Sexual Harassment of Working Women


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A Case of Sex Discrimination

Catharine A. MacKinnon; Foreword by Thomas I. Emerson

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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.

"MacKinnon patiently builds her own argument, unravels the snarls of existing legal theory and the kinks (and sheer idiocies) of landmark cases, and offers illuminating parallels to laws regarding racial discrimination, rape, and wife abuse. . . . An important contribution to legal and political theory and a giant step forward in discrimination law."—Kirkus Reviews

"A brilliant, searching, clear-eyed treatment of an experience so daily and universal in women's lives that it is interwoven with the very fabric of social life. The implications of MacKinnon's book go beyond even much-needed changes in the law; she throws the sexual adn economic implications of living in a woman's body into powerful relief, cutting to the heart of difficult issues like 'receptivity,' 'consent,' 'coercion.' This is a splendid contribution to feminist theory, legal criticism, ethics, labor history and economics."—Adrienne Rich

"This pioneering study of sexual harassment as sex discrimination is thorough and relentless. The legal system is dissected by a fine legal mind. The condition of working women is made visceral by the passion and commitment of a creative lawyer who insists on removing the blindfold from the eyes of justice, a male, not a female, icon. MacKinnon's book will be a tool of knowledge and action and an inspiration to women now crippled by the degrading reality of sexual harassment on the job."—Andrea Dworkin

"MacKinnon analyzes the problem of the sexual harassment of working women in its legal and social context, and in doing so she provides a valuable tool for attorneys representing victims of this practice and for scholars. She argues that sexual harassment, based on the unequal power relations between men and women, is indubitably sex discrimination and is therefore proscribed by extant legislation. She asserts that problem is pandemic and has far-reaching consequences."—Library Journal

"The book is both informative and thought-provoking. If you're considering legal action in any sexual harassment situation, you'll find it indispensable."—Karen Lindsey, Ms.

"Sexual Harassment of Working Women is an excellent legal argument based on a novel theory of discrimination. It is a substantial contribution to women's employment rights literature."—Harvard Women's Law Journal

"Catharine A. MacKinnon's timely study is the first comprehensive treatment of both the social and the legal issues raised by sexual harassment. . . . Through an analysis of newspaper and magazine accounts, as well as the few social surveys that have been done, she makes a convincing case that it is extremely widespread. Moreover, her in-depth interviews with working women sensitize us, particularly the males among us, to how abusive, humiliating, and oppressive the experience is for those on the receiving end. . . . A fine work."—Mark E. Beatt, American Journal of Sociology

"The definitive work on the subject...[by] the law's most prominent legal theorist." - Fred Strebeigh, New York Times Magazine

"MacKinnon offers us, or at least us males, important information about a dark side of our society, a sensitive insight into the plight of those on the receiving end of sexual harassment, and an eloquent statement of her vision of equality between the sexes....A book for everyone." - Thomas I. Emerson, from the Foreword
ISBN: 9780300022995
Publication Date: September 10, 1979
326 pages, 5 1/8 x 8
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