Sexual Harassment

by Duen Hsi Yen
last updated 25 May 1995

The following are my notes from the book "Back Off! How to confront and stop sexual harassment and harassers" by Martha J. Langelan, New York:Simon & Shuster, 1993.


Wolf whistles
Sexual innuendo
Comments about women's bodies
Tales of sexual exploits
Graphic descriptions of pornography
Pressure for dates
Hooting, sucking, lip-smacking, and animal noises
Sexually explicit gestures
Unwelcome touching and hugging
Excluding women from meetings
Sabotaging women's work
Sexist and insulting graffiti
Demanding "Hey, baby, give me a smile"
Sexist jokes and cartoons
Hostile putdowns of women
Exaggerated, mocking "courtesy"
Public humiliation
Obscene phone calls
Displaying pornography in the workplace
Insisting that workers wear revealing clothing
Inappropriate gifts (for example, lingerie)
Inappropriate invitations (for example, to go to a hot tub or nude beach)
Discussion of one's partner's sexual inadequacies
Lewd and threatening letters
"Accidentally" brushing sexual parts of the body
Pressing or rubbing up against a victim
Leaning over or otherwise invading a victim's space
Sexual sneak attacks (such as grabbing breasts or buttocks on the run)
Indecent exposure
Soliciting sexual services
Demanding sexual services
Stalking a victim
Sexual assault


50-85% of women can expect to encounter some form of sexual harassment
60% of three thousand women attorneys at the top 250 law forms reported experiencing sexual harassment.

Recent news events:
Clarence Thomas senate confirmation hearings-Anita Hill allegations
Lieutenant Paula Coughlin experience at the Navy's "Tailhook" convention

"Sexual harassment is the use of words, gestures, bodily actions or other means of verbal and nonverbal communication to insult, degrade, humilate, or otherwise dehumanize women."
from the African-American Women's Committee for Community Education.

"There is a difference in power between a person in a ministerial role and a member of his or her congregation ... Meaningful consent can occur [only] when two people are relatively equal in power and when fear, coercion or manipulation are completely absent from their relationship."
from The Center for the Prevention of Sexual and Domestic Violence.
The same power dynamics and ethical considerations apply in any professional relationship: doctors, lawyers, therapists, social workers, teachers, coaches, real estate agents, accountants, law enforcement officers...

"the inappropriate sexualization of an otherwise nonsexual relationship, an assertion by men of the primacy of a women's sexuality over her role as worker or professional colleague or student."
from The National Council for Research on Women

Equal Employment Opportunity Commission's legal definition:
1. submission to such conduct is made either explicitly or implicitly a term or condition of an individual's employment;
2. submission to or rejection of such conduct by an individual is used as the basis for employment decisions affecting such individual; or
3. such conduct has the purpose or effect of unreasonably interfering with an individual's work performance or creating an intimidating, hostile, or offensive working environment.

Sexual Harassment is about Power

Men are able to harass because they have three types of concrete power:
1) straightforward economic power over women on the job;
2) status or role-based social power over women, in the case of ministers, teachers, coaches, and other authority figures;
3) gender-based social power on the part of almost all men, ie the cultural pattern of male dominance.

The harasser's agenda basically is to dominate their victims and achieve their objectives, such as sex, power or money (protection of turf, status, prestige). The underlying reality is hostility, agression and inequality. It is a predator/prey relationship.

Not all men harass, because some:
genuinely like and respect women
understand what it does to women's freedom
committed to social change, including justice and equality for all
consider it morally and ethically wrong
are personally unaggressive, as a matter of temperment

Other web sources on Sexual Harassment