The #MeToo movement and the controversy over Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to the US Supreme Court have put the issue of sexual harassment back in the news. It is good that the public is talking about this very sensitive issue. I have only one point to make about it: When a woman — or a man, for that matter — says “No”, it means “No” and it must be respected.
The problem is particularly harassing to women more than men because somewhere at the back of the sexist male psyche is this notion that a man — if he is a man — should not take “No” for an answer. Well, not any more.
He may justify his actions by saying she doesn’t mean it and impose himself on her which is sexual harassment. He may “chase” after her when she has already said “No. That is sexual harassment. He may give it back to her for saying “No” and make it hard for her to work or live. That is sexual harassment.
Even in a relationship where both parties like each other, when one side says “No”, it must be respected. The person who said “No” may have said it for his or her own reasons even if he or she likes the other party concerned. In a healthy relationship, “No” will be respected. If the “No” changes to a “Yes” at some later date, that person will signal it. Then, it’s for the partner to take his or her cue. Where both sides like each other, some emotional space is needed to navigate through and a “No” may be temporary. If it is definite and unlikely to change, respect it and back off indefinitely!
Always back off in the face of a “No” and take action only when the signals indicate a change to “Yes.” If the signals seem mixed then just talk with the involved partner. When people interact at a healthy level, communication channels are often left open so there are always opportunities to talk and iron things out.
In a one-sided relationship, a “No” is simply a “No”! If you are not interested in a romantic relationship with that person and you have clearly given a definite “No”, and that person won’t accept it, tell him or her to talk a walk or run round the block!
The general rule in any healthy, equal relationship is to take the cues from each other. If both sides give cues to go ahead, then go ahead! If one side holds back, respect it and back off until the cues indicate otherwise. If it’s one-sided and you have said a definite “No”, the other party — if he or she is self-respecting — will leave you alone.