Community & Government

Tackling Sexual Harassment in the Workplace

Gloria discusses the history of sexual harassment, the strides that have been made with it, and what you can do if you experience it in the workplace.

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Topics include: Tackling Sexual Harassment in the Workplace Sexual Harassment and the Law


- I certainly remember before the term sexual harassment existed. It was just called life. [MUSIC PLAYING] Susanne Langer, a wonderful female philosopher, said that naming something is one of the most meaningful things you could do. The term sexual harassment came about when a group of women at Cornell University were trying to describe what happened to them during their summer jobs. After hearing the women's stories, their professor, Lin Farley, joined them in coming up with a name for what they were experiencing. Together, they organized and brought awareness to the term sexual harassment for the first time. - And that-- dammit-- we're going to stand up and take our own rights into our own hands from now on. - And in that way, we have acquired a phrase that, both in everyday speech and in law, is very important. What it's saying is, of course, something that is basic and should always have been understood, which is that our bodies belong to us. - At its core, sexual harassment is about the unequal power relations between men and women. It happens in companies and universities, on factory floors and on movie sets, in restaurant kitchens and congressional offices. And what this means is that we will never have full equality. Women will never be fully equal to men as long as this behavior continues. - Sexual harassment became part of Civil Rights law, thanks to Catherine MacKinnon, a great lawyer. She took an existing law that protected people from sex discrimination and leveraged it to hold employers accountable for sexual harassment. CATHERINE MACKINNON: What we did back in the mid-1970s was to define and argue and establish that sexual harassment-- namely, unwanted sexual pressure that you really aren't in a position to refuse-- was a form of sex discrimination. That is, that it's happening to you because you're a woman, or, actually, a man. - There were three cases brought, all by Black women. The most consequential case was won in the Supreme Court by Mechelle Vinson. - The United States Supreme Court had an important ruling today. It ruled, for the first time, that sexual harassment on the job is a federal Civil Rights law violation. - He used to take both Christina and I-- it was Christina Malone-- out to dinner in the evening after we got off work because he said he wanted to show his appreciation for us. He says, Mechelle, I've been better to you, more than your husband or your father. And I said, yes, Mr. Taylor, you have, and I appreciate that. And he says, no, I don't want your appreciation. I want to go to bed with you. And at that time, I told him I did not feel that I had to go to bed with him. And he said just, like I hired you, I'll fire you. Just like I made you, I'll break you. And that's how it started. CATHERINE MACKINNON: With Mechelle Vinson's case, on which I was co-counsel in the Supreme Court, we established that sexual harassment is a rec...

About the Instructor

Women’s rights activists and political changemakers Gloria Steinem, adrienne maree brown, Amanda Nguyen, and Tina Tchen know there’s strength in numbers—especially in the fight for equality. Now, they’re coming together to dissect the issues women have faced in the U.S., talk about their advocacy efforts and personal challenges, and introduce ways you can play an active role in the feminist movement in your everyday life.

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Gloria Steinem, adrienne maree brown, Amanda Nguyen, and Tina Tchen

Four women’s rights activists discuss the feminist movement in the U.S., ways they’re creating change, and how you can join the fight for equality.

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