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Sexual Harassment Essay

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Sexual harassment in workplace causes and remedies.

The problem of sexual harassment in work place is increasingly coming out of the closet. The case of Tarun Tejpal, managing editor of the news magazine Tehalka is a case in point. This particular case has brought this issue on the center stage as more victims are gathering courage to complain such offences.

After of Tarun Tejpal's case a public debate is raging in the country how to control the such incidents in future. This is because the sexual dimension such cases have implications on personal, psychological, moral and marital status of an individual.

Sexual harassment occurs in the workplace due to unwelcome, unwanted, uninvited, action or behavior of a person that causes discomfort, humiliation, offence or distress to the other. Majority of such cases are directed towards woman by men working at high position in an organization.

Sexual harassment at a workplace is unwelcome behavior as it affects not only the terms conditions of employment but also have huge bearing on the working environment of an organization. Therefore this problem has to be understood looking at its causes and possible remedies for its effective control.

What is Sexual harassment?
In India, sexual harassment is termed as 'eve teasing' and is described as: unwelcome sexual gesture or behavior whether directly or indirectly such as sexually colored remarks; physical contact and advances; showing pornography; a demand or request for sexual favors; any other unwelcome physical, verbal,non-verbal conduct being sexual in nature, passing sexually offensive comments or any other such behavior.

What is considered as Sexual harassment
Sexual harassment includes a long list of things. It is necessary to put them here in some detail in order to caution those who may indulge in such activity. Its actual or attempted rape or sexual assault, unwanted pressure for sexual favors, unwanted deliberate touching, leaning over, cornering, or pinching, unwanted sexual looks or gestures, unwanted letters, telephone calls, or materials of a sexual nature, unwanted sexual teasing, jokes, remarks, or questions.

It also includes referring to an adult, as a girl, doll, babe, or honey, whistling seeing a lady, cat calls, sexual comments, turning work discussions to sexual topics, sexual innuendos or stories, asking about sexual fantasies, preferences, or history. Sexual comments on a lady's clothing, anatomy, or looks. Spreading rumors about personal life of a woman.

There are many causes of sexual harassment but most important one is the culture and values system and the relative power and status of the men and women in our society.

The way in which men and women are brought up in India strongly influences their behavior in an organization. Women often lack self confidence because of the way they have been socialized and are customized to suffer in silence.

Whereas men are brought up with macho beliefs, who consider females a mere toy to play with and easily carry these values into the workplace. Such patriarchal viewpoints create a atmosphere that allows men the freedom of sexual harassment in the workplace, while women remain vulnerable.

Women are vulnerable to sexual harassment because they more often lack power and often work in an insecure positions. Due to the fear factor women often resign to their fate rather than raise their voice against sexual harassment. Since they do not know where to go for complain and how their complain would be treated, they often keep quit and suffer in ignominy.

Some times sexual harassment is also seen as a power game, where man insists on sexual favors in exchange of benefits he can dispense with due to his prevailed position. The 'casting couch' is probably the best-known example of such power game.

As recent economic and social changes have changed power relations between men and women in the Indian society, men are feeling a sense of insecurity. With women now being empowered, some men feel threatened by their career advancement. To over come such insecure feelings, some men resort to harassing women in the work place.

Sometimes men are stressed in the work place because even after putting their best, they do not get proper recognition, where as women with little talent are preferred for being fair sex in an organization. This sometimes causes frustration and such men resort to sexual harassment to overcome their stress.

Its not only men who are to be blamed all the time, some women think that the real women have to look sexy. They see sexuality as their only power base to play along. Such attitude of women sometimes invites sexual advances by men at the work place and then become a case of sexual harassment.

One of the major reason that sexual harassment goes on unabated because the organization in order to safeguard its image do not entertain complaint and disciplinary procedures to deal with sexual harassment.

In order to check sexual harassment, an organization should have clear cut policy to register complaints of such nature and procedure for taking disciplinary action. Such guidelines is already available through Supreme Court judgment, its only its implementation that is required.

Every organization should have an effective employment policy that should ensure well planned career paths based on merit to reduce the vulnerability of individuals and harassment by those who abuse their power and authority.

There should be awareness among the staff members about sexual harassment and the consequences they may face if they indulge in such an act. They should know their social responsibilities to prevent such incident in their organization.

The staff member subjected to sexual harassment must first complain to the committee members constituted for such purposes in the organization, before going to the police.

Sexual harassment in a work place is a sensitive issue. It cannot be checked merely providing staff members information about the sexual harassment policy or relying on disciplinary action. The organization must play proactive role, provide behavioral support and discuss this aspect as a part of the work routine. The staff must nurture an inclusive, supportive, and respectful environment in the office in order to build a congenial working atmosphere.

Equally important is that the organization must support the victim of sexual harassment, and help to overcome the negative effects of such an experience.

Finally, every working women must know that it is high time to stand up and fight for such injustices. Its only then sexual harassment in work place can be checked.

Priya Singh

Noted legal scholar and feminist Catherine MacKinnon defined sexual harassment as "the unwanted imposition of sexual requirement in the context of a relationship of unequal power" (MacKinnon, 1979). Sexual harassment generally falls under two categories: quid pro quo harassment and hostile environment. The majority of victims reporting instances of sexual harassment are women, and the vast majority of reported aggressors are men. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission provide legal recourse for victims of sexual harassment. Some sociologists associate the full integration of women into the modern workforce with an increase in instances of sexual harassment. Social scientists are somewhat critical of common approaches to dealing with sexual harassment - particularly in the workforce. Many organizations have made concerted efforts to heighten awareness of issues related to sexual harassment, though social scientist recommend shifting the focus from identifying instances of sexual harassment to pinpointing factors that contribute to instances of sexual harassment with the ultimate aim of lessening future occurrences.

Sex, Gender & Sexuality


Sexual harassment remains a common occurrence in society. According to the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, 11,364 sexual harassment charges were filed in 2011, and a 2011 Washington Post-ABC News poll found that as many as 25 percent of women reported having experienced sexual harassment in the workplace. However, the challenge of defining exactly what constitutes sexual harassment remains. According to Kingsley Browne (2006) of Wayne State University Law School,

Courts have declared that all of the following kinds of conduct may constitute sexual harassment: forcible rape; extorting sex for job benefits; sexual or romantic overtures; sexual jokes; sexually suggestive pictures or cartoons; sexist comments; vulgar language; harassing actions of a non-sexual form; and even 'well intended compliments'" (p. 145).

Sexual harassment is defined as a form of sex discrimination under Title VII Federal Law Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin (U.S. Equal Opportunity Commission, 2002).

Feminist attorney Catherine MacKinnon argued for the legal recognition of sexual harassment as sex discrimination in her 1979 book Sexual Harassment of Working Women. In the book, MacKinnon states that because of the traditional gender roles of our society, women disproportionately occupy inferior positions in the workplace. One psychologist writing on the subject concurred with MacKinnon, seeing sexual harassment, "as a form of sex discrimination that keeps the sexes separate and unequal at work" (Berdahl, 2007, p. 435).

MacKinnon (1979) argues that "intimate violations" of women by men were "sufficiently pervasive" as to make the practice nearly invisible (p.1). She also states that internalized power structures within the workplace kept anyone from discussing sexual harassment, making it "inaudible" (p. 1). In her words, the abuse was both acceptable for men to perpetuate and a taboo that women could not confront either publicly or privately. MacKinnon states that the "social failure" to address these pervasive intimate violations hurt women in terms of the economic status, opportunity, mental health, and self-esteem (p. 1). Many believe that sexual harassment is about the abuse of power, others believe it is about access to sexual favors, and still others believe that sexual harassment is about access to power and sex. In legal terms, sexual harassment is divided into two main categories.

Quid Pro Quo

Quid pro quo harassment occurs when an employee is made to submit to some form of sexual advance in order to obtain a benefit (e.g., a promotion) or to avoid a burden (e.g., being fired). In such cases, sexual harassment is considered sex discrimination because presumably the demand would not have been made if the employee were of the opposite sex (Browne, 2006). Initially, researchers and courts believed that this type of harassment was motivated by sexual desire, but research has subsequently suggested that it is instead meant to assert dominance over or derogate the target (Berdahl, 2007).

Hostile Environment

Hostile environment harassment occurs when a work environment is "permeated with sexuality" or "discriminatory intimidation, ridicule, and insult" (Smith, Craver & Turner, 2011). Within this type of harassment, the victim does not claim specific harassment, but rather that the general work environment is discriminatory. Generally, it is believed that this type of harassment seeks to undermine and humiliate its target and is likely to be motivated by sexual hostility rather than sexual desire (Berdahl, 2007).

Men & Women in the Workplace

As women gain greater equity in the workplace, it might be assumed that the instances of sexual harassment in the workplace would diminish. However, the causes of sexual harassment are complex and hard to identify, and sexual harassment remains prevalent in modern society. Women's increasing presence in the workforce has meant that men and women work together more closely in the twenty-first century than at any other time in history. In fact, there are fewer and fewer "male only" professions as women become much more fully integrated into all corners of the workforce. According to one researcher, "one effect of the breakdown of the sexual division of labor is the expansion of opportunities for sexual conflict in the workplace" (Browne, 2006, p. 145). One outgrowth of this conflict may be sexual harassment. Wayne State University law professor Kingsley Brown (2006) analyzed data from numerous studies to argue that sexual harassment is rooted in sociocultural causes, as well as biological and psychological causes. Sociocultural theories of sexual harassment, he says, hold that harassment is a means for the harasser to gain power over his target. Biological and psychological theories, on the other hand, hold that men are biologically and psychologically predisposed to be sexually aggressive and that sexual harassment is an outgrowth of these predispositions (Browne, 2006).

Further, Browne (2006) argues that men tend to interpret female interest as sexual, while women are more likely to interpret male attention as mere friendliness. According to Browne, these differing perspectives may oftentimes lead to miscommunication and unintentional harassment. In other words a man, perceiving a woman's friendliness to indicate sexual interest, may escalate his attention to a level that the woman sees as threatening (Browne, 2006).

Token Resistance to Sexual Harassment

Token resistance is a concept that originated in date rape literature and describes the belief that women may ostensibly discourage sexual attention when in fact they wish it to continue (Osman, 2004). In other words, a woman may say "no" when what she really means is "yes."

Research suggests that a sexual aggression continuum exists with nonviolent sexual aggression at one end and rape at the other (Figure 1). Researchers believe that...