Lynn Wehrli's master's thesis was the first in-depth analysis of sexual harassment as a form of male domination of women. Wehrli described her thesis as a "way to stimulate organizational and ideological development" of AASC. Written with the help of Klein and other AASC members, Wehrli's thesis documented AASC's early theoretical analysis of sexual harassment. Wehrli argued that the extent to which dominance is exercised through sexual harassment depended on social conditions, personal choice, and perceived threats to that dominance. Social conditions included differences in socialization of males and females, males' greater access to instruments of power, the absence of sanctions, high unemployment, and women's historically marginal position in the labor market. Threats to dominance included an active feminist movement and the entrance of women into traditionally male fields like construction. In the face of these threats, argued Wehrli, men were more likely to actively reassert their dominance by sexually harassing women.
Wehrli argued that dominance took a sexual form because of the prevailing view of women as sexual objects and the strong cultural associations between dominance, masculinity, and sexual prowess. Wehrli rejected alternative explanations of sexual harassment as a deviant act, as biologically determined, as fun or bribery, or as a transitional phenomenon. Wehrli concluded by proposing strategies for social change. She argued that the root of sexual harassment was unequal power relationships based on racism, sexism, classism, and other forms of dominance. Therefore, she suggested eliminating the cultural and social supports of dominance--hierarchy in the workplace and socialization of men to dominate and women to submit. More concretely, she suggested the development of sanctions against perpetrators of sexual harassment, support systems for its victims, educational programs on sexual harassment, and further research on the problem.
SEXUAL HARASSMENT AT THE WORKPLACE:
A FEMINIST ANALYSIS AND STRATEGY FOR SOCIAL CHANGE
B.A., Cornell University (1973)
SUBMITTED IN PARTIAL FULFILLMENT
OF THE REQUIREMENTS FOR THE
MASTER IN CITY PLANNING
MASSACHUSETTS INSTITUTE OF TECHNOLOGY
Signature of Author_____________________________________________________ Department of Urban Studies and Planning Certified by___________________________________________________________ Thesis Supervisor Accepted by___________________________________________________________ Chairman, Department Committee
Archives FEB 4 1977
TOWARD A THEORY OF
SEXUAL HARASSMENT AT THE WORKPLACE
It is the belief of the Alliance Against Sexual Coercion that sexual harassment at the workplace is both an expression of and a means of perpetuating the unequal power relationships between men and women and between employers and employees. To clarify this position, it is necessary to develop a "theory of sexual harassment" which accounts for the data available, and which explains the dynamics through which sexual harassment occurs. The following is an attempt to begin to set forth that theory. Alternative explanations of sexual harassment have also been proposed, and these will be reviewed in the following chapter.
Power and Dominance: A Feminist Definition
Traditionally, power has been viewed as "the ability of an individual or group to carry out its wishes or policies, and to control, manipulate or influence the behavior of others, whether they wish to cooperate or not." (Theodorson and Theodorson, 1969, p. 307) Implicit in this definition is a notion of scarcity; that there is a fixed quantity of power to be divided, and that if one group or individual gains power, others lose it.
… within society there is a limited amount of power available to be manipulated. If one group increases its advantages and power, this immediately entails some other group's giving up or losing power. In the same way, if one group seems to be losing its authority or power, then we must expect some other group to be gaining power… Talcott Parsons refers to this idea as the zero-sum concept of power, employing the concept of the zero-sum relationship developed in
game theory to refer to a particular type of relationship in which an increase in the power of, or improvement in the position of one participant in regard to a certain factor necessarily results in a corresponding decrease in the power of the position of one of more other participants. (Theodorson and Theodorson, 1969, p. 308)
Also implicit in the traditional definition of power is the notion that groups continually compete for power over each other, and that power continually changes hands through the process of competition. Thus, power operates as money. Talcott parsons used this analogy, in fact, in describing power as "a circulating medium, analogous to money, within what is called the political system." (Hartsock, 1974, p. 10)
This view of power has important ramifications for oppressed or powerless groups. If power is a limited resource for which groups continually compete, if power continually changes hands, and if gains on the part of one group constitute losses on the part of others, then a stable state in which power is equally divided is all but impossible to maintain. Consequently, there must always be relatively powerful, and relatively powerless or oppressed groups. If it is the nature of power which creates these dynamics, and not some other cause, then there is little hope for equality. By diminishing the hope for equality, this definition of power itself acts as an instrument of power, supporting the inequality of the status quo.
Also implicit in the traditional definition of power is the idea that power is exercised against or over others; that power is inevitably used to dominate others, sometimes against their will, in order to serve the interests of those who hold power.They [most social scientists] link this definition with Bertrand Russell's statement that power is the production of intended effects, and add that power must be power over someone — something possessed, a property of an actor such that he can alter the will or actions of others in a way which produces results
in conformity with his own will. Effects on the actions of others are fundamental to this understanding of power. (Hartsock, 1974, p. 10)
The concept that power is exercised over, and against the will of others gives power an unnecessarily negative quality. While it is true that power can be, and often is used to harm others, it need not be used in this way. Power itself is not "bad" though its use by particular individuals or groups may be destructive. It is important, however, to distinguish between power as a neutral or even positive force or process, and the constructive or destructive uses to which it may be put.
Having criticized the traditional definitions of power, feminists and others have begun to develop alternative definitions. The feminist definition draws attention to the expression of power in all social interaction, excludes the scarcity notion of power, distinguishes between dominance and power, and gives power a positive, rather than a negative connotation. Finally, the feminist definition is aligned with the interests of relatively powerless groups, rather than the interests of those groups which currently dominate.
In the feminist definition, power is viewed as "energy" or "the ability to interact effectively with one's environment". Various feminist writers have set forth this definition in slightly different terms, but the central concepts are the same. Examples of these definitions follow:From a healthy fusion of these two great human capacities [to love and to work] will come power, not in the traditional sense as ascendency or control over others but rather power as energy, emanating from the individual, a source of inner renewal that generates outward and returns to the individual. (Moffat and Painter, 1975, p. 7)
… the new space in which women are free to become
who we are… communicates power which, paradoxically, is experienced both as power of presence and power of absence. It is not political power in the usual sense but rather a flow of healing energy which is participation in the power of being. (Daly, 1973, p. 41)
According to these definitions, power is a positive force which is inherent in life and which may be developed in everyone. It is therefore not a scarce resource which must be divided among individuals and groups. This is not to deny that some individuals and groups are presently more powerful than others. Rather, it is to suggest a different reason for the unequal distribution of power among individuals and groups. Some are powerless not because there is not enough power to go around, but because they are unable to develop and express their power fully. Thus, the power of the "powerless" remains in a latent or potential form. This is the case for women, who, because of their socialization (and sexism in general) are unable to interact as effectively in their environment as they might otherwise. Thus, sexism, racism, classism, and other forms of oppression create disparities in the degree of power realized by different individuals and groups. It is not the nature of power which creates these disparities, but the suppression of some individual's and group's full development and expression of the power which resides within them.
Unlike the traditional view of power, the feminist definition draws a careful distinction between power and dominance. While dominance entails control over the actions of others (as well as the ideas, feelings, and attitudes of others), power as energy does not. Both the feminist definitions cited above emphasize this distinction, which is further developed in other feminist writings such as the following:
Significantly, these understandings of power do not require domination of others; energy and accomplishment are understood to be satisfying in themselves. This kind of power is much closer to what the women's movement has sought, yet this aspect of power is denied to all but a few women: the common female experience of being treated as though we were invisible can scarcely be characterized as effective interaction with the environment. (Hartsock, 1974, p. 15)
In the feminist definition, it is not power per se, but dominance or control over others which is the destructive force to be contained.
Finally, the feminist view of power diverges from traditional concepts in that feminists perceive the expression of power and dominance not just in certain spheres, but in all social interaction. As one writer has described this concept, "Every social act is an expression of power, every socialrelationship is a power equation, and every social group or system is an organization of power." (Hawley, 1970, p. 10) Mary Daly describes the way in which power has been separated from love, and attributed to the political sphere alone. As she notes, this separation is both artificial and misleading:The theory of the "two kingdoms", according to which "love" holds a prominant place in the private order whereas power reigns in the political order, has been a common idea in Lutheran theology. Expressed in other "language systems" than that of the "two kingdoms", this is a common idea in our whole culture. The idea that these two realities can be separated and still be real is, of course, a mirage. Women's movement theorists have shown that "the personal is political", that the power structures get into the fabric of one's psyche and personal relationships: this is "sexual politics". (Daly, 1973, p. 127)
This view that power pervades everyday life, and affects women and other subordinated groups strongly, has generated and been supported through research into the dynamics of unequal power relationships.
Nancy Henley, for example, has found that both verbal and non-verbal communication between dominant and subordinate individuals is expressive of, and serves to reinforce unequal power relationships. In her review and analysis of non-verbal communication between men and women, she states that:In front of, and defending, the larger political-economic structure that determines our lives and defines the context of human relationships, there is a micropolitical structure that helps maintain it. The "trivia" of everyday life — using "sir" or first name, touching others, dropping the eyes, smiling, interrupting and so on — that characterize these micropolitics are commonly understood as facilitators of social intercourse, but are not recognized as defenders of the status quo — of the state, the wealthy, of authority, of those whose power may be challenged. Nevertheless, these minutia find their place on a continuum of social control which extends from internalized socialization (the colonization of the mind) at the one end to sheer physical force (guns, clubs, incarceration) at the other. (Henley, 1975, p. 184)
The redefinition of power is central to the feminist vision of the future. The dilemma for feminists is that in order to realize that future, we nust begin to implement, and operate according to that vision. However, power itself currently operates according to the traditional definition of power: because the power (energy) of some is suppressed while that of others is nurtured, power operates as if it were a scarce resource. For feminists to operate only according to their vision of the future would be to deny their current reality and to seriously diminish their chances of success. Consequently, feminists must recognize and to some extent act according to the traditional view, while attempting to change the traditional use of power and to eliminate dominance.
…we must nevertheless recognize and confront the world of traditional politics in which money and power function in similar ways. Thus, creating political change involves setting up organizations based on power as energy and strength, groups which are structured and not tied to the personality of one individual, groups whose structures do not permit the use of power as a tool for domination of others in the group. At the same time, our organizations must deal with the society in which we live on its own terms — that is, terms of power as control, power as a means of making others do what they do not wish to do. … Our strategies must grow out of the tension between taking and transforming power understood as domination, and using our organizations to build models for a new society based on power understood as energy and initiative. (Hartsock, 1974, p. 16, 23)
For the purposes of this analysis, the term "power" will be used according to the feminist definition. That is, that power will be viewed as a positive force which can be realized by all, and which need not be used to control others. The term "dominance" will be used to signify control over the actions of others, at times against their will, as in the traditional definition of "power".
It is not enough, however, to arrive at definitions of power and dominance. Some discussion of the ways in which power and dominance develop is also prerequisite to thorough understanding of the terminology, and of sexual harassment at the workplace.
Instruments of power provide a basis for power. And access to the instruments of power is necessary to realize power: without this access power remains in its potential or latent form. The instruments of power include a wide range of resources and assets such as money, material goods, space, information, certain physical traits such as strength and certain personality characteristics such as self-esteem and assertiveness. The number and kinds of instruments of power available to the individual determine her/his degree of power, or the
extent to which s/he is able to interact effectively in the environment. As the number and kinds of instruments of power available to the individual increase, the degree of power realized by the individual increases.
The number and kinds of instruments of power available to the individual are determined partly on the basis of achieved and ascribed characteristics. Ascribed characteristics include those which are inherited, such as race, sex, and age. Achieved characteristics are those which are acquired through the efforts of the individual. The distinction between the two types of traits is often useful, although the categories are by no means mutually exclusive. Through the operation of phenomena such as sexism and racism, for example, ascribed characteristics such as sex and race become determinants of the probabability that certain individuals will achieve characteristics which increase access to the instruments of power. For example, white men are more likely to attain a high level of education and occupational status than black women, because they are white and male. As a result, white men are more likely than black women to have access to instruments of power such as money, information, material goods, etc. In addition, individual efforts are often necessary to maintain, or useful in altering characteristics which are present at birth. Physical strength is one such attribute. While it may be more or less present at birth, it may also be enhanced or dininished through the actions of the individual. Thus, achieved and ascribed characteristics are highly interdependent. The important point to be made here, however, is that because of the impact of sexism and racism and other such phenomena, groups and individuals having different ascribed and achieved characteristics have different degrees of access to the instruments of power, and consequently, different levels of realized power.
Dominance on the part of the one participant in a social relationship requires access to instruments of power which are not equally available to the other participant in the relationship, and which may be manipulated (i.e. offered, given, withheld, withdrawn) in order to enforce the compliance of the other participant. When both participants in a relationship have equal degrees of power, neither can dominate the other because there is no basis for dominance.
Conditions for Dominance in Male-Female and Employer-Worker Relationships
If sexual harassment at the workplace is to be explained as an expression of dominance, then this minimum condition of unequal access to the instruments of power must be present in the relationship between victims and perpetrators of sexual harassment. The data indicates that this condition is present. In fact, it will be argued that the relationships between victims and perpetrators are highly unequal, which enables perpetrators to exercise an especially high degree of dominance over their victims.
One primary attribute of the relationship between perpetrators and victims of sexual harassment at the workplace is that they are male-female relationships, and a second attribute is that they are often employer-worker relationships. A prominent feature of male-female and employer-worker relationships is that both types are characterized by unequal access to the instruments of power. Women generally have less access to these instruments than men, and workers have less access than their employers.
Men achieve characteristics which increase access to the instruments
of power far more frequently than women achieve these characteristics, because of previously established male dominance and the present impact of continued sexism. Male-female disparities in the levels of education received and occupational status, for example, have been well documented. These disparities are reflected and reinforced through differences in income, material goods, information, space, etc. Consequently, men generally have a greater degree of power than women, and the material basis for male dominance of women is usually present in relationships between men and women
It is important to point out here that the statements above are generalizations which are accurate only in reference to men as a group and women as a group. That is, that they may not accurately describe the the relationships between individual men and women, particularly when one individual's degree of power is strongly influenced by other important variables such as race or class. Thus, a black man may not be able to dominate a white woman, regardless of whatever other instruments of power are available to him, just as a working class man may not be able to dominate a woman of much higher class status. Nevertheless, the generalizations hold up within classes and races. That is, that black men are generally dominant over black women, and working class men are generally dominant over working class women. John Stuart Mill described the pervasiveness of male dominance in all social classes in his essay "The Subjection of Women" in the following way:Whatever gratification of pride there is in the possession of power, and whatever personal interest in its exercise, is in this case not confined to a limited class, but common
to the whole male sex…The clodhopper exercises, or is to exercise, his share of the power equally with the highest nobleman… In the case of women, each individual of the subject-class is in a chronic state of bribery and intimidation combined. (Mill, 1969, p. 136-137)
The final point to be made here with regard to the difference in the power of men and women is that it is not just a difference in degree. There are qualitative differences in the power held by men and women as well, and the power realized by women is less effective than that realized by men. This qualitative discrepancy has been described in terms of the common distinction between legitimate and illegitimate power:To understand this paradox of women's history — apparent universal male dominance but some real female power — it is necessary to make a distinction between "power" and "authority". While power [read dominance] is the simple ability to elicit from another person a behavior not necessarily of her/his own choosing, authority is legitimate power, power which is accepted and valid by those subjected to it. Non-legitimate power — the kind usually exercised by women — is uncertain, disjointed and often disguised; legitimate power or authority is continuous and formalized, institutionalized in power arrangements and also thought patterns. (Phelps, 1975, p. 38)
The dominance of the employer over the worker is of a slightly different sort than that of men over women. Here, dominance is legitimated through hierarchical structures of work, and grounded in the "achieved" characteristic of occupational status rather than in ascribed traits. (Although, as noted above, ascribed characteristics operate as determinants of who will and who will not achieve high occupational status.) While the number and kinds of instrument of power available to employers and not to workers vary from one workplace to another, employers
may be able to manipulate information, material goods, and space in the workplace, as well as the level of wages and benefits received by the worker. Furthermore, employers may manipulate the entire income of workers through their ability to hire and fire. Since workers do not have equal access to these instruments of power at the workplace, the relationships between employers and workers and clearly unequal, and the conditions for dominance over workers are present.
A return to the data is crucial at this point for two reasons: to explain those cases in which the perpetrator is not the employer of his victim, and to detail the ways in which the instruments of power are manipulated by the perpetrators of sexual harassment to enforce the compliance of their victims.
In the cases described above, those who commit sexual harassment include employers, co-workers of equal or greater occupational status, and clients of the victims. While co-workers and clients may not have the direct economic power over the victim (i.e. the power to hire and fire) that employers have, they do have other forms of direct and indirect economic power. Clients (of the cab drivers, the waitress and the travelling saleswoman, for example) have direct control over the income of their victims through their ability to manipulate their victims' tips or commissions. The passengers of the stewardess and the co-worker of the realtor exercise economic control indirectly, by influencing the victims' employers to exercise their power to hire and fire. Other co-workers who have job status roughly equal to that of their victims (e.g. in the cases of the cab driver harassed by other drivers, and the construction workers harassed by other crew members) exercise dominance through even more indirect economic control. That
is, that through verbal and other abuses they could make the working environment so intolerable that the victim might eventually be forced to give up her job. Employers could also exercise this indirect control through manipulation of information, materials, space, and work itself so that they might not even need to rely on use of the direct economic controls at their disposal. This form of harassment was used by the construction foreman, who could overwork his victim in order to force her to quit. Finally, as men, (who are generally larger and stronger than their victims) the perpetrators of sexual harassment could resort to physical force or the threat of force to dominate their victims, whether or not any other instruments of power were available to them. This occurred in the case of the first cab driver and the nurse.
This analysis introduces further refinements into conceptualization of the ways in which dominance may be exercised. The data suggests that to dominate, one need not have direct access to the instruments of power, as long as one can influence others who do have such access. Secondly, the data suggest that manipulation of non-economic instruments of power — other elements of the working environment — is as effective as manipulation of the economic instruments of power in controlling the behavior of workers, since it has eventual economic implications as well.
Given the fact that the conditions for dominance are present in male-female and employer-worker relationships, it is clear that the conditions for dominance are present in the relationships between victims and perpetrators of sexual harassment at the workplace, particularly when the vcitim is a woman worker and the perpetrator is a male employer. In such cases, the ability to dominate is particularly high. Perpetrators derive access to many instruments of power both from their position as
men and from their position as employers, co-workers, and clients, while victims derive few instruments of power from their position as women or from their position as workers. Thus, the relationship is highly unequal in terms of power, and the conditions for an especially high degree of dominance are present. On the basis of this conclusion, one might predict that powerswould be somewhat balanced in the relationships between women employers and male workers, and that the incidence of sexual harassment would decline accordingly. The data, though limited, support this contention.
The Exercise of Dominance
Showing that the conditions for dominance are present in the relationships between the victims and perpetrators of sexual harassment, however, does not provide a thorough explanation of the phenomenon, since the ability to dominate is not always exercised. Some male employers do not sexually harass their female employees; women employers do not sexually harass their employees as frequently as male employers do, though these women may have substantial economic control over their employees; and male employees are less often victimized by sexual harassment than women employees, although male and female employers, as well as women co-workers or clients, could conceivably make their working conditions intolerable. Explaining these aspects of the data requires further elaboration of the theory of dominance.
The extent to which dominance is exercised or expressed seems to depend upon three sets of interrelated factors, as follows:1. Social Conditions: when social conditions encourage or support the exercise or expression
2. Personal choice: when the dominant participant wishes of "needs" to remain dominant, s/he will exercise dominance more often.
3. Threats to Dominance: when dominance is threatened, it will be exercised more often.
Socialization and Other Conditions Encouraging the Exercise of Dominance
There are several social conditions which encourage the dominance of men more than the dominance of women, and which help to explain why male employers would sexually harass their employees more often than women employers would, all other powers of male and female employers being equal. The most important of these conditions is the differential socialization of men and women in this social system.
Differences in the socialization of males and females have been well iocumented. The literature indicates that males emerge from early socialization processes with higher levels of self-esteem, aggressiveness, independence and need achievement, and lower levels of emotional expressiveness, nurturance, submissiveness and dependence than females. (See Maccoby, 1966) The characteristics developed in males are associated with, and provide men with a predisposition to the expression of dominance in social relationships. The characteristics instilled in women, however, are antagonistic to the expression of dominance, and simultaneously supportive of submissiveness in the face of the dominance of others. Thus, socialization may be viewed as a primary social condition which encourages the exercise of dominance in men, while it discourages the exercise of dominance in women.
The fact that men have both greater access to the instruments of power and a greater predisposition to express dominance than women is by no means coincidental. Kate Millet has described the relationship between
the two in the following way:Sexual politics obtains consent through the "socialization" of both sexes to patriarchal polities with regard to temperament, role, and status. As to status, a pervasive assent to the prejudice of male superiority guarantees superior status in the male, inferior in the female. The first item, temperament, involves the formation of human personality along stereotyped lines of sex category ("masculine" and "feminine"), based on the needs and values of the dominant group and dictated by what its members cherish in themselves and find convenient in subordinates: aggression, intelligence, force and efficacy in the male; passivity, ignorance, docility, "virtue" and ineffectuality in the female. This complemented by a second factor, sex role, which decrees a consonant and highly elaborate code of conduct, gesture and attitude for each sex… Were one to analyze the three categories one might designate status as the political component, role as the sociological, and temperament as the psychological — yet their interdependence is unquestionable and they form a chain. Those awarded higher status tend to adopt rules of mastery, largely because they are first encouraged to develop temperaments of dominance. That this is true of caste and class as well is self-evident. (Millet, 1969, p. 46-47)
Thus, socialization is a process which instills dominance in the dominant, submissiveness in the subordinate, and which thereby reinforces the status quo. This view of socialization goes a long way in explaining why men most often commit sexual harassment, and why women are most often victimized by it. Women are less likely to harass their employees than male employers are, even when all other powers of male and female employers are equal, partly because women are not trained to dominate. Similarly, women workers are more likely to be victimized by sexual harassment than male workers are, all other powers of male and female workers being equal, since women are more likely than men to passively submit to the assaults of men rather than to react against those assaults.
Again, the data supports this analysis. The victims of sexual harassment are most often women, and the perpetrators are most often men. Sexual harassment entails aggressive behavior on the part of the perpetrator, whether the form is visual (e.g. staring), verbal (e.g. the use of abusive language, propositions or threats) or physical (e.g. touching, pinching, rape or attempted rape). And finally, victims of sexual harassment usually accept it rather passively: there is little they can do, or think they can do to end it, so they must either accept it as a condition of employment or avoid it by quitting their jobs.
This is not to say that women never commit sexual harassment, or that men are never victimized by it. Rather, it is to say that the harassment of men by men, women by women, or men by women is far less probable than harassment of women by men. There are cases, for example, in which men in sexually abuse other men, most notably in prisons. The power relationship in such cases, however, are similar: the rapists are stronger and/or allowed with higher status than the victims within the prison subculture.
In addition to socialization, there are other social conditions which encourage dominance in the form of sexual harassment, as well as in other forms. One of the most obvious of these is the absence of sanctions a- against sexual harassment. That is, that nothing is done to perpetrators of sexual harassment which might discourage them from doing it — sexual harassment entails little risk to the perpetrator. In only one case, that of the public information aide, was the perpetrator in any way negatively sanctioned for his aggressive behavior toward his victim.
The absence of sanctions against the exercise of dominance is an outgrowth of, and a means of perpetuating male dominance. The laws (or in this case the absence of laws) are designed by, and serve to protect the
dominance of dominant groups.
Other, even larger scale social and economic conditions may also contribute to the frequency and severity of the expression of dominance. One such condition which has been suggested as a factor contributing to sexual harassment at the workplace is the currently high level of unemployment. Because victims cannot find new jobs easily, they cannot simply give up the jobs they have in order to avoid sexual harassment. Thus, they must tolerate greater degrees of allkinds of abuse as a condition of work. Knowing this, employers may feel free to harass workers even more without running the risk of losing workers, spending time and money replacing them, or being unable to replace them.
Another condition suggested as a contributing factor is women's historically marginal position in the labor market. As marginal workers, they are some of the first to go in times of recession. Furthermore, women often hold the least skilled jobs, which makes them more replaceable than skilled workers. This tenuous position in the labor market, particularly as it is now combined with women's increasing financial dependence on their own earnings, forces them to resign themselves to working conditions such as sexual harassment which might not be tolerated in other circumstances.
The Choice-to Exercise Dominance
The second major factor which determines the extent to which dominance will be expressed -- personal choice -- helps to explain why some male employers do, and others do not sexually harass their female employees. To a large extent, choice is overridden by socialization and other conditions which encourage one form of behavior or another. However, unless one believes
that men are by nature driven to sexual aggression, some element of choice remains. Socialization can, and has been frequently and effectively countered through the efforts of individuals. Just as women have begun to cast off the modes of behavior which perpetuate their subordinate status, men can cast off modes of behavior which perpetuate their domiannce over others. That is, that they can, as some already do, choose not to exercise their ability to dominate. As Nancy Henley has pointed out:… those reluctantly in positions of power [read "dominance"] like men who wish to divest themselves of "foreskin privelege", can begin to monitor their own acts toward others and their reactions to other's acts, in an attempt to exorcise the subtle power indicators from their daily interactions. (Henley, 1975, p. 199)
If the subtleties of dominant behavior can be sought out and eliminated in this way, then certainly the more blatant forms of sexual harassment can be avoided as well. Thus, choice may play some role in the exercise of dominance and consequently in the incidence of sexual harassment at the workplace. The presence of sanctions might also reinforce the choice not to dominate, assuming that one is less likely to do things for which s/he expects to be penalized later.
The Exercise of Dominance in Response to Threat
The choice to dominate, however, may prove relatively unimportant in some cases. That is, that for some, dominance is so certain and so obvious that the active exercise of dominance through manipulation of the instruments of power is unnecessary to maintain dominance. Alternatively, when dominance is expected but uncertain, or when dominant individuals lack self-confidence, their dominance is easily threatened and must be continuously reasserted through manipulation of the instruments of power.
This helps to explain why some male employers (i.e. the most powerful and the most self-assured) do not harass their workers. It also introduces a third condition — threats to dominance — under which the exercise of dominance, and sexual harassment at the workplace become more likely.
Dominance, to the extent that it rests on access to instruments of power which may be lost by the dominant and gained by the subordinate participant in a relationship, is inherently unstable. Thus, one might argue that the maintenance of dominance almost always requires the continuous expression of dominance. If this is so, it helps to explain the pervasiveness of violence against women in the form of rape, wife abuse, pornography, etc. The "micropolitical structure" described by Henley also insures that dominance is continuously exercised to some extent, so that more forceful manipulation of the instruments of power is at times unnecessary to the maintenance of dominance.
When dominance is threatened, however, the likelihood that it will be actively reasserted increases. Threats may be perceived or actual, direct or indirect. They may arise through resistance on the part of the subordinated, or through shifts in access to the instruments of power. And as the severity of the threat increases, the frequency and severity with which dominance is exercised will increase as well.
The presence of an active feminist movement constitutes a threat to male dominance, just as the presence of the Civil Rights Movement constituted a threat to white dominance. These movements provide a channel for active resistance on the part of subordinated groups, and also generate shifts in access to instruments of power. And the threats created through these movements have traditionally been met with aggressive reassertions of dontrol on the part of the dominant groups. In the case of the Civil
Rights Movement, black activists were murdered, jailed, and harassed in countless other ways. And in the case of the Women's Movement, other repressive measures have been taken. Many writers have suggested that reassertion of male dominance over women in the presence of threats to male dominance take a form which is suited to, and which reflects the nature of the threat. "Just as lynching may be seen as the supreme political act of whites against blacks, so rape may be seen as the supreme political act of men against women." (Russell, 1975, p. 231) In her research on rape, Diana Russell has analyzed the way in which rape is used as a means of reasserting male dominance, as follows:Nan Murray's experience illustrates rape as a political act perhaps more vividly than any of the other cases. The masculine ego of her rapist was apparently so threatened by her sexual rejection of him, by her verbal deflations of his sexist assumptions and comments, that he raped her to "put her back in her place"…Since she refused to defer to him as a woman should, he forced her to. And in the short term at least, it was a successful political act. He won the power struggle he had constructed. She was beaten into submission, her confidence was smashed, and another uppity woman had been shoved into her rightful place…He felt put down by her not allowing him to dominate, to have his wishes prevail. If male domination is accepted as the proper relationship between men and women, as it is in our culture, then women's demand for equality becomes a threat. (Russell, 1975, p. 231, 241-242)
The threat to male dominance takes a similarly direct form when instruments of power previously accessible only to men become accessible to women. One such shift which is presently in progress is the entrance of women into "non-traditional" jobs, which in the past were held exclusively by men. These women are perceived as a direct economic threat by many of
the men whose jobs they now share, and as the data illustrate, women in non-traditional jobs are frequently victimized by sexual harassment at the workplace. Examples of women in this position include the construction workers whose experience was described in Chapter IV.
The threat to male dominance, however, need not be as direct as that, nor does the victim herself always create or represent the threat which is countered through sexual harassment. In many cases, the victims of sexual harassment represent little threat themselves, which indicates that threats from other, possibly unrelated sources may result in display of dominance such as sexual harassment. Once instilled with a propensity to dominate and a generalized felt "need" to be in control, threats to dominance in one sphere may be acted upon in another.
It has been suggested that threats to male dominance at the workplace are associated with domestic violence. Men who feel a need to dominate, and whose need is thwarted by virtue of their subordinate status at work, may reassert dominance through the sexual or non-sexual abuse of their wives at home. Thus, the expression of dominance does not always take a form which reflects the nature of the threat, nor is dominance always reasserted over the particular person who creates or represents the threat. The forceful sexual abuse of women in such cases may then be the "bottom line" of male dominance. That is, that when few instruments of power are available, men cannot select the expression of dominance which is best suited to the nature of the threat. Instead they must use whatever instruments they do have. Thus, male workers dominated by their employers cannot fire their employers. They can, however, and do reassert dominance over women and others who remain even less powerful then they.
Harassment in the Sexual Mode
If the exercise of dominance is as pervasive in daily social interaction as feminist theorists suggest, then acts of dominance undoubtably take innumerable forms - sexual and non-sexual. Thus, one of the remaining questions with regard to sexual harassment at the workplace as an expression of dominance is why it so often takes a sexual mode. If sexual harassment is an act of dominance rather than a purely sexual act, then the sexual preference of men for women does not adequately answer the question. Dominance could be asserted in numerous other ways.
To some extent, sexual harassment takes a sexual mode because that mode is often suited to the nature of the threat to male dominance which women represent. However, there are other reasons as well. One is the predominant view of women as sexual objects.
Women are commonly viewed as little more than sexual objects by men. To the extent that views of others color modes of interaction with them, and to the extent that patterns of harassment are modelled after general modes of interaction, the harassment of women by men will be sexual in nature. The modelling of "working" relationships between men and women after more intimate, sexual and marital relationships between men and women is self-evident. In her analysis of this modelling, Benet aptly describes secretaries as "substitute wives":The first thing that comes to many a man's mind when he thinks about secretaries is sex…Men in offices speculate endlessly about the girls, comparing them, picking favorites, teasing them. In fact, most office men will tell you that's why the girls are there.The sexual roles that women play in "real life" have been transferred to the office, where they are ritualized like all the rest of office behavior…all this reflects the fact that women are still thought of first as sexual beings, not
as workers. No amount of work on their part seems to dispel this assumption. No wonder, for it has been embedded in our thinking … (Benet, 1972, p.2,3)
If women are consistently viewed as sexual objects, and if all interaction with them is based onthis view, then it is no surprise that the harassment of them is sexual in nature.
Another factor which helps to explain why harassment often takes a sexual mode is the strong cultural associations between dominance, masculinity and sexual prowess. Because males have been dominant for so long, dominance has been incorporated as a central element into the meaning of masculinity.Berenice Carroll notes Bertrand de Jouvenel's statement that "a man feels himself more of a man when imposing himself and making others an instrument of his will," and adds that "It is no accident that the subject of this assertion is 'a man' - The associative links between ideas of manliness and virility on the one hand, and domination, conquest, and power on the other hand, are strong and pervasive in Western culture." (Hartsock, 1975, p. 12)
Given this association between dominance and masculinity, it becomes evident that when dominance is threatened, amsculinity is threatened as well, by definition. And another central element of the meaning of masculinity in this culture is sexual virility or prowess.To win, to be superior, to be successful, to conquor, all demonstrate masculinity to those who subscribe to common cultural notions of masculinity i.e. the masculine mystique. And it would be surprising if these notions of masculinity did not find expression in men's sexual behavior. Inddde, sex in my be the arena where these notions of masculinity are most intensely acted out, particularly by men who feel powerless in the rest of theis lives, and men whose masculinity is threatened by their sense of powerlessness.
For many men, it seems, aggression and sex are closely related. The unconscious thinking seems to go as follows: being aggressive is masculine; being sexually aggressive is masculine; rape is sexually aggressive behavior; therefore rape is masculine behavior. (Russell, 1975, p. 260,261)
If threats to male dominance constitute threats to masculinity and to virility, and if masculinity can best be reasserted through sexual activity, then it is logical that male dominance over women will be reasserted through a sexual mode.
A Model of Sexual Harassment at the Workplace
The theory of sexual harassment at the workplace as an expression of and a means of perpetuating dominance is modelled on the following page. This model is primarily descriptive, but has some predictive capability as well. On the basis of the model, one might predict that the incidence and severity of sexual harassment would increase:
- As the pervasiveness of phenomena such as sexism and racism increase;
- As inequality in access to instruments of power among men and women, employers and workers increases;
- As disparities in the socialization patterns of different groups increase, fostering submissiveness in subordinate groups and dominance in dominant groups;
- As the degree of hierarchy in the working environment increases;
- As threats to male dominance and employer dominance increases; and
- As other social conditions encouraging the exercise of dominance increase.
These predictions are testable, and provide groundwork for future research pertaining to both sexual and non-sexual harassment, at the workplace
A Model of Sexual Harassment at the Workplacep. 80A
and elsewhere. While further knowledge is useful in effective organizing against sexual harassment at the workplace, research is not the primary concern here. Instead, the primary concern is strategy. However, the model above is also useful to the development of strategy. Just as it delineates some of the conditions which would increase the incidence and severity of sexual harassment, it suggests several means of altering conditions in order to eliminate, or at least decrease the incidence of sexual harassment.
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