Think of any case involving infidelity or inappropriate conduct. Who becomes the scapegoat in the end? It’s almost always the woman. Sure, Bill Clinton was impeached after his affair with Monica Lewinsky was made public – but she became one of the world’s most slut-shamed and infamous social pariahs. Forbes contributor Peggy Drexler wrote about the subject in 2014: ‘And though both men and women who take part in office relationships are judged, women, it seems, bear that judgement far more.’
According to a 2009 study in the Western Journal of Communication about perceptions of workplace romance, it seems that because women are seen to pursue relationships in the office to try to get ahead (men do it for love, you see), colleagues are likely to treat the woman as the troublemaker. Seen as ‘sleeping our way to the top’, women ‘are also more likely than men to be the targets of office gossip,’ according to a 2012 study published in the journal Sex Roles.
And I’ve seen it happen. A female colleague in a more senior position than I was, had a dalliance with a junior male. It didn’t last long, it wasn’t serious nor did it end badly but she was the only person people whispered about. When it ended, she was also the only one who had lost the respect of her peers – and I don’t think it had to do with hierarchy. She was overlooked for promotions and her ideas were dismissed during meetings, where previously she had been the golden child. Unfairly, it’s likely to be you or a female co-worker who becomes the topic of gossip if an office flirtation reaches your team’s ears. For the guy involved, it’s sure to be ‘business as usual’.