Kenan Professor of Government Harvey C. Mansfield '53 must have recently seen Demi Moore's latest movie, "Disclosure," in which a female employer sexually harasses her male employee. Mansfield's recent contention at a Faculty meeting that Harvard's sexual harassment guidelines ignore the issue of female seduction is a whimsical twist on that bit of fiction.
In the open question period of the Faculty meeting, Mansfield charged that the University's guidelines concentrate on the use of power to gain sexual favors and overlook the use of sexual favors to gain power. He claimed that Harvard's guidelines are unfair to men, and that female seduction, when used to advance one's career, should be classified as harassment. Although we agree with the letter of Mansfield's sentiment, the spirit is some-what lacking. Classifying female seduction as sexual harassment would be impractical and almost meaningless.
Sexual harassment is unwanted attention of a sexual nature, usually from a member of the opposite gender; the vast majority of sexual harassment charges are brought against men. Although women's sexually harassing men might be a very real concern, 'female seduction' in order to gain power seems an unlikely scenario in which any form of serious harassment might occur. Where a male is in a position of authority with respect to a female, and the female offers sexual favors in return for career advancement, the male has only two choices: accept or refuse. If he accepts, her attention can obviously not be called "unwanted"; there has been no sexual harassment. In this scenario, if indeed she gains power through sexual favor; both parties may have violated hiring policies and both may be vulnerable to blackmail and the like, but sexual harassment has no part in the indiscretion.
If, on the other hand, he refuses her 'seduction,' her attention may be unwanted, but she will have little opportunity to prolong the harassment. Since she is in a lesser position of authority, she has little power to further manipulate him; this is in stark contrast to an employer who, in the absence of sexual harassment guidelines, may continue to harass an employee by threat of dismissal or demotion. In the case of female employee's advances being refused by a male employer, he would be more proper to dismiss her on grounds of inappropriate behavior or violation of corporate policy than to claim personal suffering by sexual harassment. His communication to her that the seduction is inappropriate is enough to end the harassment at its earliest stages, without the need for explicit guidelines.
If a female employee is dismissed because of seduction and continues to harass her former employer, she may be charged with harassment properly--but this situation lies outside the sphere of Mansfield's very specific concern with sexual favors used expressly to advance one's career.
Mansfield also criticized Harvard's guidelines for not considering the issue of false accusations, and the "Tell Someone" sexual harassment leaflet for making "no mention of an accuser of inferior status bringing down a person of superior status." This is a very real concern and something which should be incorporated into Harvard's guidelines. Accusations of harassment which hold the potential to be publicly and personally damaging to the accused should be subject to a threshold of evidence or just cause before being allowed to issue. On this aspect of the guidelines, we urge the University to take measures to protect the accused as well as the accuser.
Lastly, Mansfield contended that the "Tell Someone" leaflet is a violation of academic freedom because it provides an absolute definition of sexism. While this may be true, the leaflet itself does not purport to serve as any type of authoritative statement, and certainly does nothing to prohibit professors from seeking their own definitions in the classrooms. In the interest of practicality, some definition must be given without a lengthy philosophical discourse to justify it.
We wouldn't trade Professor Mansfield for the world. Some-how, in his long history of attacks on women, ethnic minorities, and gays and lesbians, he has served as a perpetual font of intriguing ideas for discussion and amusement.