The opening sentence of the Hippolytic's post "Yale Prof: I bet it would be fun f*** you" crystallizes one of my fundamental problems with the way we speak and think about sexual harassment.
"Sexual harassment is de rigueur for New Haven's seedier establishments, but now it has reared its head in the university's hallowed halls." While the Hippolytic continues on to make a searing and well-deserved point about the utter unacceptability of Yale's protecting professors who sexual harass employees, students, or fellow staff members, the implications of its opening sentence are that it somewhat surprising that a Yale professor would sexually harass an employee and that it is less surprising that such behavior would occur elsewhere.
As Maggie pointed out, this is certainly not the first, nor will it be the last, accusation that a Yale professor sexually harassed an employee or a student. Thus, it seems sort of silly to express surprise at its occurrence. It seems to me that surprise it could occur here, here at Yale, is indicative of a type of unfortunate elitism.
By conflating acts of ill-expressed sexual desire in New Haven's bars and clubs with quid pro quo sexual harassment in the workplace, we neglect the true potency of sexual harassment in workplaces. Indeed, sexual harassment in workplaces is about far more than sex: it is about exerting power, it is about creating a hostile work environment, it is about feeling threatened by the presence of women, and it is about undermining women's legitimacy as workers.
While the action may be the same (e.g. commenting that it would be fun to have sex with someone), the impact is different because of the different context. The sense of entitlement implicit in making sexual comments or gestures at a club or bar is certainly worth considering, it is fundamentally another animal than using sex to exert power or dominance in the workplace. Discussing the two in the same sentence minimizes these differences, and limits our ability to think of innovative solutions to sexual harassment in workplaces.
Finally, if we assume that sexual harassment is purely about sexual desire, we play into unfortunate stereotypes about male sexuality--that they cannot control themselves and consequently, that women need protection from male desire in the workplace. This creates a negative-feedback loop, because policies that emphasize protectionism further exacerbate a sense that women are fish out of water at work which will, in turn, lead to more sexual harassment.
Certainly, Yale's complicity in any of its employees sexually harassing students or co-workers is heinous, but I wish that the rhetoric in its wake could be more sensitive to the underlying motivation of sexual harassment in the workplace instead of comparing it to someone making a sexual proposition at Toad's.