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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.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.
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.
Actions that once seemed playful or relatively harmless now seem sinister, invisible grease for the wheels of an orchestrated system of humiliation designed to instill self-doubt and fear into women who might have otherwise posed a threat to male control.
“What happened to me was something that was so casual, I almost didn’t even consider it sexual harassment, even though it was beyond my desire,” wrote the Of course, not every uncomfortable experience is harassment, and not every woman is redefining these experiences as abuse.
By legal definition, sexual harassment is unwelcome or unwanted; if it’s welcome or wanted, it’s not harassment.
The baked-in subjectivity of this definition, combined with the large-scale recalibration of this moment, has allowed space for some people to wonder whether cracking down on sexual harassment will put an end to all friendly flirtation.
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.