Bringing Awareness to “Girl Watching” and Sexual Harassment

Beth A. Quinn uses information gained from interviews with 43 employed people in order to examine “a particular social practice — ‘girl watching’ as a means to understanding one way that these gender differences are produced” (2002, p. 524). Some of the questions asked the interviewees to consider what a typical day at work would be like if their gender was different (Quinn, 2002, p.526). Multiple males who were interviewed mentioned a “game” where they would girl watch. For instance, one man named Karl explained that some of the male engineers will go get the attention of other male engineers if they noticed an attractive woman (Quinn, 2002, p. 527-528). Another interviewee Robert did not want to admit that women may not enjoy this game (Quinn, 2002, p. 529). He also noted that if any of the women called out the actions of the men during the game, the men would be unsure of what to say (Quinn, 2002, p. 529). Quinn explains that they wouldn’t know what to say because the women are seen as objects at that point, and objects shouldn’t be objecting (2002, p. 531).

Although the aforementioned game involved the men talking to each other but not the woman, there are similar reactions when men are confronted regarding catcalling and comments that they made as a woman walked down the street. Shannon Burke walked around New York City for ten hours, and everything was filmed. When men would make comments to her, Burke turned the tables in her responses, and the men did not appear to know how to react. For example, when she said, “Yes,” to one man who proposed to her, he was so startled that he sat back down (Jaygee, 2014). A compilation of the ten hours is available to watch below.

LIS is not free from sexual harassment. Sarah Houghton, the Director for the San Rafael Public Library in California, has a post on her blog, Librarian in Black, about her experiences with sexual harassment throughout her life (2014). Houghton shares multiple instances where she faced sexual harassment. She also shares her connection to Team Harpy or #teamharpy. Houghton explains, “The brief version is that after two librarians called out (online) the negative behavior of another librarian at conferences, he decided to sue them for $1.25 million in a defamation lawsuit” (2014). She’s in charge of the legal defense fund.

Houghton shares her story in hopes that it may help effect change. Lisa Rabey on the website for the American Libraries Magazine also mentions the importance of speaking up, and one of her suggestions is writing about it (2014). Other possibilities include bringing in a speaker or organizing a panel at a conference (Rabey, 2014). If there is no funding for a speaker or panel, another option is to consider what type of educational displays you could have. For example, the Pella Public Library in Iowa had a display for Sexual Assault Awareness Month. The Crisis Intervention Services from Oskaloosa, Iowa, actually put the display up inside the library. The following photo is of this display.

Photo - Week 6
  Image from the Pella Public Library

In addition to helping educate people, Rabey has suggestions that focus back on events. She recommends putting “together a code of conduct for conventions and meetings so that all people feel safe” (Rabey, 2014). Events with speakers and panels as well as trainings are necessary to help educate people. However, Quinn notes that, “To be effective, sexual harassment training programs must be grounded in a complex understanding of the ways acts such as girl watching operate in the workplace and the seeming necessity of a culled empathy to some forms of masculinity” (2002, p. 532). To truly effect change in this area, research on how to best present trainings and programs needs to continue.


Houghton, Sarah. (2014, October 3). Laundry and Skeletons: The Reality of Sexual Assault and Harassment. Retrieved 24 June 2017, from

Jaygee. (2014, November 18).  10 hours of walking but this time she talks back (BEST CATCALL parody. [Video file]. Retrieved 24 June 2017, from

Pella Public Library. (n.d.). Check out our Sexual Assault Awareness Month #SAAM display at the Pella Public Library!. Retrieved 23 June 2017, from

Quinn, B.A.. (2002). “Sexual Harassment and Masculinity: The Power and Meaning of ‘Girl Watching.’” In S. J. Ferguson (Ed.), Race, gender, sexuality, and social class: Dimensions of inequality and identity (2nd ed., pp. 523-532). Los Angeles, CA: Sage.

Rabey, Lisa. (2014, June 10). Speaking Up: Starting a dialogue on sexual harassment in libraries. Retrieved 24 June 2017, from

RAINN. (2016). The Criminal Justice System: Statistics. Retrieved 24 June 2017, from


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