Consciousness About Sexual Harassment Among Heterosexual and Lesbian Women Workers


Department of Sociology, University of California, Santa Barbara, CA 93106


This paper explores the nature of sexual harassment as a subjective and multi-faceted concept, one which challenges the meaning of taken-for-granted behaviors embedded in heterosexual interactions and relationships. Drawing on survey samples of 237 lesbian and 144 heterosexual working women, the study discusses the ways in which a woman's sexual identity affects her experiences and interpretation of interactions at work as sexual harassment. Four discrete indicators of consciousness about sexual harassment are employed: experiences and feelings about daily approaches, attitudes about the problem of unwanted sexual approaches at work, and recognition and willingness to utilize the term sexual harassment. The findings show that women have a great many physical and sexual experiences at work most of which they dislike; there is substantial recognition of the problem among working women. However, there is a gap between experiencing and disliking the phenomenon and applying the term sexual harassment in describing it. Further, women vary in the use of the label sexual harassment by the degree of social and economic inequality and powerlessness each experiences at her workplace; as a group, lesbians are more likely than heterosexuals to employ the term. The author suggests that further research concerning sexual harassment move beyond documenting incidents since by themselves they do not establish the basis on which particular situations in the everyday lives of working women come to be labeled sexual harassment.