The difference between causal interactions and what happened at Club 519, however, involves the physicality of the situation. Having a conversation with a chancellor at a bar is cool. A chancellor standing between your legs at a bar? Significantly less cool.
Men relentlessly subject women to physical microaggressions — comments or actions that subtly, and maybe without conscious thought, express prejudice or threatening behavior toward a minority group. A boss may put his hand on a woman’s lower back and think he’s exhibiting casual body language, but the action is incredibly invasive and problematic given the unequal power dynamic. When women speak up about these microaggressions, even to other women, they risk being called overly sensitive or accused of trying to "play the victim."
Assessing whether Gerlach did anything inappropriate is difficult given the different definitions of inappropriate behavior. If men aren’t explicitly told that their actions make people uncomfortable, they will argue to the death that they did nothing wrong.
Maybe Gerlach stands between women’s legs all the time and has never had a problem before. Maybe the men reading the report and arguing in the comments that "nothing inappropriate happened" are uncomfortable being forced to face the possibility of their own potential missteps for the first time.
Women are conditioned to believe that microaggressions are an integral part of living as a woman in this world.
A recent study from the American Psychological Association found that “women’s experiences with subtle, everyday forms of sexist discrimination are related to negative mental health outcomes, such as psychological distress, depression and anxiety.”
For the people who argue that we’re making a big deal out of nothing: if we never speak up, how will anything change?
This is not to say that men can't flirt with women at bars, or that physical contact is always off-limits. It does mean, however, that consent exists outside of the bedroom and should be considered anytime that physical contact is initiated.
Furthermore, if a woman tells you that she is uncomfortable with your actions, the only acceptable response is to listen and keep your hands to yourself.
It should also be noted that these guidelines apply to everyone, regardless of gender identity, sexuality or power dynamics. Simply put, don't touch someone who doesn't want to be touched.