Causes of Sexual Harassment
Sexual harassment is, above
all, a manifestation of power relations – women are much more likely
to be victims of sexual harassment precisely because they more often
than men lack power, are in more vulnerable and insecure positions,
lack self confidence, or have been socialized to suffer in silence.
In order to understand why women endure the vast majority of sexual
harassment, it is important to look at some of the underlying causes
of this phenomenon.
and Male Self-Perception
The relationship between
the sexes in many countries around the world includes a considerable
amount of violence against women. Data about the United States, for
example, indicate that one out of every ten women are raped or sexually assaulted during their lives, while more than half of
all women living with men have experienced a battering or similar incident
of domestic violence.
by men against women exists in the workplace, as it does in other settings.
Some scholars, such as Susan Faludi, the author of Backlash: The
Undeclared War Against American Women, suggest that male hostility
toward women in the workplace is closely connected to male attitudes
about the “proper” role of a man in society. Surveys on men’s perception
of masculinity, carried out in the U.S., for example, indicate that
the leading definition of masculinity is being “a good provider for
his family.” Ms. Faludi concludes that some men perceive the “feminist
drive for economic equality” as a threat to their traditional role.
Thus, sexual harassment is a form of violence perceived as self-protection.
problem of sexual harassment relates to the roles which are attributed
to men and women in social and economic life, which, in turn, directly
or indirectly, affects women’s positions in the labor market.
Economics of Women’s Work
on the economics of men's work and women's work exposes sexual harassment
as a way for the men who harass women to express their resentment and
try to reassert control when they view women as their economic competitors
impediments women face in obtaining employment, there has been a massive
influx of women into the labor force in the 1960s and 1970s, not only
in the U.S., but on a global scale. Women's entry into the workforce
has been prompted by necessity, since many families cannot make ends
meet if the wife and husband do not both work full-time.
the number of single-parent families headed by women in growing. There
are a large number of families in which a woman is the sole means of
support. Data from the U.S. indicate that between 1980 and 1990, the
number of female-headed families increased by 27%. By 1997, two out
of every five working women were the sole head of their households,
and within that group, more than one-quarter had dependent children.
(Source: The American Federation of Labor-Congress of Industrial Organization, [AFL-CIO] Working Women's Department).
and sudden influx of women into the labor force brought about two simultaneous,
but seemingly opposite reactions to women at work. On one hand, some
men resented female employees and perceived them as a threat in traditionally
male dominated work environments. In these cases the women were subject
to overt discrimination, that is, they received lesser-valued job assignments,
lack of promotions, lower pay, and sexual harassment to cause embarrassment
reaction was to exploit the presence of women and make sexual favors
and submission to sexual behaviors conditions of employment, that is
to keep from being fired, demoted, or otherwise adversely affected at
work. Both are forms of sexual harassment
as a Form Of Workplace Control
Catherine MacKinnon, author
of Sexual Harassment of Working Women, was the first legal
scholar to draw attention to the connection between sex
discrimination and sexual harassment:
[W]omen tend to be in low-ranking positions, dependant upon the
approval and goodwill of male [superiors] for hiring, retention
and advancement. Being at the mercy of male superiors adds direct
economic clout to male secual demands.... It also deprives women
of material security and independence which could help make resistance
to unreasonable job pressures practical ...
harassment of women can occur largely because women occupy inferior
job positions and job roles; at the same time, sexual harassment
works to keep women in such positions.
discrimination forces women into lower-paying jobs, sexual harassment
helps keep them there. This may not be the intention of the harasser
in every instance, but it is often the effect.
in this context, male workers who harass a woman on the job are doing
more than annoying her. They are reminding her of her vulnerability,
creating tensions that make her job more difficult and making her
hesitant to seek higher paying jobs where she may perceive the tension
as even greater. In short, sexual harassment creates a climate of
intimidation and repression. A woman who is the target of sexual
harassment often goes through the same process of victimization as
one who has suffered rape, battering or other gender-related crimes-
frequently blaming herself and doubting her own self-worth.
employed in fields that are traditionally considered “ woman's work”,
such as waitresses and secretaries, are often given menial, degrading
tasks. They are often called demeaning names, and they are led to
believe that a certain amount of male domination and sexism is normal.
All of this reinforces the idea that women workers are of little value
in the workplace. Women who try to break into traditionally all-male
work, such as construction jobs, medicine or investment banking, often
suffer even more intense harassment clearly aimed at forcing them
Thus sexual harassment
often accomplishes informally what laws against sex-based
discrimination theoretically prohibit: gender-based requirements
for a job. A woman subjected to sexual harassment endures pressure,
degradation or hostility that her male co-workers don't have to endure-
making it just that much harder to compete for the job and for advancement.
Excerpted from: Sexual
Harassment On The Job: What It Is & How To Stop It (4th Ed.),
by William Petrocelli, Barbara Kate Repa.