How should we understand sex-based harassment on the job? Its existence is now part of the national consciousness. Over the past twenty years, feminists have succeeded in naming "sexual harassment" and defining it as a social problem. Popular accounts abound: Newspapers, movies, and television programs depict women workers who are forced to endure sexual advances and decry the fact that these women must contend with such abuse. The legal system, too, has recognized the problem. The Supreme Court, on two separate occasions, has affirmed that workplace sexual harassment violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, and the lower federal courts have created a massive body of doctrine detailing the law's protection. All the while, public awareness of legal rights has continued to develop, and workers have filed sexual harassment complaints in increasing numbers. That feminists (and sympathetic lawyers) have inspired a body of popular and legal opinion condemning harassment in such a brief period of time is a remarkable achievement. Yet the achievement has been limited because we have not conceptualized the problem in sufficiently broad terms. The prevailing paradigm for understanding sex-based harassment places sexuality-more specifically, male-female sexual advances-at the center of the problem. Within that paradigm, a male supervisor's sexual advances on a less powerful, female subordinate represent the quintessential form of harassment.
Date of Authorship for this Version
Schultz, Vicki, "Reconceptualizing Sexual Harassment" (1998). Faculty Scholarship Series. 4973.