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The most straight forward gender conflict in the movie Oleanna is that between the Professor and the student. She accuses him of sexual harassment. He denies it and they go before the Tenure Committee who find him guilty. The question at hand is what is sexual harassment? Must the harasser intend to harass?
When a student would ask Socrates to answer a question, Socrates would ask them to define their terms. He would continue to ask the student to clarify until finally the student would realize the answer to the question. In this case the question that may have been put to Socrates is "Can a person, man or woman, commit sexual harassment on accident?". The answer from this ugly old man would be "What is sexual harassment?"
It is physical advancement, sexist or sexual remarks, even pornographic material, that someone finds offensive and threatening. The Professor in Oleanna sexually harasses the student by this definition. This first part of sexual harassment, that someone must find the activity personally offensive, is met without a doubt. Why? Oleanna says she is offended by his remarks. Only she can know for sure how she feels.
The second part of sexual harassment, that the person must be threatened, is harder to prove than for her to just say she was threatened. Oleanna says in her claim that the professor referred to female students as "darlin’" and other such terms of endearment. Why would she feel more threatened than the other women in her class?
In defense of the professor it must be understood that he only intended to help Oleanna. He slipped across the line of what is proper behavior. He went from being a teacher to wanting to be a father figure. It is sad but at some point a person must draw a line and realize what they can and cannot accomplish.
Another question that pertains to the guilt or innocence of the Professor is a concern for the Bill of Rights.
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