Structural Subjugation: Theorizing Racialized Sexual Harassment in Housing
27.2 Yale Journal of Law and Feminism 227 (2016)
61 Pages Posted: 7 Mar 2016 Last revised: 20 Jun 2016
Date Written: March 1, 2016
This Article identifies and analyzes the structural forces that permit and ignore racialized sexual harassment in housing. Although scholarship on sexual harassment in housing is sparse, the existing research and resulting body of law generally advances a narrative focused on the female tenants’ economic vulnerability and violation of the sanctity of her home. The narrative advanced in scholarship and advocacy, along with the resulting jurisprudence, presents an archetype of a deviant male landlord abusing his authority to take advantage of women sexually who, because of their economic circumstances, have no alternatives. This Article terms it the “dirty old man” narrative. Drawing attention to the racialized sexual harassment that lies beneath the stock story for many African American female tenants, this Article dismantles that narrative. The purpose of the scholarship is two-fold. The first is to expose, for the first time, the undercurrent of racialized sexual victimization that is absent from the “dirty old man” narrative. To do that, this project methodically examines court filings in sexual harassment cases brought by the Attorney General under the federal Fair Housing Act and analyzes the entire body of federal and state court opinions assessing residential sexual harassment claims. The second objective is to identify the structural factors — cultural acceptance of the “Black Jezebel” myth, legal rights, access, and generational economic and racial hierarchies — that operate together to perpetuate racialized sexual harassment in rental housing, an analysis that draws on social science research, along with critical race, critical feminist, and intersectionality theories. This Article contends that those structural forces are the same factors that have operated to permit and hide the sexual subjugation of Black women in the private sphere throughout history — during slavery, as domestic workers, and in the present-day failure to prosecute sexual assault against Black women. Ultimately, it argues that the prevailing “dirty old man” narrative risks silencing both the individual stories of racialized sexual harassment at home and the larger conversation about the structural forces permitting and ignoring the abuse.
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