Sexual Harassment:
A Touchy Subject


This article in the 6-7/01 issue of Girls' Life is subtitled "Is it sexual harassment...or just friendly flirting?" The story, written by a 14 year old girl, gives an example of a situation in school where the girl was being touched on the knee by a male friend and she was saying no but smiling and somewhat joking about it. It was suggested that she make it clear, with a serious tone, that it isn't a game (one that is often played, which makes this whole thing very confusing for many young men), and that she doesn't want to be touched. It seemed like an appropriate solution rather than charging him with sexual harassment. If he gets the message, the situation has solved itself without shame or criminal action. If he doesn't get the message, then telling a teacher or parents would be the next step. The best part, she said, was that she learned skills to deal with the situation herself. She gained confidence and felt empowered and knows that now she can confront someone else who makes her feel uncomfortable. And, the two remained good friends. This way everyone seems to win.

One of the most powerful workshops I ever attended was at a Men & Masculinity conference in Seattle a number of years ago. Some staff members from the local Rape Crisis Center put it on. It is the first time that there seemed to be a realistic approach to the situation, making it clear the difference between sexual harassment and simple flirting. The thing I have missed over the years is the flirting and the playfulness of a beginning relationship. Things seem to have gotten so serious. This workshop brought hope back that we could have fun again and at the same time honor the line between flirting and harmless touching and the act of sexual harassment. Teaching the difference between playing a game and being real. Stopping saying No but continuing to flirt like maybe it's maybe. What we say is "Only Yes Means Yes." When the game is taken out of it, then it is clear that "No." means No.

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Men don't understand that caged feeling. But women know what sexual harassment is. It's when your neck hairs stand up, when you feel like you're being stalked. - Susan Marshall

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