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The Woman Who Popularized The Term 'Sexual Harassment'


Lin Farley popularized the term sexual harassment. It was April 1975, during a New York City Human Rights Commission hearing about women in the workplace. Farley testified. The New York Times covered it. Readers saw a term that had until then been academic or restricted to feminist circles. And thus, Farley says, a concept was born. Lin Farley lives now in Santa Fe, N.M., where she's retired after a career as a writer and a journalist. She sees some of the roots of the current conversation in what happened this time last year.

LIN FARLEY: Because of the election and because of who we elected, I think there's been an awful lot of ferment about the issue of women, women's rights, women's place in society. Should we have elected a woman president? Look at all of the sexism and the misogyny that came out in our society around that election. And you see, women watched that. Women heard that. And whether they like Hillary Clinton or not, they knew that their sex was being denigrated. And so, yes, that may have contributed to the upswing and the outrage and the outpouring of emotion now around the issue of sexual harassment.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: What are your thoughts, having seen everything that's been happening these recent weeks as these stories have broken?

FARLEY: Well, I think it's amazing. I think - I do have the long view. And what I'm now beginning to think is sexual harassment seems to come and go in the public consciousness in waves. So we had the first round in '75. And then there have been more waves with court suits. And then Anita Hill. And then now we have this wave with the whole Roger Ailes and O'Reilly and Weinstein. We do see something different, I think, this time. And that is the reason that we're seeing this whole upsurge of activity - is because of a harasser, not a victim. And I think that is a big step forward.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And more significant, possibly?

FARLEY: I don't know about more significant. I think it's a big step forward. I mean, America has become very comfortable with female victims. And we see that, of course, with #MeToo. Of course, the number of victims now with the #MeToo movement is impossible to ignore. But in terms of stopping it, this upswell and outpouring has to be translated into concrete action. And that's where I think the next step has to come.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: What is that next step, in your view?

FARLEY: Well, I think the next step is we need gender parity in the workplace in terms of positions of authority. We need men and women in equal numbers in positions of authority.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Is it important to keep it in the public eye, to keep talking about it?

FARLEY: Yes, of course all of it is important. We need to keep it in the public eye. But I think there needs to be demands now for women to support each other on the job. I would love to see, for example, at huge corporations for there to be calls for women to get together and support each other in terms of asking for raises, asking for promotions. If this whole outpouring of #MeToo can bring women together, can encourage them to support each other and stand behind each other in terms of promotions and workplace advancement, than I think it would be a huge, huge sea change in the issue of women at work in general and sexual harassment in particular.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's Lin Farley. She's working on a book called "The Secret Life Of Men" about sexual harassers in the workplace. Thank you so much.

FARLEY: You're welcome. Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.