To Phyllis Schlafly, the redoubtable grande dame of conservatism in America, "sexual harassment on the job is not a problem for the virtuous woman, except in the rarest of cases."
She told the Senate Labor Committee yesterday When a woman talks across the room, she speaks with a universal body language that most men intuitively understand. Men hardly ever ask sexual favors of women from whom the certain answer is 'no.'"
Therefore, she said, she sees no real need for Congress and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to pass laws and regulations to curb sexual harrassment in the workplace.
But to former EEOC head Eleanor Holmes Norton, speaking for four dozen women's organizations ranging from the American Association of University Women to the Working Women's Institute, demands by a supervisor for sexual favors, repeated leering remarks and unwelcome caresses are a degrading form of assault and sexual discriminination from which women are entitled to protection.
For that reason, she told the committee, there is a strong need for the EEOC guidelines adopted while she was at the agency last year. The regulations declare that an employer can be held responsible if his supervisory personnel and workers engage in sexual harrassment, and warn employers that the courts under existing law can order remedial action, including back pay and rehiring fo women who lost out for refusing to grant sexual favors.
Committee chairman Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) held the hearing to examine the EEOC guidelines to determine if they were too inclusive and might create more antagonism against women in the workplace, place too great a burden on employers, and "have the potential for infringing upon freedom of expression of others?"
"Will they help create more employment opportunities for women or will they be a drain on the economy?" he asked. "And last but not least what assurance is there that EEOC will make findings on complaints in an even-handed manner?"
J. Clay Smith Jr. acting chairman of EEOC, told Hatch that there are 118 complaints with some corroborative evidence now under examination in EEOC headquarters.
"Fifty-eight of theses cases involve unwelcome physical contact of a sexaual nature, such as the touching of a person's buttocks or hugging or kissing; 77 involve demands for a person to engage in a sexual act and the promise of a favorable employment decision if the demand is met or the threat of a negative action if the demand is not met; and 26 involve the use of vulgar language of a sexual nature, calling a person sexually derogatory names, making sexually derogatory comments about one sex, or displaying sexually explicit pictures, photographs or cartoons," said Smith.
Norton used the hearing to launch a broad defense of affirmative action in employment and other activities, including the use of numerical goals and timetables (which some have attacked as quotas) as a remedy for exclusion of blacks, and women and other minorities. She also attacked moves to cut the EEOC budget 20 percent, which she said the committee has proposed.
Schlafly in her usual rip-roaring style, asserted that the sexual harassment suffered by women in the workplace was as nothing compared with the harrassment suffered by women from federal laws and policies that discourage motherhood and virtually force women to work and neglect their central role as wives and mothers.
She declared: Sexual harassment on the job "is totally dwarfed by the injustice of sexual harassment or intimidation of women in the armed services who do not have the freedom to resign." She said, "Nothing in the world would create more sexual harassment than the drafting of 18- to 20-year-old girls into the Army," where, she said, women were already having tremendous problems with rape and intimidation.
She also said that affirmative action hurts the traditional mother by giving her husband's job away to women under quota systems, by forcing the hiring of women in jobs for which they aren't fitted, resulting in harrassment or continued proximity resulting in pregnancy (male-female police teams for example), by giving tax credits for child care, thus encouraging women to work. All told, she claimed, they are "obsoleting the role of motherhood."