October 17, 2001

New Theory Proposed on Harassment

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About 35 Cornell faculty and students, graduates and undergraduates, arrived at McGraw Hall Monday and yesterday with pens and paper in hand, to familiarize themselves with Harvard law Prof. Janet E. Haley’s “queer theory.”

Haley, a leading scholar on the law’s applications to sexual orientation, explained that the contemporary theory is a homosexual stance regarding sexual harassment, in the first two of three lectures she will deliver on the Cornell campus this week.

Haley’s theory on sexual harassment differs in many ways from contemporary feminist theory regarding the same issue.

Using case studies, handouts and charts constructed on the black board behind her, Haley argued that the feminist approach to sexual harassment –the approach which she feels is currently the most politically and judicially influential — is faulty.

Monday afternoon in her first “Sexuality Harassment” lecture, Haley presented a case that the feminist approach to sexual harassment relies on a female’s sexual subordination to a male.

“We should be resistant to [this] male-female model,” she said, arguing that this subordination-feminist approach restricts the definition of sexual harassment to strictly heterosexual terms.

“Harassment is harassment no matter who does it to whom,” she stated.

Many of the Monday lecture attendees returned to McGraw Hall yesterday to hear the second part of her “Sexuality Harassment” presentation, as she continued to discuss “the queer theory” of sexual harassment.

Stressing the need to continually improve the political and judicial approach to sexual harassment and sexuality, Haley said, “Getting it right can’t be the goal. We’ve got to keep pushing and pulling.”

“It was a fascinating exploration of some of the implications of sexual harassment law in terms of the gay and lesbian community,” said Richard Juang grad.

Both Cornell students and faculty members challenged the professor in the question and answer sessions that followed her presentations.

“It was a fascinating critique of an established legal arena that is taken for granted,” said Adam Romero ’02, a student who attended both lectures.

Martha Fineman, the Dorothea Clarke Professor of Feminist Prudence at Cornell, introduced Haley, citing her intellectual and academic achievements, past and present.

Mentioning the three books on which Haley is currently working, Fineman emphasized the professor’s excellence in the study of law and society as well as in the field of modern language.

Haley, the author of Don’t: A Reader’s Guide to the Military’s Anti-Gay Policy, visits the Cornell community as a guest of the Messenger Lecturer Series. Haley will deliver her third and final presentation, “Same-Sex Marriage: What is the Right Question?” today at 4:30 p.m. in 165 McGraw Hall. The lecture is free and open to the public.

Archived article by Eric Miller