I saw this piece on the Washington Post and it reminded me of the “necessary but not sufficient” concept. The idea is simple – a thing may be necessary to satisfy a legal requirement, but it may be only one of several elements. In the libel world, where I do a lot of work, for example, a publication has to be false, defamatory and shown to a third party to be actionable. So if someone writes some false, horrible thing about me, but only in their private diary, I don’t have a libel case. In that instance, “falsity” is necessary, but not sufficient.
The piece I linked discusses a sign in Washington D.C.’s Metro system (it’s their subway) that looks like this:
Click here to view the image.
The sign’s text says:
“You have the right to be safe waiting for and riding Metro. You don’t have to put up with inappropriate comments, touching, gestures, or actions. Help Metro protect you and other passengers. If you witness or experience harassment, report it to the nearest Metro employee.”
Fair enough. But the headline – “IF IT’S UNWANTED IT’S HARASSMENT” -- goes a little too far. In my subway riding experience lots of unwanted stuff occurs. I’ve seen pop up Mariachi bands get on in New York and “entertain” prior to passing around a hat. I’m not a big fan of the music or the hat passing. That makes the whole thing unwanted I suppose. But it’s not harassment.
And more to the point, suppose I attend a Reds/Nationals game in D.C. someday. And let’s suppose the Reds win. If I get on the Metro wearing my Frank Robinson retro jersey and proceed to chant “Let’s go Reds!” is that unwanted? Probably. Is it harassment? I doubt it.
So it brings me back to my point. It has to be unwanted to be harassment. But just because it’s unwanted, doesn’t make it harassment. Necessary, but not sufficient.