Home » Queer Community » The Social Context of Morality and Sexual Behavior in The Face of Unacknowledged Harassment

The Social Context of Morality and Sexual Behavior in The Face of Unacknowledged Harassment

If I may, please allow me to purpose a question, and know that this is general and applicable to many communities. What has happened to basic morals (1) (moral theory) and respect toward one another? When has it ever been okay to treat another person like a sexual object? A woman, a man, gay, queer, straight, monogamous, poly amorous, vanilla or into bondage… none of these things, these life styles or personal choices removes one’s right to personal security and privacy.

I want to purpose a scenario to express and explain what I am getting at; the situation comes from personal experience, witnessed events, or has been told to me about/by friends and/or loved ones. In these examples and situations I may use gender binary terms, but this does not mean that I am limiting the experiences or actions within the gender binary. Harassment, violence, and sexual assault are not confined by binaries, we ALL experience these problems. And one reason why I focus my concerns to female same sex harassment is because I feel that it is a problem that is overlooked and not properly addressed when discussing harassment and assault.

To set the stage, this is a general observation I have made throughout my life
If a man approaches a woman and hits on her aggressively and bluntly, this is considered rude; depending on his actions, behavior, and words, this can be seen as harassment. In many cases, the woman (harassed) will speak out; tell him (harasser) to go away. I have seen some who are timid and have a hard time telling their harasser to go away, but for the most part I see loud stern reactions to this kind of harassment. Why is it then seemingly acceptable for a woman to objectify another woman? Why is it that when the harasser and harassed are the same sex that the offense seems to be less or tolerated?

This example comes from a college setting, where the majority of people on campus are female bodied
So you are young in life, and recently coming out and into your new (2) sexuality, you are in a safe (3) environment where you are free (4) to explore your desires. You want to be strong, proud, and loud in yourself and sexuality… GREAT. But how does that give you the right or make it acceptable for you to disregard basic respect for another person’s feelings, security, and privacy?

Excuse me for being so gender binary in this analogy, but it feels like I’m at a co-ed college with a bunch of over-sexualized, morally loose boys running around objectifying the women on campus. Except in this situation these boys are not boys, they’re women, young women who are objectifying, harassing and thereby assaulting other women. This is not ok, and why is no one speaking up and out about this?

A broader social context
In this day and age throughout the majority of the United States, we know that the way a person is dressed, no matter how tight or revealing the clothing may be, is never an open invitation for sex. A persons outfit never says “come here and fuck me,” or “I’m looking for someone to take me home and show me a good time,” only someone’s actual words can convey that. A smile or flirtatious conversation does not translate to: “take me now,” or “I want you so bad.” We, women and all people, have fought so long, and so hard for definitions of sexual consent (consent and consensual sex), and we continue to define what is good/acceptable sexual behavior within different social contexts, and what is seen as harassment or rape. Yet these concepts and realizations seem to be lost in some young queer communities, such as the college setting described above.

It is never okay to objectify or violate (5) another person. Why is this happening? Why is this seen as ok? Why are we tolerating this behavior? Going back to the specific example above, if this was on a co-ed campus, if these forward and pushy women were men, would we be reacting differently? Is this simply an affliction of youth? I think not, I would be more inclined to say a lack of experience, which is not directly correlated to age. Have these women just not yet learned that this behavior is unacceptable? Who is going to stand up and tell them that his behavior is not ok, that this behavior is unhealthy and damaging to the women they are objectifying and harassing.

Do observers or bystanders have the responsibility/right to say something to these people, to people harassing others? Should the women (6) being objectified stand up and defend themselves? What if they are unaware of the harassment, what if they know they feel uncomfortable and frustrated by this behavior but do not know to name it for what it is, harassment! These are forms of harassment and objectification, but how do we empower people to speak up and out about this?

The objective in this piece is to bring awareness to a problem within the queer community and the broader social community overall. Through awareness comes action, intervention and change. We must first be able to identify same-sex harassment, and acknowledge it for what it is and demand that it not be overlooked or devalued as a serious problem.

I have not outlined a solution here; I have merely tried to shed light on a problem that I have seen within the queer communities that I have engaged with. The outreach happens by people taking action, by demanding action, intervention, and change within the community. Within the example I used from a woman’s college, one step forward could be creating an easily accessible page on the college website that names and addresses same-sex sexual harassment specifically, and how to respond to these situations both as a victim and/or an observer. This page would be a community outreach to bring awareness to the problem and to provide resources on and off campus for victims, observers, and perpetrators.


Within this text there are embedded links to public sites that talk about sexual harassment, click on the words in blue to find more information about harassment and what to do if you experience it or observe it happening to someone else. The link to Creative Interventions, embedded in the word change below, brings you to a website that provides a community based intervention tool kit on how to address and stop interpersonal violence. Although verbal harassment may not be seen as a form of violence to some, I argue here that it is. Violating someone, even verbally, to the point that you are pressing personal boundaries, objectifying them, demoralizing them, intruding on their privacy and personal space, you are committing an act of violence toward them.

The question is then how do we name this and educate people about these problems? How do we work toward change? How do we help (7) those who have been harassed? How do we help those who are seemingly unaware of the fact that their behavior is disrespectful and harmful to others? Below in note seven are links to websites that provide resources to different local outreach centers and/or places to go for help. This is not a comprehensive list, but it gives you an idea of what is out there and how to look for help. Please note that the mass majority of the information I found when looking for general public information about same-sex sexual harassment is non-existent; and this is where further outreach and action need to be taken. The queer community needs to specifically address sexual harassment within our community and work toward change. This is my outreach; this is my plea for help in bringing this problem to light.

1. The basic moral I am referring to here is respect. Respect is being open and aware of your feelings and those of others. Respect is knowing when you are overstepping someone’s boundaries and knowing when to back off. To me respect is a basic moral; respect is an aspect of personal safety that we are all entitled to.
2. New to you as in you have previously not ben able to openly express your sexuality.
3. Away from parents or people you thought might harm you or not understand you if you were open about being queer.
4. Feel comfortable and able.
5. You can violate someone emotionally by the way you treat them, by the way you talk to them or about them.
6. Again, this is a generalized example. Same sex harassment happens among men too. This is something that anyone could experience, regardless of gender identity or sexuality.
7. http://oaklandwiki.org/Alameda_County/Sexual_Assault_Center , http://hms.harvard.edu/departments/ombuds-office/harassment-and-discrimination/sexual-harassment – observe, http://hr.wustl.edu/policies/Pages/SexualHarassment.aspx – advice

By Mel Holmes

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