Resisting the Enforcement of Sexual Harassment Law


Justine E. Tinkler is an Assistant Professor of Sociology at Louisiana State University and can be reached at I wish to thank Cecilia Ridgeway, Dana Berkowitz, Sarah Becker, and Tessa Tinkler for comments on earlier drafts.


Most people in the United States believe that sexual harassment should be illegal and that enforcement is necessary. In spite of such widespread support for antiharassment regulations, sexual harassment policy training provokes backlash and has been shown to activate traditional gender stereotypes. Using in-depth interviews and participant observations of sexual harassment policy training sessions, this study uncovers the micro-level mechanisms that underlie ambivalence about the enforcement of sexual harassment law. I find that while the different locations of men and women in the status hierarchy lead to different manifestations of resistance, gender stereotypes are used to buttress perceptions that sexual harassment laws threaten norms of interaction and status positions that men and women have an interest in maintaining. The research has implications for understanding the role of law in social change, legal compliance, and the potential/limits of law for reducing inequality.