Why Conservatives Should Come Out In Support of Former Rep. Katie Hill

Why Conservatives Should Come Out In Support of Former Rep. Katie Hill
Ben Steinberger/Katie Hill Campaign via AP
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As is well known now, Rep. Katie Hill recently resigned her congressional seat after, among other things, a romantic relationship with a junior male staffer was revealed. In the still unfolding aftermath of #MeToo, boss/employee couplings are increasingly frowned upon. High-profile evidence signals that men in particular use seniority to secure the affections of women. In some instances harassment and much worse than harassment is said to have taken place. Harvey Weinstein is a prominent example here.

Hill is of course a woman, she as mentioned had a relationship with a male in her office, but as Somerset Maugham put it in The Razor’s Edge, “what is sauce for the gander is sauce for the goose.” Hill had physical relations with someone junior to her, so it seems she should be treated like males who’ve lost their jobs for doing the same thing. Fair enough, but is it?

It says here that in the matter of Rep. Hill, this is where conservatives should stand their ground by defending Hill. And they should because the rush by individuals and companies to create new inter-office rules on the fly is arguably anti-woman, and anti-male too. Furthermore, it will be easier to create a more reasonable discussion of inter-office relationships, particularly relationships involving senior employees with subordinates, if the person who was involved in one is a Democrat. Since it’s Hill there will be fewer charges of bias, or conflict of interest.

Up front, those reading this piece have to at least somewhat accept some basic premises about relationships. For one, it should be said that some, but certainly not all women, would prefer to be courted by members of the opposite sex. This isn’t a blanket statement, but it is an acknowledgment of what’s broadly true to this day: when it comes to male/female relationships, it’s usually the male asking the female out, or the male initiating what leads to a relationship.

After that, it’s worth acknowledging what adults frequently do once they begin their post-collegiate or post-high school lives: often they move to bigger, more heavily populated cities assuming they don’t already live in one. To spend time in New York, Washington, D.C., Chicago, San Francisco, Dallas, Los Angeles, or any other big city, is to routinely run into young people who didn’t grow up in those cities.

If asked why they’re there, most will say a job was the lure, or many of their friends were moving to that city, but it’s no insight to say work opportunities are greater in big metropolitan areas. As such, they’re a magnet for young people eager to get their careers started.

It's not unreasonable to additionally point out that another driver of migration to big cities is a desire to be around lots of other young people, after which the desire of all-too-many young people is to “meet someone.” This statement of the obvious is increasingly dangerous to make in modern times, but let’s just get it out of the way: big cities aren’t just attractive to young people because of the range of jobs available. They’re also attractive because the population of marriage-eligible women and men, or relationship-eligible women and men is much greater. So yes, it’s not unreasonable to say that explicit in the choice of a big city for young people is the desire to meet a future wife or husband.

At which point another potentially uncomfortable statement of the obvious about men will be made: more than a few seek status, and seek to impress members of the opposite sex through their achievements at the workplace. Many men are actually thrilled when their stature or position in the workplace impresses women. To be blunt, some want to be married for their money. One guesses this is all part of human evolution whereby men showcased their abilities as providers as a way of attracting a wife.

About all that’s been said so far, no doubt some of this has changed in modern times. The modern workplace is surely more and more defined by senior men and senior women working alongside one another, and all manner of ambitious men working for even more accomplished women. But the main thing is that some, and maybe a lot of men, see success in the workplace as a way to attract a girlfriend or wife.

Which brings us to interoffice relationships. Modern rules and company specific rules increasingly make it difficult and potentially a “fireable” offense for a senior person to date a subordinate. About this, there are surely examples of men abusing their seniority, plus it’s possible Rep. Hill did. But should bad anecdote trump human nature? This isn't to say companies, organizations, and Capitol Hill offices shouldn't be free to set their own rules about inter-office coupling (the previous scenario would actually be ideal), but it is to say that high profile situations that took place in offices might be sparking a broad overreaction. 

Some men once again seek seniority in the workplace to make themselves more attractive to women, at which point it’s not unreasonable to say that some women find successful, more senior-at-the-office men attractive as life mates. While it once again makes perfect sense for businesses to write their own rules about interoffice romance, a modern attempt to essentially make illegal relationships between senior employees and subordinates arguably runs counter to who we are as people.

To which some will respond yet again that people like Harvey Weinstein, Matt Lauer and Charlie Rose plainly abused their seniority. Available evidence supports the previous claim, but should inter-office rules be changed based on extreme examples? Hopefully not.

Indeed, while there are always Weinstein examples to point to, it’s not said enough that in many ways the workplace is the ideal locale to meet a mate. For one, the choice of company by male and female perhaps signals similar goals, interests, values, etc. For two, the office is generally a sober environment. In the workplace women and men can more carefully analyze the other person, and can get to know the other person with very real supervision. If an eager male acts up, or becomes too aggressive, there are others watching. In most instances there will be employees more senior than the senior male pursuer watching.

But if inter-office relationships are frowned upon, and if the pursuit of junior women by senior men can imperil the job of the senior male, it’s more likely that men will studiously avoid acting on a “crush” developed in the office. All too many men once again seek validation through their success at work, and if romantic pursuits risk that success, they’ll look elsewhere for romantic attachments. Some will respond that this is a good thing for women; that freedom from male pursuit in the office will free them to focus on the job, on advancement, and whatever else appeals.

That’s fine, in a sense, but let’s not forget why young people come to cities to begin with. One reason is to be around other young people, and to hopefully meet someone. Wise minds can debate how much meeting someone factors, but it’s not unreasonable to speculate that finding a husband or wife looms large for many. If so, a problem is created if the office is shut off as a way to start a relationship.

Indeed, while some will say rules against inter-office coupling, and in particular senior/junior coupling will redound to women, it’s arguable they haven’t thought this through. If the office is closed off as a sober singles’ bar of sorts, it’s not unreasonable to suggest that the next place to go is the real thing. The problem there is that quite unlike the office, there’s no supervision in the typical singles’ bar, no boss or more mature elder statesmen to make sure the younger men, lubricated by alcohol, aren’t acting up, acting disrespectfully, and yes, aren’t obnoxiously harassing the females they're interested in. 

No doubt there are or were office cultures in which men could aggressively pursue women without rebuke, the office in AMC’s critically acclaimed series Mad Men exists as a likely elaborate rendering of how some offices used to be, but it’s not wholly outlandish to say that in the view of all-too-many men, women deserve to be treated with dignity and respect. In an office setting, the older, frequently married men with seniority can demand better behavior from single males on the make. Not so in bars. The supervisor there is the bartender who won’t have time, and may not have the inclination to make sure customers he hopes to win a tip from are acting properly.

Stating the obvious, there are potential unintended consequences that come about from ridding the typical office of romance. Doing so arguably once again forces some women into bars; thus enhancing the odds that they’ll be harassed without any consequence. Notable here is that pushing courtship into bars doesn’t just harm women.

It also harms men (full disclosure: I met my wife in a bar). While an office setting allows women and men to get to know each other slowly, and makes it possible for a typically shy male to gradually reveal his true, hopefully upstanding self around women, bars aren’t as easy. Time spent in them is finite, a potential crush might be leaving in 20 minutes, or may never return to said bar again. This is a long way of saying that the bar culture favors the individual with surface qualities of the good looks, good lines variety. Or a normally shy person who is very drunk, with all that the latter entails.

While in an office a shy, eager-to-properly-court-female male has the chance to gradually come out of his shell, and has the chance over countless hours, weeks, and months to reveal his good qualities to a female crush, in a bar the surface once again trumps what’s inside the person. Men who perhaps aren’t as physically attractive, or aren’t as smooth, but who are truly good people, are suddenly placed at a disadvantage to those who bring surface qualities in spades.

Taking this further, for some men it’s quite simply terrifying to approach a woman in a bar. Contrast this with work when the work itself brings people together. And then once again, men gain confidence from the work they do. For some, the office is where they’re most confident and where they can most be themselves. But rules against senior/junior dating, rules that are a consequence of very real instances of harassment and worse that are also arguably the exception, will make off limits what is a logical place to meet someone.

To all this, some will say the internet will mitigate the problems previously discussed. The actions of the few have shut off offices as a place for people to meet, bars surely have their limitations, so dating websites will fix the obvious limitations of offices and bars. But will they?

If we ignore for now how surface a dating website is, we must first acknowledge what some, but surely not all, men and women want: some men want to court, and some women want to be courted. If men are honest, they kind of hope the women they pursue will be a little bit distant, a little bit mysterious, a little bit hard to get. Except that dating websites almost by definition temper this excitement.

When women resort to going on them, they’re more explicitly advertising their availability. If we once again accept that some women want to be courted politely, and that some men want to court politely, the uploading of one’s photo and bio onto Match.com and others like it is an admission on the part of some females that they weren’t courted in traditional ways, so now they’ll accept an internet date request. Mystery lost for men, the ability to be mysterious lost for women.

After that, so much of what defines internet dating is yet more surface stuff. How one looks, how witty is one’s self-description. And then the way all too many meet on Tinder, Bumble and others is solely based on whether males or females swipe left and right. About this, where’s the outrage? Aren’t women better than a simple swipe on a smartphone? How does this enhance their treatment once on dates, and isn’t the swipe just a technological variation of the proverbial patting on the bottom that so many worked so hard to rid the workplace of? Explicit in efforts to root out harassment of subordinate females by senior males in the workplace is a desire to enforce better treatment of females, but it’s hard to argue that better treatment has resulted from these efforts. 

At the same time we have to ask if the solution is worse than the problem. If men and women are going to continue to be fired for relationships with subordinates, this won’t change the desire of men and women to meet someone. The difference once again is that “meet” will almost as a rule have to take place in the bars and online where women will arguably be treated worse, and where good men will be less able to showcase why they’re good.

Bringing it back to Katie Hill, it’s only natural that very long work hours on Capitol Hill result in close relationships, including some that become romantic. What’s unnatural is to pretend that this won’t happen. Arguably the good of this outweighs the high-profile bad, at which point conservatives have a chance to drive the discussion of a more rational approach to inter-office relationships. Rather than join in with calls for Hill to be treated equally to men, a better approach would be to use Hill’s inter-office relationships to push for easier treatment of women and men who view work as a logical place to meet someone.

John Tamny is editor of RealClearMarkets, Director of the Center for Economic Freedom at FreedomWorks, and a senior economic adviser to Toreador Research and Trading (www.trtadvisors.com). His new book is titled They're Both Wrong: A Policy Guide for America's Frustrated Independent Thinkers. Other books by Tamny include The End of Work, about the exciting growth of jobs more and more of us love, Who Needs the Fed? and Popular Economics. He can be reached at jtamny@realclearmarkets.com.  

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