Renowned expert on sexual harassment speaks on re-defining the term

Kathryn Clancy redefines sexual harassment as ‘gender harassment’

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Renowned expert on sexual harassment speaks on re-defining the term

(Andrea Hanley/Daily Collegian)

(Andrea Hanley/Daily Collegian)

(Andrea Hanley/Daily Collegian)

(Andrea Hanley/Daily Collegian)

By Andrea Hanley

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Renowned authority on sexual harassment and professor of anthropology at the University of Illinois, Kathryn Clancy, spoke at the University of Massachusetts on the topic of sexual harassment and redefining as “gender harassment.”

Clancy prefaced the talk on March 20, and stated, “While these things aren’t quite illegal, they’re still not great.”

According to a survey conducted by Stop Street Harassment, a non-profit organization which fights against gender-based harassment, in a pool of 2,000 adults, 81 percent of women say they have encountered either a form of sexual harassment or sexual assault in their lifetime. Yet, most of the conduct is not technically illegal, so the epidemic transitions from a matter of the law to that of morality.

“Most Title IX offices are so averse to try to investigate….[the cases are] very rarely investigated—but when they are, the outcome is usually [a reply of] ‘this doesn’t meet the legal limit; we’re not investigating it,’” Clancy said.

Clancy described these lawful offenses as “put-downs:” sometimes unnoticeable comments, gestures or actions that make those being targeted feel “less than.” According to Clancy, put-downs foster the “type of behavior that constitutes a hostile climate,” and contributes to societal acceptance of sexism.

Drawing attention to the science fields, Clancy emphasized how hierarchical career structures—commonly found in the field of anthropology—facilitate a breeding ground for gender harassment. In accordance with the patriarchal momentum of American society, men not only tend to hold more positions of power, but also, when in power, have a higher perception of themselves more so than women who hold the same position.

Touching upon the topic of alienation in consequence due to a patriarchal hierarchy, Clancy referenced a study conducted by Nelson et al in 2017. For 18 months, an individual conducted a study where she led a team doing field work. At the end of the study, her male boss commented, “you know what you and your boyfriend did in the field is really significant,”  when her boyfriend had only been there for two months out of the 18.

During the question-and-answer portion of the event, Jennie Traschen, professor of physics, UMass, did not ask a question, but instead thanked Clancy.

“So much of what you say is the experience of so many of us—here and across the world…the way you synthesize is so thoughtful,” Treachen said.

Megan West, a part-time lab technician, administration member in the biochemistry department at UMass, commented about how the University is taking steps to eliminate the emphasis on hierarchy in the sciences.

“The college of natural sciences is starting its own climate committees that are smaller and comprised of members holding various levels of positions,” West said. “It’s really just to see how everyone is doing in the work environment on a social level.”

“The bigger problem is over,” Clancy said, “but what we now have to work on is a respectful workplace.”

Andrea Hanley can be reached at [email protected].