Analysis of Sexual Harassment Based on Sigmund Freud's Theory of Psychological Development

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​According to The Advocates for Human Rights, street harassment is unwelcome or unwanted verbal, non-verbal, physical, or visual conduct based on sex or of a sexual nature which occurs with the purpose or effect of violating the dignity of a person. Street harassment can also be based on race, disability, class, gender identity, or other social identities. Acts considered to be street harassment are as follows: sexually explicit, racist, ableist, transphobic, and other derogatory comments; unwelcome comments about one’s appearance, accent, and sexuality; leering, making vulgar gestures, flashing, or exposing oneself; threatening to remove an item of clothing; whistling, honking, barking, and kissing noises; following someone or blocking their path; sexual touching ang grabbing without one’s consent; and public masturbation. (SVAW, 2018)

​UC San Diego Center on Gender Equity and Health released a book entitled Measuring #MeToo: A National Study on Sexual Harassment and Assault. They discussed that street harassment often begins around puberty. Their findings showed that half of harassed people were harassed by age 17, and that almost 1 in 4 women had experienced street harassment by age 12. They also conducted a survey on 811 women, and 99% of the 811 women answered they have experienced street harassment. The findings from this survey is as follows: 95% of the respondents were targets of leering or excessive staring; 94% were targets of malicious honking and whistling; 87% were targets of sexist comments; 82% were targets of vulgar gestures; 81% were targets of sexually explicit comments from unknown men; 77% were targets of kissing noises from men; 75% have been followed by a stranger in public; 62% say their paths have been purposely blocked by a man; 57% reported being touched or grabbed in a sexual manner by a stranger in public; and 37% have had a stranger masturbate at or in front of them in public.

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The NORC at the University of Chicago conducted a nationally representative survey of 1,182 women and 1,037 men. The findings from the survey regarding street harassment are as follows: 76% of women and 35% of men have experienced verbal sexual harassment; 49% of women and 18% of men have experienced unwelcomed sexual touching; 27% of women and 11% of men have experienced being physically followed; and 30% of women and 12% of men experienced unwanted genital flashing.

​According to New (2014), comments, gestures, actions, or attention that intended to hurt, offend, or intimidate another person, wherein the perpetrator is focused on the victim’s aspects such as physical appearance, body parts, sexual orientation, or sexual activity. This can be verbal, by making offensive comments about someone, digital, by sending inappropriate text messages, pictures, or videos, and physical, by touching someone that did not give out their consent to be touched. This doesn’t just occur to girls, as boys can harass girls, girls can harass boys, boys may harass other boys, and girls may harass other boys. This is also not limited to people of the same age, as adults can harass teens, and in rare occasions, teens can harass adults. Sexual harassment can include: making sexual jokes, comments, or gestures about someone; spreading sexual rumors; showing someone inappropriate sexual pictures or videos; asking someone to send you naked pictures of herself or himself; posting or sending sexual comments, pictures, or videos on social networks; and touching, grabbing, or pinching someone in a sexual manner. Impacts of assault can be serious and long-lasting. Both sexual and non-sexual assaults in adolescence are associated with higher-than-normal levels of depression, anxiety, post-traumatic symptoms and risks for being victims again. This is one of the most reliable findings in the growing science of how negative childhood experiences lead to poorer physical and mental health later in life.

​​According to Fogarty (2009), the effects of being victimized by sexual harassment include: distractions from school performance and satisfaction; an increased likelihood of missing or withdrawing from school; a decline in academic performance; experiencing negative emotions such as anger, betrayal, confusion, depression, and anxiety; a drop in self-esteem and a feeling a lack of control over his/her own life; psychosomatic stress symptoms; suicidal thoughts, early dating, substance abuse, self-harm, and eating disorders for girls; and victims can become perpetrators.

​According to the Psychosexual Stages of Development, the genital stage is initiated around the time puberty begins, and ends when the individual dies. In his Psychosexual Stages of Development, the genital stage is considered to be the latest stage and the highest level of maturity. This is the time adolescents begin to experiment sexually. The sexual and aggressive drives that were present in the phallic stage returns. However, in this stage, sexual instinct is directed to heterosexual pleasure, rather than self-pleasure during the phallic stage. For Freud, the proper outlet of the sexual instinct in adults was through heterosexual intercourse. But, fixations and conflicts may prevent this with the consequence that the individual may developed sexual perversions. During the psychosexual development, at each stage, children face a conflict that must be resolved in order to move successfully on to the next stage. A fixation by definition is a persistent focus on the id’s pleasure. These occur when an issue or conflict arises in a certain psychosexual stage and remains unsolved, which leaves the individual focused or ‘fixated’ on this stage and unable to move on to the next. (Freud, 1905)

​According to the Personality Theory by Freud (1923), the human psyche has more than one aspect and is structured into three parts, namely, the id, ego, and superego. These develop at different stages in our lives. During the genital stage the ego and superego have become more developed. This allows the individual to have more realistic way of thinking and establish an assortment of social relations apart from the family.

​The Id is the component of the personality that is primitive and instinctual. It operates according to the pleasure principle, wherein every wishful impulse should be satisfied immediately, regardless of the consequences. It is the impulsive and unconscious part of our psyche as it responds to basic urges, needs, and desires directly and immediately. It consists of all the inherited components of personality present at birth, which includes the sex instinct and the aggressive instinct. It remains infantile in its function throughout an individual’s lifespan and does not change with time or experience because it is not in touch with the external world. It is not affected by reality, logic, or the world itself, as it operates within the unconscious part of the mind. (Freud, 1923)

​According to Freud (1923), the ego is the mediator between the unrealistic id and the external real world. It is the component of the personality that is in charge of decision-making. It operates according to the reality principle, wherein it works out realistic ways of satisfying the id’s demands, but often compromising or postponing satisfaction in order to avoid negative consequences implemented by society. It considers social realities and norms, etiquette, and rules in deciding how to behave. Like the id, the ego seeks pleasure and avoids pain, but unlike the id, the ego is concerned with creating a realistic strategy to obtain pleasure. Freud made the analogy of the id being a horse while the ego is the rider - The ego is 'like a man on horseback, who has to hold in check the superior strength of the horse (Freud, 1923, p. 15). Through reality testing, if a plan of action does not work, then it is though through again and again until a solution is found. This allows the person to control their impulses and demonstrate self-control.

​The superego contains the values and morals of society which are learned from one’s parents and others. It develops around the ages of 3 and 5, during the phallic stage of psychosexual development. The superego controls the id’s impulses, especially those which society forbids such as sex and aggression. It also persuades the ego to side with moralistic goals rather than simply realistic ones. It consists of two systems, the conscience, and the ideal self. The conscience can punish the ego by causing feelings of guilt. The ideal self is an imaginary picture of how you ought to be, such as how to treat other people and how to behave as a member of society. The superego can punish the ideal self when an individual misbehaves through guilt and can reward the ideal self when an individual behaves properly through pride. Both the ideal self and conscience are largely determined in childhood from parental values and how you were raised. (Freud, 1923)

​According to Lamm (2008), paraphilias, or sexual perversions, are a class of sexual disorders with arousal in response to sexual stimuli that isn’t associated with normal behavioral patterns. People with paraphilias experience intense sexual urges to nonhuman object, the suffering or humiliation of oneself or others, or children or non-consenting persons. Pedophilia and exhibitionism are the most commonly observed paraphiliac behaviors. The number of male paraphiliacs are significantly larger than the number of female paraphiliacs.

​Welldon (1991), in her book Psychology and Psychopathology in Women – A Psychoanalytic Perspective, challenges Freud’s concept that perversion fell solely within the male domain, and argues that women are equally capable of perversion. Female perversion manifests itself through self-harm, eating disorders, physical and sexual abuse of children, infanticide, and physical or sexual assault of others. A woman can express her perversion through her reproductive organs and the maternal representations of motherhood. According to Motz (2001), women with perversions are symbolically seeking revenge on their own internalized, often cruel and perverse mother. They identify their own body with the body of the mother, which is why they attack the whole body. Likewise, they express violence towards a narcissistic extension of themselves when they attack their children.

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Analysis of Sexual Harassment Based on Sigmund Freud’s Theory of Psychological Development. (2022, July 14). Edubirdie. Retrieved July 16, 2024, from
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