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Hiding Sexual Harassment: Myths and Realities

Nevada Law Journal, Vol. 21, p. 1223, 2021

Sexual harassment and gender disparities in the workplace continue, but we are not paying enough attention. The heralded me-too movement and the publicized downfalls of Harvey Weinstein, Bill Cosby, and other former luminaries might give the impression that the lid is blown off the indignities of harassment in the workplace and that American society’s collective disdain and abhorrence of harassment has quickly put an end to these incivilities. But these headline cases are just the tip of the sexual harassment iceberg; they may even give us a false sense of security and optimism. The truth is that we are not yet in that post-harassment, post-sexist era. By not candidly recognizing that and taking affirmative corrective measures, we are letting harassers and their employers get away with harassment and continue to hurt women in the workplace. This Article explores three related myths on which sexual harassment is built and allowed to continue. These myths perpetuate what we would like to believe about sex discrimination, sexual harassment, and what happens to women who complain about sexual harassment and their alleged harassers. Part I discusses the myth that gender inequality and sex discrimination are no longer prevalent. It continues by exploring the stories we tell ourselves and others to keep that myth alive. Part II discusses the myth that sexual harassment is no longer prevalent. It continues by revealing that sexual harassment very much continues and that it is intrinsically related to sex discrimination. Part III explores the myth that there is a just resolution for the courageous women who are harassed and then report it—that the men and employers responsible are identified and punished. This Article reveals instead that harassed employees are disadvantaged at every stage of the reporting and resolution process, often leading to their frustration and failure. This Article hopes to inspire conversation on these three myths and their contrary realities. By recognizing these truths, we can begin to take actions toward transforming those idealistic myths into actual realities. The Article ends in the Conclusion with proposals for achieving that future goal.