Sexual harassment can be confusing. There are protocols for work that usually lay down a clear guideline about what is sexual harassment and what isn’t, but sometimes the line can seem a bit blurry. After thinking about this and about the boundary between a genuine compliment and sexual harassment, I asked some people around me to share instances where they were left feeling violated or unsettled:
When I was a kid, I was always being told to smile. I’m not a person who smiles a lot and I have ‘resting bitch face,’ but I was ten when someone told me to smile for the first time, and it was always with that same condescending tone and smile. Now, I realize it was weird, and it still makes me feel weird when I’m in the street and some stranger walks past me and tells me to smile. It isn’t cute.” - Britney, 19
“I always thought it was romantic in movies when a guy would grab the girl and kiss her, and she would kind of freeze for a second before melting into it, and then I got kissed sophomore year of high school and didn’t like him, and I realized it’s not all that romantic. I get that movies are supposed to romanticize things like that, but in my situation, it was clear I didn’t want to be kissed. I told him he was a friend, and he still made a move, and when I pulled away, he got visibly upset and didn’t speak to me. I just think if you’re going to kiss someone, it isn’t going to be like the movies, you can’t just assume that they want to kiss you back. Make sure they’re okay with that.” - Dana, 21
“I had this friend. He was nice and funny but I didn’t have any feelings for him in any sort of way where I wanted to date him. We had been friends for a couple of months when he asked me out, and I politely said no. ... [A] couple weeks later he asked if I wanted to go out again, and again, I said no. I thought it was pretty clear that I didn’t want to date him. I was never rude about it and thought he understood. But a couple months later, he asked again, and I remember him saying ‘did you change your mind about going out with me yet?’ It didn’t have anything to do with sex, but he kept asking and he didn’t take no for an answer and started bragging about all the girls he’d slept with the last time I said no.” - Ashley, 21
“One of my friends was joking around with me and jokingly said if I sent him nudes by accident he would show his friends. I just thought it was talk, but it wasn’t funny to me.” - Emma, 22
Sexual harassment doesn’t always come in the form of a catcall or an overt sexual advance. It can be said as a joke and still make someone uncomfortable. Think before you say something or before you touch someone. Ask yourself if it is something you would feel comfortable with someone else saying or doing to you. Listen if they say no, and respect their request if they do.