When I read the findings of a poll published in this week’s New York Times I felt like perhaps the Morning Consult, the firm that had conducted the poll, had inadvertently surveyed the citizens of Saudi Arabia rather than the good ‘ole US of A. The poll showed without a doubt that adults do not fare much better than their elementary school counterparts when it comes to navigating professional relationships with the opposite sex. And by not faring better I mean that adults seem to still believe that members of opposite sex have cooties.
According to the poll 38% women and 29% of men think it is inappropriate to drive in a car alone with a member of the opposite sex. Drive. In. A Car. You thought I was kidding about that whole Saudi Arabia thing, right?
Here’s another fun fact: 44% of women and 36% of men think it is inappropriate to have an unchaperoned lunch with a member of the opposite sex. Please help me understand how grabbing a bite with your co-worker at the local fast casual dining spot is the beginning of the slippery slope towards copulation? Where are these sexy restaurants folks are frequenting and why don’t I know about them? Tell me, I am curious!
And don’t even get me started on dinner. People are evidently getting their groove on in a big way at public restaurants because 53% of women–ladies that is more than half of us—and 45% of men think grown men and women should not dine alone together. Inappropriate, to be exact, is the word they use to describe this unsavory activity.
But surely the workplace is safe, right? Men and women are equal and can adhere to professional standards of conduct at the office, right? But no, wrong again because 25% of women and 22% of men think that a man and a woman having an unsupervised work meeting is—you guessed it—inappropriate. I just can’t even.
Before I read the poll I had literally no idea that the things I do every single day many Americans find completely offensive. Now I feel like I should sew large red letter “S’s” onto every garment in my wardrobe (note to self: learn how to sew). I don’t know if I’m more embarrassed for having no idea this behavior I call normal is scandalous in the eyes of many others or I’m disturbed by the bat-shit crazy idea that my normal is actually viewed as immoral.
Crushed. I think crushed is the word that best describes how I feel when I review these statistics. Because what they show is that we really haven’t come that far in terms of gender equality. Women and men can’t seem to engage with each other as peers and equals without sex and motivations being questioned. And we are both guilty of perpetuating the inequality—men and women. In fact the numbers indicate that women are even more circumspect of inter-gender engagement than men. Do we not trust ourselves, do we not trust men, perhaps a little of both?
These attitudes should matter to working women. Because if we can’t get access to the male decision makers at our companies, or mentorship from male senior level executives, or the ability to forge the same close connections with our male managers and bosses as our coworkers who happen to have been born the “appropriate” gender that puts us at a distinct disadvantage.
It’s hard to say what we can do to start changing these antiquated and damaging attitudes other than to lead by example and continue to be “inappropriate” until someday it is finally viewed as appropriate. Either that or I’m thinking of launching a national cootie shot campaign.