The Law of Sexual Harassment: A Critique

The Law of Sexual Harassment: A Critique

The Law of Sexual Harassment: A Critique

The Law of Sexual Harassment: A Critique


"This book examines the question of whether the law about sexual harassment is morally justified, and argues that it is not. While the author has approached that examination as a professional philosopher, the book does not presuppose that its readers belong to any particular academic discipline: it is intended to be of interest to scholars in philosophy, political science, and jurisprudence, but also accessible to other educated readers. No previous familiarity with the law of sexual harassment is assumed, other than the general knowledge that any casual reader of newspapers is bound to have. The book is devoted to arguments that are addressed to all open-minded readers who wish to think about the topic critically." Title Summary field provided by Blackwell North America, Inc. All Rights Reserved


Since its appearance on the scene in the mid-seventies, there has been continuous strengthening of the law about sexual harassment. Until the nineties, the creation and strengthening of the sexual harassment law were largely unopposed. There was no genuine public debate about the law that would be comparable to the debates that accompany any changes or proposed changes in the law about, say, abortion, or affirmative action, or pornography, or gun control.

Whatever one's opinion about sexual harassment, one should be puzzled by this lack of public debate. One would not normally expect a body of law on such subject matter to get so firmly entrenched with such ease. After all, the law about sexual harassment affects (or attempts to affect) the day-to-day lives of almost all of us, in an area that most of us are very sensitive about, that of our sexuality. It would therefore seem reasonable to expect its strengthening to have been surrounded by a public debate at least as vigorous as the public debates about abortion or pornography.

It was only in 1991, after the rules about sexual harassment had been a well-established part of the U.S. legal system for some time, that some kind of public debate about it was triggered by the scandal that surrounded the appointment of Clarence Thomas to the Supreme Court. Since then, we have seen a few more bursts of public debate about sexual harassment, notably at the time when the movie Disclosure, based on Michael Crichton's novel of the same title, was released, and at various points in Paula Jones' pursuit of her sexual harassment claim against President Clinton. But although there were moments in the nineties when the debate about sexual harassment was vigorous, it has never been as articulate and as structured as the debates on comparable issues of public policy.

One partial, but only partial, explanation of why there was very little public debate about sexual harassment at the time when the crucial developments in the law about it were taking place is that the law is largely a creation of the judiciary. The law about sexual harassment was not created through a debate and vote in the Congress. It is normally the consideration of a proposed new law by a legislative body that gives the principal impetus to the public debate about the . . .

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