Posted by: ginalazenby | March 16, 2018

Chivalry & Flirtation in the Age of Equality – Where do we go next?

The Conscious Cafe gathering in Skipton in February discussing gender relations .. a very interesting and spirited evening!


Just before Valentine’s Day, a group gathered for a Conscious Cafe evening in Skipton to take on what could be described as one of the biggest and most powerful conversations there is … and one which is not aired in public very often ….  sex, relationships and the workplace.

So much has been happening in the media recently with the #MeToo and #TimesUp campaigns and the sordid revelations about harassment.  While there is universal condemnation of bullies like Harvey Weinstein, other names and memories are being highlighted in the media and it is not always clear if every situation warrants the trial in the court of public opinion. Some men have come under attack because of the supportive comments they have made, while well-intentioned, may have been worded better. The fear of saying the wrong thing will make many men withdraw and yet, the conversation that needs to be had about how we move forward has to involve and engage both sexes. We all need to feel that we can speak and be listened to.

So, with curiosity, I proposed an evening to discuss “Chivalry & Flirtation in the Age of Equality – Where do we go next?”  I was delighted when one third of our gathering were men who felt they had something to contribute to this conversation. Bravo!  And what a great evening it was. I started off with a review of what was happening now in the media then we broke into five small discussion groups. Here is a summary of the reporting back from the conversations.  It would be true to say that a whole weekend of debate would hardly have scratched the surface but our evening was a start to what can be a painful and challenging subject as we begin to explore a better way for men and women to work and play together. There might be legislation in place for sexual and gender equality but out there in the workplace, the attitudes to the role of women, the contribution of the feminine and sex and relationships needs a big update…. one in which we all need a say and a big listening for each other.

The Media storm – does the media ever tell the whole story?   Is the print media the biggest influencer in this issue?   Are things going too far…. Is the media doing a good job or is it being too sensational?  Public exposure of individuals about sexual harassment is causing a trial by media and in the court of public opinion. How do we manage this when behaviour can be somewhere on a spectrum of misguided transgressions all the way to abusive or violent behaviour, some of which is criminal?

  • There was a feeling of frustration at the portrayal of issues in such a black and white way. Things are always much more nuanced.
  • It would be good to look at languaging things differently.It can be hard for men not to feel defensive when they read sensationalised stories and hear criticism about men … seemingly “all men”.
  • The media can trivialise and objectify and the way so many people are put on trial is pernicious. Lives are being ruined without the full truth shared. Yes there is a witch hunt happening, compassion is also needed.
  • The media is a good barometer of the confusion in society and the media is mostly not helping.
  • We need to find ways to have good open debate without the aggressive questioning that we can see on TV. We must not be frightened to find ways to talk about sensitive issues to find our way through them.  Th media is not really taking the lead here.

Are we going too far?  It seems that actions and approaches from men to women who are now in their 60s and 70s were once tolerated as part of the work culture … French actresses Catherine Deneuve and Brigitte Bardot have both quoted as saying “today’s feminists are going too far” and being hypocritical … using their wiles to attract men in power then complaining about harassment later.  Catherine Deneuve has since apologised.

  • It is the system that is making people who they are, acting the way they are doing.  Even in an egalitarian family, young people are exposed to so many other influences in our culture that is shaping them. The system at large is undermining what families are teaching children.
  • There is an epidemic of chauvinism, it is rampant. What happened to the ‘new men’ who emerged in the 90s? No, feminists have not gone too far… there is much further to go.
  • 100 years ago women got the vote …. but there is still a lot to fight for. We are only at the beginning. There is much to do to achieve an equal paradigm. It is only really now that we are initiating open conversations about social justice and equality.
  • Patriarchal domination has been around a long long time and we have only just begun to make the changes and shifts needed. With the majority of women reporting that they have been sexually harassed at some point in their lives, one in four women have apparently been raped … and across the world, only 3% of land is controlled by women … there is much to change to achieve real equality.

Who knows what is acceptable behaviour today? Who decides? Is common sense enough? Are we clear what harassment is? Can we all agree?  The idea of vilifying all men and condemning everyone where there has been a hint of an issue is counter-productive. Is there a line to be drawn somewhere?  After the Weinstein revelations and the #MeToo hashtag campaign, women are now treated with greater respect … what does that look like?  People are now more aware of appropriate ways to treat colleagues. Is this true and what does this look like? 

  • There was a feeling that it is impossible to make rules about behaviour, there are just too many variables.
  • It is important to have self awareness so that each person knows what is not appropriate. Always pay attention to what feels appropriate with others in any given moment.
  • We should be able to voice how we feel and to feel confident to say “No thank you … I don’t want a hug”. Sometimes we are in positions when we are not able to voice how we feel when we are uncomfortable.
  • We must look at what we teach young kids about appropriate behaviour.
  • Language is key: using the word feminist can create a wedge between some people with everyone having a different feeling about the term, positive and negative.  It can set up antipathy. We don’t like labels!! Can’t we just be sexless … be people?!
  • Let’s focus on how we treat each other, regardless of being a male or a female… just be ourselves .. respect each other.
  • We can’t just focus on the symptoms, we have to deal with the cause.  We can start with laws, these come first then after the culture catches up.  Laws can provide a statement for what is acceptable behaviour.
  • Here is a news clipping about Google and Facebook’s recent ruling about employees asking each other out (once only and without a clear YES, never again).

The Next generation of men: teaching our teenage sons about what is appropriate behaviour, especially in the workplace. For young men growing up today, where is the bifurcation point/s that might send them in one of two directions? …… to be a highly self aware millennial who would “never do that” or to exhibit laddish behaviour and feel that in today’s highly sexualised culture they push and try to get away with anything they can. At these points of possibility, what are the interventions?  

  • All participants agreed that fathers can give good role modelling. This is so important for boys.
  • It is indeed a reality and a great shame that boys get their sex education from the internet. Laws about what is available online and who can watch it are struggling to catch up.
  • Apart from better sex education, better relationships education is important. If schools cannot deliver this then maybe an outside agency is brought in to teach this. Some schools are getting to grips with this. It varies.
  • The internet is providing so many ways for dysfunctional behaviour like revenge porn. Previous generations did not have to cope with these new outlets for laddish behaviour. No wonder young people are confused. Art is hard to be young and foolish and fully understand the long-lasting repercussions of what is posted online.
  • The internet provides a whole new landscape for dating… flirtation is now very much in cyberspace. Face to face you can tell how someone is behaving and if they are trustworthy. Today it is much more difficult.
  • Young girls are finding themselves pressured sexually at younger ages. It seems it is becoming harder to say “No!”
  • In this modern internet era young people are being given a space to express their sexuality and experiment  .. that is seemingly positive … but some guidance for boundaries are needed.
  • Education is key for young boys. If you demonise their natural sexuality then it will find a way to come out but in a shadow side.
  • The digital age radically changes parenting and it can be hard for parents to keep up, especially older ones who feel out of their depth, or who don’t know that they are out of their depth.

Young women today are appalled at what older women put up with in the past. Are they being hyper sensitive when advised to brush things off and ‘get over it’  when faced with similar situations?    Are today’s female millennials empowered and confident enough to stand up for themselves?    Do we need to protect today’s young women in the workplace?   What advice to give a daughter in the professional arena in an age of mass pornography?

  • Young women are certainly more aware of harassment issues that might be happening around them today .. so much more is being talked about openly.
  • So many of today’s young women are empowered … by their mothers, fathers and so much more consciousness about gender equality. They are more aware of what is possible.
  • Yes in some cases there is a generation gap. “How could those women have allowed that behaviour?” … but many have compassion and realise things are a bit more complicated. Times were different back then.
  • Young millennial girls have had strong female role models growing up, perhaps more obviously so than previous generations. The Spice Girls had great impact because they were so radically different to other girl groups. More feisty, self-directed, less compliant.
  • There are predators out there and young women need to learn skills and be able to protect themselves.
  • The idea of protecting young women in the workplace is not perhaps so palatable … Protect? perhaps we should give guidelines. Maybe discussions about what to wear to look professional, and to be aware of what vibe they are giving out.
  • Better to change the workplace so that women don’t need to think about being protected.
  • Some feel that equality is an illusion and that we are not even close. We need a big attitude shift so that we can see each other as equals, as humans.
  • We have created difficulties with the ready availability of online porn. It used to be that companies could block for company computers but now people can watch it on their phones at work estimated at between 10-20%
  • by Nichi Hodgson is the author of The Curious History of Dating: From Jane Austen to Tinder and a sex and relationships broadcaster
  • The ready availability of porn is harmful to men too. It is packaged in such a way as to hijack the addiction part of the brain and exploits men’s vulnerability doing damage.

If you want to join a conversation with Conscious Cafe in Skipton our next events are below and find us on Facebook.

March 20th Tuesday – Values in the Workplace

April 18th Wednesday

May 17th Thursday

June 18th Monday


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