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Both the #Me Too hashtag and the “Shitty Media Men” spreadsheet place accounts of one-off verbal come-ons next to dire accusations of sustained sexual abuse, which made some feminist critics (including, when the spreadsheet first circulated, me) queasy.
As Rebecca Traister wrote in magazine last week, “the rage that many of us are feeling doesn’t necessarily correspond with the severity of the trespass: Lots of us are on some level as incensed about the guy who looked down our shirt at a company retreat as we are about Weinstein. Part of it is the decades we’ve spent being pressured to underreact.” The specter of sexual harassment has been weighing heavily on many of the men in my life.
It’s not just that our collective understanding of the prevalence of harassment has changed; it’s that our understanding of the very definition of has been called into question.
The definition will grow more capacious as we retrain our antennae to categorize certain male behavior as threatening that we’d previously been conditioned to dismiss or ignore.
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.
A friend’s father, who I’ve known for years and hugged at least a dozen times, paused and asked for consent before putting an arm around me at a party this month.
To people who’ve experienced harassment and abuse, it’s also an alternate history of our own lives.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.Some of these women had already recognized certain incidents from their past as harassment or abuse.Others have been forced by this interminable news cycle to relive, reconsider, and reclassify some of the things men have done to them against their will or to search for boundaries in the mess of human interaction.