The Grey Zone of Sexual Harassment: An Open Letter to Men

Dear Men,

News has started to uncover a sad truth that resonates deeply with many women’s personal experience: the extent and impunity of sexual harassment. There are no excuses and we should denounce those abject and inappropriate behaviours with every breath. I am sure that many of you while reading the news are feeling horrified, worried for your mother, sister, wife, daughter, friend, colleague, and very disconnected from this reality. But… are you so sure about that?

There is a grey zone out there, filled with micro-aggressions. A reality we, women, experience far too often, which we internalize, which makes us less vigilant and more prompt to forget. The succession of such small acts and behaviours leads to a culture of unease and harassment.

And there are some grey zones that are less easy to navigate, when meeting someone can happen in the workplace. What is the limit between flirting, harassing and embarrassing women in the workplace?

 

Well, first things first: it is never fine to touch a woman. Your hands don’t belong on our hips, or legs, or hair. Our body belongs to us.

Cleavage can be a wonderful thing, we agree. But look up: our eyes can tell you so much more.

Yes, look up. But don’t look up and down. A body scanner is only a thing at the airport.

Yes, you can make compliments on our outfit   if it is not done every day and if you don’t make it about our bodies in the middle of a professional meeting. And by the way, we like compliments about our intellectual skills and work too.

“Honey”, it is really “sweet” of you to think of us as a “babe”. Keep it for yourself and treat us as an accomplished professional. That is all we ask.

No, you don’t have to remind us to smile. But you can ask for our opinion.

Private lives are called private for a reason. It is up to us to disclose it, and not up to anyone to comment on our relationship status, motherhood prospects and other personal life choices.

No, if we are in a hierarchical or power-dominated situation, it is not ok to ask us out. This is when the paralysis, fear, and uneasiness kicks in. If after a few encounters in a professional context, you do not want to miss out on a special connection, you can always extend an open invitation for a coffee sometimes and let us pick up on it if we want to.

It is never ok to insist. No means no in every language. No answer is an answer. We don’t need to give a reason. Leave us alone.

Dear Men, yes it sounds basic. But actually our experience proves that it isn’t. And we need your help to call it out. And change the culture.

 

Thank you.

 

Guest post by Clara Sommier

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