Friday, May 11, 2018
Vicki Schultz, Reconceptualizing Sexual Harassment, Again
Twenty years ago, I published an article in the Yale Law Journal entitled “Reconceptualizing Sexual Harassment.” Five years later, I published a follow-up article in YLJ. These two pieces anchored a body of writing that proposed a new theory of sexual harassment.
Recent events reveal the work still depressingly relevant. Still relevant, because sexual harassment remains far too widespread, despite forty years of activism and legal reform. And still relevant, because the need for an adequate theoretical framework to guide action remains as pressing as ever, twenty years later.
Now is the time to reinvigorate theory. With the election of Donald Trump and the rise of the #MeToo movement, we are witnessing an extraordinary cultural moment of resistance against sexual harassment — one that could enable real change. I am heartened by the courage, tenacity, and smarts of the women and men who have come forward to challenge harassment in an effort to change the status quo. I include here not only the survivors who have risked so much to share their stories, but also the reporters who have worked to expose long-held secrets in the entertainment, technology, media, and other important industries. Most reports have focused on workplace or career-related harassment, a focus that is unsurprising given the centrality of work and workplace inequality to women’s lives. For that reason, this essay will focus on workplace harassment (though much of the analysis would apply also to sexual harassment on campus, a sphere that is important in its own right and as a training ground for professional life).