May 07, 2014

Sexual Harassment - Guilty?

Think Before You Speak  

Here's an activity:

The next time you're walking down a crowded street, on a nice day when the weather is comfortable and people are - the way they sometimes do - just hanging around outside, try this. Find an attractive woman (average to exceptional is your choice) and walk behind her, just for a block. Don't be creepy. Keep your distance, because really this isn't about her. This is about everyone else. You're walking behind her because you are now privy to every look, stare, gesture, catcall and comment she receives as she walks from one street corner to another, on her way to work, to visit her boyfriend, or for all anyone knows to attend her mother's funeral. Pay attention to the amount of feedback she receives as she walks - we can measure it simply by the number of people who respond.

If you're able to walk behind this woman for an entire block and observe a score of less than five, email me immediately and tell me your city and state so I can move there. Because here, especially here in New York City, we hit the hundreds every week. And if you're an exceptional beauty? Well, honey, you better invest in some headphones.

A lot of people think of sexual harassment in terms of extremes. The way dinner is often thought of as the meal before sex? - I feel like sexual harassment is thought of as the gesture before rape. The clearly black and white, obviously awful and unacceptable thing that someone has said or done to a woman to make her both understandably and justifiably uncomfortable. The thing is, sexual harassment exists in a much grayer area - where it's not always black and white, clear, or obvious, and where a woman does not have to justify her feeling of discomfort.

By that standard, there are a lot of offenders out there.

So what is sexual harassment exactly, and how and why is that different from, oh say, flirting?

For me, the difference is possibility. Allow me to explain: Whether it's a subtle advance or a bold, candid comment, what distinguishes sexual harassment from flirting is the absence of possibility. If the person receiving the advance has already received similar advances and either declined, asked you to stop, or both - your goal is not possible. If she's a stranger walking down the street, clearly distracted by the conversation she's having on her iPhone, and you don't even bother to make eye contact as you audibly comment on her appearance as she passes you by - it's not possible. If you are shouting your comment from a moving vehicle as you zip by her at 40 mph - it's not possible. When the reason behind the advance is not the perceived possibility that this advance could actually lead to something, but rather the rude and unnecessary compulsion to make the object of your desire aware of said desire - that is when you have crossed the border out of Flirtville and entered Sexual Harassment City.

"So, wait?" you may be thinking. "You mean it's not okay for me to repeatedly proposition someone who's already turned me down?"

YES! That's exactly what I'm saying. A lot of men (and women, to be fair) would disagree with this. They would read the above and argue that behavior like that is simply "what men do". Just boys being boys. Of course they're going to stare, catcall and make awkward whistling and grunting sounds when an attractive woman is around. How else is she supposed to know they want to have sex with her? That's perfectly normal and it happens all the time, so how could it possibly be considered sexual harassment?

First - let us please lose that "normal" mentality. I beg you. Just because something is a normal and frequent occurrence does not make it right. Just because something is the way things have "always" been, does not make it permissible.

Slavery was normal, remember? Not to play the race card, but some people only respond to taboo. Point is, "normal" isn't always right.

So, as acceptable as it may seem to some, why is it harassment? I'll answer that with one of my beloved analogies.

When you flirt with someone, you're viewing this person as a house with a closed and locked front door. The flirt is basically a knock on the door. Some people knock harder than others, sure. Other people write notes, stick them in the mailbox, and wait a few days for a response. But when you flirt, you aren't assuming that the person behind the door is going to unlock it, open it and invite you inside. You may hope, and there's nothing wrong with hoping. But flirting is basically a way of letting the person inside the house know that you're interested in being granted entry, and waiting to see if they will. You understand that you might not get the answer you want, as it is their right to turn you down. But when you sexually harass someone, you are not viewing them as a house with a closed and locked front door. To you, they aren't even private property. You see them as a library or a museum that's open to the public for any and everyone to walk in and enjoy. You waltz right through the front door and proceed to give yourself the tour. You talk openly - after all, it's a public space. If you're in the mood you even touch things. And when the owner of the home which you've mistaken for a museum and thus essentially broken into says, "No, you may not come in," or "Excuse me, I need you to leave immediately before I call the police," instead of backing away respectfully, you proceed to come back the next day, and then the next day, sometimes escalating to shouting, banging on the doors or even throwing things through the windows. The worst part is that you don't think you're being uncivil. You honestly believe you have a right to come inside. You may go as far as to get aggressive with the person kicking you out - cursing at or even assaulting them, believing that they are infringing on your right. You don't realize that YOU are the one who is mistaken in assuming that this building is public property.

Women are sexually harassed much more often than men, because women are still struggling to be viewed as PRIVATE. The men who do things like discuss a woman's body or their sexual interest while she's in earshot, make inappropriate comments repeatedly and blame the woman's attractiveness for their inability to filter their remarks, and shout things from moving vehicles do so because they believe that they have a right to do so. That unless a woman is being obviously claimed as the property of another man - i.e.: standing next to her father, boyfriend or husband - that she is public property to be ogled, audibly observed and even acquired by whichever one of them may prevail.

This mentality is as disgusting as it is dead wrong. Laura Bates said it best in her article in The Guardian.
"[Women] shouldn't be made to feel that men have an inherent entitlement to their bodies in public spaces".

Some men believe that it isn't fair for their actions to be considered sexual harassment when that's what they have to do to get noticed. Women receive an enormous amount of sexual attention from the time they hit puberty. After a certain point women learn to tune it out. They develop thicker skin. That being said, how are they supposed to know that you meant it when you told her you thought she was pretty and the two of you should get together sometime, maybe at your place to watch a movie? People probably try to get her back to their homes every single day. She may have forgotten, or maybe it just got lost in the chaos of the day. What's wrong with reminding her?


Women are not so desensitized to sexual advances that they don't notice a green light from a man that they are actually interested in. If she's interested, she's paying attention to him too, so she isn't going to miss it even if he makes the most subtly flirtatious comment possible. Chances are if he said "good morning" in a voice that's a little softer than usual she's already texted three of her friends and analyzed it to death. She isn't stupid - she isn't a puppy or a small child that needs to have something repeated over and over again before she understands. If you have to increase the severity or frequency of your advances then chances are it's because you are pursuing someone who is not interested in you.

Think about it, men. Haven't you ever had someone who was into you that just didn't get the hint? Who continued to pursue you despite every possible discouragement you hit them with? Annoying - correct? The reason it is especially serious when this happens to a woman is that men tend to be overwhelmingly bigger and stronger than women, so sexual harassment is not just a mere annoyance - it's a serious threat.

And deep down, men understand this. The size and strength advantage is what enabled a society in which women need to be actively protected from sexual harassment in the first place. The inappropriate remarks and unwelcome advances? - these are all just remnants of an age in which women knew not of autonomy and were considered the rightful property of some man, somewhere. It is my personal opinion that certain advances - staring and gesturing at a woman in a bar to the point that it's just plain disrespectful, mumbling sexual comments as you walk by her on the street, giving her the "once over" one too many times over while you're speaking and she can see your eyes wandering, hanging out of your car in order to submit your official evaluation of her physique - aren't even meant to make a woman aware of the offender's interest, but of her place.

Women should not have to live in fear or with constant anxiety because some men do not possess the ability to watch their mouths. It's unacceptable. Some men would argue that if a women does not want a certain kind of attention, she shouldn't attract it. i.e.: If she didn't want men to whistle while she walked down 5th ave, she shouldn't have worn that dress, those heels, worn that bright a color, let her hair down, etc.

That mentality is a little something I like to call transferring the burden. The offender making their offenses the offended's problem, when actually it is their own. What's that Fiona Apple song lyric I love? "You fondle my trigger, then you blame my gun." It isn't a woman's responsibility to dull herself down to her least remarkable form before going out in public to avoid unwanted attention. It is society's responsibility to respect this woman's right to be left alone and not subject her to an onslaught of "damn girl"s and "oh baby"s, forcing her to develop mental horse blinders, buy an iPod, or start wearing her shirts three sizes too big in order to simply live her life without being harassed.

I encourage you to read the article in The Guardian in it's entirety, "Flirtation or sexual harassment? Here's how to tell the difference", which can be found below.

In closing - ladies, don't shy away from your sexy jeans. You have the right to have a fabulous ass as you strut confidently down fifth and blast Beyoncé in your headphones without getting shouted at, groped, or forced to show off the skills you acquired in that self-defense class you took last summer. Hold tight to that right.

Don't hide. Just spread the word.

x's and many O's,


The Guardian


Post a Comment

Follow Me

Twitter Facebook Google Plus RSS Feed Email Pinterest

Blog Archive

Copyright © Brilliant Bitchin' | Powered by Blogger
Design by Lizard Themes | Blogger Theme by Lasantha -