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The Same Advice

Many commenters on various forums have--predictably--stated how onerous it will be to monitor their own behavior toward women. How they simply can’t be expected to know the difference between flirtation and harassment, between friendliness and creepiness, between acceptable adult behavior and unacceptable juvenile conduct.

On another blog I read often, the discussion came up because a commenter wanted to know the best way to avoid being falsely accused. A very level-headed commenter answered with the following advice:

“Don’t put yourself into a situation where it’s just you and someone whose moral compass you aren’t sure of. Stay in a public or semi-public place. Maintain at least an arm’s length of distance when possible. Keep your hands away from the other person’s body — perhaps by holding a glass (at a party, say), a book, or a tablet. Be polite, but not intimate: don’t lean in to talk to them quietly, don’t go into personal topics.”

The next response deemed her advice “a large checklist,” and called it “overly sensitive.”

Questions: What part of that advice is particularly difficult? Is it a great burden to avoid touching another person? Is it unreasonable to avoid talking about intimate topics? Is avoiding being alone with a person of questionable character an extreme act?

Better questions: How many of you would have read the advice out of context and assumed it was standard advice given to women on how to avoid giving a man/woman the wrong signals? For heaven’s sake, how many of you know children who could follow those standards of behavior with ease?

As Elizabeth Bear wrote about the difference between harassment and flirtation: It’s not actually all that complicated.

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Blair MacGregor
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