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Sexual harassment refers to unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, or other forms of unwanted attention of a sexual nature, in a workplace or elsewhere. Sexual harassment includes unwelcome (sexual) jokes, remarks with sexual connotations, gossip, repeated requests to go out, and any form of unwanted touching or invasion of personal space, as well as sexual advances or assault.
The overwhelming majority of victims are women, as well as adolescent and young workers. Perpetrators are most often individual men or groups of men. Same-sex harassment has also received attention, in particular, gender and sexual harassment among men. Besides consequences such as loss of a job or not being promoted, victims can experience adverse psychological effects such as confusion, discomfort, anxiety, anger, and stress.
The experiences, interpretations, and perceptions of sexual harassment vary not only by gender but also by age, social class, race/ethnicity, and sexual orientation. There are cross-national differences in individual, organizational, social, political, and legal interpretations of sexual harassment.
Feminist theories view sexual harassment primarily as rooted in unequal gender relations and the abuse of power of men over women. Sexual harassment is the product of a gender system that maintains a dominant, (hetero)normative form of masculinity. Sex roles” or assumptions about male sexual aggression and female passivity spill over into the workplace.
For organizational theories sexual harassment is perpetuated through gendered organizational and institutional structures. The occupational status of the victim and supervisory authority of the perpetrator influence the perceptions and interpretations of sexual harassment. Women’s lower status at work, sex segregation, gender gaps in authority, and other organizational factors contribute to and are perpetuated by sexual harassment.
- MacKinnon, C. A. (1979) Sexual Harassment of Working Women: A Case of Sex Discrimination. Yale University Press, New Haven, CT.
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