The Myth of the Plague of Sexual Harassment

One of the most talked-about issues of the past few years has been the issue of
sexual harassment, and it supposed prevalence in all workplaces. Pushed to the national
spotlight by the Anita Hill-Clarence Thomas hearings, in which Ms. Hill accused her boss
Justice Thomas of sexual harassment, it has become popular belief that sexual harassment
occurs in all workplaces, and that the vast majority of female office -workers have been
sexually harassed. Feminist groups have taken in upon themselves to interject in many
offices, leading sensitivity training sessions on sexual harassment, and promoting the
cause of those who charge others with sexual harassment. Despite the claims of feminist
groups about merely educating and "sensitizing" people on sexual harassment, the new
state guidelines have only succeeded in trivializing the issue, and are actually very
detrimental to powerful women.
According to a pamphlet by the California Department of Fair Employment and
Housing, one of the legally defined situations of sexual harassment involves such verbal
conduct as "making or using derogatory comments, epithets, slurs, and jokes." While such
examples of speech may be considered offensive or crude behavior, it is not the role of
the federal, state, or county government to legislate what people can say, and where they
can say these things. By adopting verbal comments as part of the state guidelines on
sexual harassment, the state of California is actually encouraging stifling free speech,
which should be considered unconstitutional. If a woman walks in on a conversation
between co-workers in an office, in which sexual jokes and lewd comments are featured,
this does not constitute sexual harassment. Katie Roiphe, author of The Morning After:
Sex, Fear, and Feminism, states it best when she proclaims that "feminists...seem to have
forgotten childhood's words of wisdom: sticks and stones may break my bones, but names
will never harm me" (101). If a woman or man finds particular speech, jokes, or
comments offensive, they should speak up, and voice their opposition, instead of crying
harassment and calling their lawyer. As renegade feminist professor and society critic
Camille Paglia proclaimed, in her book Vamps and Tramps, "If someone offends you by
speech you must learn to defend yourself by speech...and not beg for outside help to
curtail your opponent's free movement" (51).
"Sexual Harassment is Forbidden by Law" continues its definition of sexual
harassment, by proclaiming that "verbal sexual advances or propositions" are considered
sexual harassment in California. While many people may consider this sexual harassment,
this should be looked at as more about every day, normal behavior being considered
criminal. If one finds another person attractive, regardless of position of power or status, a
proposition is generally issued for a date, dinner, or cocktails. Asking your secretary out
on a date is not sexual harassment, just as it would not be sexual harassment if the
secretary asked the boss or co-worker out on a date. It should not be considered sexual
harassment unless work-related advancement is denied to whomever refused the date
offer. Author Katie Roiphe contends that a proposition for a date is normal, healthy
behavior between a man and a woman. "To find wanted sexual attention, you have to give
and receive a certain amount of unwanted sexual attention. Clearly, the truth is that if no
one was ever allowed to risk offering unsolicited sexual attention, we would all be
solitary creatures" (Roiphe 87). None of us would exist if no one ever risked unwanted
sexual advances. The criminalization of innocent date propositions is another example of
the trivialization of sexual harassment. By focusing on this type of proposition as typical
of sexual harassment, feminists are demonstrating that their objective is not stamping out
sexual harassment, but stamping out innocent heterosexual behavior.
One final example of the extreme nature of the sexual harassment guidelines is its
characterization of such visual conduct as "leering, making sexual gestures, displaying of
sexually suggestive objects or pictures, cartoons or posters" as sexual harassment. It
astounds me that anyone could support such a Stalinesque proposal. The banning of
sexually suggestive objects or posters is a clear violation of our constitutional rights of
freedom of speech and expression. As Camille Paglia once wrote, "we can never fully
legislate the human psyche" (Vamps and Tramps, 47). Who is to determine what
constitutes leering? This is, as Katie Roiphe wrote, "an ominous, not to mention difficult,
prospect" (91). Our courts will be even more inundated with frivolous claims of sexual
harassment, charging some man walking down the hall with harassment because "he
stared at her, or "undressed her with his eyes."