Amid the exciting recent surge of feminist activism and energy, a slight confusion seems to have crept in around the idea of battling sexual harassment. The general concern seems to be that by condemning sexual harassment and discriminatory behavior, we will somehow accidentally sweep up well-meaning compliments and flirting in the melee and inadvertently do away with all sexual interaction.
However, there is no need to panic, because feminism simply means wanting everybody to be treated equally regardless of their sex — it is as simple as that. No part of that definition maligns or “bans” flirting, telling somebody they look nice, or going at it like joyfully consenting rabbits in whatever style, location, position or combination of partners your heart desires.
What it does mean is that women should not be scared to walk down the street; should not be faced with intimidating, aggressive sexual shouts from cars and vans; be treated as dehumanized sex objects; or be made to feel that men have an inherent entitlement to their bodies in public spaces.
Strange though it seems to have to keep reiterating it, the difference between sexual harassment and flirting is fairly clear. It is quite insulting to the vast majority of men to suggest that they are not perfectly capable of knowing the difference between complimenting someone, starting a flirty conversation and harassing them. The clue is in the name: harassment. And if you are hoping to end up in bed with someone of whatever gender, it is really in your interests to steer clear of harassing them, as this is likely to be fairly unhelpful to proceedings.
I think that upon reading through the page after page of stories we have collected from women screamed at, pursued, groped, licked, touched, appraised, scared and frustrated by street harassers, very few men would be concerned that combating these things might somehow interfere with their personal pickup style.
However, for those still in doubt, you could always run through this handy checklist:
— Is the way in which I am making this advance likely to scare or alarm the person?
— Has the person already made it clear to me that they are uninterested in my advances?
— Does the speed at which my vehicle is moving rule out any likelihood of a response to this advance?
— Is this “advance” actually a shouted and uninvited assessment on my part of this person’s attractiveness, body or genitals?
— Does the context of this situation (for example, a job interview) make a direct sexual advance offensive or inappropriate?
— Am I, all things considered, just being a bit of a dick?
If the answer to any of the above is yes then perhaps what has happened is that you have accidentally confused sexual harassment with a respectful sexual advance.
More seriously, though, to make the wounded assertion that everybody — men and women — must retain their vital libertarian right to make direct propositions for sex is to display major ignorance of the circumstances in which many women experience such propositions on a near daily basis.
When you have had “Get your tits out love” or “Alright darling, fancy a shag?” shouted at you across a busy street; when you have been angrily pursued with shouts of “Slag, slut, whore” simply for politely declining such advances; when you have been lecherously harassed in the workplace, or confronted with somebody who simply will not take no for an answer until the alternative “ownership” of a boyfriend finally convinces them; when you have experienced all this and more, it can have a bit of an impact on how you respond to unsolicited sexual advances.