How do we know if someone is flirting or sexually harassing us?
This begs the question ‘Who is responsible for your feelings’. If you agree with
the old saying ‘sticks and stones will hurt your bones but words will do no harm’ then sexual harassment can only be harassment when it involves physical
contact of some kind. Those that favour this argument might say that no matter what someone says to you, it is how you choose to respond internally that
defines how it affects you.
A book by Susan Strauss ‘Sexual Harassment and Teens, delivers a set of
guidelines that are supposed to enable you to differentiate between sexual harassment and flirting.
Interestingly enough, the guidelines are listed under how the particular action
makes the receiver feel. One of the tenets of NLP is that the meaning of your communication is the response you get. Does this suppose that when you
communicate you are capable of generating feelings in others or does it mean that when you communicate other people are likely to self-generate certain
feelings depending on their database of words and their general emotional
My own view is that ultimately we are all responsible for our feelings and that
when we hear or see words or actions from other people, we somehow are programmed to generate certain related feelings. We can
re-programme ourselves to block out these feelings. And, with practice we can programme
ourselves to generate alternative feelings. If we start to do this, are we then responsible for perpetuating the said behaviours by our very acceptance? And
if other people are not as skilled as us in reprogramming their response are we being irresponsible? Does this have deeper moral
implications? I don’t know!
be continued as below...
Let’s look at the guidelines set out by Strauss and her co-author Pamela
Sexual harassment makes the receiver feel
Flirting makes the receiver feel
Sexual harassment results in
negative self esteem
Flirting results in
positive self esteem
Sexual harassment is perceived as
Flirting is perceived as
Sexual harassment is
If we take the definitions of sexual harassment offered by Strauss are we then
opening the door to accusations of sexual harassment each time we feel bad, powerless or ugly when someone throws us a remark? Do feelings of being
degraded, demeaned and having negative self-esteem stem just from remarks deemed to be specifically ‘sexually harassing’ or are they endemic to individual
psyches and therefore likely to be generated even when the remark might not be considered ‘harassment’ by others?
What are the specific phrases or actions that are deemed to be sexually
harassing? How do you know that a remark is sexual harassment? Is it different for everyone? If this is the case, how do we legislate?
I wonder what we would discover. I know that in my case, remarks that some
women might consider sexual harassment would be taken by me as a bit of fun. What are the guidelines? When does the border get crossed and who decides
Just a thought!
P.S. - Peta Heskell is author of the book Flirt Coach published in the USA by Harper Collins/Thorsons in June 01. She runs the UK Flirting Academy, and coaches
clients privately. She is a frequent media guest in the UK and has run workshops in Florida and Amsterdam, Netherlands.
You can access her website at:www.flirtcoach.com
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