Journal of the History of Sexuality 10.3&4 (2001) 568-572
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Sexual Harassment and the Future of Feminism
Sexual Harassment in America:
A Documentary History
Heterophobia: Sexual Harassment and the Future of Feminism. By Daphne Patai. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 1998. Pp. 277. $24.95 (cloth).
Sexual Harassment in America: A Documentary History. Edited by Laura W. Stein. Primary Documents in American History and Contemporary Issues. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1999. Pp. 297. $49.95 (cloth).
Many feminists and their supporters see or define feminism as equivalent to "the good." For example, while on a university search committee, I once phone-interviewed a job candidate who was getting her Ph.D. and who said she did feminist psychotherapy. When I asked her what she meant by "feminist psychotherapy," she said, "I was taught that feminism means freedom." Who but a tyrant could disagree with freedom? Of course, no movement or ideology means freedom, but it is certainly a favorable way of looking at oneself. To the extent that feminists have convinced others that they stand for freedom, or the legitimate rights of women, then it is difficult to criticize their various proposals, laws, behaviors, and so on. However, Daphne Patai, who has previously taught in women's studies programs, gives us a different view of what feminism, or at least a major part of it, is really like. What she presents is a situation so bad, so disturbing, that all feminists need to come to grips with it, unless they are content to have a major part of their movement be antimale, antiheterosexual, and often unreasonable.
One of Patai's major contributions is to point out that there exists what she calls a Sexual Harassment Industry (SHI). It is made up of people whose job or personal and professional livelihood consists of finding and prosecuting cases of sexual harassment. If they expose and correct real sexual harassment, then there is no problem. But, as Patai shows, they often prosecute people who have done little or nothing wrong but simply have fallen into the SHI's gun sights by their words or behavior. Sexual harassment is such a vague concept that it can apply to such diverse cases as someone looking too often at someone else, telling a dirty joke (even if the person to whom it is told does not object), asking for consensual sex, critiquing women, rape, and so on. It can be readily seen that these diverse behaviors have little in common, except that they may have to do with sex. The SHI has, in effect, "criminalized" normal sexual interests, especially when expressed by men, although occasionally a woman may run afoul of these rules, as is shown by the case of feminist Jane Gallop. She expressed sexual interest in her students or otherwise sexualized her classroom and was prosecuted by feminists, even though she claimed that, as a feminist, she could not be charged with sexual harassment. This argument is akin to African Americans who argue that only those with power [End Page 569] can be racists, and thus their behavior can never be called racist. Both seem to me to be rationalizations. Patai discusses this case in detail in chapter 5, which she cleverly titles "Galloping Contradictions."
Patai presents other case histories of people who seem innocent yet are prosecuted/persecuted by the SHI. It appears that once a formidable bureaucracy is set up, with an agenda of getting, especially, males who show normal heterosexual behavior in a variety of circumstances, then no one is safe. Striking is the case of Rambdas Lamb, a professor of religion at the University of Hawaii, though there are many other outrageous cases of people whose jobs and lives have been destroyed or injured due to sexual harassment charges.1 Lamb was accused of rape by two of his students. At first, they just objected to what he said in class, but later they modified their complaints to allege regular rapes. Two university employees...