Whether in industry, the military, or academia, sexual harassment is widespread in U. S. society. Sexual harassment is more than just a demand for sexual favors. Sexual harassment can also occur when people’s actions create a hostile or offensive working environment. One woman offered her experience:

I was the first woman they hired at that level. I was proud of what I had accom­plished and looked forward to the challenges, but it has been much harder than I expected. I have been amazed and disgusted by the jokes and the unbeliev­able crude remarks that some men have made. people have sent me the most disgusting e-mails, and every day I get obscene messages on my voice mail. I spoke to my boss about this and told him how upsetting it was to me, but he told me that I needed to be a "team player" and that this was just the guys’ way of welcoming me to the group. Maybe it shouldn’t bother me as much as it does, but it is hurting my work. I’m having trouble concentrating, and I cringe every time I listen to my messages. (Authors’ files)

Sexual harassment in the workplace is prohibited by Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. In 1980 the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) issued guidelines on sexual harassment. These guidelines make it clear that both verbal and physical harassment are illegal:

Unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physi­cal conduct of a sexual nature constitute sexual harassment when (1) submission to such conduct is made either explicitly or implicitly a term or condition of an individual’s employment, (2) submission to or rejection of such conduct by an individual is used as a basis for employment decisions affecting such individual, or (3) such conduct has the purpose or effect of unreasonably interfering with an individual’s work performance or creating an intimidating, hostile, or offensive working environment. (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, 1980, pp. 74676-74677)

The EEOC guidelines describe two kinds of sexual harassment. One form, com­monly labeled quid pro quo, is reflected in the first two situations described in the guide­lines. Here, compliance with unwanted sexual advances is made a condition for securing a job or education benefits or for favorable treatment in employment or academic set­tings (such as receiving a promotion or high grades). Harassment is often evident in reprisals that follow refusals to comply.

A second form of sexual harassment, often referred to as a "hostile or offensive envi­ronment," is described in the third situation in the EEOC guidelines. This kind of sexual harassment is less clear but probably more common than the quid pro quo variety. Here, one or more supervisors, coworkers, teachers, or students engage in persistent, inappro­priate behaviors that make the workplace or academic environment hostile, abusive, and generally unbearable. Unlike quid pro quo harassment, this second form does not neces­sarily involve power or authority differences. It may, however, involve attempts to defend status and position, because men often view the entrance of women into formerly male bastions of power and privilege as threatening (Dall’Ara & Maass, 1999).

Cases involving hostile or offensive environments have been the subject of consider­able debate over what constitutes such an environment. Essentially, a hostile environ­ment is seen as one in which a reasonable person in the same or similar circumstances would find the conduct of the harasser(s) to be intimidating, hostile, or abusive.

The reasonable-person interpretation is illustrated by a decision in which the U. S. Supreme Court ruled unanimously that a Tennessee woman was subjected to sexual harassment in the form of a hostile environment "that would seriously affect a rea­sonable person’s psychological well-being" (Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, writing for the Court in Harris v. Forklift Systems, 92 U. S. 1168 [1993]). In this case the victim’s male boss (the company president) (1) urged her to retrieve coins from his front pants pocket, (2) ridiculed the size of her buttocks, (3) described her as a "dumb-ass woman" in the presence of others, and (4) insinuated that she had won a large sales contract by providing sexual favors. The defendant’s attorney unsuccessfully tried to pass off these behaviors as merely joking without any hostile intent. This case is noteworthy because it involved neither sexual blackmail nor unwanted touching. Nevertheless, the Supreme Court ruled that a reasonable person would find the offensive sexual speech intimidat­ing and abusive.