Thinking about Sexual Harassment: A Guide for the Perplexed

Thinking about Sexual Harassment: A Guide for the Perplexed

Thinking about Sexual Harassment: A Guide for the Perplexed

Thinking about Sexual Harassment: A Guide for the Perplexed

Synopsis

This illuminating work on one of today's most provocative issues provides all the necessary information for careful, critical thinking about the concept of sexual harassment. Consisting mainly of two parts, it first traces the construction of the concept of sexual harassment from the original public uses of the term to its definitions in the law, in legal cases, and in empirical research. It then analyzes philosophical definitions of sexual harassment and a number of issues that have arisen in the law, including the reasonable woman standard and whether same-sex harassment should be considered sex discrimination. Sure to spark intense discussion, this book explains a complex notion in a lucid and engaging manner appropriate for anyone broadly curious about the notion of sexual harassment.

Excerpt

It has been more than twenty-five years since feminist activists coined the term "sexual harassment." It has been more than twenty years since a federal court first recognized sexual harassment as actionable under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Today, approximately 40 percent of workplace discrimination lawsuits involve allegations of sexual harassment, and U.S. companies are buying "sexual harassment insurance" to protect themselves. Yet, many of the central questions about the concept of sexual harassment remain unsettled. What is sexual harassment? Or, since there really is no single answer to this question, how should sexual harassment be characterized? What kinds of behavior constitute sexual harassment? Can a six-year-old sexually harass a classmate? Are consensual relationships between students and their professors, or between presidents and their interns, by definition sexually harassing? Why is sexual harassment such a problem in the armed services? Should same-sex harassment be considered illegal sex discrimination? How prevalent is sexual harassment? How harmful is sexual harassment? Can the occurrence of sexual harassment be reduced? Should it be?

These questions are not merely academic. Most people work or go to school in environments governed by sexual harassment laws. Both employers and employees must understand the concept of sexual harassment to avoid violating these laws and to be able to defend themselves if they are harassed. Furthermore, unless there is some degree of consensus about what sexual harassment is and what, if anything, should be done about it, laws against it are unlikely to be accepted as fair. Laws perceived to be unfair are not likely to be effective or to endure.

There are a number of reasons why sexual harassment remains so controversial. First, the term "sexual harassment" is a "term of art." That is, it did not arise naturally, as terms such as "carrot" or "canyon" do. Rather, the term was invented for a particular purpose. Sometimes, invented or stipulated . . .

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