As young women participate in Recruitment 2001 for the Greek system, they face many stresses. These include the desire to make a good impression and the hope that they find the sorority right for them.
But one obstacle they face every sunny, warm day of recruitment is the crowds of fraternity men leering at them from their front yards and porches on Langdon. Sometimes what the men say can be amusing, but other times it can be crude and intimidating. I know; I was one of these young women two years ago.
After 21 years of being female, I feel I have endured enough sexual harassment and sexism to last me a lifetime, and I am not alone. After looking at photographer Ruth Orkin’s famous image “American Girl in Italy,” in which an American woman hurries past a street of jeering men, one can hardly deny that sexual harassment spans cultures and decades. Whether it happens in the workplace, the classroom or the street, sexual harassment can be humiliating and degrading.
But with laws protecting an individual’s right to work and study without fear of such harassment, I often wonder how this despicable form of discrimination remains so pervasive. After all, sexual harassment is a form of sex discrimination that violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature constitutes sexual harassment when submission to or rejection of this conduct explicitly or implicitly affects an individual’s employment, unreasonably interferes with an individual’s work performance or creates an intimidating, hostile or offensive work environment.
Furthermore, safeguards against sexual harassment exist in the classroom as well. Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in educational institutions, and the federal statute 42 U.S.C. & 1983 provides a monetary remedy for deprivations of federal constitutional and statutory rights.
With these laws in place, one must question why sexual harassment continues to flourish.
One significant reason is that sex is an integral aspect of human nature; sometimes it can be difficult to discern when sexual advances are welcome and when they are not. Just as sexual relationships occur between men and women, men and men, and women and women, sexual harassment thrives between them as well. With hormones running high, sometimes the line between harmless flirting and sexual harassment becomes blurred.
This is obvious when I broach the subject of sexual harassment with some of my male friends. They inform me that when they yell, “Nice ass!” to a woman on the street, they are merely complimenting her. I reply, if the woman looks uncomfortable and hurries away, she clearly does not enjoy the attention. A compliment should flatter, not humiliate, the recipient. But the distinction between compliment and harassment is frequently interpreted differently by different people.
Regardless, it is clear that censorship is not the answer. As revolting as sexual harassment might be, if it occurs outside the context of work and school, it is protected by the First Amendment.
As a journalist, I cherish the protection afforded me by the First Amendment, which conversely means I must tolerate it when other choose to exercise their First Amendment rights. Consequently, I become faced with the dilemma of choosing an alternative to censorship to stop sexual harassment.
I do not want to argue for further laws guarding against sexual harassment on the street, in the home or in social settings such as bars, but I am frankly quite sick of being verbally accosted every time I wear a low-cut blouse.
The answer is to exercise my own rights. When institutions and laws fail to protect individuals from sexual harassment, individuals must take it upon themselves to stand up for their rights.
Just as some young men exercise their freedom of speech by demeaning and objectifying women’s bodies on the street, young women can exercise their respective freedom by telling them where to go – although this may not be prudent if a woman is alone and surrounded by a large group of males.
Similarly, young men can display their sympathy and maturity by informing their offensive friends that their off-color remarks did not seem to be appreciated.
Unfortunately, until our society becomes less tolerant of sexism, I will expect comments on the size of my breasts rather than the quality of my running form next time I go for a jog. But there is something I will do – respond accordingly.