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What is Sexual Harassment?

What is Sexual Harassment?

What is Sexual Harassment?

By Ekaterina Mironova

In the fifties as women became more empowered due to the knowledge that they could efficiently compete with men in the workplace sexual harassment was seen as a norm. During the Second World War many women took on men’s roles as they fought for the country, this continued well after the war was over.

Although these involved menial roles to start with soon women gained confidence understanding that they could compete as a doctor, lawyer, police officer and MP, making a few men scared of the competition as only the strongest female characters rose to the top. Working in a male dominated society women often had to compromise taking sexual remarks on the chin and accepting lewd behaviour as part of everyday life. Over fifty years later this attitude towards women would be seen a sexist and derogatory as we now hold equal rights in the majority of professions, however, still sexual harassment cases arise making women uncomfortable simply because of their sex.

What Exactly is Sexual Harassment?
Sexual harassment in a nutshell is simply unwelcome behaviour towards you (because of your sex) that causes both discomfort and hostility in the workplace or makes you feel as though you job is in jeopardy if you don’t accept the advances.

What Types of Sexual Harassment Are There?

There are three different types of sexual harassment which are:

  • Verbal
  • Non Verbal
  • Physical

Verbal Sexual Harassment

This includes cat calls, whistles, sexual discussions, and requests for sexual favours, asking a person out repeatedly, asking personal questions, making references to a person’s sex life, making sexual comments about physical appearances, spreading sexual rumours about a person, telling sexual jokes or stories and making kissing sounds. Of course we all enjoy a bit of banter in the workplace but if any of these are getting out of hand first let the person know gently that you don’t like the behaviour and see if they stop; if they don’t keep a record and seek advice.

Non Verbal Sexual Harassment

Non-verbal sexual harassment comes in the form of actions without physical touching. This can be “checking you out” where a person looks you up and down appraising your figure, sending you unwanted gifts, blocking your path, following you, staring, blowing kisses or winking. If any of these actions make you feel uncomfortable or makes you fear for the safety of your job if you don’t accept them as normal, seek advice.

Physical Sexual Harassment

Physical sexual harassment spans a broad spectrum and is not to be taken lightly. At the more serious end is rape and although this includes only a small percentage of women it’s important to nip any physical contact in the bud so it never progresses to this.

On an ascending scale, physical harassment includes:
Brushing past or standing too close – Of course sometimes this can happen in squashed office spaces, yet if you feel uncomfortable and if you feel as though the other person is doing this is a sexual nature then ask them to stop, move away and seek advice.

Touching themselves – This includes any part of the body, if someone touches themselves with sexual intent in a bid to attract your attention this falls into the category of physical harassment even if they don’t touch you.

Hugging, kissing, stroking – We may hug workmates when we give a congratulations, or if we have a good friend that works close by, however if someone is always asking for hugs, kissing you anywhere (cheek, top of the head), or strokes you as they talk to you and it makes your skin crawl seek advice.

Massaging –When someone stands behind you and gives you a neck massage that feels inappropriate they are physically harassing you.
Many sexual harassment actions can often be explained with an excuse such as “it was only a hug”, “I wanted to increase her confidence by telling her how great she looked”, “I couldn’t help standing so close”, “I thought we were friends she always kisses her girlfriends goodbye”, etc… Yet the one dominating factor is how it makes you feel. Remember this and seek advice if there’s someone at work that is making your everyday uncomfortable.

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