Is a 'womanizer' different from a 'harasser'? You show us how our vocabulary is changing

Top: Sabrina Aponte (left) and Joe Snikeris. Bottom: Luis Rosario (left) and Jane Fischer. Each spoke with The Inquirer about the language we use surrounding sexual harassment.

Everyone knew the man was a womanizer, a “player.” But then he was officially accused of sexual harassment, and called a rapist.

Is there a difference?

The language you choose likely depends on your politics — but also your age, your gender, when the accusations were leveled (check public opinion on Bill Clinton circa 1998 vs. Harvey Weinstein 2017), and whose behavior is in question. Perhaps what you once described as acceptable would now be considered deplorable. Either way, the definitions have gotten muddy.

As revelations about powerful men committing acts of sexual harassment have poured out over the last several weeks, it has caused men and women to look inward and wonder: Where’s the line? Is flirting always harmless? Can a womanizer be abusive? What is the difference between sexual harassment and sexual assault? Have we conflated too many #metoo moments?

Are there better words than these?

Although these acts occur in and out of the workplace, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission says harassment can include “unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical harassment of a sexual nature.” And the agency  makes an important distinction: Although the law doesn’t prohibit teasing or offhand comments, it becomes illegal when it’s “so frequent and severe that it creates a hostile or offensive work environment.”

But that’s a bit of legalese. We trekked around the city to ask Philadelphians to define what some of these words mean to them. Here’s what they said:

What is a flirt?

Merriam-Webster’s defines the verb flirt as: “To behave amorously without serious intent or to show superficial or casual interest or liking.”

Here’s how you define flirt:

“It’s like, if you like someone and you want to get to know them better on a more romantic level, I guess, then you would do certain actions to get their attention.” — Sabrina Aponte, 20, of University City

“Friendliness that plays with the line between platonic and sexual.” — Mathilde Beniflah, 21, of University City

“Somebody who puts themselves out there in order to get your attention.” — Joe Snikeris, 32, of Cherry Hill

“Someone that is very friendly and kind of in an advanced form. They might have an ulterior motive. They want to get to know you more.” — Madeline Donnerstag, 21, of Center City

“A recreational creative talker, I suppose. Someone that likes to bring out the color in people.” — Stephanie Shaw, 65, of Fairmount

What is a womanizer?

Merriam-Webster’s defines womanize as: “To pursue casual sexual relationships with multiple women.”

Here’s how you define womanizer:

“Someone that doesn’t respect women and doesn’t necessarily respect one’s feelings if it’s a relationship.” — Madeline Donnerstag, 21, of Center City

“A player. Somebody that goes around and talks to a lot of women and then try to use them for what they have.” — Mike Jones, 50, of Mount Airy

“A womanizer is a male who derives his ego based on how he can manipulate a female.” — Stephanie Shaw, 65, of Fairmount

“Somebody who treats women like objects, not people.” — Joe Snikeris, 32, of Cherry Hill

“Al Franken, apparently.” — Ken Janes, 27, of Lindenwold

Camera icon (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
Sen. Al Franken (D., Minn.) has been accused of sexual misconduct.

What is a creep?

Merriam-Webster’s defines a creep as: “An unpleasant or obnoxious person.”

Here’s how you define creep:

“Someone who is stalking you and coming on unwantedly.” — Cameo Hazlewood, 20, University City

“It could be male or female, but usually I associate it with male. Someone who lies or is dishonest or pretends they’re something they’re not, or tries to get something they shouldn’t have.” — Jane Fischer of Washington Square West

“Someone who makes other people feel uncomfortable.” — Mathilde Beniflah, 21, of University City

What is a harasser?

Merriam-Webster’s defines the verb harass as: “To annoy persistently. To create an unpleasant or hostile situation for, especially by uninvited and unwelcome verbal or physical conduct.”

Here’s how you define harasser:

“Someone who inflicts unwanted advances on someone else, like really invades their personal space, doesn’t respect someone else’s desires for privacy. And really kind of crosses the line between what is and isn’t acceptable.” — Catherine Said, 21, of University City

“Someone who won’t leave you alone.” — Keisha Hall, 33, of North Philly

weinstein, spacey, louis,
Camera icon AP
From left, Louis C.K., Kevin Spacey, and Harvey Weinstein. All have been accused of sexual harassment.

“Look to the U.S. Senate for that. Someone who asks for something that they shouldn’t be asking for and then won’t take no for an answer.” — Jane Fischer of Washington Square West

“Someone that does not respect boundaries, someone that just has no respect for another person and has just complete disregard for someone else’s feelings.” — Madeline Donnerstag, 21, of Center City

“Somebody who aggressively pursues … Well, when you say it like that, it sounds like a flirt.” — Ken Janes, 27, of Lindenwold

What is a rapist?

Merriam-Webster’s defines rape as: “Unlawful sexual activity and usually sexual intercourse carried out forcibly or under threat of injury against the will usually of a female or with a person who is beneath a certain age or incapable of valid consent because of mental illness, mental deficiency, intoxication, unconsciousness, or deception.”

Here’s how you define rapist:

“Someone who does something without your consent that you don’t want them to do — sexually.” — Cameo Hazlewood, 20, of University City

“A horrible criminal, disgusting human being that engages in sexual violence and, yeah, disgusting.” — Mathilde Beniflah, 21, of University City

“A really, really terrible person that takes advantage of another person and doesn’t have any respect for themselves or anyone else. Someone that can destroy someone’s life without a single care.” — Madeline Donnerstag, 21, of Center City