Now that we’ve reached the era of the #MeToo movement, we’re all hearing a lot of crap from men (and women, but mostly men) about what a scary time it is for them because they don’t feel like they can flirt without it being called out as sexual harassment. Which is, of course, utterly ridiculous, because flirting and sexual harassment are two very different things. Yes, flirting does require that a person pay attention to the signals the object of their flirtation is giving, to make sure that the person is comfortable, but no, all flirting is not going to be sweepingly misinterpreted as aggressive intimidation.
But because so many men are confused(or pretending to be confused, so that they don’t have to think about how their behavior affects someone else), comedian Kate Willett wrote a post on Facebook explaining the difference between flirting and sexual harassment. The post got so much attention on Facebook that she posted it on Twitter, too.
The full post reads:
I love to be flirted with. I don’t like being sexually harassed. These two things are not the same, and if you’re arguing the point “now men can’t flirt anymore,” you don’t understand what flirting is or you’re just pretending not to in order to set up a straw man argument in favor of sexual harassment. Good flirting is fundamentally empathetic. It’s about building desire and it’s often pretty subtle. It’s paying such deep attention to another person’s emotions and body language that you create more intimacy with them. It’s a two-way, playful, fun exchange that makes everyone feel good. Sexual harassment is the opposite. It’s devoid of empathy and it’s about forcing your will upon another person without having any regard for their desire. You’re comparing a paint brush to a wreckingball.
One person summed it up nicely.
In other words, there’s a difference between flirting WITH someone and hitting ON someone.
— Kathy Larrieu (@KathyLarrieu) December 11, 2017
The posts got a lot of reactions on Facebook and Twitter, mostly positive.
One person suggested that harassment was more about power than attraction.
But not everyone agreed that differentiating between flirting and harassment was that simple, mainly because both sides of the equation might have different opinions about what’s going on.
In my experience many men can’t differentiate between a woman flirting and one who is just being as friendly to him as she would be to anyone. Take small steps and pay attention to responses.
— TerryHasAnOpinon (@Terrysagirl) December 11, 2017
And it’s true that not everyone can pick up on cues from other people. However, they can always ask.
Willett’s posts were written in 2017, as the #MeToo movement gained momentum, but remain relevant today. In 2019, Willett told Someecards:
At the time I wrote that post it was in the midst of a lot of people publicly expressing that flirting would no longer be ‘allowed.’ I don’t know if there’s anything I’d add, but over the past year, I did start to feel that some guys who do want to flirt in a non-creepy way may need a little bit more guidance. I’m actually working on a book about this now!