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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Monday, Sept. 1, 2014

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In Living Commentary

There's a right way and a wrong way to let a woman know she's attractive.

The fine line between compliments and harassment


A few months ago I mentioned in a column that I was visually assaulted by an older man at Mitchell International while on my way to Miami. I've been pondering for some time now the highs and lows of being ogled.

That particular situation left me feeling violated and a little nauseated. Having a man, who is quite a bit older than my father, stop dead in his tracks in the middle of a busy airport terminal and say, "Whoa! Hot body!" in a loud enough tone that everyone around us heard him is not flattering, it's not sexy, it's just gross.

It wasn't his age that bothered me, and he looked like a normal enough guy, it was his technique that left me with vomit in my mouth. I would expect something like that out of "The Situation," but what would possess a grown man to do something like that? I was not wearing anything curve-hugging enough to prompt a reaction like that, but honestly, I was worried that his next move would be to shove some dollar bills down my pants or make a throw pillow out of the skin on my thighs. It really had me bothered and nervous and I made a point to sit very, very far away from him after that.

Last week, I bumped into a large pickup truck while parallel parking (insert women can't drive joke here) and, of course the owner was right there to witness it. I hopped out of my compact car smiling, optimistically asking God to let this one slide. There wasn't even a scratch on either of our cars, but I would never just blow something like that off without apologizing, scratch or no scratch. The guy was probably in his late thirties and was with his young son. I said,"Sorry! Did I just bump your car?"

The guy discreetly looked me over and simply said, "yeah, but you're cute enough to get away with it. I hope I see you around again."

Oh! My! I managed to keep from blushing and darted off to get my coffee -- the intention of the trip -- all the while thinking "I'm wearing my usual work get up, which consists of a t-shirt, jean shorts and flip flops, and my hair is tied into an unsightly bundle on the back of my head."

But it was still nice. Aww... somebody thinks I'm pretty! And it was all due to the way he went about it. He didn't give me a once over like I was a doe he wanted to taxidermy and hang on the mantle. He was just a nice guy being nice. And I was dead in the middle of a crappy day so his compliment couldn't have been better timed.

It's great to get away with things like hitting someone else's car because he thinks you're cute. It's nice to feel like you look like you just rolled out of bed and have someone tell you that you look great. And it's nice getting free coffee 'cause you smile a lot.

It's not so nice to feel someone's creepy stare on the back of your head. Or to be embarrassed in front of strangers in a public place because some A-hole has no inner monologue.

Most gals don't get dressed to the nines hoping no one looks at them. But it's those looks or comments that push the boundaries of sexual harassment that make us want to run and hide. Or better yet, shove a rape whistle down your throat. My closet is full of "LOOK AT ME!" clothing and when I'm wearing that stuff, I don't want to be assaulted, but I realize that comments, good or alarming, might come my way. But there is always that lingering hope that if someone thinks you're attractive, they'll tell you in a way that doesn't make you want to punch them in the balls.

It seems like there's a large grey area between sexual harassment and complimenting someone and in the workplace it's even harder to decipher. But the line is how it makes the person you're talking to feel. If you say, "you look really nice today," in a non-Michael Scott kind of way, then no one should be confused about how you mean it and you'll likely make the person feel great. But telling someone they look great while slowly eyeballing them from head to toe with a few lip-licks thrown in will not go over well unless they have a crush on you, in which case you may get more than you bargained for.

I wouldn't recommend that route unless you know this person very, very well and can easily blow the comment off as a joke if it is not received with a wink and a smile.

Fine, you think I'm hot. Awesome! You can look, don't touch, but also don't look at me like you're about to have an accident in your pants. If you want to get a woman's attention or even just let her know you like what she's got going on, flatter her, don't make her feel like a stripper.

And for God's sake, if you're going to tell a woman you don't know that you think she's got a Whoa! Hot Body! Don't do it in the middle of an airport at 8 a.m. because next time I'm calling airport security on you and I'm guessing a good old fashioned body cavity search would put you back in your place.

Talkbacks

crespin79 | July 2, 2010 at 1:46 p.m. (report)

If compliments are welcomed by the recipient they do not constitute harassment. Sexual harassment i.e. UNWELCOME sexual advances and other verbal or physical conduct e.g., inappropriate pictures, posters, text messages, dress manner, etc., can be tried even if the plaintiff cannot prove psychological injury and a firm can be held liable for damages resulting from a hostile work environment. Sexual harassment is a burgeoning problem in the corporate world and it adversely affects the bottom line Training is vital e.g., packaged workshops, assertiveness training, and gender-awareness training. Sexual harassment results in substandard performance and adversely affects the bottom line, at work and elsewhere, and is therefore a social and community problem! By revealing their experiences of sexual harassment, women must effect changes on a corporate and on a social/community level. Absenteeism, high turnover, recruitment related problems, negative publicity, and low productivity are by-products of harassment (and bullying) in the workplace. I have a policy of distributing free abridged versions of my books on leadership, ethics, teamwork, motivation, women, bullying and sexual harassment, trade unions, etc., to anyone who sends a request to crespin79@primus.ca. Maxwell Pinto, Business Author http://www.strategicbookpublishing.com/Management-TidbitsForTheNewMillenium.html http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p34hB50lv-8

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Natemarq | July 2, 2010 at 1:21 p.m. (report)

Sarah I get it....You are pretty hot and only every article speculates to that fact. It also sounds like as long as your a good looking guy yourself it is a compliment but if you dont look good it must be sexual harrasment right? Seems like that fine line you speak off is thicker than you thought. But of course the thickness of the line and not the length that is important right?

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Red_5 | June 29, 2010 at 12:07 p.m. (report)

Double Dribble was awesome on NES in the late '80's and early '90's. At that time you could rock Jorts as well and it was completely acceptable. Now? Not so much. Well that is all the drivel I have for today.

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JKraken | June 28, 2010 at 6:37 p.m. (report)

We learned that Sarah Foster must be a cutie.

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sandstorm | June 28, 2010 at 2:34 p.m. (report)

i have two comments here, and you're gonna hafta trust me, i'm handsome enough to get away with them. 1: jean shorts? really??? 2: i have seen more people using the word "dribble" lately, when the correct term is "drivel". bruno, i honestly wouldn't have said anything if this weren't the umpteenth time i've seen others do this in the last few weeks, so i mean no disrespect to you personally. that's all.

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