Could a Return to Old-Fashioned Dating Help Solve Our Sexual Harassment Problem?

Harvey Weinstein, producer of film masterpieces like Pulp Fiction, Good Will Hunting, and Shakespeare in Love, was recently ousted from his own company after The New York Times reported that multiple women had accused him of sexual harassment or assault. And more accusers have spoken up since. This is just the latest in a slate of high-profile cases in which powerful men have been accused of treating female employees and co-workers like sexual prey.

Bill Cosby, the former symbol of family-friendly American entertainment, seems to have drugged dozens of women and raped them while they were unconscious. Two of our presidents, Donald Trump and Bill Clinton, have been credibly accused of pressuring women they hardly knew into performing sexual acts. And just in the past year, Fox News Channel’s CEO, Roger Ailes, and its biggest star, Bill O’Reilly, were both outed as alleged serial sexual harassers.

I have no doubt that this kind of thing has always taken place at the upper echelons of Hollywood and Washington. In both places, there are a lot of powerful older men and tens of thousands of young people—including young women—who would do anything to advance their careers. Some young women will use sex to get ahead, and some powerful men may start to expect sexual favors from young women in their industry, including those who aren’t interested in doling them out. While unwanted sexual attention may have been common in Hollywood since the invention of celluloid, the problem seems to be spreading to the rest of the population.

Female college students, for instance, are rightly unsatisfied with the sexual politics of university life. While the campus “rape culture” is largely a myth, the campus “hook-up culture” is very real (and it’s also the cause of many of the statistics that lead to the “rape culture” myth). Hooking up is usually defined as sexual contact without any expectation of a further relationship. But it’s not just a synonym for a “one-night stand.” When you “hook up” with someone, you don’t even need to go on a date! To millennial college students, dating is becoming as outmoded as a southern belle receiving gentlemen callers in her mother and daddy’s parlor.

To state the obvious, when a man asks a woman on a date and she accepts, she is saying that she might be sexually interested. When a woman turns a man down for a date, she sends an even clearer signal: she is not interested. By eliminating this one ritual, we have increased the probability that a man will misunderstand the woman’s level of sexual interest and act inappropriately. The first step a college boy now takes to show a girl he’s interested: he tries to make out with her, often with no warning. If she’s into it, great! If not, she either goes along with it and feels victimized or tells him to stop, which embarrasses them both. This problem has given rise to the campus sex police, who demand that college men receive formal consent before each escalation in sexual contact with a female partner: do you consent to me holding your hand with interlaced fingers? This is a dumb solution, of course, but what would you expect from the people who created the problem?

College feminists are the biggest boosters of campus sex police codes, with their draconian penalties and lack of due process for boys. Feminists are also among the strongest supporters of hook-up culture, which has largely created the problems the sex police are trying to solve. The social science data has clearly shown that the hook-up culture is fun for boys and very hard on girls. Feminists are trying to flip that dynamic by making it very hard on boys and fun for girls. I suggest we just throw the whole thing out and start over.

One modest sex rule for life in corporations, government, universities, and the entertainment world: Before you try to have sex with someone, go on a date with that person. I would suggest setting a higher personal standard, but this modest rule would eliminate a lot of problems. I’m pretty sure Bill Clinton would not have taken Monica Lewinsky to get Dippin’ Dots at the mall. And Megyn Kelly would not have accepted if Roger Ailes had offered her a romantic getaway to his private island in the Caribbean. This little rule, even if followed universally, wouldn’t end marital infidelity or every case of sexual harassment, but it would help prevent the overly aggressive sexual behavior that is now so typical both in college dormitories and on Hollywood casting couches.

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