When Does “Banter” Become Sexual Harassment?

In the space of a week I have had two separate encounters with men behaving inappropriately with me. When I talk about them with some people, they say it’s outrageous and not on. Others have said I’ve taken it personally, it’s just a joke. One was a verbal remark, the other physical. Is one less vile than the other? Does it depend on who the man is and who the woman is? Should it even matter? This article looks at whether there is a line between banter and sexual harassment, both verbally and physically.

Screen Shot 2013-03-08 at 12.26.43Example One – Physical

Last week, a guy came over, looked at my chest, grabbed hold of it, shook me around and said, “Wow, have you had these weighed?!”. This is the one that everyone agrees is just plain out of order. I had never met this man before, I was just walking by when I stopped to talk to a friend of his that I did know. Luckily, the friend was quick to jump to my rescue, push him off and tell him to get lost. He apologised for his behaviour, but it wasn’t him who should have said sorry. All women have the right to go out and not be treated as some piece of meat only there for male attention. I wasn’t wearing anything revealing, just a plain black top that sat between my neck chest. Not that I think that should make the slightest bit of difference. No man has the right to do that to a woman, particularly one they had never met before then and regardless of how she is dressed.

Example Two – Verbal

Whilst out this week, a very drunk middle aged man who I have seen around a few times before, looked at me and said, “Don’t wear your hair like that”. I had pulled it to one side and made a messy BoHo plait. Low maintenance and out of the way, well suited for me that night. Confused as to what was apparently wrong with my hair that day, I asked why. His response was,

“When you wear your hair like that, it makes me want to do porn star things to you”.

Having known this man in passing, I already knew I didn’t like him, that he was a drunk, a letch, arrogant, rude and generally vile man. Because I had already encountered him, it just made it worse because I knew exactly what he was like. When I mentioned it to others who had never met him, they said it may have been a joke or was he just trying to be funny? No he wasn’t, he is a creep with a bad reputation. But it got me thinking. Had it been another man, a younger, sober man, would it have been any better? The conclusion I came to was no matter the man, implying such crude sentiments to someone you don’t know is simply not nice, but circumstance does change it. If the girl was flirting with you, there was back and forth quips, then maybe it could be taken in context as flirty and harmless, I still wouldn’t be impressed by it though. But in this case, it was an old man no one likes, drunk and knowing full well that he was being crass to someone half his age.

Verbal V Physical

The idea of being touched against your wishes is more fearful and scary than listening to something. The level of violation is increased. This person has touched you inappropriately with no invitation to do so. Your personal space, your body has been made venerable. It’s not nice to experience.  With words, you can just try to ignore it, walk away. It’s still not pleasant but you have your space and avoided their nasty hands touching you. Still, I would rather not experience either if it could be helped.

When Does Banter & Flirting Overstep The Mark?

The answer to this will change from woman to woman, and even on a case by case basis. Each woman will have her own personal lines and what one Screen Shot 2013-03-08 at 12.43.38will put up with, others may not. Even then, setting, context and the man in question also means you may be more willing to let him get away with more, or in some cases, put up with very little. If a male friend said something a bit OTT but I knew him well and knew that was normal for him, I’d be a bit more relaxed about it. If a complete stranger says something like mentioned above, or touches me, it immediately puts my defenses up and I don’t like it. If it was a man I had just met but we were both being flirtatious and sassy, then again, maybe I would be more resilient as by flirting back may have implied it would be ok.


There is no right or wrong answer to this. There are so many factors and variants. All women are different, all men are different and each scenario is different. One thing is certain, is that women deserve respect, we should not be touched or spoken to in a demeaning, sexualised manner. No matter how we are dressed, how much we smile at you or are polite, flirt, it is not and invitation to be touched or spoken to like dirt. If you think you are about to say something or do something that is below par, don’t do it. It wont win you any favours. Women do not exist as objects for men, treat us well, we deserve it and it will serve you better.

~Image sources: http://www.flickr.com/photos/lobraumeister ~

~ http://www.flickr.com/photos/danmorrill ~


4 thoughts on “When Does “Banter” Become Sexual Harassment?

    • I’m pleased you agree, and I am quick to note that it is only a handful of men luckily. Thank you for stopping by and commenting, pleased you liked my post 🙂

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