Romance in the age of sexual harassment

How does one express interest when any overture can be viewed through the ‘harassment’ lens?

 |  2-minute read |   15-12-2017
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This is the other side of a sordid story. Call me the Devil’s Advocate since we all joined the #metoo campaign, now can I ask a simple question? How do you express attraction or desire in a person who you see across the table, across the room at an office party or outside your boss’s office?

Do you send an email to HR expressing your intention and then proceed after a green signal? Or do you send a formal note to your object of affection and, like in the Victorian times, ask permission to court her/him?

What happens to good old mutual chemistry? How do you go as you feel that surge of endorphins, your breath caught in your throat and all you want to do is crush that person with an overwhelming melody of emotions because you are so attracted, you would do anything to get near, ask for a date, risk a pick up line?

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Nearly 20 years ago, I read an article in an international news magazine where (and I am not plagiarising) that it was impossible to pat a small child in the park for the fear of being labelled a paedophile. Those were the days when sexual crimes against children had taken a drastic turn and governments were creating registers of offenders with awareness programmes.

It was a rude awakening for a generation of mothers who would no longer let a relative pull a chubby child into their lap and tousle the cherub’s hair. You couldn’t smile at a long line of nursery kids balancing their water bottles as they went to the zoo. In fact, you took an about turn if you didn’t want to get those glances from the teachers. Anybody hanging around a school was suspicious material.

So we come to the modern workplace, workshop, conference, New Year party. I have always gone out for after work drinks, or dinner with colleagues and at one time checked out all the bars in Edinburgh’s famous street and have no recollection of walking back to the room, but I drank a dozen artisanal beers. These days the invitation itself would be considered inappropriate and I get it why, but wouldn’t it be going a bit too far if we started scrutinising every social interaction? Or am I just being my usual breezy self?  

The question is how much is too much. Where do we draw the line on what is acceptable or not? And how do people get together anymore. If I was a younger woman today, I would definitely be hauled up for sexual harassment because I have paid generous compliments to my male colleagues as some of them were such natty dressers. I was taught by some rather handsome men to recognise a Paul Smith original and what a fake Louis Vuitton logo looked like. I wouldn’t have known a lot of things if we were not sitting around laughing our asses off over some great conversation and definitely not working.

Sure there were interested glances sometimes and one could ignore or acquiesce as per one’s inclination, but I was always more interested in the food and the wine. Now what if that person went on to become a powerful director or CEO and six years later I go on record to say that I felt that his smile and the way he held my glance a wee bit longer was inappropriate and that he should be stripped of everything he had earned and recompense me too while I tore his life to tatters?

Well, the key issue here seems to be simple romance and gallantry. All these famous men accused of harassment seem to have forgotten that even if you want to shag somebody for a minute and forget them the next, you need to well, play the romantic. Just ask for God’s sake. What’s the need to prey? Your recognition ensures you need no introduction so why bring force into it at all? Only cowards and men with emotional issues chase a woman round their office. And if they use blackmail to force her into a liaison well, I would simply question that man’s prowess as someone totally lacking in that department would need to use "other" measures.

The world has moved at a very fast pace and relationships are no longer what they used to be. Women are also more aware and in control of their sexuality. So if you like a woman, all you have to do is just express yourself. And if she say yes, well Bob’s your uncle. But if she says no, smile and walk away gallantly. That you suddenly turn on her to squeeze a body part or lean on her because you are so powerful, you are hurting the rest of the world’s men. How can they be sure that when famous men abuse their power and position, they muddy the waters for the ordinary ones who may just be looking for a good old-fashioned date and if that leads to one thing or another, well, no one is going to be surprised or affronted.

The days of the mad men of Mad Men are definitely over, but since we are now looking forward to artificial intelligence, I guess we would need mind readers in the future to convey honourable intentions because in between lies the predatory field and both men and women are too scared to navigate it.

I sure miss the compliments, as I am sure others do too, given and received in trust and in appreciation of someone nice and well, desirable. But we are all running scared because a bunch of men and women thought that they were a lot more important than manners and they could just roll up their sleeves and order it on room service.

Also read: Finding life tough in the wake of sexual harassment charges? Read this

Writer

Anjoo Mohun Anjoo Mohun @anjoomohun

The writer is addicted to sports and is indebted to the inventor of the flat screen TV.

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