Factors that influence whether people define unwelcome sexual joking in the workplace as harassment

July 31, 2008

A new study in Law & Social Inquiry shows that how people define sexual harassment is directly related to the extent to which they view sexual harassment rules as ambiguous and threatening to workplace norms.

Justine E. Tinkler of Louisiana State University used data from a nationwide study of sexual harassment in the United States' federal workplace to investigate how policy knowledge, attitudes about the legal regulation of sexual harassment, and the social locations and experiences of employees affect their likelihood to label uninvited sexual teasing as sexual harassment.

How men and women define sexual harassment is related to the degree to which they view sexual harassment rules as ambiguous and threatening to the workplace.

Women, particularly women supervisors, resist defining sexual joking or remarks as harassment. This may be due to the fact that women recognize that taking less serious forms of unwanted sexual attention too seriously can have negative effects on the way women are perceived.

Men with college or postgraduate degrees were significantly less likely to define sexual jokes or remarks as harassment than were men with a high school degree or less.

Among people whose workplace norms are threatened by anti-harassment enforcement, workplace training magnifies their resistance to defining sexual joking as harassment.

"By locating variation in how people define injurious behavior in both the content of the law, the social status of the groups it aims to protect, and how people think about its regulation, future research may be better equipped to understand why some laws never change the social order while others have an enormous impact," Tinkler concludes.

Source: Wiley

Explore further: Women in mostly male workplaces exhibit psychological stress response

Related Stories

Recommended for you

From a very old skeleton, new insights on ancient migrations

October 9, 2015

Three years ago, a group of researchers found a cave in Ethiopia with a secret: it held the 4,500-year-old remains of a man, with his head resting on a rock pillow, his hands folded under his face, and stone flake tools surrounding ...

Mexican site yields new details of sacrifice of Spaniards

October 9, 2015

It was one of the worst defeats in one of history's most dramatic conquests: Only a year after Hernan Cortes landed in Mexico, hundreds of people in a Spanish-led convey were captured, sacrificed and apparently eaten.

Who you gonna trust? How power affects our faith in others

October 6, 2015

One of the ongoing themes of the current presidential campaign is that Americans are becoming increasingly distrustful of those who walk the corridors of power – Exhibit A being the Republican presidential primary, in which ...

Ancient genome from Africa sequenced for the first time

October 8, 2015

The first ancient human genome from Africa to be sequenced has revealed that a wave of migration back into Africa from Western Eurasia around 3,000 years ago was up to twice as significant as previously thought, and affected ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.