Dateline: May, 2022, Issue 2

How is sexual harassment perceived differently by men and women?

Beliefs about what qualifies as sexual harassment matter to how judges and juries make decisions in sexual harassment cases.

Rotundo, Nguyen and Sackett (2001) found in a meta-analysis of 62 research studies including over 33,000 participants that women were more likely than men to define a broader range of behaviors as more harassing. Gender differences were larger for behaviors that involved hostile work environment than the more blatant cases of quid pro quo harassment (i.e., sexual coercion), for which there was relatively greater agreement.

Rothberger and colleagues (2021) examined what qualifies as sexual harassment for younger members of a jury pool (ages 18 - 25). Participants rated the degree to which behavior in different vignettes was sexual harassment, with each vignette depicting a different type of sexual harassment behavior.

The vignettes, ordered from those perceived to a lesser extent as sexual harassment to those perceived to a greater extent as sexual harassment, could be grouped into three categories of sexual harassment:

The behavior in each vignette was rated by participants on 7-point scales with "1" indicating the behavior definitely is not sexual harassment and "7" indicating the behavior definitely is sexual harassment. No category of behaviors was rated as definitely not being sexual harassment (all categories were rated above "2"). The category of Derogatory Attitudes and Non-Sexual Contact was perceived to a lesser extent as sexual harassment than either of the other two categories, with a mean rating of 2.7 on the 7-point scale. The category of Objectification and Dating Pressure was perceived to a significantly greater extent as sexual harassment, with a mean rating of 4.5 on the 7-point scale. The category of Sexual Propositions, Contact and Coercion was rated to the greatest extent as sexual harassment, with a mean rating of 6.2 on the 7-point scale.

In vignettes depicting a male harasser and a female victim, women perceived all three categories of behaviors to be sexual harassment to a greater extent than did men. The average rating of women of the extent to which Derogatory Attitudes and Non-Sexual Contact constituted sexual harassment was 2.9 on the 7-point scale, while the average rating by men was 2.2. Women's average rating of the extent to which Objectification and Dating Pressure constitutes sexual harassment was 5.6, while the average rating by men was 4.7. Women's average rating of the extent to which Sexual Propositions, Contact and Coercion qualifies as sexual harassment was 6.7, while men's was 6.3. Women rated behavior by a man toward a woman as involving sexual harassment to a greater extent than did men.

Gender harassment, as a form of harassment, is judged as sexual harassment to a far lesser extent than other forms of sexual harassment. Men perceive behaviors to a lesser extent than women as constituting sexual harassment in situations involving allegations of men harassing women.

Source Rothberger, H., Kaufling, K., Incorvati, C., Andrew, C.B. & Farmer, A. (2021). Is a reasonable woman different from a reasonable person? Gender differences in perceived sexual harassment. Sex Roles, 84, pp. 208-220.

Source Rotundo, M., Nguyen, D. & Sackett, P.R. (2001). A meta-analytic review of gender differences in perceptions of sexual harassment. Journal of Applied Psychology, 86(5), pp. 914-922.