Even some on the left think the #MeToo movement has gone too far

How far is too far for the #MeToo movement? That we are finally getting around to asking that question - even those on the left - says just how far off the rails the movement has gotten.

Case in point: Francisco J. Ayala. He's a world renowned geneticist at UC Irvine, born in Spain, whose friendly greetings for Benedicte Shipley were perceived by both in radically different ways. Ayala would greet Shipley for years with a hug and kisses on both cheeks, telling her how attractive she is. He thought he was showing her good manners. She believed he was harassing her. 

Ayala is 84 years old. Shipley is 50. Other women came forward to tell of Ayala's unwanted friendliness. He swore he meant no disrespect by his actions. Indeed, some women enjoyed their encounters with Ayala.

But the university threw the book at him.

LA Times:

The university swiftly moved to erase his presence. The world-renowned geneticist resigned, was banned from campus and stripped of prestigious University of California titles. And though he had given Irvine $11.5 million in donations, his name was taken off the university buildings he helped support.

The sanctions have bitterly divided the campus, drawn international attention and underscored the growing complexity of the nation’s pitched battles over sexual harassment.

Some of this reaction by the university stems from the fear of being sued. But if the school does this to a guy accused of over-friendliness, what would they do to someone actually accused of assault? Burn him at the stake?

We should not be insensitive to the issues raised by the #MeToo movement. But how are men to know when their actions constitute harassment or even assault? There are no guidebooks to follow. Women don't advertise their willingness - or unwillingness - to be hugged and kissed in greetings. Are men supposed to be mind readers?

Unwanted fondling or forcible kissing clearly crosses that line — but people sharply disagree about Ayala’s conduct, which included a 2015 incident in which he jokingly offered one of the women his lap as a seat at a faculty meeting (and then apologized after he learned she was offended).

Elizabeth Loftus, a UCI professor of social ecology, law and cognitive science, said she found Ayala’s hugs and cheek kisses “adorable.” Shipley, who said Ayala also on occasion rubbed his hands up and down her sides when hugging, viewed his behavior as “more than creepy.”

Of the 10 women besides the complainants who said Ayala gave them compliments or greeted him with kisses, two said it made them feel uncomfortable, according to UCI’s findings. The Times obtained an unredacted copy of the report. Others who witnessed Ayala’s actions called them inappropriate. One called him a “dirty old man.”

Rose McDermott, a Brown University professor who specializes in gender issues, believes younger women are more sensitive to perceived harassment than older ones.

“How we draw the line between inappropriate or patronizing behavior and genuine harassment is really challenging because women themselves don’t agree,” she said. “Those in-between spaces are getting harder to negotiate.”

More than 100 scholars at UCI and around the world have signed a statement expressing concern that the sanctions were “a massive overreaction.”

Behavior like this in the workplace is easier to police. Most companies have specific definitions of sexual harassment, although in this case, UC Irvine apparently expanded part of their definition of harassment. There is also the "power differential" that should prevent superiors from harassing those who work under them. While this came into play during the investigation, there is a legitimate question as to whether the extreme reaction by the school was justified.

Those who are driving the hysteria in the #MeToo movement don't want a discussion or debate. They don't do nuance and would never agree that men have a point when they complain that the goal posts on harassment and assault are constantly shifting, making it near impossible to carry on normal give and take between the sexes. It simply cannot be allowed that the definition of sexual harassment is whatever the hell a woman says it is. There must be rules that are well understood by both sexes and where most men - who, after all, want to please women - can be comfortable in how they behave.

Ordinary men and women are usually able to establish their own boundaries without any help from the harpies in the #MeToo movement. And while most men welcome the discussion on harassment and assault, we don't want to walk on egg shells worrying that a friendly greeting or the accidental brush against a woman will lead to firing and disgrace.

How far is too far for the #MeToo movement? That we are finally getting around to asking that question - even those on the left - says just how far off the rails the movement has gotten.

Case in point: Francisco J. Ayala. He's a world renowned geneticist at UC Irvine, born in Spain, whose friendly greetings for Benedicte Shipley were perceived by both in radically different ways. Ayala would greet Shipley for years with a hug and kisses on both cheeks, telling her how attractive she is. He thought he was showing her good manners. She believed he was harassing her. 

Ayala is 84 years old. Shipley is 50. Other women came forward to tell of Ayala's unwanted friendliness. He swore he meant no disrespect by his actions. Indeed, some women enjoyed their encounters with Ayala.

But the university threw the book at him.

LA Times:

The university swiftly moved to erase his presence. The world-renowned geneticist resigned, was banned from campus and stripped of prestigious University of California titles. And though he had given Irvine $11.5 million in donations, his name was taken off the university buildings he helped support.

The sanctions have bitterly divided the campus, drawn international attention and underscored the growing complexity of the nation’s pitched battles over sexual harassment.

Some of this reaction by the university stems from the fear of being sued. But if the school does this to a guy accused of over-friendliness, what would they do to someone actually accused of assault? Burn him at the stake?

We should not be insensitive to the issues raised by the #MeToo movement. But how are men to know when their actions constitute harassment or even assault? There are no guidebooks to follow. Women don't advertise their willingness - or unwillingness - to be hugged and kissed in greetings. Are men supposed to be mind readers?

Unwanted fondling or forcible kissing clearly crosses that line — but people sharply disagree about Ayala’s conduct, which included a 2015 incident in which he jokingly offered one of the women his lap as a seat at a faculty meeting (and then apologized after he learned she was offended).

Elizabeth Loftus, a UCI professor of social ecology, law and cognitive science, said she found Ayala’s hugs and cheek kisses “adorable.” Shipley, who said Ayala also on occasion rubbed his hands up and down her sides when hugging, viewed his behavior as “more than creepy.”

Of the 10 women besides the complainants who said Ayala gave them compliments or greeted him with kisses, two said it made them feel uncomfortable, according to UCI’s findings. The Times obtained an unredacted copy of the report. Others who witnessed Ayala’s actions called them inappropriate. One called him a “dirty old man.”

Rose McDermott, a Brown University professor who specializes in gender issues, believes younger women are more sensitive to perceived harassment than older ones.

“How we draw the line between inappropriate or patronizing behavior and genuine harassment is really challenging because women themselves don’t agree,” she said. “Those in-between spaces are getting harder to negotiate.”

More than 100 scholars at UCI and around the world have signed a statement expressing concern that the sanctions were “a massive overreaction.”

Behavior like this in the workplace is easier to police. Most companies have specific definitions of sexual harassment, although in this case, UC Irvine apparently expanded part of their definition of harassment. There is also the "power differential" that should prevent superiors from harassing those who work under them. While this came into play during the investigation, there is a legitimate question as to whether the extreme reaction by the school was justified.

Those who are driving the hysteria in the #MeToo movement don't want a discussion or debate. They don't do nuance and would never agree that men have a point when they complain that the goal posts on harassment and assault are constantly shifting, making it near impossible to carry on normal give and take between the sexes. It simply cannot be allowed that the definition of sexual harassment is whatever the hell a woman says it is. There must be rules that are well understood by both sexes and where most men - who, after all, want to please women - can be comfortable in how they behave.

Ordinary men and women are usually able to establish their own boundaries without any help from the harpies in the #MeToo movement. And while most men welcome the discussion on harassment and assault, we don't want to walk on egg shells worrying that a friendly greeting or the accidental brush against a woman will lead to firing and disgrace.