I don’t need to re-hash the names of all the high-profile men who are being accused of and suspended or fired from their jobs for sexual harassment. If you don’t know, you can Google it, but I’m skipping the introduction and getting to the point.
Recently I’ve seen a lot of people online, mostly men, saying things like, “I guess this means that we can’t ever talk to women anymore!”
This makes me wonder if the men who say this actually think that there is no difference between talking to someone and sexually harassing them.
I could hash out the differences between just talking to someone and masturbating in front of them. But, my dear reader, I think that would be an insult to your intelligence.
So let’s move on to the “gray areas.” The situations that don’t involve touching genitalia. The ones that involve using only words or actions that don’t involve touching the victim at all.
For example, one of my Custodial coworkers once spent the first half of a shift following me around, checking trash cans that I had just pulled the bags from instead of doing his own work elsewhere. Eventually this resulted in me being in a corner with him behind me. When I tried to walk away, he shoved his trash cart in front of me, blocking my path.
“Stop it,” I said.
He laughed, and said, “Stop what?”
I have felt unsafe at work a grand total of two times. This is one of them. (The other involves being nearly struck by lightning.)
Nothing happened after that, technically. I escaped backstage, told one of my coordinators what had happened, and spent the rest of my shift avoiding that man. After a couple weeks of me avoiding him, he finally stopped trying to approach and talk to me.
And I have to wonder if he would look back and that situation and see nothing wrong with it because he was just “talking” to me.
But he wasn’t just “talking” to me. He invaded my space and made a show of keeping me from walking away from him, exerting power over me. And he did so somewhere that I could not afford to shove him away or otherwise make a scene: at work, in front of Guests.
Talking to someone, or interacting with someone, is not inherently harassment. Talking to someone or interacting with them in a way that exerts power over them is harassment.
Are you following someone around, leaning very closely to them, or otherwise invading their space? Would there be negative repercussions for them if they pushed you away, because they’re at work in front of customers, or because they’re locked in your office and you can get them fired? You’re harassing them.
Are you asking someone to go out with you, repeating it every day to show them that you don’t care about their opinion and intend to be a part of their life whether they like it or not? You’re harassing them.
Are you saying or doing anything that makes a comment on someone else’s physical appearance, love life, or sexual behavior? Are you insisting upon hugging or kissing people when you meet them, even if they don’t want to? When someone tells you to stop it, do you laugh and treat it like a joke? You’re harassing them.
“But what if it really is a joke?”
That doesn’t matter. You’re harassing them. If the subject of the joke doesn’t find it funny, then it isn’t funny.
“But what if I really do like them and want to date them?”
That doesn’t matter. You’re harassing them. There are no “good Samaritan” laws for sexual harassment.
“But what if she really does like me, and is just saying ‘no’ to play hard to get?”
Ah, yes, the “girl who plays hard to get,” a lie propagated by Hollywood heroes like Han Solo who just “know” that the girl who says “no” to him all the time really does secretly like him.
Here’s how you find out if a girl is “playing hard to get”: stop pursuing her. If a few days later she comes to you and says, “Hey, why did you stop pursuing me?” then you’ll know she’s interested. If not, then leave her alone.
“But women see harassment everywhere!”
Because, right now, harassment is everywhere.
How much you like your victim is irrelevant. If you wield power over them, they are your victim and you are their abuser. If you make them uncomfortable, they are your victim and you have harassed them.
If you express interest in being near someone or excessively complimenting them, and they do not express a similar interest, it’s on you to not turn it into harassment.
“But I would never do that kind of thing to someone!”
I hope that’s true. Now go tell your friends to cut it out, okay?