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Michele A. Paludi’s “Sexual Harassment in College” Essay

True or false? Many people believe that sexual harassment only involves physical assault. False! I don’t know where Dr. Paludi got this red herring of a definition from so that she could attack it, but sexual harassment had always meant quid pro quo, grades for sex, or, in the workplace, sexual favors to get the job or a raise. In either case, force was rarely needed.

Regie T. has looked up both Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Title IX of the Education Act of 1972, and even without input from the ongoing debate, I can see that according to federal law, sexual harassment is wide open to interpretation. College policies? Same unhelpful and confusing statements. Staring at students, complimenting them, calling them “dear”, ‘uncomfortable’ witticism, having a lesson on the unclothed female figure–all these ‘harassing’ behaviors have been used to fire professors. Even fully consensual love affairs weren’t safe, once some third party found out, got offended, and found time to complain. I believe people do have a clear understanding of what constitutes sexual harassment all right.

True or false? Frequently individuals are told that sexual harassment is a rare occurence or that the campus has never filed for it against an individual. True. I inquired at Valley College’s VP for Student Services and its response was that in the past five years, only two students had filed sexual harassment complaints against anybody, the last being in 2001. In my public speaking class at that institution last spring, I witnessed an incident where the instructor told a pregnant student to ‘waddle down’ to the front.

The student said it wasn’t funny, broke down in tears, and the instructor apologized. Previously, this student also cried when a guy called her fat. At the end of the term, I overheard her say, after not getting an ‘A’ in the class, that she might complain to the dean. I’m sure that had she had been included in one of those surveys on verbal abuse, she would’ve reported to having been sexually harassed.

True or false? There is a common myth that there is a “typical” harasser who can be identified by his blatant and obvious mistreatment of many women. Maybe before; now it’s False. One of Paludi’s sources which I’ve read, Billie Dziech and Linda Weiner’s standard harassment text, has been brainwashing women for almost 20 years. It warns against The Lecherous Professor who could be of any imaginable type, from a stylish “public harasser,” a conservative “private harasser,” a nice “Counselor-Helper,” or even a smart “Intellectual Seducer.” As more women are exposed to this book, we can’t really blame them when they start suspecting everyone except the garden variety pathological and abnormally-behaving instructor. As UCLA Professor, cultural critic, and all-woman Cristina Nehring put it:

“[G]ive a group of indifferently successful individuals of either sex a glass through which to view themselves as very important victims, limited in their success not by the modesty of their own talents but by the ubiquitous insidiousness of the “system,” and chances are good they will learn to use it. Mix in the resentment of a relationship gone awry, or a relationship desired but never obtained, and you begin to understand the source of a good number of sexual-harassment charges. Add to this a potent financial bait (women have reaped considerable rewards through harassment suits in which the burden of disproof was on the defendant and institutional sympathy entirely with the accuser), and the attraction of such charges becomes still clearer.”

True or false? Women may not label their experiences as sexual harassment even though the experiences meet the legal definition of this form of victimization. False. Today, there is such a thing as too much awareness. Again, Nehring answered this best:

“In our enlightened contemporary university, men walk on eggshells and women run from shadows. Every gesture is suspect: if a colleague compliments you on your dress, it smacks of sexism; if a professor is friendly, he is readying you for future sexual abuse. There is no kindness so innocent that women educated in the “patterns” of harassment cannot recognize it as an instance of the newly identified activity experts refer to as “grooming” the victim for the kill. Academic encouragement, easy jesting, an affectionate epithet–all of what used to be the currency of good fellowship as well as teaching–have become cause for vigilance, fodder for complaint, the stuff of suits.”

If there was ever a woman’s issue that deserves a backlash, it is sexual harassment; unfortunately the backlash has appeared in other battlegrounds where there are real women victims, such as rape, incest and child molestation, but not this one. Feminists have already won–the occasional true harasser is easily identified and thrown out of office, But in making all college female students out to be weak and resourceless victims, and all male faculty as closet villains, the regular classrooms are now fearfully and boringly intolerable for everyone; they should be now left alone. Sexual harassment remains a major problem in high school and in the workplace, but I just don’t see it being one in college anymore.

Work Cited

Nehring, Cristina. “The Higher Yearning.” Harper’s Magazine 303.1816 (2001): 64-72.

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