When a compliment turns into sexual harassment

When a compliment turns into sexual harassment

If the most powerful man in the world said you were beautiful, would you mind? 

Apparently yes, if you work with him on a professional basis - as United States President Barack Obama found out to his chagrin earlier this month.

He had introduced California Attorney-General Kamala Harris at a fund-raiser as "the best-looking attorney-general in the country".

To the President, and probably to most casual bystanders, it was an inconsequential compliment, especially coming after a string of other work-related praise.

But the comment offended Ms Harris' office and set off a firestorm of debate in the US - granted it was a slow news day - over whether Mr Obama's words were sexist and inappropriate.

Some observers argued that in a normal work setting, Mr Obama's remarks might even be considered sexual harassment.

Mr Obama has since apologised to Ms Harris and said the incident was

a "teaching moment" for him, a father of two daughters.

Storm in a teacup aside, it also serves as a timely reminder for the rest of us: that words or actions meant to innocently flatter can sometimes be misinterpreted.

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