Male sexual harassment

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This article was written as an assignment for Com 255 Organizational Communication at Nanyang Technological University by Lionel Lim, Bernice Koh, Atheena Samsuri, and Lim Woan. …

This article was written as an assignment for Com 255 Organizational Communication at Nanyang Technological University by Lionel Lim, Bernice Koh, Atheena Samsuri, and Lim Woan.

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  • 1. WORKPLACE HARASSMENT Females “ towards males ... almost 10% of all harassment cases involve female harassment of male victims. h”
  • 2. Workplace Harassment- Females Towards Males BACKGROUND Sexual harassment happens in the work environment more often than it should. Defined as “unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature that tends to create a hostile or offensive work environment” (Burton), it is important that organisations are consciously aware of the social problem. The negative repercussions of sexual harassment may cause a range of direct or indirect implications to do with low productivity, low work environment morale and even a damaged brand image. Perspectives on sexual harassment traditionally revolve around male perpetrators and female targets, which reflects the predominant form of sexual harassment in the workplace (Street and Gradus et al., 2007). There have been many studies conducted on sexual harassment, however much of the research focus lies on female sexual harassment by males. Are males always the perpetrators and females always the victims? American feminist and scholar, Catherine MacKinnon’s (1979), defined sexual harassment as the act done towards females by males. Her work in revolutionised law and established sexual harassment as prosecutable. Katherine Fanke (1997), however, argued that there is a need for new laws, especially because males are increasingly becoming victims of sexual harassment in organisations. To better understand male sexual harassment by females, it is critical to discuss the reasons necessary for addressing sexual harassment from these points-of-view; examine motivations of females who engage in sexual harassment; analyse the types of “role-reversed” sexual harassment; as well as investigate how deeply-embedded and stereotypical perceptions of sexual harassment play a role in influencing research studies, legal theories and even opinions of reasonable, right-thinking individuals in the society. 2
  • 3. Workplace Harassment- Females Towards Males THE NEED TO ADDRESS MALE SEXUAL HARASSMENT Male sexual harassment tend to receive little attention, in comparison to female sexual harassment. Socio-cultural explanations for such a phenomenon is reflected in society perception due to preconceived notions of males as the more powerful and authoritative figures in workplace settings (Tangri and Burt et al., 1982). As women increasingly occupy more high-status positions in the workplace, from politics (think Thailand’s Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra) to multinational corporations (think Yahoo!’s CEO Marissa Mayer), female harassment of male targets will become a more common phenomenon due to the power shift (Perry and Schmidtke et al., 1998). Females Do Sexually Harass Males The US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) estimates that “almost 10% of all harassment cases involve female harassment of male victims.” (Verespe j, 1995.) Social-culturalists counter argue that despite rising number of high-ranking females in the workplace, males continue to have a higher propensity to conduct sexual harassment because of our stereotypical perspectives of gender and power. Despite being attributed legitimacy of formal authority, females still harbour less power than male counterparts in lower official ranks, because of traditional assumptions about the female gender being weaker (Johnson, 1976). Also, women are less likely to sexually harass as it may risk their power in the work environment that may have been difficult to achieve in the first place. Indeed, research has shown that females are less likely than males to rely on “concrete sources of power”, such as money and knowledge, to sexually harass. Nonetheless, this finding does not necessarily translate into females being less likely to sexually harass males. In fact, research has shown that females not only do sexually harass, but they prefer to engage in indirect and personal means of sexual harassment. (Cleveland & Kerst, 1993). For instance, a female uses sexual harassment to manipulate a male into attaining something she desires, or sexually harasses a male she has a liking for. (continued) 3
  • 4. Workplace Harassment- Females Towards Males Little research done on male sexual harassment Thus far, the majority of research on sexual harassment examines the harassment of women by men. Research methodologies, such as the Sexual Experiences Questionnaire (SEQ) (Street and Gradus et al., 2007) and Pryor’s Likelihood to Sexually Harass (LSH) scale (Perry and Schmidtke et al., 1998), were primarily developed to cater to the examination of sexual harassment experiences of females, therefore they are less effective and more inaccurate when imposed on the measurement of male sexual harassment experiences. Males less likely to report sexual harassment When surveyed on male sexual harassment experiences, there was a handful of male targets who responded that “they would avoid the perpetrator or the issue” (Street and Gradus et al., 2007). Utilising such avoidance tactics in the face of sexual harassment results in “less information about the problem because men are less likely to report the behavior” (Berdahl and Magley et al., 1996). if a female harasser behaved in the same manner (Crooks and Baur, 1993). Such perceptions back Franke’s concerns about sexual harassment being used as “sex discrimination” against males. It was also noted that perceptual differences between males and females are “greater in situations where the harassing act is judged less severe”. In less severe sexual harassment cases, males are comparatively more likely than females to trivialise and write off the interaction as non-harassing than when the harassment situation is more serious. The above findings suggest that males “may be more inclined to interpret harassment by women as flattery or flirtation” (Shea, 1993). Another factor explaining males’ propensity to trivialise sexual harassment by females was that “women are usually less physically powerful than men”, thereby tying in with aforementioned socio-cultural assumptions about the female gender being “weaker” and therefore less susceptible to sexually harass. Although there were some male respondents who indicated that they would, or have taken action, it is unusual to disclose sexual harassment experiences to external parties, such as their colleagues and family members, “for fear of people not believing them or being ridiculed” (Singer, 1989). However, it is crucial to highlight that while gender alone (Charney and Russell, 1994), is not responsible for varying perceptions of sexual harassment between both gender. Other demographic factors such as age, level of official ranking and work environment should be considered. (Baker, Terpstra, and Cutler, 1990). PERCEPTIONS OF MALE SEXUAL HARASSMENT WHY DO FEMALES SEXUALLY HARRASS? The respective gender norm behaviours in society could attribute to “a different standard for defining sexual harassment” (Katz and Hannon et al., 1996). Compared to females who “have a broader definition of what constitutes unacceptable social-sexual behaviour”, males have smaller definitions of sexual harassment and are hence less likely to perceive or qualify situations as sexual harassment. A male harasser is more likely to be perceived as guilty even A factor that increases females’ propensity to sexually harass is when male targets are employed in jobs largely associated with females, as compared to gender-neutral jobs (Gutek & Cohen, 1987). In this case, the nature of the work environment becomes a potential contextual factor in nurturing male sexual harassment tendencies. It has been concluded that females are motivated 4
  • 5. Workplace Harassment- Females Towards Males by sexual desires and attraction to the male victims, instead of power play. A group of mock jurors who were tested the effects of physical attractiveness in a sexual harassment case believed that females are more likely to sexually harass if the male victim is more physically attractive (Wuensch and Moore, 2004). It is then evident; unlike males who tend to leverage on power play and imposition of authority to sexually harass, research revealed that “ female harassers rarely hold supervisory authority over their male targets”. This demonstrates that male sexual harassment does not necessarily stem from the socio-cultural perspective in “differential distribution of power and status between the sexes” (Perry and Schmidtke et al., 1998). TYPES OF MALE SEXUAL HARASSMENT As earlier mentioned, male targets generally consider sexual advances less threatening sexual harassment behaviour as compared to female targets sometimes they even deem the attention flattering. Typically, the types of sexual harassment that male targets suffer from are “general lewd language and personal comments”, “negative stereotyping of men” and “harassment for deviating from the male gender role” (Berdahl and Magley et al., 1996). While it is important to note that the SEQ is largely catered to the female sexual harassment experience, it is notable that the findings did reflect similar experiences shared by male targets also (Cleveland & Kerst, 1993). Male targets often find negative stereotyping to be highly harassing. This occurs when their masculinity in the work environment is challenged. It is notably similar to female targets’ considering “behavior that reinforces constructions of femininity as subordinance in the workplace” to be sexually harassing (Berdahl and Magley et al., 1996). APPLICATION In the Asian context, female sexual harassment has always been an area of concern. A Japanese case study cited that within a day, 138 calls from female victims were received from an anonymous sexual 5
  • 6. Workplace Harassment- Females Towards Males harassment telephone hotline (Huen, 2007). Cases of such sexual harassment are also rampant in other Asian nations such as Korea and India. However, with the rise of gender equality in Asia (Patterson and Bae et al., 2012), how would this change the landscape of working environments? Females in various Asian nations have increased social and purchasing power, so it is arguable to say that males may no longer hold dominance over females (Haworth, 2013). This could attribute to an increase in the number of females holding higher-level official rankings. To delve deeper, female motivations to sexually harass males could increasingly stray from being only to sexually desire and attract, but also to observe power dominance over lower-level ranking officials. If organisations are not prepared to address the rise in male sexual harassment, negative repercussions can be implicated, be it low productivity or an effect on the brand reputation. This is especially worse in cases of male sexual harassment victims are more likely to keep mum on their suffering and not attempt to resolve the situation. To reduce the chances of such incidence, organisation management should introduce policies that address the issue. By communicating clearly what the policies are, employers can feel a sense of security in the work environment, hence boosting their sense of morale and eventually increasing work productivity. However, more needs to be done in this area because Asian organisations still place more focus on female sexual harassment and neglect male sexual harassment. A survey in Singapore context found that “most companies do not have specific procedures to handle sexual harassment cases”. Although all companies surveyed stated that “counseling is provided for the victims”, this is more of a cure than prevention tool and is employed only after damage is done. (Adecco Asia, 2013) Hence, this illustrates how local companies still lag behind in terms of dealing with male sexual harassment. In America, companies hold training programs that prepare employees to deal with sexual harassment. Such programs are widespread, and in some states, legally mandated (Moyer and Nath, 1998). In Singapore, non-profit organisations such as AWARE actively promote and push for prevention of female sexual harassment (AWARE, 2013) , but there are no such outlets of assistance extended to male targets. Therefore, in light of the lack of general awareness and attention towards male sexual harassment, companies must do more to ensure male sexual harassment is curbed. By: Atheena Samsuri Bernice Koh Lim Woan Lionel Lim 6
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