What we talk about when we talk about sexual harassment

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“If you have never been hurt by jokes about your gender or your race or your sexuality, those who complain about them seem oversensitive.”

One of the most pernicious ideas in American life is that sexual harassment lawsuits are an example of political correctness gone mad.

For the last few months I’ve been working on a video series for Highline, a re-examination of all the things we got wrong in the 1990s. The first episode is about the sexual harassment freakouts that cropped up in the wake of the Anita Hill hearing and what was really behind them.

Here’s a sequence that didn’t make it into the final cut, four women testifying at a 1992 Congressional hearing:

This is why we have sexual harassment laws.

Before 1986, none of these stories would have been illegal. Until Meritor Savings Bank v. Vinson, the only workplace discrimination that fell under the law was quid pro quo harassment, the kind where your boss explicitly tells you that if you want this promotion, you’ll have to sleep with him. Skeezy comments about your looks, getting groped at the water cooler…

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