I’m afraid to express interest in a woman because I don’t want it to be misinterpreted. Where are the new boundaries? Who is responsible for setting and maintaining them? Everyone is so ready to accuse, there’s no room for error. Advice, please.
When I was in high school, one of my friends, another sophomore, went on a date with a boy who was a senior. At the end of the night, standing on her porch in an embrace, he asked, “Can I kiss you?” She replied nervously: “I don’t know. Can you?” “I’d like to,” he said. She said yes. They kissed.
Awkward? Complicated? A little. But that’s where we are—back in the 1970s, men were taught to ask, and women were taught to speak up to say what they wanted and didn’t want. The seeds of equality sprouted then but were later squashed in the 1980s by a powerful religious reform movement that urged women to submit to the patriarchy.
At its best, the Me Too crisis invites people to communicate verbally and clearly. It expects a literal interpretation of words and behaviors. It reminds men not to seize what they desire, but to ask and respect the response. It reminds women to be responsible for their bodies and for verbalizing a “Yes,” “No” and “Maybe.” The Me Too crisis also reveals how little we understand about narcissists or sociopaths (the diagnoses for many of the abusers). From the Me Too fallout, we see how poorly we educate children, teens and young adults about their bodies, boundaries, dating, the workplace and mental illness.
It’s heartbreaking seeing friends posting #MeToo. If an adult chooses to remain silent about being sexually harassed, raped or otherwise violated as an adult, that is her right. But silence has repercussions. She may believe she is protecting herself and may not see she is also protecting the perpetrator who is likely to repeat his crime. Again, heartbreaking.
So how can you avoid being accused of sexual harassment? You can’t. Someone who is emotionally off-balance can misinterpret what you say or do. Many people are conflicted about sex (the acts) and sexuality (body image, gender identity, gender roles, orientation, love, affection, values, eroticism and genitals). Burdened by fears implanted by family, society, religions, peers and art (films, novels, etc.), they struggle to enjoy what should be a delicious kiss or the pleasure of being pleasured. They say “yes,” mean “no” and are flooded with guilt, or are triggered by an unhealed, unrelated past trauma.
Be proactive by staying conscious of your words. Mind your behavior. In a professional setting, compliment a woman as you would a man: “You rocked that report on thermohaline circulation.” Not: “I’d like to get into your pretty head to see how you managed the thermo report.” Say: “That’s a great color on you,” not: “I can’t stop staring at your eyes!” A no-no comment objectifies the person and makes you seem smarmy. Don’t be that guy. Ask a woman out as you would any acquaintance you wish to befriend. Then treat her like someone you care about. Yes, it’s that simple.