THERE is something about being in the public eye that can make otherwise ordinary people become something more than ordinary and that, it seems, makes them instantly more attractive. As American drag artist and television star RuPaul said last year, it was after hitting it big in 1994 that he realised he could suddenly “get lunch” with anyone he admired. Or, as former England striker Peter Couch once jokingly put it, had he not found fame as a footballer he would have found it infinitely more difficult to have lost his virginity.

It is a lighthearted take on a potentially darker play of power that has led to the global #MeToo movement taking hold.

First coined in 2006 by a survivor of sexual harassment, the term #MeToo gained traction in 2017 after widespread allegations of sexual misconduct started to emerge against film producer Harvey Weinstein. Though he had rarely been photographed without a bevy of adoring women by his side since forming production company Miramax in the 1970s, Mr Weinstein’s relationships were apparently not what they seemed, with 80 women making allegations of impropriety against him.

The mogul had, it seems, used his position of power to entice women whose careers depended upon him to engage in sexual relations with him. Though he argued - and continues to argue - that the encounters were consensual, many of the women begged to differ. Women around the world took to social media to share their own experiences of sexual harassment and assault, a key theme being that a power imbalance had led to them being taken advantage of.

With the corporate world still dominated by men, who have the power to make or break their employees’ careers, businesses have started to take note. Sure, sexism remains rife in the workplace, as demonstrated by the never-ending stream of equal-pay cases and the recent widening of the gender-pay gap. But where once blind eyes would be turned to flings with secretaries, nights out in strip clubs and inappropriate advances at office parties, policies are being written or enforced that make it clear that those in positions of power should not be engaging in relationships with those that they have power over.

It is proving to be a steep learning curve, with everyone from lawyers and politicians to chief executives and journalists having their behaviour called out. Steve Easterbrook, the chief executive of global fast-food chain McDonald’s is the latest, with the company announcing on Sunday that he had been asked to step down after embarking on a relationship with an employee. Though no details of that relationship have emerged beyond that it was consensual, the company’s board of directors said they voted to oust Mr Easterbrook because in conducting the relationship he had breached the company rulebook and displayed “poor judgement”. The British-born executive, who had led the company since 2015, agreed and he has left with immediate effect.

For a business that in the UK alone is facing over 1,000 allegations of sexual harassment committed by managers against staff, it is perhaps unsurprising that McDonald’s would want to hold its overall leader to account. This, after all, is a company that earlier this year tightened its harassment policies after being hit with a number of claims in the US that it failed to prevent misconduct including groping, inappropriate comments from supervisors and retaliation for talking up.

But given there is no suggestion that the relationship between Mr Easterbrook and his colleague fell into the category of harassment or that the other party was anything other than a willing participant, has he been treated unfairly? If it is okay for very many other people to meet their partners at work, why should he be any different?

The answer, pure and simple, is that Mr Easterbrook isn’t like those other people because he held the ultimate position of power within his organisation and every relationship he had at McDonald’s will have been coloured by that. Though Chris Phillips, an employment specialist at the law firm Thorntons, notes that relationships between subordinates and managers are tricky because they can create conflicts of interest or perceptions of bias among other staff, the biggest issue of all is that they can quickly become exploitative - even for willing participants. As Ruby Dinsmore of the law firm Slater and Gordon puts it, “there’s a fine line between a consensual relationship and an inappropriate relationship”.

Indeed, just as the White House intern Monica Lewinsky famously found out after embarking on a consensual relationship with then President Bill Clinton, it is one thing for an employee to willingly become involved with the boss, but when the boss has the power to determine that employee’s career path - to hire them, fire them, demote them or demean them - the relationship will always be an unequal one. Because of that it cannot ever be seen as an appropriate one.

Though Ms Lewinsky was hounded in unforgivable fashion by a deeply misogynistic press that sought to paint her as an evil seductress and the President as an innocent bystander, the truth is she was an impressionable young woman who was flattered by the attentions of a handsome man who, at 27 years her senior, happened to be not only the most powerful person in her organisation but in the country she lived in too. She found out just how much that imbalance of power mattered when their relationship became public knowledge and she was cast to the wolves for 20 years while he was allowed to ease himself into life as an elder statesman upon whom no amount of dirt seems to stick.

Back in 2004, Bill Clinton was asked by the journalist Dan Rather why he had entered into a relationship with Monica Lewinsky when the fact he was President and she was an intern made it wholly inappropriate. His answer? “Because I could.”

Regardless of Mr Easterbrook’s motives for having a romantic relationship with a colleague - and there is nothing to suggest they were anything other than benign - he could just as easily give the same answer, and that is why it is right that his position became an untenable one. Because when it comes to sexual relationships, just because you can do something it doesn’t mean you should. It’s a shame it took the #MeToo movement to show us all that.