Sexual harassment, oppression and resistance : a feminist ethnography of some young people from Henry James School
This research project is based on ethnographic observations of andinterviews with a sample of nineteen young women about their experiences of sexual harassment in everyday life. The fieldwork was carried out in a school. The aims of the project were to explore young women's perceptions and negotiations of sexual harassment as much as to document the variety of forms it took and to explore the role of schools in the institutionalization of sexual harassment. The methods employed and the methodological perspective adopted were both ethnographic and feminist, underpinned by a realist philosophy and a standpoint epistemology. I highlight the need to address questions about how methodology, epistemology and substantive data are indissolubly interconnected. Thus, the traditional 'scientific' principles of objective impartiality and unemotionality are explicitly challenged by the demand that we reflect critically on -our own inevitably emotional knowledge of the world which we investigate. The appeal to reflexivity rather than to reason or rationality (supposedly unfettered by emotionality) profoundly challenges our understanding of what 'science' means and, therefore, what knowledge is. A definition of sexual harassment is offered. I argue that the phenomenon is a situated, mundane and masculine power practice which reconstructs or reproduces patriarchal social relations. It is patriarchy operationalized. Since the young women with whom I worked collaborated in defining what the research was about by relating their experiences of heterosex, the thesis also explores some of the oppressive continuities between these more intimate encounters and sexual harassment in everyday life. Given that sites of oppression are also potentially at least sites of resistance, the thesis critically examines the ideological context which structures human agency and explores the extent to which young women are empowered to resist rather than accommodate themselves to the oppressive exercise of masculine power. I argue that the school effectively reproduces the oppressive reality in which the young women live their everyday lives.