Sex discrimination refers to unfair treatment aimed at a person because of their sex. It can include not being able to apply for jobs or access goods and services because of a person’s sex, or being paid less because of one’s sex. Sexual harassment is part of sex discrimination and is itself a form of sex discrimination, but it’s legally classed different due to it being directed at one person and of a sexual nature. Sex discrimination laws protect both sexes from harassment based on sex in theory, but in practice most cases of sexual harassment and most institutional sexism is aimed at women.
There’s several theories as to why sexual harassment occurs, radical feminism and gender critical feminism views sexual harassment and sex discrimination as all part of the wider patriarchal gender system, and say it’s a tool used to police the borders of sex roles. A recent study in 2012 (1) shows evidence this may be the case. It highlights women who have personalities, traits and working styles which are instrumental are more likely to be sexually harassed. Instrumental traits are culturally coded as masculine, and include the traits needed for leadership and task orientated jobs like science and engineering. Expressive traits are culturally coded as feminine, and include interactional and nurturing traits needed by those in traditional female roles centred around service and care of others. Women with instrumental personalities are viewed as a threat to men as a class being the ones in leadership and decision making jobs, and to men as a class having greater economic power. They are a threat to the concept of it being the male who should be at the forefront of building society and discovering new things, while women remain the ones who nurture society without having an objective view on how that society should be structured. This is because its the instrumental traits that are required to do many of these things.
Two other articles (2 & 3) give examples of how sexual harassment and harassment in general are used to police sex role allocated borders. One is about how women in israel are harassed on public transport for sitting in seats at the front of busses, which have traditionally been viewed as first class seats reserved for men. Women who wont accept second class place are referred to as uppity, the same language used to describe ladder climbing women in the workplace who violate sex roles by trespassing on personality traits and behaviours men have claimed as theirs and theirs only. In reality the personality traits towards the instrumental end of the spectrum are no more naturally male then any seat on a bus, they are just simply socially coded as masculine. Its comparable to seats being coded pink and blue and reserved for people based on biological sex. It could be claimed other social issues also exist in israel, but the same situation in a different form is taking place in france despite the drastic difference in living conditions, religion and culture. Sexual harassment on public transport in france has affected 100% of women. This gives a clear message, men view public transport and most other public spaces as their space and feel free to give women the message that they don’t have the right to occupy them without a man with them. In today’s equality era it’s easy for many to forget that not all that long ago women in the west were not allowed to travel freely on public transport, gaining the freedom to move around in public without men apart from regular shopping trips etc was a gain of feminism. There are still countries where women are not allowed to drive, ride bicycles or on horseback. Reasons given for this range from modesty to the possibility of harming a womans fertility. Women must depend on a male chaperone for transport, and in some cases must ask a male permission to leave their homes. It was not all that long ago these things applied in the west, women were not allowed eat out alone (without a man) or get served at the bar in a pub. Its clear to anyone who wants to see, women as a class are oppressed by men as a class all over the world. In the west post feminist, women are still oppressed and the nature of that oppression is being masked by other things.
Gender Harassment is a recent term used to describe the same power dynamics at play in sex discrimination and harassment of all kinds (4). Only it masks the power dynamics and reduces the harassment down to things that feed into identity based thinking. It also makes it look like sex discrimination and sexual harassment are two distinct things, when in fact they are related to the same thing. Its a case of anything using the word sex has to refer to something of a sexual nature, otherwise its gender. Sex discrimination was case of patriarchy first telling women they were not able to perform in certain jobs or it was unnatural for them to do so, and then following up by singling out women who go ahead and do so anyway for sexual harassment or other forms of harassment. The fact that some males get harassed by some women just shows that individuals are capable of that behaviour regardless of sex, it does not remove the fact that a behaviour is used as a weapon by one class against another. The fact that males are not favoured in the roles that men as a class have decided are just for women, does not mean sex roles are an equal binary where power is equal on both sides. Patterns are more important than numbers when looking at how men use violence on any level to keep women in their assigned sex roles. It may be in most cases men are violent to other men, for purpose of settling disputes or committing a crime to acquire property. This does not remove how targeted aggression is used against women to stop them doing certain behaviours or make them do others.
The other explanation for sexual harassment is that men are wired to seek out women who would make good mates. The same theory list these women as being the ones with traits socially classified as feminine. The fact sex role nonconforming women more likely to be sexually harassed, despite having traits they were told are not sexy or attractive in women clearly shows harassment is a weapon. Not simply something men can’t help due to their biological program driving them to select mates. If it was then these results should be the reverse, males would seek out and uncontrollably harass women with the so called “ideal” traits assigned to their sex. The fact sex role nonconforming women are targeted throws evidence in favour of the radical feminist argument, sex roles held in place by male domination rather than by naturally programmed desire. This also points to Sexuality used as a weapon rather than an uncontrollable thing men have. women’s oppression being deliberate rather than just a product of sex difference. This means men have a choice in how they behave and can be made to change this behaviour and should be forced to do so. Its important gender abolitionists and feminists dont get distracted by all the rebranding and fragmenting of the behaviours of male domination, this can be achieved by still looking at patterns rather than labels or statistics.
How egalitarian men’s views are also influences their view on women in terms of personality traits and what context those traits should be expressed in (5). Men with more traditional views on sex roles favour women with expressive traits as partners and those with egalitarian view don’t hold this preference and are tolerant of women with more instrumental traits as partners. What’s important here is this study shows men’s views on women in terms of sex role associated traits is related to cultural factors, not hardwired.
Examples of patterns.
What i’ve noticed one woman who is gender nonconforming can do things alongside men, and they will include her as one of the lads. More so if those things are recreational and dont give her access to much social power. A problem will arise if she out performs males publically in any of them. In the past there was space for younger girls to be tomboys without receiving much social backlash, just as long as the grew out of it in time to get married and have children. Several years ago an article in the guardian asked where today’s tomboys had gone, and it’s sounds very much the same as the answer given to where all the butches went (6). The answer is that today women when they grow up have more options to get out of sex roles, for this reason sex role conditioning must get stricter in childhood. As result of this many who would have been left alone to live as tomboy or butch in the past bump against the backlash and their sex role behaviour becomes a focus point, many try to conform and others end up grouped as trans.
It’s only when more women want to join that male space becomes threatened, that’s because one woman can be opted into some form of masculinity and explained away, like the old day tomboy or butch. today women as a class have passed that point and now collectively are moving into male sex role territory. Just wanting to control one’s own body and provide for oneself without a male is considered trespassing on masculine territory because men as a class view womens bodies as theirs to own and control. Lots of women can’t be explained away as tomboys or butch because if they are then the gender structure falls apart because it removes masses of women from doing the tasks men expect of them.
This may explain why before feminism it’s possible to look through history and find token women who were seen as anomalies but allowed to be that, the occasional woman scientist or warrior etc. They presented no threat to most women continuing to be wives and mothers, largely because most women were economically forced to marry and after they did there was no option to avoid pregnancy. Women could not refuse sex in marriage and this is proven by the fact laws against marital rape or domestic violence did not exist. Token women of the times were often women who had the option to still take part in education or work, either with money to pay for childcare or somehow avoid marriage and family by living celibate lives. Today token women have to be shows as exceptional in some way, or defective in some way. Whatever it is it must be outside what most women can achieve or would want to. An example is implying that to be president or prime minister one has to be able to rule with an iron thist, while also making it clear that any woman who can is not a real woman or is cold and sub human. Another is implying that any woman who excels in a male assigned area is somehow masculine, resulting in her being set apart from other women.
This is happening today with gender, if some females can be explained away as masculine/genderqueer or even trans male and given their rights and left to get on, then they can be opted in without them causing the rest of women to challenge their place in the system. An example is a women who excel at maths or science can be fitted into the modern brain sex model and celebrated for having a more male wired brain, regardless of if they identify as trans or not. This in itself will allow that individual woman a route to explore he ambition, while at the same time giving a reason to the masses of women as to why most women can’t do something similar or why they should not want to. This reason becomes brain sex variation and works by leading most to believe that all the discouragement they have had has not played a part, instead their inborn brain has, It must have done because that other person got there despite all that. The same thing can be applied to lots of things, until the same sex role system as always is put in place via a different method. This is achieved by invisibilization of role models, once some women are classified or explained away as more masculine, further along a gender spectrum etc then all they do does not act to tell other women they too are capable of aspiring to be whatever it is. Instead it says this is me and im here bc of how my brain was built, one of those things etc. Often the othering of women as masculine is coupled with the othering of them as unattractive to most men. In a culture where women are told their sexual desirability to men is one of their most important traits, most needed traits to survive, it’s unlikely they will view anyone culturally defined outside that as a role model. It also leaves scope to question the sexual orientation of women who are sex role nonconforming. The idea is that young girls and women don’t question sex roles on mass, at least not until they become politically aware and at a stage where they are more secure in themselves. By this time many will have already given most of their personal power over to the patriarchal system.
The othering of sex role nonconforming women and the placing of them in an undesirable box can only be done when there is only a few of them. When there’s lots of them men as a class move on to sexualize them. This pattern occurs whenever a great number of women break out of a sex role norm together, an example is the increased objectification of women after each wave of feminism. In reality its the manifestation of mass sexual harassment of women as a class by men as a class, and it plays out in the form of violent degrading porn, street harassment and workplace harassment including sexist dress codes.
Its important politics does not follow the line of agreeing that certain things are masculine and women interested in them are masculine too. Its important that the term gender harassment does not result in a reinterpretation of things . An interpretation that what’s really happening as discrimination against different gender expressions, rather than the policing of sex role territory by men as a class against women as a class would further act to invisibilized women’s oppression and reduce it to an individual identity struggle.
The fact that women with instrumental traits and personalities coded as masculine are harassed because of sex role violation does point to the possibility those who identify with gender definitions outside their assigned sex role will get caught up in this political struggle and receive more harassment, for a reason to do with sex roles rather than how they identify. This policing of sex roles via harassment is likely the route of what many genderists and identity based thinkers are up against and refer to as the gender binary or cissexism. Thats because it is the core reason why the spotlight is on biological sex and sex role behaviour.
Screaming Queens is a film about transgender and gay history which highlights police hostile and sexual harassment of drag queens (possible transsexual women as many transitioned) and also highlights how the movements of these people were restricted(7). It was sex role nonconforming males who were prevented from leaving the locality where they worked, as prostitutes and female impersonators. This is an extreme version of how women’s movements have been restricted and it was only applied to people who were considered sex role non conforming in appearance. Gay men who were associated with the same scene were not prevented from leaving, unless they were physically considered “effeminate” or were cross dressing. Most were economically disadvantaged because they broke masculinity codes, and that’s likely because if males who had personality traits socially coded as like womens could do certain jobs, then maybe women could too.