Sexual Harassment Addressed Through Online Channels


Sexual harassment was commonplace, and even expected up until the early 90s. For a long time, there were no resources to report harassment to, no network of support, no options really to stop the behavior or call out the offender.

Unwanted sexual advances have pervaded human history since before recollection, whether with slaves and masters or employees and employers. Regardless of the relationship, any role in which a person holds sway over another is historically associated with sexual harassment. In the nineteenth century, offenders didn't generally concern themselves with repercussions, although the victim could be at risk of character defamation, punishment, or alienation.

The silver lining of such a grim history is that sexual abuse of working women by their employers eventually gave rise to the likes of Helen Cambell, who in 1877 wrote Women Wage-Workers, and Upton Sinclair, author of classic The Jungle addressing harassment in the meat-packing industry; each laying the groundwork for slaves, working women, and concerned men to speak on the matter.

During the rise of women's rights, just before the Civil War in 1861, the idea that marriage was the only viable option for women was referred to as "legal prostitution" by supporters. Again in 1916, the idea was expanded upon by Emma Gouldman's essay "The Traffic of Women" which spoke of the sexual favors that a woman must live by whether to one man in marriage or many men in a brothel. The term "sexual harassment" as we've come to know it didn't come about until the 1970's when activists Catherine MacKinnon and Lin Farley tackled the problem with clever lawyering.

The pair did some heavy legwork to convince judges of the harm of harassment and to initiate laws that would effectively punish offenders for their actions. Launching a campaign hellbent on seeing the end of such degradation, the pair convinced the American legal system to enact an anti-discrimination law. However, in recognizing sexual discrimination, the court found a way to skirt around its terminology and essentially endorse a male-dominated hierarchy of continued sexual discrimination and female exploitation, a full extent of which is outlined by Reva B. Siegel.


As it had been for ages, sexual discrimination continued to be dismissed until Anita Hill's nationally-televised claim that Clarence Thomas had sexually harassed her while employed at the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission. According to Hill, she shut down Thomas' advances only to be plagued by unwelcome sexual discussion and pornographic videos. Despite Hill's claims, Thomas, who had been nominated for Supreme Judge by President George H.W. Bush, was appointed to the position. This brought the justice system under societal scrutiny, but most specifically by women who believed that Hill's claims had fallen on deaf (read: biased) ears. Not only did Hill's situation highlight the disregard of sexual harassment by men, it brought attention to the extremely lacking number of women in politics. The case unequivocally cemented the thorny issue of sexual harassment into public awareness.

Fast forward to the present, where victims are encouraged to share their stories of abuse to a rousing chorus of support from complete strangers! We've come a long way from the basically legal abuse of our past. Consider how today victims can turn to online resources such as Shine Squad to open up about their harassment and even, creepily enough, find others who have suffered at the hands of the same offender. Sharing can remain anonymous, hiding the victim's identity while still offering a chance to connect.

Shine Squad was founded by Deanna Zandt and Jeanne Brooks in an effort to make coming out about sexual harassment a bit less painful. Tumblr hosts the site, allowing for tracking of data through an optional survey. Otherwise, victims are encouraged to publish their stories without outright naming the offender. Alas internet, yet again you make the world smaller by allowing victims, men and women alike, to spread awareness.

In the case of Anita Hill and Clarence Thomas, KimberleW. Crenshaw in an interview with Mashable, brings up a solid point: had social media been around, the situation might have been drastically different. Reaching out to like-minded people, certain interest groups, or even petitioning is made that much simpler through social media.

A quick search on twitter for sexual harassment brings up several tags: #sexualharassment #everydaysexism #wheniwas.
.@GloriaSteinem what advice do you have for younger feminists taking on ?
@EverydaySexism Name it. I've been more haunted by what I didn't say. Better to say it even if it doesn't work in the moment.
People are empowered when their words are given an audience. Sharing a story of harassment or a painful memory of abuse and being given recognition can be salvation.

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