What Is Sexual Harassment? From Capitol Hill to the Sorbonne

What Is Sexual Harassment? From Capitol Hill to the Sorbonne

What Is Sexual Harassment? From Capitol Hill to the Sorbonne

What Is Sexual Harassment? From Capitol Hill to the Sorbonne


In France, a common notion is that the shared interests of graduate students and their professors could lead to intimate sexual relations, and that regulations curtailing those relationships would be both futile and counterproductive. By contrast, many universities and corporations in the United States prohibit sexual relationships across hierarchical lines and sometimes among coworkers, arguing that these liaisons should have no place in the workplace. In this age of globalization, how do cultural and legal nuances translate? And when they differ, how are their subtleties and complexities understood? In comparing how sexual harassment—a concept that first emerged in 1975—has been defined differently in France and the United States, Abigail Saguy explores not only the social problem of sexual harassment but also the broader cultural concerns of cross-national differences and similarities.

"An outstanding work. This book is at once an analysis of a disturbing social practice and a study in legal mobilization. Saguy gets inside the black box of culture by showing how a piece of legal culture gets produced, disseminated, and received. Paying close attention to the discursive possibilities in the legal texts, the work is grounded in the organizational settings through which representational struggles are waged, displaying how the laws came to be as they are. A rich and provocative account that will be the starting point for future discussions of sexual harassment."--Susan Silbey, author of "The Common Place of Law: Stories from Everyday Life

"In this pathbreaking comparative study, Saguy sheds light on a crucial aspect of the lives of many working women by analyzing the various frames through which sexual harassment is understood in two national contexts. While norms against sexual harassment are growing deeper roots in the American workplace, accusations of sexual improprieties remain often the object of ridicule in France. Saguy's explanation of this and other differences goes beyond traditional culturalist models. The beauty of her analysis is to capture some of the ways in which sexuality is used to gain power in the workplace, and the role played by cultural frameworks in mediating these modalities."--Michele Lamont, co-author of "Rethinking Comparative Cultural Sociology: Repertoires of Evaluation in France and the United States

"This sophisticated, yet highly readable and dramatic account reveals how differently sexual harassment is interpreted in the laws and social practices in the United States and France. Drawing on a wide range of research, Saguy reveals howpolitical and cultural differences in the two societies have implications for addressing the harm victims face. A must read for sociologists of organizational behavior and culture, as well as lawyers and the informed public.


During the two years that Teresa Harris worked as a manager at Forklift Systems, an equipment rental company, Charles Hardy, the company's president, often insulted her and made her the target of unwanted sexual innuendos. Charles asked Teresa on several occasions, in the presence of other employees, “You're a woman, what do you know?” or said things such as “We need a man as the rental manager”; at least once, he told her she was “a dumb-ass woman. ” Again in front of others, he suggested that the two of them “go to the Holiday Inn to negotiate Teresa's raise. ” Charles occasionally asked Teresa and other female employees to get coins from his front pants pocket. He threw objects on the ground in front of Teresa and other women, and asked them to pick the objects up. He made sexual innuendos about Teresa's and other women's clothing.

When Teresa complained to Charles about his conduct, the latter expressed surprise that Teresa was offended, claimed he was only joking, and apologized. Based on his promises that he would stop his behavior, Teresa stayed on the job. But then the behavior began anew: While Teresa was arranging a deal with one of the company's customers, Charles asked her, again in front of other employees, “What did you do, promise the guy some sex Saturday night?” Shortly after this incident, Teresa collected her paycheck and quit.

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