Have you ever made a sexual comment to a woman and were confused about why it was offensive to her? Admittedly, it’s rare that I come across a man who doesn’t properly understand when making sexual comments about a woman to her face is inappropriate, but unfortunately I find myself living with one these men at the moment. Although he has agreed not to do it again, he does not feel his comments were inappropriate.
It appears my new male roommate is a bit confused about the meaning of sexual harassment. He made some comments about “enjoying the view” of my body after I’d only lived with him for a few days, which was quite upsetting to me. I did my best to explain to him why what he did was harassment, and he disagreed with me. He said it was all a matter of perception. I said he could look up the definition of the term on the Internet. So which is it?
I guess the real question is, at what point does it actually become appropriate to make sexual comments to a woman you’ve recently met? Answer: Once you’ve reached a certain level of intimacy, which must include her clearly signaling sexual interest to you! That means that if you misinterpret her signals and think that she likes you when she doesn’t, she’s going to be very creeped out by your comments. The safest bet is to come right out and ask her if she’s interested in a date, and don’t be vague about it; anything else is a gamble.
The whole creep thing was once very well explained by Joseph Maldonaldo of IAM Center as one person moving too fast down a continuum of relating between two people. On one end are the complete strangers; on the other are intimate partners or friends. Moving along the continuum takes time and a willingness of both parties to move the relationship in that direction. To move too quickly along is to be a creep, literally creeping along the continuum to a point where the other party isn’t comfortable. It’s forcing one’s way past another person’s boundary with no regard for that person’s comfort. Sexual harassment is, in the general sense, being a creep. It means making sexual comments that would only be acceptable if you and the other person were further down the continuum, except that you are not. And after only knowing me for a few days in the context of being roommates, we are still at the level of acquaintance.
I am so grateful that most of you get this, no explanation necessary, but I guess I just needed to vent about how frustrating this can be. He actually said to me, “I thought you were the fun type,” as an excuse for saying what he said. So I guess he is right that it is a matter of perception, the problem is that his perception of our “relationship” was way off, and unfortunately I now perceive him as a creep and he perceives me as uptight. I’m just so disappointed in both of us for not being able to communicate about this better. Thanks for listening.
The last thing I want is for you to think I am weak, because in our culture weakness is punished and belittled. But I am a woman, and we’ve been taught that femininity is weak, so if I want respect I am backed into this damned corner every time I see you. I can see from your words and your actions that you don’t really believe women are worthy of respect either. The problem is that I believed you were right.
If I believe I am weak there’s no telling what you’ll do to me, how you’ll underestimate me, how you’ll take advantage of me, how you’ll use your strength against me, how you’ll take from me. I’ve been living my life afraid of all this since I was a little girl, who watched her father rage and yell and belittle women. I thought the only way he could love me is if I abandoned myself, abandoned my femaleness, because I could see how he despised it, how he mocked it, how he used it and threw it away.
I’ve been hit and raped and spat on, shoved and screamed at, peeped on, and creeped on and I’m just waiting for you to challenge me any time I feel afraid, daring you even with a piercing stare because I have so much anger about all this that it doesn’t matter anymore what you do to me: The fear makes me want to fight, makes me want to hurt you back as badly as I can. And I’m ready whenever you make your move. I’ve seen enough of your tricks to know what to do. And you are most hurt when equated with a woman, when people think you’re a sissy pussy bitch and so I feel my fear is justified. You hate your own femaleness too.
I’ve been hurt by men so much that I’m scared I could be hurt by you, even though I don’t know you. I am afraid of you. I get crafty and wear a mask. I take on masculine traits like aggression, dominance, and muted emotion, and I wear them like a costume whenever I’m in your presence. It’s so automatic I don’t even have to think about it, it just pours forth from the anger I feel, that I can’t just exist, can’t just be myself, can’t just be a woman, without fearing the risk of harm from you. So I stand guard, but I don’t even know you. But you are a man, and so I fear you.
If you could see me when I’m alone, you’d see that I am soft and yielding and loving. I smile and laugh and feel at ease with myself. I take off my costume. But the still fear remains in the back of my mind, and the fear is the only thing separating us from the truth. It’s not you I need to annihilate, it’s the fear. When I live in constant fear of you, I forget who I am completely, and I justify and agree with your misogynistic words, thoughts, and deeds, because I too have become misogynistic by dishonoring myself. I have become my enemy to try and protect myself from enemies, but I see now that you can’t honor me until I honor myself. It’s not your decision to say what I am worth, and it never was. We were both just so confused. Thanks for listening.
When a woman is being nice to you, it does not always mean she likes you. It doesn’t mean she doesn’t like you either, but please don’t let that awkward moment where you prematurely start fiddling with her shirt strap be the moment where you find out she isn’t actually into you. It’s just gets weird at that point, probably for you as well, and it’s sooo unnecessary. Same goes for those awkward one-armed side-hugs.
I’ve actually had boyfriends in the past who criticized me for being nice to other men because “he’s gonna think you’re into him.” And lo and behold many of them did. And they were wrong.
You know what’s also weird? Not being nice to people because I’m afraid that if I’m nice they’re going to misread it and start acting inappropriately. But if I’m not nice it’s all, “she’s a bitch, blah” when I would actually prefer to be nice to you! So, I hope we can come to an agreement on this, that if I’m being nice there’s nothing more to read into with that. If you want to read into more, there’s always body language and other cues you can use. I think many people have written many books on the subject of other cues. Thanks for listening.
If only you knew the lengths I go to to protect you from your own feelings of unworthiness and inadequacy. I know you want so much to be what you think a “real man” is, and I can see your pain and I can feel your fragility when you fail to reach this ridiculous ideal society has put on you. You think you’re fooling me, and I play along because I know my honesty would wound you. If only you knew that I actually accept you just as you are, and that I admire you in those moments you show vulnerability. Vulnerability is not the same as weakness. To me, weakness is when I see you disown your true self in exchange for stereotypical “maleness.” It provokes feelings of pity for you, and I know that pity is the last thing you want. To be vulnerable is to be honest and open, and it is always beautiful and worthy of respect. I know that you’d rather I be honest and have respect for you.
I’m sorry I thought I had to protect you from your feelings. I’m sorry I faked those orgasms to make you feel like the “real man” you wanted to be. I’m sorry I never corrected your false belief that my orgasm comes from you and not from me. I’m sorry I didn’t correct you when you tried to act out a porno you saw on the Internet with me, where the woman was acting and faking her orgasm, and you thought that’s what you had to do to please a woman. I’m sorry I didn’t remind you that porn is fake sex, and is not a good source of information on what I enjoy doing sexually. I know you were just trying to be a “real man,” and I thought you were too fragile to handle the truth. I’m sorry for underestimating you. It’s partly my fault you’re so misinformed. I’m making the commitment today to be more honest with you, and I apologize for assuming you were too weak to handle the truth. I know you’re stronger than that.
That sexy dress I wore in public wasn’t for you. It was for me. Because I enjoy being a woman and expressing my femininity. In choosing to wear that dress, you were not in my thoughts. I did not decide to wear it because I thought you might like it. I wore it because I like it. Do not share your uninvited opinion on how my looks are pleasing to you. Not only do I not care if they please you, but it’s both rude and arrogant to assume that I would. You are assuming that my self-expression in my choice of clothing has something to do with you, and it doesn’t. You think it’s a compliment to tell me that I am pleasing to you because you are making the wrong assumption that I get dressed in the morning hoping to please you. See how that works? Admire and appreciate if you like, but please save your “compliments” for women who have actually chosen to date you. See? It’s that easy to trade creepy for classy.