How are the themes sexism and sexual harassment expressed in the play Oleanna? Do you think the students questions were justified?

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lfawley eNotes educator| Certified Educator

One of the most ground-breaking elements of Mamet's play lies in the fact that the student is able to use a sexual harassment claim to manipulate her professor. The play came out when the idea of sexual harassment in the workplace and in schools was really beginning to make waves in the courtrooms in the wake of the Anita Hill/Clarence Thomas trial. People were speaking up when they had been harassed, women especially, and this was something new. In the history of education, women had to just suffer through derogatory comments if they wanted to be given an opportunity. Being able to stand up for yourself is a good thing, and no one should be subjected to sexual misconduct however, the downside of this lies in the fact that it is also easy for a dishonest person to use the law against an otherwise good person, such as in this incident. The student uses the threat of a sexual harassment charge as a means of controlling the professor, telling him that no one will know the truth and that the outside world is more likely to believe her. This is a situation that has happened in real life to many educators. When it becomes the student's word against the teacher, particularly in a male-female dichotomy, the courts and the powers that be will often side with the woman even in the absence of proof. As such, one of the results of this situation and this play is a generation of men (and women) who have learned to keep their office doors open and to make sure there are witnesses around whenever they are consulting with students or subordinates of the opposite sex.

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