Academic journal article Texas Journal on Civil Liberties & Civil Rights

Microaggressions and Sexual Harassment: How the Severe or Pervasive Standard Fails Women of Color

Academic journal article Texas Journal on Civil Liberties & Civil Rights

Microaggressions and Sexual Harassment: How the Severe or Pervasive Standard Fails Women of Color

Article excerpt


Defining Sexual Harassment.81

The Historical Sexualization of Women of Color.84

A. Stereotyping of Women of Color as Sexual Objects.85

B. Pornography and Its Perpetuation of Stereotypes Historically Applied to Women of Color.88

IV. Intersectionality and The Sexual Harassment of Women of


A. Comparing Standards for Harassment and Discrimination Based on Sex and Race.92

B. Measuring Harassment and Discrimination by White Women's and Men of Color's Experiences.94

C. Sacrificing Elements of Discrimination Claims to Develop a Larger Class of Plai_72.tiffs.96

V. Microaggressions as Harassment.97

A. Inherent Sexualization in Racist Comments Targeting Women of Color.98

B. Microaggressions as a Form of Identity Discrimination.99

C. Implicit Bias as a Barrier to Using Sexual Harassment Law to Stop Microaggressions.101



Fighting sexual harassment is a bit like fighting a mythological Hydra every morning when you walk out the door. For every head we manage to chop off through civil rights statutes or litigation, it grows several more, determined to come up with new ways to sexualize and humiliate women who are just trying to go about their lives in peace. Whether we're walking down the street, having drinks with friends, or sitting at a desk, women face the possibility of sexual harassment everywhere we go. Going out for drinks with my friends frequently presents the textbook example of how men sexualize women of color. From "sorry sweetheart I only date Asian chicks" to "who's your spicy little friend?" men's comments sometimes suggest that they think they're ordering takeout in a little black dress. As a biracial woman, I hear how exotic I look at least twice a week, almost as often as I am asked where I am from, because my eyes just have that special "oriental"1 look about them. In fact, since starting college, I have endured unwelcome advances from passersby on the street, men sitting nearby on airplanes, in coffee shops, and at restaurants. In addition to being unwelcome, their comments consistently include the words "exotic" or "oriental," along with questions about where I am from and, if the speaker is a How I Met Your Mother fan, how halfAsian chicks are the hottest. Race is a key component of how these men attempt to sexually obje_72.tify me, making the two forms of harassment inextricably intertwined and lending a distinctly sexual undertone to the racist language they employ.

In the past year alone, workplace sexual harassment and gender discrimination have garnered a great deal of media attention, but very little of that attention focused on women of color. News outlets have covered a number of wealthy white women's sexual harassment complaints against senior male executives, including Gretchen Carlson's sexual harassment claim against Fox News, and the complaints filed by associates and partners at Chadboume & Park.2 But these cases are not representative of the average American woman's experience with workplace sexual harassment, nor are they demonstrative of the unique ways in which women of color experience sexual harassment. While there has also been minor media coverage of sexual harassment of young women of color by their supervisors, it has been limited to smaller publications and has received virtually no television news coverage.3 This heavy emphasis on the experiences of white women is typical of our legal system's approach to sexual harassment and sex discrimination claims.


Like much of American employment discrimination law, sexual harassment law derives from Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which reads, "It shall be .. . unlawful ... for an employer to . . . discriminate against any individual with respect to his compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment, because of such individual's race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. …

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