The inclusion of the term unwanted in most formal definitions of sexual harassment is reflective of the norms of social conduct in American society. By the insertion of a single word, women are made to bear the burden of monitoring their own behaviors and feelings and those of their male cohorts. Further, women may be given the additional responsibility of communicating explicitly about otherwise subtle shadings of meaning and significance to social actors (i. e., men) who would prefer to remain obtuse on the matter.
Theoretically, the consent dimension ranges from complete voluntariness at one end to total coercion at the other. The standard for harassment is whether behaviors were welcome or unwelcome, whereas for rape the standard is consent. Compliance with sexual demands does not indicate consent (Frug, 1992). For consent to be granted, the less powerful person needs to be clear about what behavior is being requested.
Consent is not always a definitive time-specific decision. Using classic foot-in-the-door technique, perpetrators may engage in small acts of social intimacy that initially seem trivial. The smutty jokes and pats are a way of eventually introducing more intimate behavior (Travis & Kurth, 1981). Because the interaction episodes typically are presented as part of normal social exchange, consent on the part of the target is assumed, and any efforts to indicate otherwise typically require a disruptive confrontation. Thus, women who have been taught to use polite styles and to rely on the goodwill of others, and who have been rewarded for being indirect and evasive, are forced into a situation in which they must use a confronta-
tional style of interaction that is out of character, for which they may be penalized.
Furthermore, the polite, sociable manner of women is often misinterpreted by men as sexual interest. Donat and White (chapter 14, this volume) reiterate the point that men are likely to interpret demonstrations of politeness or sociability by women as an indication of sexual interest. Research demonstrates women are less likely than men to assign sexual interpretations to ambiguous friendly behaviors, which may increase the likelihood that men in various situations will perceive a woman as willing to engage in a sexual relationship (Williams & Cyr, 1992).
Other problems with consent arise from American cultural images of sexuality as part of a basic instinct that is natural and of sexual encounters as events that just happen. In the face of such images that replace intern tionality with natural instinct, consent per se is not particularly relevant.