A while ago, I think I mentioned that I’m an incredibly nervous flirt.
I used to know someone who hated men trying to talk to her on the bus. An ex of mine dealt with that by writing them crude messages on their hands instead of her phone number. The latter I could deal with, but I find it hard to deal with the thought that I’m genuinely upsetting someone. This makes starting conversation a difficult task, let alone judging everything that might come after that.
Which is why I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking about all the sexual harassment news recently.
Clare Foges wrote a comment piece in The Times today entitled, “The sisterhood is turning women into victims.” The crux of the article is in the byline:
Blurring the line between assault and flirtation makes employers less likely to hire female staff.
Foges writes about examples of companies being taken to court by women who want renegotiated terms and conditions at work after maternity leave. The piece draws attention to what Foges describes as a low bar for what constitutes discrimination and harassment, which has coloured a very murky grey area for when flirtation crosses the line in to harassment and assault. Her thought is that recruiters will be less likely to employee someone with the potential to make life difficult for an employer.
I, personally, find the whole thing interesting when compared to the case of Jamie Harron who had been jailed (although subsequently released) in Dubai for touching a man’s hip to protect his drink. I believe that everyone in the West thought that that was absurd. Indeed, there are obvious differences with the intention of the touching than when a woman had her knee touched by a man, but the reactions have also been markedly and disproportionally different in my opinion.
This is in no way dismissing or diminishing the shocking (are they still “only” alleged, at this stage?) acts of Harvey Weinstein, for example, or inherent abuse of position. I can also feel a strand of feminists spewing with outrage as I say this, but surely the point of equality, a little under the surface maybe, is that we all look after each other?
Right at the moment, there’s a lot I’m reading about in the news that is making even more nervous. In the case of flirtation or crass, innuendo laden comment, men have a duty to look after women and respect boundaries. Most reasonable people know where those boundaries are, but when they’re being overstepped, is there not a duty to make it clear where they are without it being newsworthy?
I think that’s where Foges’ article was coming from – an imposition of a greater good mindset where empowerment of one does not serve to strip someone else of their own.
What are your thoughts? In typing this post as well as reading Foges’ article, it’s been really easy to play Devil’s Advocate with myself. If someone feels belittled or threatened, they should be allowed to defend themselves. I only talk from my own experience that I would rather be publicly humiliated for my awkwardness like my ex did it, rather than in front of a jury. But then I get worried that giving a hug might be too much!