Sexual Harassment In The Workplace: From The Middle Ages To Today

3700 words - 15 pages

Sexual Harassment is first traced from the Middle Ages in the feudal era, custom stipulated that all vassals or serfs were required to give their brides to satisfy their masters sexually. The only way this could be avoided was where the bride or the bridegroom paid a specific amount of produce in redemption dues. While this may seem different from sexual harassment on the job, in fact, in feudal times, the feudal lord was the employer of his vassals and serfs, and their brides became his sexual property. The masters appear to have enforced this custom regularly and with great enthusiasm.

During slavery, slave women were forced into dual exploitation: as laborers and sexual partners. Their physical labor and their sexual favors belonged to their male masters. Slaves had no legal right to refuse advances from their masters, since legally the concept of raping did not exist. A female slave was frequently used by her owner for his sexual and recreational pleasure. This sexual privilege was a hierarchical right that spilled over to the slave owner's neighbors, visitors, and younger sons eager for initiation into the mysteries of sex.

As slavery was replaced by lowly paid domestic help, female servants, particularly the young maids, were often forced to become the sexual playthings of the members of their employers' families. A domestic servant was afforded little privacy, dignity, or freedom to socialize with others. The employer expected sexual favors to go along with the rest of the duties exacted from the domestic servants. The domestic servant who became pregnant could no longer anticipate marriage. If she bore an illegitimate child, she would be dismissed from her job and shunned by society. As a last resort, unemployed domestic servants frequently turned to prostitution. They lost not only their means of earning a living but also their homes. The insecurity, isolation, and loneliness that characterized domestic service made unemployed domestics particularly vulnerable to the recruitment efforts of madams and pimps.

In fact there is evidence that the most common occupation followed by women before they became prostitutes was that of domestic service. Ironically, this knowledge of the pattern-of-employment shift from domestic perpetrated against domestic servants. Louisa May Alcott, herself a victim of this abuse, wrote a fascinating account of sexual harassment over a century ago. Faced with financial problems, Alcott had accepted employment as a companion to middle-aged lady. She quickly learned, to her dismay, that she was also accountable to the lady's brother, who thought he had hired the attractive woman for his sister and his own pleasure. When Alcott resisted his attentions, he assigned her dirtier and heavier household work. Despite spirited resistance Alcott was unable to convince her employer to stop his amorous advances, and she was eventually forced to leave the job rather than submit. (Sexual Harassment on the Job, by...

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