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Not a Compliment

Men need to stop assuming women appreciate their advances, especially at work

Some days, the news we read, see and hear makes it impossible not to end up asking “What on earth is wrong with these men?” (Please note we’re saying “these men” and definitely not “all men.”) The guy who exposes himself in a work meeting, not realizing his computer camera is on; the one who thinks it’s still okay to dismiss female politicians, journalists and music stars based on their looks.

And then there are the ones who really, really don’t seem to get it. These are the guys who meet a woman in a professional, work-related context and ask for her phone number. They might send a friendly text, and then a flirty text. Then they might start sending multiple messages every day.

The next step is the one that makes people of all genders ask that question once again: what is wrong with these guys that they think their behaviour is okay? It’s the move to photos — images the recipient never asked for — perhaps first a picture of the sender’s torso, and then, all too often, the below-the-belt photo that without question crosses the line into harassment.

The case of American baseball coach Mickey Callaway is just the latest in a long line of men who’ve been called out for this behaviour. Sadly, there are plenty of examples all over the world and right here in Canada, including former cabinet minister and MP Tony Clement and former senator Don Meredith. (Although the word “sexting” is sometimes used, that implies an exchange free of coercion rather than a one-way barrage of unwanted and harassing messages.)

And of course, they’re just the ones who got found out. What about all the times when women have had to put up with such texts from colleagues or bosses, let alone on a man they met socially and never encouraged?

The people of all genders who do get it realize right away that sending someone an avalanche of texts and voice mails when the other person has shown no interest isn’t just embarrassing; it’s harassment. All too often, the sender will shrug and say something along the lines of “I was paying her a compliment!” but the rest of us know perfectly well that sending an uninvited photo of your genitalia is the farthest thing from a compliment.

As with so many things in life, it’s as simple as thinking of how you would feel if you were sent dozens of increasingly explicit messages, or if it happened to someone you care about — a daughter, sister, mother or friend. Does that feel like a compliment? Does it feel like something you, or she, would appreciate?

Of course not. Assuming otherwise dehumanizes the person receiving the messages. It elevates the sender’s desires above the receiver’s wishes. It is entitlement and male privilege at its most obvious.

To all those men who would never do such a thing, thank you. Thank you for treating women with respect in the workplace and in your personal life. Refraining from texting someone a photo of your crotch seems like a low bar to set, but here’s hoping that most of us are working on raising that bar to eliminate this kind of harassment.

By Nancy Payne