Ever since the Harvey Weinstein scandal erupted and several Hollywood actresses have revealed that they, too, have suffered abuse at the hands of Weinstein or other men, the “me too” hashtag became prevalent. A surprising number of women have been abused or harassed or received some form of unwanted attention or advances.
It makes me wonder exactly what is considered “abuse” or “harassment.” I’ve been stared at lewdly before and even catcalled a couple times, but that was back in high school when everyone was immature and stupid. Still, it freaked me out even then. I wouldn’t necessarily call it harassment, though, because there wasn’t true evidence to prove that anything happened, but it still gave me a creepy feeling on the back of my neck. It still made me feel slightly unsafe, and I found myself watching my back a little more closely than I did before. So I guess if you feel icky about it, it doesn’t matter what you call it—it shouldn’t be tolerated.
Yes, it does help to set boundaries for the behavior you will tolerate, but those boundaries do very little good when it’s just some anonymous creepy guy staring at you who doesn’t even know you or care about whatever boundaries you may have. In that case, I guess I’d blame it on culture and male hormones and try to forget about it unless it persists or worsens.
Boundaries are more for relationships. I’ve heard it said before that most women and girls are hard-wired to please people. This may be something cultural that was learned in elementary school or some kind of in-born survival technique. I really don’t know. The urge to please and the need to enforce boundaries conflict with each other often and can even cause great confusion in discerning what is abuse, what is normal, what is “my fault,” what is “his fault,” what I “should do,” what he “should do,” and so on.
I read somewhere that one of the keys is that if you feel something is wrong or if someone does something to you that you don’t like… don’t apologize for telling them that you don’t feel comfortable with it. That is the hardest rule to follow, especially for someone like me, because I apologize without thinking if I do so much as sneeze too loud. Saying “sorry” is a knee-jerk reaction. However, not apologizing can also be incredibly liberating because if you refuse to apologize when you did nothing wrong, you are making the other person consider your feelings more deeply. You’re making ’em squirm and putting them on the spot. The other person is used to hearing “I’m sorry” and using that as a tool to put himself into a dominant position. “I’m sorry” is polite and deferential, but in certain situations, it can be seen as weakness… and the wrong type of person will take advantage of that perceived weakness.
Don’t compromise your boundaries by apologizing for them. Remember that they exist for a reason, to keep you safe, and other people need to respect them. Your boundaries are not unreasonable. Control your knee-jerk reaction and refuse to apologize.