Monday, October 21, 1996

Week of 10/21/1996

Is A Kiss Just A Kiss Anymore?
- by David Matthews 2

A few weeks ago we all heard about the 6 year old boy and the "infamous kiss." For those who don’t read newspapers or watch the evening news.. or who have been on extended missions orbiting the Earth.. here it is in a nutshell: A six-year old boy was asked by a girl of the same age to kiss her in recess. He did. A teacher caught him kissing her, and "punished him" for his actions. (Which amounted to barring him from a certain ice cream party with everyone else in the class.) The parents of that boy took their case to the media and just about everyone has been passing judgment on it and on what many perceive as sexual harassment gone awry.

There. In a nutshell.

Unfortunately the issue behind it isn’t as clear. Who really is at fault? The boy, who kissed the girl? The girl, who supposedly asked him to do so? (By the way, the parents of that girl have wisely stayed out of the limelight on this issue.) How about the teacher who witnessed it and reacted to what she perceived as "sexual harassment?" Or the principal who set standards with no regard to age?

Or perhaps it is the turn we have made in regards to sexual harassment, and the change many women have made from being victims to persecutors. Society has gone from legitimate cases of gross sexual harassment such as the case with now former Senator Bob Packwood to persecuting six year-old boys for something as simple as a kiss. Where have we gone wrong?

Part of it is that we have lost track of defining WHAT sexual harassment is about. It’s got very little to do with sex, and everything to do with POWER. The boss who coerces his secretary for sex to keep her job, or the legislator who gropes and mauls the people who work for him then threatens to ruin their lives if they ever told anyone about it. If it was left to that standard, we wouldn’t have a problem with it as we do today.

But unfortunately it wasn’t. And it wasn’t long before sexual harassment became a knee-jerk reactionary issue. This came with the legal illusion of "creating or fostering a hostile environment" which soon became the standard for sexual harassment lawsuits. Telling stories about sexual exploits or having certain pictures shown in the workplace, all clearly protected under the First Amendment, suddenly created this "hostile environment." And to ward off sexual harassment lawsuits, corporations bent over backwards to prevent ANYTHING that was the least bit sexual in nature. In fact many companies even barred the fraternization of coworkers outside of their job.

The same soon applied to schools and universities, when it was learned that in some cases kids were in fact sexually harassed. But again, here the knee-jerk reactionaries responded by clamping down on anything considered sexual in nature. And that is how a six-year old boy became a "sexual harasser" for simply giving a girl a kiss when she asked for one.

The key problem with sexual harassment is that all too often it is being defined by extreme activists who define ANY form of perceived interaction between genders as a crime, and knee-jerk reactionaries who are all-too eager to prevent lawsuits no matter how frivolous they are. It has gone so far as to consider what people THINK or simply LOOKING at someone can be considered a form of sexual harassment. You don’t believe me? Ask the some of these activists about "lookism."

I don’t deny that there is sexual harassment going on in America. But when the hunt for it goes so far as to create thought-crimes and places the innocent actions of young children along with the vilest of criminals, one has to ask who is REALLY the harasser and who is the harassed.

We need to remind ourselves of what is and isn’t sexual harassment before we try to impose such standards on others, never mind teaching our children about it. What someone looks at or thinks is NOT sexual harassment. Talking to members of the opposite sex is NOT sexual harassment. Flirting with members of the opposite sex, as long as it’s mutually consentual, is NOT sexual harassment. If it’s not mutually consentual and one side continues to flirt when asked not to, it IS sexual harassment. Groping a member of the opposite sex when it is not wanted IS sexual harassment. Asking a coworker out on a date is NOT sexual harassment. Repeatedly asking a coworker out on a date when he or she says no IS sexual harassment. Talking about sex or sexual situations is NOT sexual harassment. Talking about sex or sexual situations when one in the group has asked not to discuss such things IS sexual harassment. Giving a member of the opposite sex a compliment on their appearance is NOT sexual harassment. Giving lewd comments about their appearance IS sexual harassment. A six year old boy kissing a girl when asked to is NOT sexual harassment. A six year old boy kissing a girl when asked not to IS sexual harassment.

We need to remember that when establishing what is sexual harassment we don’t criminalize normal human interaction or discussion about anything remotely sexual in nature. That interaction is what keeps the genders working together, not apart. Remember- sexual harassment has less to do with SEX, and everything to do with POWER.

No comments: