Not all contact between the sexes can or should be called harassment or subject to punishment. Some of it can and should be dealt with assertively.
The layers of sexual contact I think fall at different times into one of the following behaviors:
Flirting – the exchange of eye contact and smiles which are generally innocent signs of attraction. Often it leads to dating.
Advances – the opening to pursue the attraction: get a cup of coffee, have a drink or have dinner to see if there is a connection.
Annoyance – non reciprocal pursuit of the above, constant sexual references and/or touching of body parts (non sexual).
Harassment – continuing innuendo, inducements nd/or threats, as well as exposing and touching of sexual body parts.
Assault – the physical overpowering of one person over another. It’s called rape and it is a criminal offense.
With all the publicity and exposure of predators like Harvey Weinstein, Matt Lauer, Charley Rose, Kevin Spacey, Bill O’Reilly and dozens of others splashed across the media in the last few months, I think there has been a tendency to mistakenly lump a number of the behaviors above all together under the umbrella of “sexual harassment.”
It is important, even vital, that we and our offspring are helped to understand these differences and learn how to be assertive in dealing with each of these layers, particularly the first four, before they are classified as harassment.
There are two other aspects of sexual behavior that must be discussed:
The first is, does what women wear or not wear, contribute in any way to the harassment/assault problem?
“Women’s wardrobes have long been used as an excuse for sex crimes,” according to psychologist Sandra Shullman. “However, when you look at the data on why people rape, that doesn’t hold up,” she says. “One study showed that rapists stated clothing as the reason for their crimes but their victims were wearing a range of outfits from revealing to snowsuits. These are arguments to transfer the responsibility of control and power from the perpetrator to the victim.”
When it comes to sex crimes, Shullman says, “clothing just doesn’t matter.”
That may be true as Dr. Shullman says in assault/sex crimes, but I believe it has a definitive affect on the fantasy lives of everyone and particularly of the annoying and harassment predators.
What we see women wear in movies, television, books, magazines and in every day encounters at work, at bars and dozens of leisure activities, I believe all play into our sexual fantasies.
There may well be other factors in the psych of the annoyers and harassers, but their actions are encouraged and stimulated by their fantasies. To deny this contributing factor makes no sense at all.
When women, for example, dress with lots of skin showing and try to look seductive, the predators react to that, not necessarily with that individual as their victim, but it helps give them license to seek out their victim.
Consciously or not, we all register fantasies about movie stars—Robert Redford or Marilyn Monroe or Selma Hayak or James Franco—and every day encounters with attractive people.
Most people, I believe, put that all in their fantasy file. The predators think it gives them strength to seek out their personal fantasy victim.
The second question appears more complicated. Substantially more than 50% of predators and harassers we’ve previously named, the behavior they exhibited appears abhorrent. How in any semblance of their right minds or their fantasies could they conceive that going naked, masturbating or taking a shower in front of their victims could in any way be sexually fulfilling or lead to a consensual sexual encounter.
It’s totally baffling. Did they exchange notes? How did they each individually conceive these abhorrent behaviors?
As one friend said to me, “It is demeaning to all men.”
According to the L.A. Times, “So far, the headlines have mostly been attached to the stories of women in the high-profile fields of entertainment, media, tech and politics who have alleged various forms of sexual misconduct by powerful and often well-known men. Missing have been the stories of the hotel maids, farmworkers, restaurant servers and others whose economic need and relative powerlessness has often left them without resource. Sixty percent of women say they’ve experienced sexual harassment, according to one poll, and their stories should be heard even if they are only calling out Joe the factory foreman and not Joe the studio chief.
“The risk for women working alone in hotel rooms has driven labor unions to push to outfit housekeepers with ‘panic buttons’ that connect directly with the front desk. This began in New York City after the former head of the International Monetary Fund, Dominque Strauss-Kahn, allegedly assaulted a hotel maid. Panic buttons are just one example of a concrete response to sexual harassment. Part of this next phase will require exploring new policies, procedures and laws to address the unique sexual harassment challenges in various industries.”
There will always be contact between sexes. Without it, there would be no marriages and no families.
The boundaries of unwanted contact need more accepted standards and acceptance. By the same token, some behavior should be dealt with assertively and need not be an emotional scar or a call-out as harassment.