that no potentially concerning issues ever arise. One can participate in an activity with members of the opposite sex and never have them and you feel anything other than enjoyment in the event. To protect one's self from this sort of weaponization is hardly the same thing as becoming a misanthrope or an arrogant self righteous jerk.
Some will ask, of course. Your behavior will invariably change at some level. If asked, the simplest answer in the world is to simply say "I am living my life in such a way that I can never be accused of inappropriate behavior." Almost everyone can respect that, even if they do not always agree with it. In some cases you may be called prudish or a Neathderthal or "frightened of strong women" or simply weak. Accept the criticism - and quietly soldier on. Anyone who lobs these sorts of things at you long term is (in my mind) proving the point I am trying to make. The question "Why are you so concerned about me minimizing or eliminating any hint of impropriety?" may make an uncomfortable conversation starter, but it may also end the conversation before it starts.
What would a society with the sorts of rules I am proposing look like? Originally I was going to say "I suspect it would look not much different than the one we have with the exception that..." - but as I thought about it, it would be very different. There would be much clear and defined rules - unofficial, of course - about the interaction of men and women everywhere. Texting would be significantly cut down on. Men would find most (if not all) of their primary and most important friendships with other men. Group activities for singles and married folk would become the new normal. More people would meet at a common place rather than going to and fro together. A lot less people would be spending a lot less time alone and unsupervised. The private and unsupervised meetings would confine themselves to the married and the deeply committed (although again, even here I would urge caution. "Almost married" is not the same as "married".). Over time, false accusations would become a thing of history - because how can you accuse someone of something that never had the opportunity or circumstances to happen?
In other words yes, we are playing the long game. The 100 year, 3-4 generation, "I will never live myself to see it" game. But it is not less worthy a long game to play.
The useful thing - the important thing - is that this is something that any man can start in their life at any time. Today. This very moment.
Protect your future. Protect your present. Protect your marriage if you have one. Protect your reputation.
Your Obedient Servant, Toridhealbheach Beucail
(P.S. This argument is not at all drawn from a Christian point of view - although I would argue Christianity strongly argues for all of these points and more. I am happy to discus them with you, if you like. But the overlying results and recommendations would remain the same.)