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One male director of a design firm told the paraphrased, “it has been figured out how men and women should interact.” But the rules of interaction haven’t changed—it’s just that, for the first time, women are publicly calling foul en masse.Sexual harassment has moved from the realm of cheesy office training videos to the real world, where harassers are not only Donald Trumps and anonymous subway masturbators, but also our friends, lovers, fathers, and work buddies.Many have seen themselves in the stories of alleged abuse by Harvey Weinstein, Louis C.K., Brett Ratner, John Besh, James Toback, Jesse Lacey, or any of the dozens of other men who’ve been accused of sexual exploitation in recent weeks.A friend’s father, who I’ve known for years and hugged at least a dozen times, paused and asked for consent before putting an arm around me at a party this month.“It’s just—you never know how people will feel about being touched these days,” he said with a laugh.To get a handle on how people define, or are redefining, the borders of sexual misconduct, distributed a survey asking people a series of questions about their experiences as targets or perpetrators.We solicited anecdotes about encounters that didn’t seem like harassment at the time but upon later reflection looked like more serious transgressions.
If men are worried that they are constantly on the verge of unwittingly violating someone in the post-#Me Too era—which, good, they should be—it’s because, in a society that rarely takes claims of clear-cut sexual assault seriously, there’s usually little room for open discussion about the more nuanced social norms that define the boundaries of sexual harassment. Room for survivors to dig up and display the rotting garbage they’ve been toting around for years, to explain aloud, for the whole world to hear, where they draw the line between right and wrong.
Both male and female victims reported feeling pressure to be “chill” when physical touch or sex acts were forced on them.
Women are reconsidering sexual contact they’ve had with gay men—both as targets and culprits of misconduct—and contemplating when a compliment becomes street harassment.
It’s not just that our collective understanding of the prevalence of harassment has changed; it’s that our understanding of the very definition of has been called into question.
The definition will grow more capacious as we retrain our antennae to categorize certain male behavior as threatening that we’d previously been conditioned to dismiss or ignore.
Male friends have contacted me out of the blue to ask me to be honest, to tell them if I think they’ve ever done anything to earn them a spot on one of the many semi-secret lists of sexists and creeps bouncing around the internet.