Recent discussions about sexual harassment are both too much about sex harassment case and not enough. Prior to 2010 she was employed at the Australian Human Rights Commission, working on sex discrimination issues, including sexual harassment, and produced national guidelines on sexual harassment law. University of Technology Sydney provides funding as a founding partner of The Conversation AU. The Conversation UK receives funding from Hefce, Hefcw, SAGE, SFC, RCUK, The Nuffield Foundation, The Ogden Trust, The Royal Society, The Wellcome Trust, Esmée Fairbairn Foundation and The Alliance for Useful Evidence, as well as sixty five university members.
The recent surge of attention given to sexual harassment has laid bare a long silence about the reality of women’s working lives. As a practitioner and now researcher in sexual harassment law reform, it is a conversation I never imagined taking place on this scale. Yet there are still important gaps in it. Our thinking around sexual harassment in the workplace is both too much about sex, and not enough.
By concentrating on sexual behaviours alone, we overlook women’s non-sexual experiences of being denigrated or undermined at work. At the same time, discussions of sexual harassment are also not enough about sex. They ignore one of the most damaging consequences of harassment: the chilling effect on women’s sexual expression and behaviour. This focus on sex suggests that women are disadvantaged by individual acts of sexual aggression, rather than more systemic inequalities.
The remedy for sexual harassment then becomes dealing with those individual men, with a select few publicly targeted and losing current positions or contracts. This approach diminishes the many non-sexual acts that make workplaces hostile to women. These can often be subtle and cumulative. Women felt they had to to dress differently, or take off a wedding ring to avoid assumptions about child-bearing. In a recent study, women reported forms of discrimination such as men being preferentially promoted because they were perceived as more confident. When women are treated unequally at work because of their sex, this may still be protected as a form of sex discrimination, but non-sexual behaviours have not received the same level of public attention that sexual harassment has. Sexual behaviours by men, in contrast, are presumed to be directed at and harmful to women.
Sexual harassment is not enough about sex The impact of sexual harassment is typically thought of as temporary distress, with a potentially wider professional impact when women lose work opportunities by refusing sexual advances. What has still been overlooked is the impact of sexual harassment on women’s sexual development and agency. Sexual harassment reverberates far beyond an individual perpetrator or act. The chilling effect of constant low-level policing of sexual boundaries takes a wider toll on women’s sexuality. Young women are particularly subject to sexual harassment, and their sexuality often develops in that context. Actor Natalie Portman recently spoke out about the effect being sexualised has had on her behaviour. Recent discussions about sexual harassment have largely ignored these significant sexual harms, for which there is little recognition and no legal remedy, while unnecessarily sexualising broader gender inequality.
How can we address these subtle, but serious, harms? Sexual harassment laws have existed in Australia for decades, but addressing inequality takes more than law. We can only fix the damage we can see. We need to look beyond individual sexual misbehaviour to the wider meaning of sex in sexual harassment, and reform our current laws based on a broader understanding of women’s sexual and non-sexual experiences of inequality. Stay informed and subscribe to our free daily newsletter and get the latest analysis and commentary directly in your inbox. 31 0 0 0 1 1. 883 33 19 33 19 33s-11.
Posted on June 29, 2016, at 4:28 p. In the summer of 2014, as Ebola ravaged West Africa and unleashed panic across the U. Michael Katze was a voice of reason. As head of one of the biggest virus labs in the country, he frequently appeared on TV news spots — sharply dressed, with his signature black glasses and deep tan — preaching calm in the face of fear. But away from the cameras, the University of Washington lab in Seattle that Katze had led for nearly 30 years was descending into chaos. And a lab administrator filed charges accusing him of sexually harassing her and a colleague. In August 2015, the university banned Katze from entering his own lab.