We are living through a powerful era. For the first time, women are speaking up, openly and honestly, and the message is clear: no more. For centuries we have lived in a culture where men see women as sexual objects that they are entitled to, and women are putting a stop to this.
It’s been a long, ugly process that still has so far to go. And it has been empowering to watch the progress made already.
With all revolutions, there come questions. They are ridiculous questions, of course, but they should be addressed nonetheless. And a big concern of Men during this reckoning goes something like this: what if my flirtation gets taken as sexual harassment?
The short answer is this: if you can’t tell the difference between flirting and sexual harassment, you should probably just not speak to women any more.
But it’s never that simple. So let’s break it down.
Expressing romantic or sexual interest in someone, in and of it self, isn’t actually a crime. Where the line gets cross comes down to context and respect.
Flirting becomes sexual harassment when it is unwanted and persistent.
I have been to my fair share of bars over the years. And I have had many a man believe that flirting was an excuse to ignore, not only my social cues, but my words. Men I don’t know touching me, and when I remove their arm or move away, they simply persist. Men who want me to go home with them, and won’t take no for an answer. Many times I have pretended to already be claimed by a friend I was with, because the only “No” that seems to work is “I’m already with someone else”. Respecting my boundaries is never present, respecting another mans conquest is.
Flirtation is playful, respectful, and ends if it is not reciprocated. Flirtation expresses interest, chemistry, and respect. Flirtation understands consent. Harassment ignores what the other person is communicating or expressing, and treats sex like a reward. Harassment isn’t about developing a relationship, it’s about asserting dominance.
Sexual harassment comes in many forms: non-consensual touching, feeling entitled to someone else, talking inappropriately to someone, chasing women down to chat with them, cat calling or forcefully inserting your power to talk to women in a creepy way.
Sexual harassment comes down to this: you are more focused on what you want than the person you are trying to get it from. And that’s a problem because when it comes to sexual acts, you need consent. When you persist without consent, you are now committing a crime.
We have spent generations downplaying sexual harassment, and so women face all of this and more on a daily basis. At work, walking to our car, working out in our neighborhood, basically any time we leave our home some man wants to shout something at us or touch us, and doesn’t seem to be bothered by the fact that we feel unsafe. Women are sexually harassed daily and the men around us don’t care (or, often times, are the ones harassing us).
Women know the difference between flirtation and harassment. We are experts. We know before you even open your mouth if you are going to flirt or harass. The issue is not whether a woman can tell the difference, but the apparent fact that so many men can’t.
So again, if you really struggle to understand the difference between flirtation and sexual harassment, and are concerned that your actions will bring consequences to you because of your misunderstanding, then do us all a favor and just stop talking to women.