Graphic by Jessica Valeny.

It’s Friday night and you’re at a party having a friendly conversation with another partygoer. Without warning, he leans over and whispers in your ear about how you two should find a room and “get to know each other.”

Repulsed and aghast, you take a step back to assert yourself. Why would this person you barely know think it’s OK to make a suggestive pass at you?

He puts his hand up defensively. Suddenly, a face once full of intent turns into a look of shock and amazement at your response.

“Whoa, relax sweetie. Can’t you take a joke?”

His apparent innocence makes you question yourself. Are you overreacting? Did you misinterpret the situation? It feels like you’re suddenly the guilty party here, despite knowing otherwise.

It’s a situation I’ve been in more times than I can remember. The truth is, small instances like this do nothing to encourage basic respect towards women. Rather, they silence women by making it seem like this belittling attitude is something we should tolerate.

Fourth-year sociology student Corrina Santos says women are often groomed to tolerate this behaviour and expect it as a means of affirmation.

“Media taught me as a child that catcalling or inappropriate remarks were acceptable and perhaps even desirable,” Santos said. “They made me feel good about myself and boosted my confidence. Now that I’ve become more aware of the context of these comments, I feel extremely offended and violated.”

Tolerating this behaviour only normalizes what is not acceptable. In fact, Natalie Portman didn’t even realize how many times she had experienced sexual harassment at work because of how common and normal it became.

To me, this is just a microcosm of a much larger problem. When we make it acceptable to say these offensive comments, we perpetuate an attitude that contributes to the oppression of women.

If you need proof, just watch the news. Since the New York Times reported the accusations against Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein in October, a wave of allegations have come to light against varying public figures.

And whether they are accused of assault or of making a stupid comment, I couldn’t help but wonder why the list of accused kept growing. If you ask me, grooming society to accept a social construct that shames women for speaking out when they feel disrespected and uncomfortable is a root problem.

“The moment we let one instance go is the moment we stop caring because it’s ‘no big deal,’” says Santos. “This teaches both men and women to tolerate or normalize sexual harassment because it’s part of life.

If we want to correct this behaviour, we need to understand basic respect. If we ever want to see society progress it’s time to take accountability for what we say. It’s time to have some class.

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