Talking About Harassment

17 Pages Posted: 29 Nov 2001 Last revised: 17 Sep 2014


In this symposium essay, Professor Schultz argues against the notion that the current rethinking of sexual harassment law represents a backlash against feminist thought. To the contrary, she contends, recent trends linked to the current conception of sexual harassment should be cause for concern among feminist theorists and activists. Sexual harassment law has led courts and commentators to focus obsessively on sexual conduct, while deflecting attention from more common, non-sexual forms of discrimination and abuse. In addition, the emphasis on sexual conduct encourages people to think of harassment as a form of behavioral misconduct in which bad actors engage, rather than as a set of social relations embedded in a larger context of structural workplace inequality. On the one hand, the sexual focus invites inquiry into the sexual history and self-presentation of people who are harassed. On the other hand, it facilitates harassment complaints against people who are viewed as sexually deviant. Feminists need a new model of harassment that avoids these pernicious effects. The current model treats harassment as a way for men to use work to appropriate sex from women. But it is more helpful to see harassment as a way for a group to use sex - and other tools of exclusion - to appropriate work for themselves. In other words, harassment is not so much about securing sex as it is about gendering work.

JEL Classification: J7

Suggested Citation

Schultz, Vicki, Talking About Harassment. 9 Journal of Law and Policy 417 (2001), Available at SSRN: or

Vicki Schultz (Contact Author)

Yale Law School ( email )

P.O. Box 208215
New Haven, CT 06520-8215
United States

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