A Hard Doom

It was Faramir in The Lord of the Rings who described Frodo's task as "a hard doom and a hopeless errand". I must confess to feeling that way myself about my own self-imposed task of reporting to you about the pond scum of academia, those who discriminate and harass, the bilious lechers and sexual abusers of the young. And yet it must be done. Because if I don't do it, who will? And these miscreants must not be allowed to slither away into the dark recesses of our classrooms and buildings, attempting to rehabilitate their reputations or escape scandal altogether. No, they must be publicly denounced and shamed, as much as can possibly be done from my vantage point.

So today I introduce three new categories on Thus Spake Zuska:

  • Sex discrimination
  • Sexual harassment
  • Sex offenders

Here's what the AAUW has to say about sexual harassment and the law:

Sexual harassment is a form of sex discrimination under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. In the educational context, sexual harassment is unwelcome behavior of a sexual nature that interferes with a student's ability to learn, study, work or participate in school activities. In the employment context, it is unwelcome behavior of a sexual nature that interferes with an employees work performance or creates a hostile or intimidating work environment. Sexual assault and rape are the most severe physical forms of sexual harassment.

Have you ever heard male privilege and white privilege described as the water fish swim in? It's all around them, so all-encompassing as to be taken for granted, hardly to be noticed, just a condition of existence. Consider these new categories on Thus Spake Zuska as an attempt to help you notice the water. Think of it this way: Women scientists and engineers are swimming - and choking - in the effluent from the discrimination and harassment factories, while the white males are splashing around happily in the clear little pond preserve. What they don't realize is how limited and insipid their sterile little world is. And how costly to the rest of us is its maintenance.

Here's a nifty statistic from AAUW: 51% of male college students admit to sexually harassing someone in college. Yep, that's 51%, and they admitted it, folks. And that's just the students.

A few more student stats from AAUW:

  • 62% of female college students and 61% of male college students report having been sexually harassed at their university.
  • 32% of female students who have been sexually harassed reported feeling afraid or scared.
  • 16% of female students who have been sexually harassed found it hard to study or pay attention in class.
  • 9% of female students dropped a course or skipped a class in response to sexual harassment
  • 27% of female students stay away from particular buildings or places on campus as a result of sexual harassment

The AAUW offers very good and succinct definitions of sex discrimination, sexual harassment, quid pro quo, pay inequity, and hostile environment here. Their definition of hostile environment:

Hostile environment is one of two types of sexual harassment claims: (1) frequent, nontrivial acts of a sexual nature that create the effect of a hostile, offensive, or intimidating working environment that interferes with a person's ability to work, or (2) a hostile environment that can interfere with a student's ability to learn or participate fully in the education process.


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A question: is sexual harrassment still sexual discrimination if the harrasser is bisexual? I mean, obviously it's still bad, but the conclusion that it puts one sex at a disadvantage over the other appears to contain an unstated assumption.

By Corkscrew (not verified) on 06 Sep 2006 #permalink

Note I am not a lawyer and this does not constitute legal advice. That said, here's what the AAUW says sexual harassment is:

Sexual harassment is deliberate, repeated, and/or unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature. Sexual harassment constitutes legally actionable sexual harassment when (1)Submission to such conduct is made either explicitly or implicitly a term or condition of an individual's employment or, under Title IX, educational benefits; or
(2)Submission to or rejection of such conduct by an individual is used as the basis for employment decisions affecting such an individual (or educational decisions under Title IX); or
(3)Such conduct has the purpose or effect of unreasonably interfering with an individual's work or school performance or creating an intimidating, hostile, or offensive working or learning environment

Note that the definition has nothing to do with WHO is doing the harassing. It does not say anything about the harasser's gender, sexual orientation, age, etc. Thus a student can harass another student, a woman can harass a woman or a man, and I see no reason why a bisexual person couldn't harass a straight man or woman or a gay man or a lesbian. Sexual harassment is ALWAYS sexual discrimination. It does not matter what the genders involved are, or the sexual orientations. It is exactly what the definition says it is. And the definition does not prescribe or proscribe anything about who can be guilty of harassing.

My point was: can it still legitimately be considered discrimination if you're "discriminating" equally against members of both sexes, as a bisexual harrasser might do? Wouldn't this logically mean that a misanthrope was "discriminating" against the entire world? Is it discrimination if you're even-handed about it?

Obviously the law treats it as such, but it looks to me like they've just overlooked the possibility of this situation arising rather than providing a justification.

By Corkscrew (not verified) on 06 Sep 2006 #permalink

I'm not sure if you are willfully missing the point, or looking for an "out", or just playing logic games. The legal definition of sexual harassment has nothing to do with who does the harassing, or with how many other people the harasser is harassing, or what other genders the other people might be. If you, as an individual, are being subjected to "deliberate, repeated, and/or unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature" as a condition of your employment, or if rejection of such conduct is used as a condition of your employment or decisions about your employment, or if such conduct creates a hostile environment for you, then you have been sexually harassed. If the person or persons responsible for this sexual harassment are also sexually harassing other people, that's terrible. But even if they were harassing no one else but you, they would still be guilty of sexual harassment. If they were harassing every single person in the workplace, they would be guilty of sexual harassment. There is no "out" for "equal opportunity" harassment. Although some employers do try to use this as a defense in sexual harassment lawsuits; I believe it is called something like the "hell defense" in which they claim that all their employees are treated like shit so the complaining employee was not singled out for any particular shitty treatment.