An 'unwanted kiss' may seem innocent but has larger consequences

If we continue to brush it off or to tell women to just "deal with it" we are actively working against gender equality and women's safety.

Megan Batchelor, CBC reporter and unwanted kiss. (Video still)
Megan Batchelor, CBC reporter, reacting to unwanted kiss at the Squamish Valley Music Festival. (Video still)

Early on the Friday (Aug. 7) evening of the Squamish Valley Music Festival, Megan Batchelor was reporting live — sounds like a fun assignment, right? Well, maybe for a man.

As Batchelor was talking about the threat of rain, a young man ran up behind her, planting a kiss on her cheek. She was clearly startled; one can imagine how it might feel for a strange man to come up behind you, aggressively touching or grabbing you, unannounced. Even if you can't, Batchelor said the incident "rattled" her and she decided to file a report with the Squamish RCMP.

The reaction to Batchelor's decision to contact the police was immediate and harsh. She was told she was being "uptight," that she should quit her job, that she should "calm down," and that she simply shouldn't report at music festivals. Essentially, the message was, "if you can't take the heat get out of the kitchen."

But should women be expected to put up with unwanted touching or harassment if they want jobs in journalism?

Two things have become apparent in all this:

1. The general public doesn't fully understand what sexual harassment is or why it is wrong.

2. There is a broader — quite dangerous — message conveyed to men and women alike through this behaviour.

Sexual harassment has been a problem in the workplace since women entered the workforce. According to the UN, it can include unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favours, unwanted sexual looks or gestures, and actual attempts to sexually assault a person. Many balked at Batchelor's description of the incident as "assault," but the reality is that sexual assault is defined, simply, as unwanted sexual contact.

While what happened to Batchelor at Squamish Fest may not seem as serious as a rape, her decision to file a report is important if not only because it makes clear that these kinds of actions are not, in fact, harmless.

I appeared on CBC Radio's BC Almanac on the following Monday to discuss the situation, following an interview with Batchelor on that program in which she talked more about her experience:

"I hadn't allowed myself to fully start thinking about it, as I was on TV, but as soon as I threw it back to the studio I could feel my face start to fall, I could feel that smile start to fade as things started clicking in my brain. I was like, 'Okay, someone just totally invaded your space and this is not okay.' And I could feel the tears starting to come at that point."

In our society, women are made to feel as though their bodies are not their own. We are catcalled on the street, groped on public transit, raped in our homes, gawked at while going about our daily routine, and sexually harassed at work. We must constantly be vigilant in public spaces, paying attention to who is walking behind us in parking garages, who has gotten into the elevator with us, and where we leave our drinks in the bar, lest someone try to slip us the date rape drug. Being a woman in a man's world means that we cannot easily escape this reality unless we simply lock ourselves up in our homes.

Oddly, this seems to be the solution some are suggesting.

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