Am I Guilty of Sexual Harassment and What Is Its Definition?

Updated on April 26, 2018
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I have a B.A. in History and Creative Writing and an M.A. in History. I enjoy movies, television, poker, video games, and trivia.

Are You Confused About the Definition of Sexual Harassment?

Does it seem to you like the definition of sexual harassment changes every day? Does it seem like one second women are letting you hug them and the next day you're in court facing the next few years in jail?

One day a behavior you regularly did twenty years ago suddenly isn't acceptable? It's all very confusing, isn't it? Is it okay to ask a co-worker out on a date? Is it okay to hover over their desk and ask them whether they had sex last night? Is it okay to comment on somebody else's clothing? Is it okay to say whether or not you find somebody attractive?

Yes, there's no doubt that the definition of sexual harassment has changed and is changing, so it's necessary to understand what is and isn't acceptable in the workplace and beyond.

This article will allow you to fully understand what defines sexual harassment and avoid those behaviors so that you're not accused of sexual harassment.

Old, White Men Beware!

The people most likely to be the subject of sexual harassment claims are old, white men who are used to doing things a certain way. So, in many ways, this article will be directed toward you. That said, it's often men in general who don't quite understand what it means to sexually harass somebody else, so you may perceive a slight bias in this article against the concerns of men.

Still, it's important that most sexual harassment occurs between men and women, with the man being the harasser and the woman being the victim. Understanding this dynamic is an important element in understanding what is and isn't acceptable behavior.

Power Dynamics

The first thing to understand about sexual harassment is power dynamics. If you are in a position of power over somebody else, consider if you treat them differently on a personal level than you do with your superiors.

If you have a woman who reports to you and a female boss and you feel comfortable asking your female report questions that you do not feel comfortable asking your female boss, then you are probably harassing her. If you feel it's your right to hug your female report but not your female boss, then you're probably harassing her.

Basically, anything you do or say to somebody with whom you have a superior/inferior relationship that you wouldn't do if the situations were reversed is likely suspect. On a personal/private level, everyone should be treated the same, though if you treat everyone badly, then you're probably just a bad person.

So, Is It Okay if I Harass Everyone?

Do you feel as though you treat everyone badly, therefore you treat everyone equally, and are therefore not sexually harassing them?

Nope. That's not even close to being right. If you sexually harass everyone equally, then you're probably sick. And you're still a massive problem and a sexual harasser.

Some General Examples of Sexual Harassment

To help you understand sexual harassment, here are a few examples of sexual harassment:

  1. I snap my female co-workers bra when she's not looking.
  2. I make sure every woman who works for me gets a hug to start her day.
  3. I make polite conversation with the women in my office by asking them how often they have sex.
  4. I ask women in my office what sexual positions they like.
  5. I organize get-togethers at bars and other places with my subordinates and sometimes get drunk and take off my pants.
  6. I ask my female subordinates about their bra size.
  7. If I meet a woman at work that I like, I send her a dick pic.

Further Explanations of These Situations

Still confused? Let's take these situations one-by-one.

  • I snap my female co-workers bra when she's not looking - you do this because you think she likes it, right? Well, she doesn't. In fact, she fantasizes about taking a giant rubber band and snapping your head off in her sleep.
  • I give everyone a hug to start their day - just don't touch anyone, okay? Nobody likes your hugs or your stinky, sweaty body or the erection you're sporting when you do these things.
  • I ask my co-workers how often they have sex - do you actually do any work at work? Stop talking and get back to it. And btw, only discuss professional things at work. Nobody should be talking about their sex life at work because, you know, it's WORK.
  • I ask women in my office what sexual positions they like - do you really need a conversation starter? Well, that's the wrong one. Try the weather. Or sports. Or movies.
  • I organize get-togethers at bars and other places with my subordinates and sometimes get drunk and take off my pants - let's just clear something up here: if you take your pants off at work for anything other than going to the bathroom, then you've got a problem. And when I say take your pants off to go to the bathroom, I'm meaning that you're in the bathroom when you do it.
  • I ask my female subordinates about their bra size - ooh, they love that, right? Asking any co-worker anything about their body is harassment, unless they're bleeding on the floor and you say something like "did you cut your arm?"
  • If I meet a woman at work, I send her a dick pic - have you tried the fine art of not being a total douche bag?

Some Examples that ARE NOT Sexual Harassment

Here are a few examples of behaviors that are NOT sexual harassment:

  1. I DO NOT touch any of my co-workers inappropriately or feel that it is my right, as their supervisor, to give them a hug every morning so I can press my body against theirs.
  2. I DO NOT put my hands on my co-workers, give them back rubs, or generally touch them.
  3. I DO NOT consider women to be inferior and consider menstruation as a factor on their performance plans.
  4. I DO NOT ask my female co-workers about their sexual lives.
  5. I DO NOT ask my co-workers if they think I have large genitalia and if that turns them on.
  6. I DO NOT send my female co-workers naked pictures of myself.
  7. When I get drunk, or otherwise, I DO NOT force my co-workers to have sex with me in exchange for preferential treatment at work.

Further Help with NOT Being a Sexual Harasser

Actually, you shouldn't need that much help NOT harassing people. It's called "being a decent human being". All you do is you treat people the way you would want to be treated if you were a human being and they were a hungry bear.

You see, if you're alone in the forest and you come upon a hungry bear, you just want that bear to leave you alone. You say nice things to the bear. You treat that bear with more respect and decency than you have ever treated anything in your life because, if you don't, that bear is going to tear you limb from limb and snack on your bleeding, meaty carcass.

Now, on the surface, the above paragraph would seem to suggest that men are meek creatures and women are hungry bears, but that's not it at all. This is about behavior. The analogy could be about a mouse. The thing is, it's just not that hard to understand that people want to be treated with respect and decency and treating them any other way is bad.

If you're still confused. If you're still questioning how you should act, then odds are pretty good you're a harasser. Go get help.

Questions & Answers

    Comments

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    • fpherj48 profile image

      Paula 2 weeks ago from Beautiful Upstate New York

      OMG.....I just happened upon this and I am EXHAUSTED, my abs are sore and I have laughter tears all down my face.....I haven't laughed this hard since Thomas, ("Thought Sandwiches,") wrote a few hubs that nearly killed me from uncontrollable, hysterical laughter. I was devastated when he stopped writing here but now that I've found you, I may be all right after all. I laughed so hard through your "examples," I could barely breathe. Damn, you are FUNNY! (man or woman). I love people who have mastered humor!

      If you're this funny all the time, I would have to avoid you as much as possible, so you couldn't kill me. Wow.....the endorphins are raging!

    • dashingscorpio profile image

      dashingscorpio 5 months ago

      I suspect the biggest problem with harassment once you get beyond the outrageous and obvious forms is a lot of it is "subjective" based upon whether the woman likes the guy or is into him. Two guys can say the same exact things to a woman and if she is open to dating one of them he's not seen as being a harasser.

      Just recently I read an article on Yahoo about a flight attendant who kept staring at a pilot because he reminded her of someone. When the plane landed it finally dawned on her that he looked a lot like her father. Upon exiting the plane she told the pilot he looked like her father and she showed him a photo.

      The pilot grinned at her and said: "It's been a long time since a woman your age called me (daddy)."

      The flight attendant considered that to be sexual harassment and joined the #MeToo movement.

      Granted it was a cheesy flirtatious sexually innuendo filled pickup line from a "dirty old man" but is it really right up there with groping and assault? I personally don't think so.

      Just about every man who has ever been rejected by a woman will start to wonder if (she) viewed him as been a harasser.

      At the end of the date he leaned in to kiss her and she pushed him away or turned her head...etc Did he just harass her?

      Two teenagers are engaged in some "heavy petting" at a drive inn during the 1960s and the young man attempts to slide his hand under the young lady's dress and she stops him; Did he assault her or was he trying to get to third base and she didn't want to go beyond second base?

      Not many romance novels or Hollywood movies show the knight in shining armor (asking for permission) to kiss the damsel in distress. Today if a guy attempts to kiss a woman and (she) is not "into him" he could be in big trouble.

      As I stated earlier it all depends on how one (feels) about the person flirting, using sexual innuendo, or doing whatever. Oftentimes one doesn't know if someone will be receptive until (after) they tossed a line or made a pass on someone. Therein lies the problem with sexual harassment.

      In our society men have always been expected to "chase" after women, attempt to come up with some funny, cute, or sexy pickup line to break the ice and make a woman smile or take interest them. If it turned her off or she wasn't attracted to them she rejected or ignored them. It wasn't a criminal offence.

      Sexual harassment is on the verge of becoming the next "political correctness" movement as "the line" or definition keeps expanding further and further out.

      Pretty soon smiling and winking at a stranger on a train will be considered harassment (if) he/she is not attracted to (you). Otherwise it's a fun flirtatious act (if )they like (you) too.

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