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  1. 1. Cross-Cultural Issues of Sexual Harassment inEnglish Language Learning Diana Boxer University of Florida
  2. 2. • In the US, many females especially in engineering and the sciences, perceive foreign- born males negatively in the workplace.• Many prefer not to work with foreign-born males due to differing norms of language and behavior
  3. 3. • Perceptions of sexual harassment vary across cultures • First, what is considered sexual in one society may not be considered as such in another
  4. 4. • In most US speech communities, if inadvertent touching takes place, especially between a female and a male, an apology is expected.• In other cultures, for instance in Israel, no apology is expected in cases of inadvertent touching (G. Hatav, 1994, pers. comm.).• It’s not difficult to imagine how such a cultural difference in speech act requirements could lead a US student to perceive sexual intent when an ITA believes he or she has acted perfectly politely.
  5. 5. • A female Korean graduate student reported to the authors that a Chinese male student asked her for a date many times.• When she asked him why he continued to ask her after several rejections, he voiced the belief that females say No even when they mean Yes.• The Korean student reported that she thought he was a pest but did not consider his behavior as sexual harassment.• However, when the same Chinese student repeatedly asked female US graduate students for dates, they reported him to their department chair
  6. 6. • Second, tolerance of language and behavior that may be sexual varies cross-culturally• Assumption is that we all know intuitively what is sexual and what isn’t• Assumption that we all know what are the appropriate boundaries
  7. 7. What constitutes Sexual Harassment?• Women and men disagree• Men find a narrower range offensive• Men find the effects far less serious
  8. 8. Reasonable person vs. reasonable woman• SH involves asymmetrical power • Terms of endearment? • E.g. sweetie, honey, dear • Compliments? • Color of hair, shape of hands, etc.
  9. 9. • Historically, SH invokes the perspective of the “reasonable person”• But: North American courts now invoke “reasonable woman” • A communicative act such as sexual banter may be perceived as more threatening to women than heterosexual men because a woman’s stock of cultural beliefs may include the proposition that sexual banter is potentially a prelude to violent sexual assault” (Ehrlich, 2001)
  10. 10. • Simply exposed to people from other cultures doesn’t guarantee improved understanding• People are largely unaware of the particular filtering of perceptions produced by the constraints of their own societal norms• We easily assign divergent interpretations to events or conversations without realizing that equally valid interpretations are possible
  11. 11. Classroom discourse• The US English-speaking classroom • less formal than many other societies • Question for Learners of English • Loosen up? • Retain your cultural norms?
  12. 12. The Studies• Co-authored with Professor Andrea Tyler, Georgetown University • Survey on written 12 written scenarios • Four based on the literature • Eight based on real interactions at our university • 44 US English speaking students • 20 TAs from various countries • Five scenarios statistically significant regarding differences in perceived SH
  13. 13. Video prompts and interviews• Each scenario enacted twice • Once with a female international teacher and male student • Once with a male teacher and female student • Reasoning that females are more likely to do certain speech acts • E.g. personal disclosures (Boxer and Cortes- Conde, 2010) • Commiseration (Boxer 1993)
  14. 14. Interviews• Two groups of ITAs • Chinese • Taiwan and PRC • Six males, three females • Latinos • Colombia, Uruguay, Venezuela • Three males, three females
  15. 15. • TAs often understood different rules of speaking cross-culturally • Sometimes they indicated they would say or do something in their own countries but not in the US • Sometimes they said they might not do or say something in the US that they would not in their cultures • They sometimes overgeneralized the differences and overstepped the boundaries
  16. 16. Sample scenario• 6. You are in a class with a TA who seems quite conscientious. The TA is carefully prepared and expects students to also be prepared. After a few weeks, the TA says, Several of you have said that you are having difficulty making my office hours. My schedule is quite busy so I cant change my hours but Ill give you my home phone number. You can call me at home any time you have a question over an assignment and Ill try to answer your questions’.• We anticipated that US undergraduates would find the behavior in scenario no. 6 appropriate.
  17. 17. • 7. 1:22 You have a class which meets every MWF. The TA borrowed a book from you two weeks ago. During the last class, which met on Friday, you asked if the TA happened to have brought the book to class. When the TA said, No, you responded, OK, no problem. At 9:30pm Saturday night, the TA dropped by your apartment to return your book. The TA asked what you were doing. When you said you were just reading, the TA said, Im not doing anything either.• We anticipated that US UGs would find the behavior in scenario no. 7 highly inappropriate.
  18. 18. • Scenario 7 violates US cultural norms for invitations. Speakers of US English tend to do a dance of negotiation with invitations. That is, members of most US speech communities put out leads or feelers that need to be taken up by the interlocutor in order to successfully negotiate an invitation (Wolfson et al., 1983). In US society, unlike some others, it is unusual for guests to arrive at anothers home unexpectedly.• The following comment, from a male UG, illustrates this: • Unless youve already established a personal relationship its gonna be odd for a TA to drop by your house, especially on a weekend. A lot would depend on the relationship established with the TA.•
  19. 19. • The female UGs had even stronger negative feelings: • Id feel very weird-like, why are you coming to my house, why do you know where I live? Whats your point? • [Its] weird-a power relationship. Definitely inappropriate. Its strange even when a friend drops by without warning. Id cut it off immediately. It would make me feel uncomfortable.
  20. 20. • 12. 2:15 It is the first meeting of a class with a new TA. The TA would like to get to know the students on an individual basis in order to better deal with their study of the subject. When you arrive at your first tutorial, the TA begins to ask you the following questions: What do you like to do on Friday and Saturday nights?’ Are you currently involved romantically? Does your social life leave you enough time for your academic work?’• We anticipated that some US UGs would find the behavior in this scenario appropriate and some would find it inappropriate
  21. 21. Scenario 5: Arm around• 5. 30 You are in your first computer programming class and you are finding it difficult. You have a lab which meets once a week at the end of which you have to turn in your program. Before you actually turn in your program, you have to sit down with your TA and explain certain aspects of your program. If you cant explain them clearly, you could lose some points. This makes you nervous. Sometimes you find it difficult to explain things even when youve done them properly. The TA said that you lost a few points on your first two labs because of your explanation. Last week when you sat down to explain your program, your TA pulled the chair closer to yours and, putting an arm around your shoulders, said, OK, your program seems to run fine. I want you to relax and just tell me what you did. The TA left the arm around your shoulders for abut 30 seconds while you began to explain, then sat back and listened as you finished your explanation. You felt that you explained the program about as well as you had on previous labs. When you were finished the TA said, OK, good job. This week, when you got ready to explain your lab, the TA again put an arm around your shoulders while you began to explain. How do you interpret this behavior?
  22. 22. Scenario 5: Arm aroundIn the realm of nonverbal and tactile behavior, striking differences emergedin perceptions between the genders and the different cultural groups. Whilethe female informants interviewed indicated that having a TA put an armaround ones shoulders (scenario 5) was inappropriate, the male UGs andITAs did not react as negatively as the women. Some representative malecomments illustrate this:• Scenario 5 (arm around)• Male ITA: That TAs a genius at psychology. As long as his behavior helps me overcome the emotion of the beginning, everything is OK. I agree with the TAs behavior. (Romanian speaker)• I think this behavior is just the TAs caringness. The TA felt [the student] was so nervous about explanation. So the TA just wanted to make [him] easy. (Korean speaker)
  23. 23. Female UGs• [Thats] not even like wondering if youre crossing the boundaries, thats like flat out ... like ... come on, you know ... no matter what culture.• [That’s] really inappropriate … just inappropriate … totally out of the question!
  24. 24. Male undergraduate perceptions fell somewhere atan intermediate point between the male ITAacceptance and female UG rejection of this behavioras appropriate:Male UG• This is another cultural situation. I think there are some cultures where thats OK. Id pay attention to how the TA treated the other students. Personality would have a lot to do with it too. And how they did it.
  25. 25. • 6. 2:15• I never noticed, but you have the most beautiful eyes. Eyes are a reflection of the soul. Your eyes are truly beautiful.
  26. 26. Scenario 9: Compliment• Response to scenario 9 shows a potential area for miscommunication. A number of the ITAs seemed to find the compliment acceptable.• Male ITAs • She likes the students eyes, thats all. She or he thinks the student has beautiful eyes. Whats the problem? (Spanish speaker) • In my country, if a teacher says this to me, I will thank him/her about this feeling. (Arabic speaker)
  27. 27. • US male UGs, on the other hand, consistently found this scenario to be inappropriate:• Male UGs • A little too personal. Sounds like a bad bar pick-up line. Very inappropriate. The TA seems sexually interested. Male: I would thank him and explain that I have a GIRLfriend. I would secretly hope that this would not effect my grade adversely. • This depends on what type of class the TA teaches. If it is an English or philosophy class, I wouldnt be taken aback. If it was a science or math class, I would feel the comments were an obvious pick-up line, regardless of their sex.•
  28. 28. Scenario 9• Female UGs• Oh the cheese! Did you take your cheesy pill today? ... You know, dont say things like that to me please. I think I might be shocked enough not to know quite what to do!• A lot would depend on ... how assertive it was ... It could be very seedy.
  29. 29. Conclusion• These differences, which involve the cultural as well as the linguistic, play a crucial role in interpreting relationships of power, status, role and occupational specialization that make up the fabric of our social life (Gumperz, 1982: 6).
  30. 30. Conclusion• For those who are novices in the role of teacher, it is particularly important to gain heightened awareness and to exercise exceptional care in power differential inherent in the teacher-student relationship.• Beyond the scope of classroom discourse, the findings reported here have implications for other groups around the globe interacting with speakers of US English.
  31. 31. Conclusion• As sensibilities change and as women become an increasing presence in an international workforce, so does the potential for serious miscommunication.• Cross-cultural misfires concerning potential perceptions of sexual harassment have repercussions not only in the educational sphere but in the business and diplomatic spheres as well.