Grabbing someone’s butt at work one time is sexual harrassment. Why did she think she had license to touch him in what is widely considered an intimate spot — in a work environment, no less? This was my point in talking about pregnant bellies and tattoos. We have a culture that is lax about respecting personal boundaries, particularly for women (which is a part of what the larger harassment problem stems from), but as this author pointed out, he has new appreciation for how violating it can feel to have someone believe they have the right to access your body without your consent. Catcalling and telling women you (not personal you — one) pass on the street to smile is a way of signalling that their bodies belong to them, for their pleasure and enjoyment. And this is ultimately about power and not about sex, which is what sexual harrassment is about. It’s exerting dominance. Otherwise you wouldn’t have coercion be such a big factor.

Grabbing someone’s ass is the same thing. “I wanted to squeeze it and so I did.” It negates the personhood and bodily autonomy of the other person, even if it’s subconscious. You may find that boring, but believe me, millions of women find it a highly relevant topic because they are still dealing with this culture of entitlement to their bodies on a regular basis. This is a rule set that needs to be more fully discussed and enforced, as recent news stories illustrate, not put on the back shelf because it’s boring. It’s only boring to you because you haven’t experienced that level of entitlement to your personhood.

Yes, this guy got more triggered by it than someone else might, but as you pointed out, all different kinds of people have different kinds of boundaries for various reasons. This is why consent (either tacit or overt) is so important. You can’t make any assumptions. And in order to be able to ascertain whether you have consent, you either have to know the other person really well already, or you have to read body language and other non-verbal cues or you have to actually ask, “I’d like to give you a hug….” And as I’ve already said, that entails not just going after what you want, but in actually factoring in what the other person wants and letting that be the deciding factor. This is counter-intuitive to people who have always lived in a domination-based society; particularly men, who are typically socialized to be assertive/agressive and to go after what they want. And, women or people in general, need to work to be empowered enough to claim their boundaries and to stand firm in them. They need to feel it’s OK to not subject themselves to physical contact they don’t want. You’d think that would already be the case, but that isn’t how most women are socialized. This is also a part of the harassment dynamic — and a part of why #MeToo is important. Women are finding their voice in a new way and banding together in a way that makes retaliation for speaking up less likely to be able to occur.

I completely agree that this author should speak to his friend and continue to do whatever else he can to try to heal his traumatic past, but that is all secondary to the fact that unwanted touch is not OK, particularly when the intent behind it is not innocuous. If she had come up behind him and touched him on the shoulder to get his attention and he felt triggered, he would bear the greater responsibility for his reaction and should just accept an apology from her. Grabbing someone’s ass just because you want to is all on her. There was a newstory a while back about a woman who got her ass grabbed in a bar and she beat the shit out of the guy. He was shocked by her response (and no doubt by her ability to carry it out) and a lot of the bystanders and commenters on the story asked, “Why did she have to react so strongly?” Because it’s her fucking body, that’s why!

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Dispelling cultural myths with research-driven stories. My favorite word is “specious.” Not fragile like a flower; fragile like a bomb! Twitter @ElleBeau

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