Women and Workplace Discrimination: Overcoming Barriers to Gender Equality

By Raymond F. Gregory | Go to book overview

Twelve
Increased Incidence of Sexual
Harassment in the Workplace

The sexual harassment of a woman by a man higher on the corporate ladder conveys the message that she is primarily perceived, not as a workplace colleague and a valuable asset, but rather as a sexual object. The sexual harassment of women expresses the age-old belief that women should be sexually available to men, and it simultaneously reminds women that they are neither respected nor viewed as workplace equals. 1

Because sexual-harassing acts generally evolve from unequal status between a man and a woman, the harassment of a female worker usually involves a power relationship affecting the terms and conditions of the woman's employment. Since such acts generally culminate in a hostile and offensive work environment, the harassed woman must live and work under abusive and antagonistic conditions every working day. Women, therefore, perceive sexual harassment as a reflection of a status that emphasizes their sex roles over their work roles and thus threatens their livelihood. 2 One writer argues that our culture “identifies women not with minds but with bodies … [and] the more beautiful the woman, the more sensuous her body, the less likely she is to be credited with a mind.” 3

Catharine A. MacKinnon, the first to argue that workplace sexual harassment constitutes a major problem for women, stated in her seminal book Sexual Harassment of Working Women that “[s]exual harassment is seen to be one dynamic which reinforces and expresses women's traditional and inferior role in the labor workplace.” From these circumstances, MacKinnon concluded and was one of the first to contend that sexual harassment in the workplace is a

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