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Stop Thinking So Much About ‘Sexual Harassment’

Journal of Applied Philosophy

Published online on


This article explores two related widespread mistakes in thinking about sexual harassment. One is a mistake made by philosophers doing philosophical work on the topic of sexual harassment: an excessive focus on attempting to define the term ‘sexual harassment’. This is a perfectly legitimate topic for discussion and indeed a necessary one, but its dominance of the literature has tended to prevent philosophers from adequately exploring other topics that are of at least equal importance, particularly that of bystanders' responsibilities. The other mistake is one made not just by philosophers but by most people attempting to deal with real‐world behaviour that is either sexual harassment or closely related to sexual harassment: an excessive focus on whether or not formal charges of sexual harassment are possible or appropriate. (This is clearly related to the first mistake in that a part of deciding whether charges are appropriate is deciding whether the behaviour meets the definition of sexual harassment.) I argue that these are not merely unfortunate errors in attempting to conceptualise certain problematic behaviours; they have extremely damaging real world effects.