The Industrial Revolution, a capitalist phenomenon, created low-level jobs for women that allowed them for the first time to be truly self-supporting, freed from economic dependence upon father or husband. Over the past century, women have gained access to higher-status jobs, many with real power and authority over men. But the main issue is that men and women are working side by side in the workplace in a way they have never done before, except in outdoor field work during the agrarian era. This is something new in human experience, and I believe it is destabilizing sexual relations in ways that we have scarcely observed, much less analyzed.Keeping the workplace 'neutral' may be impossible, though, if she is right about her broader argument. Sexuality is at least partially irrational, arising without will from the subconscious. Control over expression can be rationally determined, at least sometimes and to some degree, but stripping it completely out of any area of life may be a bridge too far.
First of all, too much familiarity may undercut sexual passion. When mystery goes, so does the sizzle. Second, despite a brief fad in the 1970s for the asexual uniform of John Molloy’s “dress for success” look, affluent women professionals today (with their svelte skirts and pricey Louboutin stilettos) are clearly still using their own sexual appeal to gain power in the workplace—while at the same time oddly forbidding male co-workers to notice or, Venus forbid, comment (which would spark an instant kangaroo court). What I have been saying throughout my work is that sexual tension and conflict may be built into human life (by virtue of women’s monopoly over procreation) and that women, in order to be truly free, must stop relying on the bureaucratic regulatory state to manage their relations with men. Men too have an inherent right to be free—to think and express their own views and desires without women’s hectoring oversight and censorship. However, the workplace must remain a neutral zone, where the professional (and not the personal) should rule.
Especially this is true for the young, I think: past a certain age it is easier to set aside. The young need jobs too: indeed, they need them more, as they lack the stored or inherited wealth of the older. And we need them to have jobs more, too, if we expect them to pay for their elders through various entitlements or public pension programs.
You can tell people in their 20s and early 30s that they have to act completely asexually in the professional environment, but telling them that it is obligatory doesn't make it attainable. At minimum, you need to support them with standards that minimize the temptation to think sexually about those with whom they share a workplace. Yet even the military, considered as a workplace, has failed to do this. How will the civilian workplace manage what military discipline has failed to accomplish, or even in many cases to find the will to attempt?