Real Versus Imagined Gender Harassment



Sexual harassment studies that use hypothetical situations and retrospective surveys may overestimate the degree to which victims actually confront their harassers. The result is that immediate emotional reactions are little understood and victims are often taken to task for nonconfrontational behavior. To address this neglect, we describe our experimental investigation of immediate reactions to sexually harassing questions encountered during a realistic job interview. Behavioral and emotional responses are compared to those in an imagined harassing interview. Results indicate that interviewees who are actually harassed react very differently than those who only imagine their responses. For example, imagined victims anticipate feeling angry but actual targets report being afraid. Anticipated behavior also did not mesh with actual behavior. Implications of these discrepancies for perceptions of “correct” ways to respond to harassment are examined.