In the wake of a tsunami of allegations of sexual harassment against prominent men in show business, politics and media, and the stories of the #MeToo campaigns on social media, single New York women find ourselves in a strange position.
On the one hand, we welcome legal protections in the workplace, and many of us also welcome the increased awareness of sexual harassment that media coverage and the #MeToo campaigns have spurred.
In the words of one of the 20 women I’ve interviewed on this topic in recent weeks, “It’s about time.”
On the other hand, some of us privately wonder: does the bitter battle of the sexes playing out incessantly across our TV screens and social-media platforms have a potential downside, especially for singles who truly want to connect?
With society in a state of upheaval over sexual harassment, will men’s historic fears of rejection now be augmented by fear of being accused?
And in the immediate future, will the fear of being branded a harasser cast a pall over opportunities for singles to find romance and fun this holiday season?
Any man who doesn’t know the difference between harassment and flirtation is a troglodyte, say some, and when it comes to abuse or egregious forms of harassment, that is certainly true.
But when it comes to sincere efforts to approach a woman romantically, there is another, practical truth: What one woman considers annoyance or even mild harassment, another might consider harmless flirtation, or even seduction. We’re all individuals.
Yet at a time when unwelcome advances are increasingly stigmatized, how is one to know in advance what type of approach is likely to be well received?
To address this conundrum, I interviewed straight, single New York City women and spoke with more than 20, of diverse races, backgrounds and occupations, between the ages of 22 and 50.
At a time when many feel that real romance has suffered a major blow due to the explosion of dating apps with their illusion of unlimited companionship at a click, as well as proliferation of online pornography, some say there could be a downside for single women in today’s heightened — some might say hyper — focus on sexual harassment.
“When you put it all together, it’s the perfect storm,” said Leigh (name has been changed), 47, an Upper East Side financial analyst.
“In New York City, there are already way more single women than men,” she explained. “Now, on top of it all, we’re not going to have the good old-fashioned flirtation and interaction men and women have had since the Stone Age due to men’s fears of being branded harassers.”
Others dismiss the idea that heavy media coverage of prominent men brought down by accusations could hurt single women’s social lives in any way.
“The growing awareness and #MeToo social-media campaigns are really not about, ‘Someone said no, and the man pursued a little bit,’?” said Nina (name has been changed), 42, a Tribeca banker. “It’s about abuse of power, and men thinking they can demean women. To be considerate and perceptive about a woman’s interest level doesn’t make you less manly .?.?. Real masculine men can do it.”
Are single women concerned this is the end of flirtation?
Hopefully the end of presumptuous remarks, say some.
“Like, when guys approach you and say, ‘Smile,’?” said Connie Chen, 33, of Williamsburg. “It may not be harassment, but it’s sexist.”
“I don’t consider flirtatious jokes or comments sexual harassment,” said Bonnie, 42, an Upper East Side dental hygienist. “If I say it makes me uncomfortable and you won’t stop, or you touch me [without consent], that’s another story.
“I think there’s a lot of gray area because there’s a big difference between the way men and women think,” she added.
In general, single New York women want men to know that approaching us to express sincere romantic interest is still desired. But it’s all about respect.
“I’ve rejected a lot of guys based on how they said something,” said Brenda Thompson, 36, a hair stylist from The Bronx. “It’s like, ‘Yo, ma, looks good!’ instead of, ‘Excuse me, miss, how’s your day going?’ If you weren’t raised to be disrespectful to your mother, why would you talk to a woman like that?”
Thompson added that if men can view the current focus on sexual harassment as an opportunity to learn “what not to do, they might get a better response.”
Playful, respectful communication is generally a winning approach. Pay attention and get it right, guys.
After all, it’s only the future of the human race at stake.