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Though the lines between acceptable behavior and harassment feel in some ways clearer today than ever, there still isn’t anything close to broad agreement about where all these lines should be drawn.
This is why the current moment has both women and men reassessing interactions from their past, wondering if they were on either end of a troubling encounter.
We also asked our respondents to offer examples of incidents that, for them, fell into a “gray area”—a category of behavior that isn’t unequivocally harassment, whether because of the intent of the perpetrator, the reception of the target, or the severity of the offense.
They classified each anecdote as “in a gray area but ultimately OK” or “in a gray area but ultimately not OK.” There are a few visible patterns in the stories from our 56 respondents.
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.
What seems like a gray area to one person is outright harassment to another.
“It’s just—you never know how people will feel about being touched these days,” he said with a laugh.
People who felt flattered as teenagers or young adults by sexual advances from older authority figures grew to see such pursuits as “gross” or an abuse of power as they aged.
Survivors of verbal harassment were sometimes wary of naming it as such if it never escalated into anything physical.
Before, we were everyday women dealing with everyday creeps.
Now, we must contend with the knowledge that the everyday woman, by virtue of existing in the public sphere, has endured untold violations.
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Our current cultural moment has provoked an unprecedented excavation of the female memory.