Flirting and harassment, where is the line?
Cancel culture has many shortcomings, and one of them includes blurring the lines between flirting and harassment. Screenshots and unproven allegations can be posted at any time, and there always seems to be a mob of keyboard warriors ready to interpret situations differently.
How someone feels about a certain interaction they've had is valid and can't be questioned, but for the sake of fairness to both the accused as well as those who've gone through harassment, there should be clear baselines to separate flirting and sexual harassment.
The first one's quite obvious: consent. Flirting is consensual and conscious. Even when it's not too subtle, a flirt won't come across as demanding or like they expect you to respond positively, if at all. They'll also stop it the moment they are told no or if they sense any discomfort from the other side. Harassment, meanwhile, is obnoxiously persistent. No matter how many times or how directly they are refused, harassers don't stop, with many even thinking the receiver of their advances is acting coy.
Another factor to differentiate between flirting and harassment is power dynamics. This element is most commonly abused in professional settings. For example, it's usually difficult for a subordinate to say no to their boss' sexual advances. Similarly, amateurs in any industry are more likely to think they're obligated to take up on inappropriate offers from more established personnel to get a fair chance in the field.
A 2010 study conducted by Northwestern University found people in positions of power to be more likely to view reluctant consent – which is not consent – as genuine sexual attraction. If anything, this teaches us the importance of being conscious of the other person's perspective when we approach them. We need to understand that being in a vulnerable position makes the concept of consent trickier and seemingly less safe for people.
Last but not least, flirting gives people the space to say no in the first place. In other words, there's a distinct line between being playful and downright inappropriate, and one should always maintain that. Touching someone without their consent, sending unsolicited sexual texts and pictures, making crude comments – anyone who does one or more of these isn't a straightforward flirt, they're simply a harasser.
It's honestly disappointing. The differences between flirting and harassment aren't too confusing. They are simple and, dare I say, easy to figure out from instincts. But in a world so deeply imbalanced by gender inequality and unfair hierarchies, some find it difficult to tell if they're violating someone's space and some find it difficult to say their space is being violated.
With the rise of social media and cancel culture, the crisis has become even worse. In recent years, there's a herd mentality that often passes punishment without judging the full scenario. As a result, if there ever was a time to be aware of how flirting and harassment differ, it is now.
Psychology Today (February 28, 2020). How Flirting Can Become Harassment.
Fabiha is secretly a Lannister noblewoman and Slytherin alum. Pledge your allegiance and soul to her at [email protected]