The Subtlety of Sexual Harassment

Why a “passing remark” and a “harmless question” is offensive.

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Another day another f**king rude encounter. Can I swear on Medium? I don’t know, but there’s going to be quite a lot in this post because I’m annoyed. Exasperated, to be exact.

I have in the past, wrote bits and pieces of these in moments of anger and frustration but never really wrote a whole post on it because I worry that people are going to think I’m aggressive to my-already-assertive image. (Ha, ok I’m only half kidding.) But there’s always a tipping point.

So… this post was ignited by the (latest) curious question of “are you a virgin?” from a guy on the internet.

Before I get into it, you probably have questions on what platform this was on, or what the conversation was in context. And comments of how it could be appropriate, or why they might be curious. And you’re probably right — in whatever you say or think or consider. Even though that’s not the point of my argument here, I’ll tell you that he (and everyone else that has ever asked that) is not in any position to ask such a question — platform-wise, conversation-wise, or relationship-wise. With that out of the way, let’s get back on track.

I wonder if anyone could tell me this: Who gave men the rights (or the thought of having the rights) to ask private questions as such?

These had been people who are married, has a fiancée or a girlfriend. An acquaintance, a coworker. And even as a mere friend, you’re not entitled to ask anything you want to ask just because “you’re curious”. I don’t ask how much money you have in the bank just because I’m curious.

Actually, that (the question itself) is not even where the/my problem lies.

I have no problem answering that if it’s something that you need to know. But you don’t, you’re only “curious”. (And yes, that’s not exactly a subtle question so you might argue that that’s why I’m obviously annoyed. But that was just a trigger for all that’s added up.)

The problem lies in the fact that as men you’re not understanding the bullsh*t women go through daily because of your seemingly harmless questions, comments and actions. You think it’s compliment, we think about our well-being (sometimes it’s just nausea, but still).

It’s not the question you’re asking, it’s the fact that you think you can say and do whatever you want because you’re standing from your own point of view. “It’s harmless”, “it’s just a question/ a passing remark”, “you don’t have to answer if you don’t feel comfortable”. No no no, you’re not seeing the problem here.

You see, I could be nice about your inappropriate questions and remarks individually (because I see you as an actual human being who has succumbed to society’s teachings), BUT as a collective, when it’s recurring, it becomes a f**king problem.

I know that the lines are blurry and it’s difficult to distinguish what’s acceptable and what’s not — I’m not pointing fingers at anyone here. But you can’t push off responsibility by saying “I didn’t mean it that way”.

If you accidentally killed someone you can’t just get away by saying “it was an accident”. Or when someone feel the pain from a burn, you can’t say that they’re making their pain up because you can’t even see the scars.

How bad can it be? (Examples of personal experiences)

I considered if I should include this part and I think, for impact I’m just going to add this in. You can skip it if you want.

My mum asked me why I always choose to walk the longer route to the bus stop. I didn’t want to tell her “because the guys there kept calling out to me”. I pretend that I don’t hear it but they only called louder. And laughed. How is that funny? I have no idea.

I’m clearing my wardrobe and picking out clothes to keep and donate. And most of the thoughts that crossed my mind were things like, “someone commented that this is too short” and “that’s too sheer”. (Still learning to dismiss these thoughts.)

Being told I should probably be more afraid of staying in the office alone with a male colleague (by he, himself) than heading out into the thunder and rainstorm after work. I trust him, I do. But that comment was disgusting and nauseating.

Turning up late for work after being harassed by a drunk man in the early morning, only to hear the people I work with laugh and say, “it’s because you’re pretty. Take it as a compliment.”

Feeling my blood boiling because a guy is staring me up and down, while full-on facing and standing in front of me, not even saying a word. In broad daylight. With my colleagues standing a little of an arm’s length away while we were going for lunch. Guess what, they were just waiting for the story. (Is this your so-called bro code? F**k you.) Could’ve just pretended to save the awkward situation and ask me “Hey, what do you want for lunch?” But, nope. Just gonna stand there and watch me burn.

Subtle or not, these things adds up. In all these situations I know I’m safe, but that doesn’t make me feel any better. It’s frustrating thinking about these and it’s even more frustrating when the people around doesn’t understand or even try to understand. Why do we find excuses every time? Every time I swear I’ll say something but every time it happens I get so speechless. I don’t know where to begin.

And I’m a pretty vocal person. Can you imagine if it was a timid introverted girl?

What can I do then? (Applies for both genders)

Try to understand where both (taught) genders are coming from instead of finding excuses for ourselves, and each other (eg. “They didn’t mean it,” or “Well, it depends on the situation…”).

If you’re being told “that is offensive”, stop making light of it and saying “it was just a comment, no need to get so worked up”. Just apologize, explain if you need to, and work on it.

If someone tells you they got catcalled, stop saying “it’s a compliment”.

And, obviously, respect goes both ways.

As women, we should also learn to acknowledge the situation, and instead of brushing it off, tell the offender what is wrong with their action and why it’s offensive, obviously if we have the chance, and/or is safe to.

Ask for help if necessary. We shouldn’t be made to feel embarrassed by someone else’s lack of tact. And it doesn’t matter if you think of yourself as “pretty” or not. That is definitely not the point nor a factor of how you feel about the situation.

Alright, anti-climatic ending but this was really tough to write — never felt so many emotions in one setting. Thank you for reading this far if you did. Let’s all play our part in this gender equality thing.

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Context: Respect and acceptance between genders. Also, hugs to end off.

Human. Designer. Feels a lot. Thinks a lot. Writes sometime.

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