Sexual Harassment of Working Women: A Case of Sex Discrimination

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Sexual Harassment of Working Women: A Case of Sex Discrimination
Sexual harassment of working women has been widely practiced and systematically ignored. Men's control over women's jobs has often made coerced sexual relations the price of women's material survival. Considered trivial or personal, or natural and inevitable, sexual harassment has become a social institution.
MacKinnon offers here the first major attempt to understand sexual harassment as a pervasive social problem and to present a legal argument that it is discrimination based on sex. Beginning with an analysis of victims' experiences, she then examines sex discrimination doctrine as a whole, both for its potential in prohibiting sexual harassment and for its limitations.
Two distinct approaches to sex discrimination are seen to animate the law: one based on an analysis of the differences between the sexes, the other upon women's social inequality. Arguing that sexual harassment at work is sex discrimination under both approaches, she criticizes the effectiveness of the law in reaching the real determinants of women's social status. She concludes that a recognition of sexual harassment as illegal would support women's economic equality and sexual self-determination at a point where the two are linked.
Publication Date: 
September 10, 1979