Sexual Harassment Solutions Discussion (Feb. 1997)

Sexual Harassment Solutions Discussion (Feb. 1997)

[Editor's Note: This is third of three topics which evolved from one query re: Paula Jones and feminist reax to her charges against Clinton. The other two are listed as: Paula Jones and Feminists Discussion and Sex Harassment Definitions Discussion]

>From Jeanette Keith 5 Feb 1997 Re: sexual harassment: I know a school not so far from here (about 2 inches, say) where the faculty union refused to help a female dept. chair who was...bumped and grinded on by a dept member with a history of the same. The event allegedly took place in the dept. office in front of a student worker. The union said she was management. Fortunately, we now have a new union president.

This may sound awfully redneck and Appalachian of me, and I know up here in Yankee-land the proper course for everything is a lawsuit, and I've never been in the shoes of the people involved but...doesn't anyone just go upside the head of these men? I understand that one puts up with a lot from the boss(and I have been there) but from co-workers? Any histories of extralegal solutions? Direct action, as we used to say?

>From Don Maroc 5 Feb 1997 Thank you, thank you Darlene, Julie and others for increasing our knowledge of the devious context of sexual harassment. We have a case at a local ice arena where a maintenance employee grabbed a female skating coach by the crotch in the presence of others. The only "excuse" offered was that he is a sweet, touchy, feelly guy. To date there has been no disciplinary action taken, not even an apology. The politicians and bureaucrats tried to keep it all hushed up by dealing with it only in in-camera meetings. A witness willing to testify on the victim's behalf has since failed to have his contract renewed.. Now it looks like the whole thing will be "settled" out of court with the usual veil of silence imposed for a gift of a few taxpayers' dollars.

In another event with much more impact, the Canadian jock society got a solid kick in the nuts when a junior hockey coach was sentenced to jail for sexual abuse of teenage players, at least one of whom is now in the NHL (with help from his abuser, others who were less cooperative had their careers cut short). This is an isolated conviction but probably not an isolated case, it was successful because a hockey player had the courage to publicly admit what had happened. The real shame is that it has come out that others were aware of the problem and hushed it up for the sake of the sport.

Another spot that seldom gets much notice is in the retail business (my partner knows this firsthand). Retail clerks really cannot bring any kind of action against customers for anything short of rape.

>From Mary Beth Norton 6 Feb 1997

...The best sexual harassment comeback story I ever heard was an old friend of mine (who is now, bless her heart, a high level univ. administrator at another school) who, when she was a mere faculty member (not at Cornell), was deeply distressed about how one of her male colleagues would talk openly about misc. women's *tits* when he would meet them, comment on them, as in *you've got great tits, doesn't she have great tits*, etc. She thought about it, laid a plan, and the next time he did it in her presence she leaned over and whispered in his ear *the next time you say that I'm going to speculate loudly to everyone present about the size of your privates*. End of comments. The man zipped his lip, forever.

>From Catriona Bathgate 7 Feb 1997 ...Not exactly a history, but a personal anecdote. When I was 12 or 13 and a high school, I was frequently harassed verbally, but never complained as I didn't realise that the offenders were doing anything wrong. One day the worst of them grabbed me, pushed me against a radiator and started trying to kiss me. As I was struggling to get free he abruptly let go and staggered out of the room bent double. His friends informed me that I had kicked him in the groin. I honestly hadn't realised that I had, or how much it hurt. They then had a joke by making out they told the headmaster. (Had I been less naive, it would have dawned on me that they'd do no such thing, as their friend would have ended up in far more trouble than I.)

No one ever knew, and I'd accidentally achieved the desired effect-so far as I can remember, none of them ever touched me again.

>From William B. Turner 10 Feb 1997

In keeping with Mary Beth Norton's fine story about stopping speculation about breasts, while speaking at Vanderbilt University some years ago, Molly Ivins told this story about Ann Richards. They were at a dinner in one of the better neighborhoods in Austin with many leading political types, including a notoriously sexist state senator. He was regaling the crowd loudly with the tale of a fabulous set of jugs he'd seen that day, how they jiggled and bounced as their owner walked down the street, so fetching in fact that he drove around the block just to get another look. As he finished this story, Richards asked loudly, "So, girls, seen any good dicks lately?"

I must confess I would be tempted to conspire with a woman who was suffering sexual harassment to try giving the man in question a taste of his own medicine, and see how he feels when no one will believe him that this guy groped him in the office. Never had the opportunity, but it sounds like fun.

>From Stephanie Gilmore 10 Feb 1997

In coming back to H-women rather late in the semester, I missed the original post of questions/observations that emerged from a discussion on Paula Jones. But the thread has turned to a general theme of sexual harassment, and I have noticed several questions that have emerged from different posters.

Most women who are sexually harassed on the job generally are not in positions to questions the actions against them, much less in a position to leave. There is often a blanket of secrecy about sexual harassment--who can you tell, what will the response be, what will "they" think of you, etc. All of these unknown variables make it difficult for women to stand up against sexual aggressors.

Furthermore, as many of you keenly observed, until sexual harassment is taken seriously, women will continue to be afraid to speak up--a fear that is very real. Another sub-thread came in the form of "direct action" and some people have responded with their own stories of "taking the law into their own hands". While I, too, have a similar story, I am more amazed and astonished that so many women have these types of stories to tell. More and more women are faced with sexual aggression whether it is on the job, in the classroom, or in public places. However, because these crimes against women's bodies are not taken seriously, women have the choice of taking "extralegal action" or living with the guilt/ shame/disgust/anger of being taken advantage of and having little or no recourse.

I would like to pose a set of questions for discussion: How do you press charges of sexual harassment at your institution? Is it taken seriously, to whom do you have to open up to, what do you have to tell, is it a "humiliating" process that would perhaps keep more women away? Does your institution offer any services (psychological, legal, etc) for women who are sexually assaulted?

>From Anne Lopes 13 Feb 1997

In 1976 a group of women in Boston formed a group called The Alliance Against Sexual Coercion (AASC). We advocated a variety of legal and extra-legal solutions for sexual harassment. The latter included: 1) writing a letter to the harasser from the group detailing the offense and the potential legal/extra-legal actions that could or would be taken against the harasser if the behavior continued; 2) demonstrating outside the harassers home or workplace; 3) using the media; 4) placing posters up in the community which identified the harasser and the offense. We may have published a further discussion of these in Aegis--Magazine on Ending Violence Against Women, published in Washington, D.C. in the late 1970s by the Feminist Alliance Against Rape (FAAR), or in Fighting Sexual Harassment: an Advocacy Handbook,published by Alyson in Boston in the early 1980s. I also seem to remember that the Radical History review published several articles on the history of sexual harassment ( and tactics used to fight it) during the same period. I left the group in 1980 and don't know what happened to our archives. The group's actions were also documented by the local media. If someone is researching the history of extra-legal solutions, I could put her in touch with other members of the group who may remember more that I do now. Another group which was very active on the issue during the same period was Working Women United Institute in New York. Hope this is helpful.

>From Tim Hodgdon 14 Feb 1997

Ann Lopes' recollection of 1976 legal and extralegal responses to sexual harassment reminded me of the actions of an ad-hoc group in the Bay area in 1969--a feminist fired for her unshaven legs called and mobilized other women to confront the manager of the aquarium shop where she worked, and won reinstatement without a court battle. This wasn't a response to sexual harassment, per se, but the tactic is the same one as listed by Lopes--collective response to an individual women's grievance. What's more, this woman's experience of sex discrimination and sexual harassment share the common denominator of sexual objectification: the discharged employee didn't meet the boss's beauty standard.

See Sheilah Drummond, "Hairy Legs Freak Fishy Liberal", _Berkeley Tribe_1, no. 21 (5 Dec 1969):24.