The hits keep coming: On Tuesday Laura McGann, writing for Vox, published an account of the sexual misconduct allegations against New York Times reporter Glenn Thrush. Thrush, who is 50 and an established, respected journalist, reportedly made passes at young female colleagues, passes that ranged "from unwanted groping and kissing to wet kisses out of nowhere to hazy sexual encounters that played out under the influence of alcohol". The three women interviewed were all in their 20s at the time.
Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images
Writer Amanda Mull tweeted:
men over 35 who seek out social time with women in their mid-20s or younger, colleagues or not, should not be trusted https://t.co/c3oV2IGwuE
— Amanda Mull (@amandamull) November 20, 2017
Is this universally true? Probably not. I'm sure there are a lot of legitimately lovely May-December romances, or even, you know, June-October flings. I'm confident there are many older colleagues who take a sincere and mentorish attitude to their younger co-workers' careers.
The Dazed & Confused Law
But let us consider, as a general rule, that men who regularly seek out social time with women who are much younger than they are, especially if those men are in a position of power, are not to be trusted. I considered that other famous algebraic law of dating - that you should ask out people only half your age plus seven and older - and came up with this new formula as a decent rule of thumb:
Let's say that for women in the early stages of their careers - in their 20s and 30s - if a man is older than, say, twice the woman's age, minus 15, she should at least consider that he might have ulterior motives, especially if he's suggesting meetings under the influence of alcohol, or late at night, or in any kind of overly intimate venues like hotel rooms.
So, if the woman's age is x and the man's age is y,
If y > 2x-15, then the dude might very well be a sleazeball.
So for a woman who's 26 and a new hire in a newsroom, a 38-year-old colleague who's regularly trying to socialise with her should set off some alarm bells. Now, are we talking about "socialising", meaning going out for drinks as a team or even one on one? No. We're talking about too-personal conversations about your romantic lives, about touching someone's knee or thigh or offering unwanted shoulder massages (Charlie Rose's signature move, the "crusty paw".) The formula is merely an initial screening algorithm that will alert the young woman that something might be off.
It should also be a red flag for the would-be harasser's colleagues and superiors - is this guy chatting up only the young women at work events? Is he regularly getting sloppy at office cocktails and standing a little too close to the new female hires? This should be your clue that your work environment is posing some problems for women.
I'm calling this the Dazed & Confused Law, after Matthew McConaughey's famous line: "That's what I love about high school girls - I get older and they stay the same age." Which, when you think about it, no longer seems terribly funny. (Also, it should be noted that you can still be a sleazeball even if y is not greater than 2x-15. No loopholes here.)
To those of you who're going to get all worked up and @ me with "Oh, now I can't ask out my mid-20s colleague to talk about the TPS reports?" I say, sure you can. But are you asking out only the cute women? The cute younger women? Are you this collegial with the men of all ranks in your field? If the answer is no, you might want to start socialising a little more in groups - so the whole office can enjoy your crusty paw.