Key Thoughts


Rob Vajko

Flirting, Harassment and Hollywood

There is an inherent danger in not jumping on the bandwagon of current thinking, especially when the current thinking has to do with sexual harassment. The inherent danger is that people will immediately jump to the conclusion that you are speaking up in defense of sexual harassment when you are, in fact, just trying to bring a little balance to a pendulum swing that has moved the whole world away from tolerating sexual harassment as part of the norm, especially in Hollywood.

So, let me be clear from the very start that I am in no way condoning sexual assault or harassment in any way, shape or form. What Harvey Weinstein, Bill Cosby, Matt Lauer and Louis C. K. did was wrong. It is unacceptable and should never be tolerated.

My problem right now is that I believe that we are reacting instead of acting.

Reacting means that we have an emotional response that dictates what we say or do. Acting, on the other hand, leads us to think more dispassionately about an issue. Reacting is the easier course; we simply let our emotions run the show. Acting, on the other hand, requires us to tamp down our outrage and disgust, to step back long enough to examine the whole picture. It’s a lot of hard work to seek understanding of why this problem exists and what we can do about it.

Webster’s New World College Dictionary defines “sexual harassment” as “inappropriate, unwelcome and typically persistent behavior, as by an employer or co-worker, that is sexual in nature, specifically when actionable under federal or state statutes.”

With that definition in mind, watch any of the first six episodes of “Star Wars.” Hans Solo flirts with Princess Leia so aggressively, she tells him he’s making her uncomfortable and is not interested in his advances. But he continues and, as we all know, she eventually falls in love with him. In the prequels, it’s Anakin Skywalker’s turn as he pursues Padmé Amidala. Again, she tells him his overtures make her uncomfortable. He continues to make inappropriate advances and comments and she eventually, apparently, changes her mind and likes what formerly was creepy.

How about James Bond? You’ll be hard pressed to find a single Bond movie where the hero doesn’t almost force himself on the “Bond girl,” ignoring her protests. They all, of course, give in—probably not the best idea as almost every one of them ends up dead afterward. There are numerous other examples: “Ted 2,” “Grease,” “Tootsie” and especially old classics like “Some Like It Hot,” just to name a few. Add to this “Fifty Shades of Grey,” and you end up with a pretty confusing issue.

These are simple examples and we can have a debate about whether media is promoting sexual harassment instead of exposing it, but whatever the case, it’s on our screens just as surely as it’s in our board rooms, classrooms and politics.

My point is this: Instead of the current witch-hunt that is ruining good men’s reputations for what they consider harmless flirting or for making advances that, if the woman was interested, would be welcome advances, we need to stop and regain a little balance. We need to differentiate between simple flirting and real sexual harassment. We also need to understand that we as a society are at least partly responsible. We’ve communicated clearly to men that women like to be pursued (and most women, I believe, would still say that this is the message we’re sending men). Men are therefore acting accordingly. It isn’t right to suddenly change all the rules and persecute men for acting the way they were taught to act. Can we please regain a little balance?