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

Synopsis

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.

Excerpt

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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