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More men wary of interacting with women

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#MeToo movement puts male workers on guard

By Kim Jae-heun

An increasing number of male workers are becoming wary of interacting with their female counterparts, out of concerns that they may be implicated in possible sexual misconduct allegations.

Some even choose to go to the extreme by shunning all contact with women amid the escalating #MeToo movement. They organize company get-togethers only among men and do not go on business trips with female colleagues, among others.

"I've become cautious about speaking to women at work these days," a 46-year old businessman, only identified by his surname, Kim said. "Anything I say can be taken as sexual harassment, depending on how women interpret it. It doesn't mean that I've been making sexual jokes. I am just discouraged from talking to women face-to-face, in case, I make a slip of the tongue when I talk to them."

A 31-year old office worker Jeon Jae-ho recently requested his boss not to send him on a business trip with women colleagues. Jeon did not want to get involved in any type of misleading situation.

"During a business trip, you will have to work with your partner all day long. You never know what can happen and I want to prevent any possible scenario beforehand. Nowadays, I only communicate with my women colleagues online, it's safer that way," Jeon said.

An increasing number of men showing extra vigilance around women at work have created a "Mike Pence Rule" situation in Korea.

In an interview with the American political newspaper "The Hill" in 2002, U.S. Vice President Mike Pence talked about his life principle of not having dinner with a woman one-on-one except his wife. Pence said he cuts off personal exchanges or meeting with women to prevent any possible trouble or scandal.

A high ranking executive at a firm said he sent all female workers home after eating dinner with his team and afterward drank only with male colleagues.

"There is the big possibility of sexual misconduct to occur when people drink heavily at team gatherings. It just makes me feel safer if I send the women home early," the senior manager said.

However, many women are worried that this situation may lead to more sexual discrimination at work.

A 31-year-old female bank teller, Park Won-ji, said men avoiding interaction with women can cause deeper conflict, and at the same time influence her career.

"I feel like I've become a criminal in the office. I have done nothing wrong, but men are leaving me out of their gatherings and sometimes treat me as if I am invisible," Park said.

"Even my manager said he does not want to participate in team gatherings and gave me the company card to enjoy time without him. I can definitely sense managers and executives are trying to avoid any possible contact with female workers."

Experts warn the Mike Pence Rule is the wrong approach to the #MeToo movement in Korea.

"Trying to avoid the essence of the problem only deepens conflicts between men and women. Men have to discuss solutions to deal with sexual misconduct at work with women, and they must continue to communicate with each other," Prof. Go Kang-seop of the Department of Sociology at Kyung Hee University said.


Kim Jae-heun jhkim@koreatimes.co.kr


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