Male/Female Differences in Perceptions of Sexual Harassment

One of your male co-workers has a revealing photograph of a female on
his desk at work. You ask him to remove the picture because it makes you feel
uncomfortable. He does not remove the picture. Do you think this is a form of
sexual harassment? According to Bertha Brooks, a speaker on the subject of
sexual harassment, this scenario exhibits a form of sexual harassment. For many
people sexual harassment implies different behaviors; there are people who
believe this scenario would be far from any type of harassment.
This study investigates the different perceptions of how men and women
define sexual harassment. It may be a simple look, slight touch, or a verbal
comment. Whatever the situation, there will be a variance in the degrees, as to
what men and women constitute as being sexual harassment. "Psychological texts
on sexual harassment outline various forms of behavior ranging from quid pro quo
demands for sexual services to hostile jokes and sexual innuendo" (American
Psychological Association, 1981, 1991).
"Sexual joking, touching, and patting may be considered unwelcome sexual
attention to some, but not others" (Gutek, Morasch, and Cohen, 1983). Women
more often than men conclude that these forms of sexual harassment are serious
and offending.
Is there a difference between what men perceive as sexual harassment and
what women consider sexual harassment? The purpose of this study is to
determine if in fact there is a difference. According to earlier research, men
and women would perceive and define sexual harassment differently (Ellison v.
Brady, 1989). "The findings that women define sexual harassment more broadly
and inclusive than men is reliable" (Ellison v. Brady). "A significant
difference between the sexes shows up both in surveys of working people and in
scenario studies; fifty-nine percent of men rated sexual touching as sexual
harassment whereas eighty-four percent of women" (Dunwoody-Miller and Gutek,
This study was conducted on a small northeast public college campus by
four experimental psychology students. Before the actual research was done,
twenty males and twenty females were pre-tested to see if the questionnaire,
that was to be used for the actual research was a valid measure; one that would
prove differences in perceptions between males and females beliefs on sexual
harassment. After the data was collected, the researchers moved forward because
they found differences between men and women. A total of one hundred subjects
were then randomly chosen to participate in this study. They were given a
questionnaire where they had to rate sexual harassment on a scale when given
different scenarios.
Previous research has uncovered gender-based differences in a variety of
sexual harassment related issues. For example, "females are much more likely
than males to report that they experienced some form of unwelcome sexual
attention" (United States Merit Systems Protection Board, 1980, 1988). Moreover,
females consistently define more social-sexual behaviors as sexual harassment
than do males; Females believe that sexual harassment is a more frequent
occurrence (Ronrod & Gutek, 1986).
The terrain of events called "sexual harassment" by some women and
called "normal" or "acceptable" by men is vast. Women generally state that the
subtle forms of sexual harassment are just as serious than the more extreme and
obvious forms. Men and women often perceive sexual harassment situations
differently (Gutek, 1985). As a result of our research the hypothesis of this
study was: Men and women will not always agree on what constitutes sexual
harassment. Women will perceive milder forms of harassment more than men.

Category: Social Issues