Male and 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 tests 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, 1985).
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 as 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.