An academic in Ireland has been disciplined for sexual harassment because he supposedly showed an article to a female colleague in a spirit of sexual innuendo. The article was about the fact that fruit bats engage in oral sex. His defence was that it was part of an ongoing academic discussion about non-human sexual behaviour - but really ... even if there was a degree of innuendo or an attempt at nerdish flirtation, so what?
Antonia Senior says:
Why does it matter? What is wrong with modern womanhood that we insist on parity in all things, yet retain the right to behave like heroines in 19th-century novels who accidentally stumble across some copulating horses? It is bad enough that the modern office environment makes us pretend that humans don’t have sex; now we must all collude in the myth that animals are built like Barbie and Ken, all smoothed over genitalia and wholesome innocence.
Sexual harassment law is not supposed to be about totally de-sexing interaction between men and women. It is about enabling women to work in environments that are not hostile to them (whether because of sexual predation by those with power over them, or because of pervasive expressions of misogyny, or other reasons). It's intended to support, not undermine, women's equality.
There are sometimes fine lines to be drawn here, but we can usually recognise sexual harassment when we see it. Incidents like this demonstrate a lack of common sense. For its part, the university administration has acted stupidly. And a woman who complains about something like this, acting like a nineteenth century shrinking violet, does her sex a disservice and cannot be considered part of the feminist cause. The message she sends is that women cannot be trusted as colleagues in the workplace, because they will freak out over trivial incidents.
Feminism is not about taking all the fun from life. It is not about stamping out all sexual innuendo. It's not about rationalising prudish attitudes to sex. It's not meant to limit reasonable freedom of speech and expression, including academic freedom. It's all about women being given proper credit for being as capable as men. That includes their competence in taking part in ordinary and reasonable social interaction in the workplace. So don't support the "victim" in this case in a spirit of feminist sisterhood. This is not feminism in action, even if she thinks it is. She's set back the feminist cause, not helped it; she's made it look as if women are not good colleagues in the workplace, and it would be safer not to hire them.
The wrong person was disciplined here. The harm was done by somebody disrupting the workplace - wasting the university's time and resources - with a complaint about such a trivial matter. She should be counselled and warned not to do this again.
Go here to sign an online petition protesting the university's action.