I wonder if we are beginning to see the end of assortative mating. For a long while now we have tended to select our life partners from the place in which we work — rather than, as before, from our home towns or places of education. This process began with the long march of women into the workplace in the early 1970s, a development which, while overall being undoubtedly both benign and just, nonetheless slightly widened the gap between rich and poor. Men and women who worked together had a tendency to, if I can put it like this, cop off. This meant we had many more families where both parents worked, and many more families where nobody worked. Assortative mating of this kind was exacerbated by the fact that we were ever more transient and mobile, and marrying later and later.
But new and wonderfully woke employment laws may be starting to reverse this trend, and both men and women may soon be thinking: if we can’t sleep with anyone at work, who actually can we sleep with?
The story of Steve Easterbrook, the now former boss of McDonald’s, is a case in point. Easterbrook, who is British, was fired from his £12 million per year job because he had enjoyed a consensual sexual relationship with a woman with whom he worked. This came to the notice of his bosses and that was it: out. What I found remarkable about this story was the almost complete acceptance it was afforded in the media, as if this was a perfectly just decision taken for decent reasons by a caring and mindful multinational company. Not just the media, either — Steve Easterbrook himself said he agreed with the company’s decision and that it was time for him to ‘move on’. I daresay his payoff will have lessened his grief, but still. Easterbrook is long divorced. There is nothing whatsoever to suggest that his relationship with the unnamed woman was anything other than entirely consensual, and indeed McDonald’s didn’t seem to care one way or another about that — simply that it happened and that Easterbrook was on a higher payscale than his girlfriend.
A McDonald’s worker in New Orleans, Tanya Harrell, who has claimed she was groped at work, said dozens of complaints of sexual harassment at the company have been ignored. ‘With the firing of Steve Easterbrook, we now know why,’ she added. ‘It’s clear McDonald’s culture is rotten from top to bottom. McDonald’s needs to sit down with worker-survivors and put them at the centre of any solution.’
But what does Easterbrook’s relationship have to do with sexual harassment cases? He was fired because he had sex with someone who was junior to him in the hierarchy. If the woman had been in the position of authority then she would have been fired. I don’t know what the McDonald’s regs say about men and women who are on exactly the same pay and grade who decide to indulge in a bit of extracurricular poking — maybe they both get fired.
I remember about 25 years ago hearing John Humphrys interview the somewhat odd feminist author, the late Andrea Dworkin, on Today. As you might imagine, it was not a meeting of minds. At one point Ms Dworkin said to Humphrys: ‘Any act of sexual intercourse between a man and a woman is necessarily coercive.’ John harrumphed a little and replied: ‘Not in my experience it isn’t.’ Dworkin’s extreme views were considered hilarious back then — and yet it seems to me today that this is the precisely the view implicit in the regulations laid down by McDonald’s. Because Easterbrook was in a position of authority, the coercion was tacit: he had the power, she didn’t. She might have found his advances — if he made advances — unpleasant but difficult, because of her subordinate position, to resist. That there is not the slightest evidence to support this thesis does not matter one jot. In a Marxist sense, the woman was objectively exploited. It is odd to think of McDonald’s as a Marxist company, but there we are.
I was working at Today when that Dworkin interview was aired. And I can tell you — everybody was at it then, all the time. All over the place. Most memorably for me underneath the giant satellite dish on the top of the White City building, so cold we both kept our coats on: happy days. The BBC back then had an extraordinarily hierarchical structure and I worked out during one long night shift that when male members of staff and female members of staff had sexual relations, the average gap of grades between them was two, almost always with the male being in the more senior grade. I daresay that this would now be seen as a toxic working environment and that women were being sexually exploited through tacit co-ercion on an epic scale. In fairness, I do know at least one woman who felt used and exploited by a senior member of staff, justifiably so, and the bitterness and anger remains to this day. Those not persuaded by #MeToo might suggest that old notion that women are attracted to more powerful men. My guess is that it’s a bit of both. Either way, with that one exception, most went on to form long-term relationships with their co-workers and later have kids. Assortative mating.
But the Dworkin thesis has us in its grip. A kind of reversal of feminism — that sexual intercourse is something that men do to women, that women are the ‘gatekeepers’ and men insatiable predators. And now it’s in the workplace — because what America does today, we do tomorrow.