The Social Construction and Normalization of Sexual Harassment in the Student Environment in Academic and within CMS

Publikation: Bidrag til bog/antologi/rapportKonferenceabstrakt i proceedingsForskningpeer review


Recent events highlight the prevalence of sexual harassment (SH) and suggest an urgency for change in workplaces and social settings alike (Ahmed 2015, 2017). The official definition of SH places the right and responsibility of labelling a situation as SH with the harassed person (EU Directive 2006/54/EC). However, given the subjective, ambiguous character of SH and as it is often linked to power imbalances (Matchen & DeSouza, 2000; Stockdale, 1993), it is hard for the harassed person to voice, or even conceive of, their claim. SH is especially persistent in universities and study environments (Fitzgerald et al. 1998; ESTHE 2016; Whitley and Page 2015). In a mixed-method study, we investigated students’ experiences with and perceptions of SH in the student environment at a Danish university. We found a large prevalence of SH and a wide-spread normalization of certain occurrences. Some students believe certain behaviors (i.e. physical, verbal, non-verbal, digital) are normal and acceptable in the student environment. Others describe certain behaviors as unpleasant, offensive or unwanted, yet ‘unfortunately normal’ and unavoidable. Moreover, students vary in their acceptability of certain acts depending on the context, tending to be more accepting of such acts in social interactions (i.e. campus parties). We argue such normalization amplifies the ambiguity of the concept of SH, constituting a main limitation to recognize and denounce SH, allowing it to persist in universities and in society. We consider this normalization to be based upon norms that govern the interaction within these spaces. Being performed repeatedly, norms become normalized, making them hard to detect unless challenged (Christensen 2018, Just et al. 2017). While some norms allow to structure our lives in a livable way, others do violence to (some of) us and must thus be opposed (Butler 2004). We suggest norm-critical methods, embodied understanding of peoples’ positions and experiences – instead of engaging in the ‘infinitely remote prospect’ of trying to find the (unknowable) ‘truth of what happened’ (Butler 2004) – to explore possibilities for challenging this problem. From a structural perspective on inclusion/exclusion and reproduction of different bodies and behaviors in student environments based on norms (Butler 2004, Franklin 2015), we ask: Which power relations and inequalities can be revealed by dismantling complex structures of norms of sexuality, gender, race, ethnicity, culture, class, age, etc. (Andersson & Amundsdotter 2012, Christensen 2018, Holvino 2010) that govern students’ relation to and understanding of SH? And how do norm-critical approaches allow to change existing norms, seeing them not as fixed through normalization but as “collective sites of continuous political labor” (Butler 2004, p. 231), working towards better recognition and denunciation of SH? As Swan (2017) notes, sexism seems to have little ‘echoability’ within CMS. We, therefore, see our work as part of a greater effort to realize the broader importance of sexism and SH critical to feminist research. Connecting our research with suggestions for practical change, we also address Pullen, Harding and Phillips’ (2017, p. 5) questions: “How can feminist and queer thought in CMS be developed for a manifesto for action that challenges marginalisation, categorisation of social minorities and oppression?”
Titel11th International Critical Management Studies Conference “Precarious Presents, Open Futures”
Antal sider3
UdgivelsesstedMilton Keynes
ForlagThe Open University
StatusUdgivet - 2019
BegivenhedThe 11th International Critical Management Studies Conference. ICMS 2019: Precarious Presents, Open Futures - The Open University Business School, Milton Keynes, Storbritannien
Varighed: 27 jun. 201929 jun. 2019
Konferencens nummer: 11


KonferenceThe 11th International Critical Management Studies Conference. ICMS 2019
LokationThe Open University Business School
ByMilton Keynes