When Bill Cosby, Harvey Weinstein, and every dude just like them unwittingly launched the #MeToo movement with pervasive sexual misconduct allegations, many thought the world had gone mad.  

Bill freakin’ Cosby? Whaaaat?

Yet since the allegations surfaced, countless men — from James Franco all the way down to the president — have been forced to answer for past treatment of women (and in the case of Kevin Spacey, boys). Careers have been destroyed, elections have been lost … Evangelicals have had to backpedal so hard they’re practically Catholic now.

On the other hand, women are feeling rightfully more empowered than they have since August 1920 — when the 19th Amendment granted them the right to vote.

Some say the efforts have caused some unintended consequences too sensitive to talk about right now, though, often breaking apart relationships and pitting co-workers against one another in office situations. The attempt to operate within society’s current boundaries of what’s acceptable has many men scrambling — so confused they don’t know whether to scratch their watch or wind their butts.

Many are simply giving up.

“I don’t even bother trying to talk to the women I work with, anymore,” says Will McCallister, a 30-year-old web developer. “It’s a minefield; I don’t know what I’m going to say that might offend someone. I told a pregnant woman a month ago that her ultrasound looked like she was giving birth to Voldemort and I got called to HR.”

“Same here,” says 29-year-old Account Executive, Tommy Dolezaleck, “I used to go to FAC with a bunch of people from the office but I’ve been avoiding it since New Year’s because one of my buddies slept with a woman from the office and got canned. It sucks because she got to keep her job.”

Avoidance isn’t the worst result of the most recent salvo in the war of the sexes, however. #MeToo has also given rise to a more sinister form of opportunistic chauvinism called “Woke Misogyny.”

Yea, it’s a “thing.”

The term first appeared in an article for Splinter written by feminist writer Nona Willis Aronowitz.

“The woke misogynist is a guy who talks a big game about gender equality and consent … then turns around and harasses you, assaults you, or belittles you,” says Aronowitz. Simply put, the “Woke Misogynist” is that hyper-masculine douche who quotes The Vagina Monologues and talks about how his mother and Michelle Obama are his heroes. He refers to himself as an “ally” and speaks with disgust about “other dudes” who objectify women yet has never read a single book on Oprah’s List.

He’s the guy who’ll walk you home and guilt you into inviting him in. When he’s rejected, he calls you a “cunt” and storms out. Before he makes it to the corner, he’s begun to unravel and has already crafted a five-page dissertation.

The Woke Misogynist is likely the result of the rapid change and evolution of male and female roles. The landscape has changed so drastically that even Molly Ringwald, who recently rewatched the ‘90s classic Breakfast Club (which she starred in) with her daughter, and was so appalled by what she called systemic “attitudes toward female subjugation” that she wrote a blistering indictment of her mentor, John Hughes, for an op-ed piece in The New Yorker.

“It stands to reason that the art we consume and sanction plays some part in reinforcing those … attitudes,” writes Ringwald.

The fact is, we live in a patriarchal society and centuries of conditioning are being thrust into society with all the muscle and speed that social media affords. Where once a man was quietly fired for being a sexist pig, now they’re not only fired, but friends and family can find out within minutes that he rested his crotch on Jane from accounting’s hand when he was trying to unjam the copy machine.

Is it fair, though?

“The rules are changing so fast, I can’t keep up with any of it,” says McCallister. “Women want me to treat them like ‘one of the guys’ and when I do, they’re offended. I mean, I talk about sex and getting laid to the guys. So what do they want? To be one of the guys or not?”

“I’ll tell you one thing,” continues Dolezaleck, “when I make a crude joke with one of the guys, they don’t go to HR.”

Frankly, wondering if the reinvigorated push for a more level playing field for women is fair is a non sequitur. For centuries, men have had an almost instinctive habit and natural ability to discount the contributions of women to society.

A few examples:

-In 1818 Mary Shelly published Frankenstein anonymously. Her husband wrote the preface so for decades, he was considered the author. He did nothing to change this assumption.
-In 1908 Henrietta Leavitt, a “human computer” at the Harvard College Observatory discovered the period-luminosity relationship (brighter stars appear to pulse more slowly) – which was groundbreaking as it was key to calculating interstellar distances. A male colleague snagged the credit and Leavitt died in obscurity.
-In 1917, Fountain (a urinal) is submitted to a New York City exhibition by Marcel Duchamp to critical acclaim. It’s later learned that the piece was sent to him by the original designer, Baroness Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven.
-In 1953, James Watson and Francis Crick’s discovery of DNA’s structure hinged on Rosalind Franklin’s X-ray diffraction studies. She was excluded from the men’s Nobel Prize-winning paper. Watson later wrote in his memoirs, “Rosy would have been quite stunning had she taken even a mild interest in clothes.”
-In 2013, an anthropologist studying cave paintings from the Paleolithic Era found that three quarters of cave paintings were not made by male hunters but by females. 
-During the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio, Hungarian swimmer Katinka Hosszu shattered the world record – just annihilated it. NBC cut to her unhinged and caustic husband / coach flailing wildly in the stands and the male commentator said, with a nonchalant easily, “And there’s the man responsible.”
-And no one can forget one of the most audacious offenses in recent memory when Kanye West rapped, “I feel like me and Taylor [Swift] might still have sex. Why? I made that bitch famous. (God damn). I made that bitch famous.”

How far can the equality pendulum swing before it risks earning the resentment of people too exhausted by equality to think about how everything is going to be perceived? Indeed, even while writing this article, I struggled with nearly every paragraph, every word, wondering who it was going to offend. I resent having to adjust how I write because someone is going to be offended. Merely admitting that I resent that people may be too sensitive is sure to offend some people.

The truth about all this is that sexual harassment and certainly sexual assault are both horrific truths. Women absolutely should feel empowered to report abuse, talk about abuse, and punish the men responsible — but also need to decide, with every measure of honesty, whether it’s authentically systemic or even personal abuse or they’re simply offended because the dude’s a jerk (for the record, men are offended by male jerks, as well).

For our part, men absolutely have to figure out how to operate within this dynamic and elastic framework, and we have to be able to figure it out at the same rate that it happens. Refusing to participate with or include women because “it’s too much work” is a weak response. We are very capable of making immediate adjustments to our behavior in milliseconds — and to say we aren’t is, ironically, offensive to men.

So what’s a standard most men can understand, at least for now? Maybe this: Don’t say anything or do anything to a woman at work or in a bar that you wouldn’t want a man saying or doing to you in prison.

And there’s no shame in your game by simply being a gentleman.

[cover photo by Adam Marcucci via Unsplash]