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Women, Keep Your Hands To Yourselves

Women, Keep Your Hands To Yourselves

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Top image credit: Mario Azzi

In a post-#MeToo world, men continue to tread carefully lest they join the growing pool of men accused of sexual assault and harassment.

As detailed by the New York Times, men have been avoiding private meetings and coming into contact with women at work. Some have even reportedly been too afraid to perform CPR on women as it involves touching their chests.

But how about women who touch men?

I’ve often witnessed the hands of female friends (platonically) slipping into the crook of a guy’s elbow whilst walking, followed by the look of puzzlement cross his face right after. I’ve also seen friends squeeze a guy’s arm jokingly or lean on his shoulder during conversation, only for him to tense up immediately.

If the genders were reversed, I’m willing to bet they wouldn’t be as cavalier, and such behaviour would be found creepy. But because they’re female, nothing happens.

Now before we go any further, I’d just like to clarify that this article isn’t about how women then deserve the things that happen to them when they get too touchy. Rather, it’s about understanding what we’ve learnt to accept as permissible in gender-based interactions.

While men continue to get flak for being too touchy, the truth is that when the opposite happens, women get away with it.

So the question is: should they?

Maybe we should even start giving more leeway to touchy men

Women are touchy, more so than men.

I’m not just saying that because I’m female and speaking from experience. In a study done by Stanley E. Jones, females were found to initiate more touches than males—specifically, more opposite-sex touches.

These touches are used to communicate a variety of feelings, from love to casual interest.

“Depending on the context, it can allow me to be motherly, loving, friendly or sisterly,” says a female friend. Now this wouldn’t be a problem if not for the fact that these same touches have been perceived as being misleading.

“But my boyfriends have voiced that they feel uncomfortable when they see me touch my male friends,” that same friend adds.   

For anyone who’s ever attempted to flirt with another human being, you’d know just how problematic and potent physical contact can be—especially for men.

Not only does research show that men tend to perceive touch from females as warm, pleasant, and friendly, countless dating guides (from Cosmopolitan to Psychology Today) have conditioned men (and women) to recognise a woman’s touch as a key expression of interest.  

It is this tacit understanding of what one’s touch means that gives it power—a power that some women are not above exploiting, whether for free drinks or a lift home.

Image credit: Dailymail
As Uncle Ben from Spiderman would put it, “With great power comes great responsibility.”

While physical contact can be well meaning, it can just as easily be misconstrued. Of course, I am not suggesting that a woman who has been overly-handsy with her colleague is ‘asking for it’— after all, touching someone on his or her waist or thigh is hardly the same as saying, “Yes, I want to have sex with you.”  

The point is, however, that if a woman has been ‘touchy’ with a man, and he decides to make a move on her, she bears some responsibility for that exchange. No more feigning surprise as to why she was hit on or why he didn’t seem happy when she rejected him later.

Studies across the board have also revealed that women are able to read nonverbal expressions with more accuracy than men and even go so far as to outperform men on 11 out of 12 emotional intelligence measures. In other words, we should know when we’re sending someone the wrong message.

Just as men need to be aware of the signals their actions send, whether predatory or merely friendly, the same can be said of women.

We’ve swept many of these issues under the rug without stopping to fully consider their implications

To take it one step further, perhaps we should even start giving more leeway to touchy men (within boundaries of course, so elbows and shoulders ok; thigh and waist not ok).

Based on the conversations I’ve had with female friends, many would consider it creepy and inappropriate to be touched by a guy. But if they would have no qualms about then being touchy with these same guys, isn’t this essentially a double standard?

Why is it that when a woman touches a man, it’s considered friendly and affectionate, but the opposite is often construed as harassment? Why should the privilege of being able to express oneself through physical contact only be given to women?

A simple rule I tend to follow is that if I’m willing to get touchy (within boundaries) with them, I should be prepared if they wish to get touchy (within boundaries) with me too.

As a touch-happy male friend tells me, “Lines need to be drawn before I will be touchy with the opposite gender. For instance it needs to be made known that the relationship is purely platonic.”

Not only that, “Knowing where to touch is also important as touching of various body parts can send very different signals (for instance touching of hips versus touching of shoulders).”

As long as these conditions are fulfilled and men remain accountable for their actions, we should seriously consider cutting touchy men a little slack.

Image credit: PVPOnline
In today’s world, gender-based interactions have come under a microscope. Everything from how men talk down to women and now, how women may be “inappropriately” touching men, is up for scrutiny. We’ve swept many of these issues under the rug without stopping to fully consider their implications.

But ignorance isn’t a valid excuse. Instead, it’s time we were a little more mindful, and time we paid more attention to where we’re putting our hands and how others may feel about that.

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Rachel Lau Staff writer