Esther Perel, a world-renowned psychologist, offers expert insights about the changing landscape at work—and the need to redefine masculinity.

Esther Perel On The Post #MeToo Era

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The #MeToo movement has rocked workplace culture and has us all asking ourselves: What is and what is not appropriate in the modern workplace? (Sexual assault is obviously never okay). Esther Perel, a world-renowned psychologist who has worked with couples and relational systems for 35 years, offers expert insights about the changing landscape at work and the need to redefine masculinity. Here are the top takeaways from her talk in the Girls’ Lounge at Cannes Lions:

#MeToo is a teaching moment. Women must speak up about things men are doing that make them uncomfortable, says Esther. This way, both sexes can learn and grow together. “The whole #MeToo is an educational opportunity in societies that already have a hard enough time talking about sex, let alone talking about the ambiguities of sex,” she says.

The old rules are no longer working in today’s modern workplace. “A moment occurs that turns into a movement, and tackles an old norm,” notes Esther. “It reckons with one of the oldest power exchange systems. That power exchange system is global and historical: Forever, men have traded social power for sex, and women have traded youth and beauty for power that would otherwise be denied to them. Do we recognize this is the oldest trade show in town?”

Sexual harassment is not about power.“The assumption was that this is how it has to be, and that only one side likes the deal. I’m not sure that’s actually true: I think it’s a raw deal for everybody,” says Esther. “To [psychologists] this is not new. We have worked with the powerlessness of men that translates into the controlling behavior over others. But it’s the powerlessness of men, not the power of men… Powerful men don’t harass; powerful men seduce.”

Esther Perel in the Girls' Lounge at Cannes Lions.
Esther Perel in the Girls’ Lounge at Cannes Lions.

Both men and women will benefit from rewriting the rules of work. We cannot change the lives of women at work if we don’t change the lives of men, because we are interdependent. “Patriarchy doesn’t just hurt women. Patriarchy hurts everybody, because it creates a very archaic, rigid binary system,” asserts Esther. “Instead of talking all the time about women’s empowerment, I would like us to talk about relational empowerment for all.”

We need to change the conversation. To get to the heart of the matter at work, we might start by asking different questions. “We have to move this conversation if we want to understand each other,” says Esther.  “Otherwise, all we will have is a chat about how men no longer want to go to lunch with women, and how they don’t want to have those meetings. Then what? [It leads to] more polarization and more backlash to the backlash. The fact that men are uncomfortable hiring —they’ve always been uncomfortable hiring. The fact that men have a different perception of the interview than women — they’ve always had a different view, per se. That’s what’s interesting.”

It’s time to redefine masculinity. “We keep talking about the power of men, but what we don’t talk about is how the male identity is so fragile. It constantly needs to prove itself… We must consider the narrative that goes into the making of masculinity,” Esther declares. “Around ages three or four, we touch our sons less than we touch our daughters… and then we begin the systematic, emotional dismantlement of these little boys. We want them to be fearless. We want them to be competitive. We want them to be performative. We want them to be self-sufficient and we basically disconnect them from their emotions and from their connection to others. And then you want to ask them, ‘how do you feel?’ The vast majority of guys, when they talk to me, not only have they never said it to anybody, they’ve never said it to themselves.”

Esther believes these are the new conversations we have to have at work in order to drive empathy and real change.

How has your workplace been impacted in the wake of #MeToo? How might you take this moment to open the door to deeper conversations about masculinity, femininity and vulnerability in the workplace? We’d love to hear from you! Please send your thoughts to @WeAreTFQ.

Watch Esther Perel’s full talk here.