Solving Sexual Harassment Won't Happen by Magic

[Content Note: Sexual harassment; misogyny.]

This is a critically important piece on sexual harassment by Lauren B. Edelman, who is the Agnes Roddy Robb professor of law and professor of sociology at the University of California at Berkeley, and the author of Working Law: Courts, Corporations and Symbolic Civil Rights.

In the piece, which I strongly encourage you to read in its entirety, Edelman makes a few key points that run contra to the conventional wisdom (cough) on workplace sexual harassment prevention:

1. Mandatory sexual harassment training doesn't work. (Voluntary training appears to yield better outcomes.)

2. Most sexual harassment policies are designed to protect the company from lawsuits, not protect employees from harassment.

Mandatory sexual harassment training in company policies that protect the company is the conventional approach — and people who want to look like they care about preventing workplace sexual harassment often endorse mandatory training without understanding that the policies aren't victim-centered and that mandatory training can be counterproductive.

It's essentially the same problem as endorsing body cameras as a solution to police brutality: Sounds good in a vacuum and outside any real scrutiny, but they don't fucking work.

The problem, of course, is that what will work is something that's much more difficult to achieve than throwing together some bullshit harassment policy that discourages reporting and rarely results in anything resembling justice.

Writes Edelman (emphasis mine): "We need not just rules and procedures but a broad recognition that power and inequality make it easy for people at the top to abuse people lower in the hierarchy, and extremely difficult for those at the bottom to do anything about it. A culture free of harassment will require widespread respect for women and equal representation of women in leadership."

A culture free of harassment will require intersectional feminism.

It will require the practice of intersectional feminism, and the meaningful integration of all kinds of women in key leadership roles.

Symbolic diversity and equality do not work. To the absolute contrary, as Edelman writes: "We have become a symbolic civil rights society, in which symbols of diversity and equal opportunity often mask legal violations." That is the precise opposite of what we need.

Achieving what we need, meaningful diversity and equality, is going to be incredibly difficult. That is not a reason not to try. It is, instead, the most compelling reason why we must.

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