Harassment: Differences Related to Gender and Harassment Type

by Rachel Therrien

The present study focused on reactions of male and female participants to gender harassment (e.g. subtle degrading comments) versus unwanted sexual attention (e.g. sexual propositions). Participants were 155 male and female students from Brandon University. Each participant was given a booklet containing vignettes of both types of harassment. In addition, participants were randomly assigned booklets containing a male or female harasser. It was hypothesized that both genders would detect unwanted sexual attention more often than they would detect gender harassment as a form of harassment. Furthermore, it was predicted that both men and women would perceive the male to be more harassing than the female perpetrator in both conditions. Lastly, it was hypothesized that female participants would detect gender harassment more easily than males. As expected, results indicated both genders detected unwanted sexual attention as a form of harassment more often than gender harassment. For instance, participants were more distressed by their harasser’s behaviour in the unwanted sexual attention scenario than in the gender harassment scenario. This coincides with research conducted by Saunders and Senn (2009) which found that participants reported more negative feelings when presented with unwanted sexual attention as compared to participants presented with gender harassment. Moreover, male participants perceived the male perpetrator to be more harassing than the female perpetrator in the unwanted sexual attention group but surprisingly not in the gender harassment group. This finding partially corresponds to research conducted by Katz, Hannon, and Witton (1996) stating that when a harasser is a man, the behaviour is rated higher in sexual harassment than when the harasser is a woman. However, on the basis of gender, this study found that female participants did not significantly differ in their ratings of the harasser’s behaviour. Contradicting research, they did not perceive the male perpetrator to be more harassing than the female.