If you’re a woman, you’ve probably experienced at one point, some form of sexual harassment in an academic setting. Whether it was during your studies, during a meeting, during a social gathering, or during a conference. Being a person that has experienced that myself, and knowing colleagues that have experienced it too, we always wondered, where is the silver line between a ‘kind’ gesture and a ‘#metoo’ situation. Sexual harassment can be manifested in a variety ways, some include: excessive touching of the shoulder, lower back, arms; inappropriate talks during a social gathering; touching in inappropriate places; frequent comments on one’s sex appeal, overall appearance and body; display of inappropriate sexual images in your presence; but even sexist jokes and attitudes towards you. Do you relate? If not then I hope that it stays that way for you, if you do, then we need to talk.
All of these aforementioned examples can be placed on a scale, meaning that a small hug now, that may seem as a simple kind and innocent gesture, can eventually turn into recurrent hugs that are uncomfortable and unwanted. But how do you make that clear to the person? And, how do you know when something is worth reporting, or not?
At the end of the day, it is not written in the books, what exact scenarios are considered as sexual harassment and abuse. Some tell you the slightest gesture should not be dismissed, while others argue that only very explicit behaviours should be reported. So who draws that silver line? Your university? The scientific community? Or your colleagues and friends?
None. YOU are the one that should draw your own silver line. Unquestionably, if it makes you feel uncomfortable, then it’s not right and you should act upon it.
Katherine Bassil, PhD at the department of psychiatry and neuropsychology