Posted by: dacalu | 19 October 2018

Communication and Harassment

A nuance seems to be missing in much of the conversation around sexual harassment: communication. It is not an action that makes something harassment. Sexual behaviors (including physical contact and suggestive language) may be harassing or not, depending on the context. The difference comes from whether you communicate.

Compassionate interaction means beginning with gentle and light contact and seeing how someone responds. It’s not about sex; it’s about power. It applies to all interactions, but especially physical contact. It matters whether you care enough about the person to interact with them instead of simply acting on them.

“I just start kissing them. It’s like a magnet. Just kiss. I don’t even wait. And when you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything.”

Donald Trump gets in trouble here, but not for kissing. Kissing is fine. He gets in trouble, because he admits that consent doesn’t concern him. Kissing is fine, but it is not how we start a conversation with someone new.

We have no problem with this when it comes to volume. Someone who starts shouting at you as soon as you meet is harassing you. It’s mild, but clearly unkind. If you become uncomfortable and they ignore you – if they fail to pick up on the signs of your discomfort – and continue shouting, that is harassment.

We have no problem when it comes to houses. Someone who walks into my house without permission is harassing me. Most of the time, it’s fine. It’s fine, if they seek me out as soon as they come in and make sure they have my permission. And here is the key. We presume that I don’t want them inside my house unless they’ve been asked. It’s true that most of the time it doesn’t matter. It’s true that little harm is done – assuming they don’t break anything. That’s beside the point. It’s my house. They don’t get to be there without my consent.

We need to talk more about listening and less about what is and is not appropriate in and of itself. True, some things really are off limits as conversation starters. You don’t start with a kiss, just like you don’t start by singing heavy metal or taking stuff out of someone’s fridge.

If you need those rules, we can provide them. But that’s just communication 101. We need to be teaching people how to really listen to one another, how to start conversations, and how to discover what other people want.

It’s not unreasonable to expect that level of skill from one another. Caring cannot be legislated and enforced, but it can be expected. Let us start having real conversations about how to communicate.

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