Recently, I asked a male friend who runs a small business if he is likely to hire a woman in the near future. To my surprise, he answered a quiet “no” due to a fear of getting MeToo’ed. He is not alone. It’s been estimated that approximately 20% of men are reluctant to hire women and an incredible 60% are uncomfortable mentoring women. 

Five years ago today, #MeToo started as an organized attempt to tackle sexual harassment and rape. At first, #MeToo was empowering. Millions of women, who in the past grappled with sexual abuse experiences alone, were given space to speak up. 

One area where #MeToo’s advocacy efforts have been most far-reaching is sexual harassment in the workplace. For the first time since women joined the workforce, the personal hurdles of sharing office space with men are now widely and openly discussed: from media and politicians to CEOs. However, instead of the anticipated empowerment, #MeToo has brought fear to the workplace to the detriment of the very group it sought to help: women.

According to a 2018 online survey, when considering a one-to-one meeting, senior-level managers in the U.S. are 12 times more likely to avoid women, and a staggering 36% of men avoid any work-related interactions with women. Since the launch of  #MeToo, women’s career opportunities have plummeted most dramatically in fields traditionally dominated by men, such as academia. The number of academic projects started by women since 2017 has dropped by almost 50%, according to a 2022 Yale study.

Men are increasingly afraid of accidentally doing something that women might deem inappropriate in the workplace: a wrong word, a wrong look, an unwanted hug, or virtually anything. With over 200 powerful men, including Amazon Studio’s Roy Price and Vox Media’s editorial director, already brought down by  #MeToo, it’s not surprising that some men choose to entirely avoid women. 

Throughout its long history, feminists have been fighting for female emancipation, and now, #MeToo has disrupted most of their achievements. If women are constantly dismissed by their male supervisors, they don’t get valuable career advice and hence cannot grow personally or professionally. Not having a one-to-one meeting with a supervisor means that women don’t get a chance to present their achievements or discuss pay rise too. The greatest irony is that women are denied these opportunities because of their gender.

Think of all the female climate scientists and doctors whose minds we desperately need to solve the world’s biggest problems but who are dismissed by their male supervisors, managers, and bosses. Ideally, career success should be the result of hard work and personal growth. But with #MeToo, it’s up to chance: is my male supervisor not nervous enough about my gender to give me honest feedback?

As more and more women face the unintended consequences of #MeToo, the backlash will necessarily come. And when it does, we should focus on building cooperation between both sexes based on merit and respect, instead of fear. Let’s hope that sexual harassment will be extremely rare by that time too.