Harassment on the Basis of Sex, Gender or Gender Identity

Gender Harassment
Not all harassment is sexual harassment. An individual can be harassed because she is a woman or because he or she transgresses gender roles, and so forth. The concept of gender harassment is meant to permit redress where a person is harassed on the basis of his or her gender but the conduct is not sexual or does not take place in a sexual context.

Gender harassment could include

  • physical assault or interference;
  • inappropriate display or transmission of gender-degrading material or graffiti;
  • sexist jokes, anecdotes, slurs (including gender-derogatory nicknames);
  • comments;
  • insulting, demeaning or derogatory conduct toward a person because of gender and,
  • remarks that are obviously offensive, or continue after the speaker is informed that the comments are unwelcome and/or have caused offense.

Sexism is more than personal prejudice. It involves carrying into effect one’s prejudices, resulting in discrimination, inequity and/or exclusion. Sexism is understood as the negative valuing and discriminatory treatment of individuals and groups on the basis of their sex. Sexism can be manifested in both personal attacks and insults, and in the structure of social institutions. It can be expressed by behaviour of individual members of the University community and in the policies, procedures and practices of the University. There is a distinction between personal sexism (insults, harassment and discrimination directed at individuals) and institutional or systemic sexism (the conventional practices or structures of institutions that have the effect of excluding or discriminating against individuals or groups). Sexism can be present in hostile acts, as well as in apparently neutral arrangements. It can be the result of activities or arrangements that set out to discriminate or harm, or it can result from ignorance or inadvertence. Thus, sexism can be intentional or unintentional; it may be detected by its effects.

A “Poisoned” Environment

Harassment and discrimination can create a negative or hostile place of work or study which can adversely effect not only those who are targeted, but also those who are exposed to the conduct and perceive it as the environment in which they are expected to work and/or study. This is called a “poisoned environment”.

For example, your supervisor, instructor, co-worker or colleague makes negative remarks about particular individuals in the workplace based on their sex or gender identity. Or, they make general remarks ridiculing women or trans people. Not only would this be offensive to women or trans people, but it would also make others uncomfortable – whether because they too belong to historically-disadvantaged groups or simply because they recognize that such conduct is intended to demean and ridicule others because of their group membership.

Similarly, someone might post offensive signs, pictures or graffiti belittling women or trans individuals in your place of work or study. You would probably find it very unpleasant to work or study in such a place.

A poisoned environment is a form of harassment and violates the University’s Human Rights Policy and the Ontario Human Rights Code.

“Chilly Climate”

In universities, the term “chilly climate” expresses the “freezing out” of those groups who are unwelcome because of their group membership. For example, a chilly climate exists where members of a particular group are systematically relegated to the sidelines, deprived of opportunity, exposed to what is clearly tolerance but not welcome, etc.