GENDER DIFFERENCES IN POWER
What people take for granted and what they negotiate in their interactions, as well as how they perceive their interaction outcomes, has been the subject of considerable study in social psychology. Women and men may interact with each other and perceive that interaction quite differently. For example, in interviews with married couples, Jessie Bernard (1972) found the reported experiences of the marriage to be so distinct that she referred to “his marriage” and “her marriage.” Similarly, sexual harassment may occur when a man does not perceive his behavior as violating standards of conduct but a woman does, or when he knowingly elects to engage in behaviors that a woman neither seeks nor desires. This misperception on the part of the man may partly reflect unconscious defense mechanisms that hide or disguise socially unacceptable motives from those engaging in the exploitation or undermining of others.
A variety of theories and concepts can be applied to deconstruct sexual harassment. Social psychologists explaining episodes of sexual harassment as well as gender differences in cognition and behavior rely on a variety of frameworks or models (Johnson, 1993). Those who focus on differences in perception in interaction episodes may draw on symbolic interaction and social exchange theory (Jones & Remland, 1992) or consider how status characteristics affect individuals’ behaviors, thoughts, and outcomes (Berger, Webster, Ridgeway, & Rosenholz, 1986). Others rely on attribution theory (Kenig &. Ryan, 1986; Pryor & Day, 1988; Pryor, LaVite, & Stoller, 1993; Quinn & Less, 1984). Yet another approach is to draw on various frameworks to take a social constructionist stance (Berger &. Luckmann, 1966; Gergen, 1985).
We take an eclectic approach using various components of the above approaches germane to a discussion of harassment; however, we consistently emphasize power as it is exercised in the context of interpersonal interactions (Ford & Johnson, 1998) and as it is embedded in organizational structures. Specifically, we argue that explanations of behavior need to take into account structural factors and the status characteristics of their occupants (Lach & Gwartney-Gibbs, 1993).
For example, women may behave differently and be responded to differently than men when in leadership roles, not only because of socialization but also because of their lack of organizational power compared to men in similar positions. Women traditionally occupy certain types of subordinate positions in organizations and the behaviors expected of women in those positions may be indicative both of their position in the organizational structure and expectations about gender roles (Fain & Anderton, 1987). We give credence to the proposition that the preferences of men who control organizations are embedded in the organizational structure, that organizations are gendered (Acker, 1990).
Our analysis focuses on two dimensions underlying common conceptualizations of behavior as sexual harassment, power and consent. We emphasize these because they are not merely aspects of a definition of sexual harassment, but they also suggest mechanisms by which sexual harassment is fostered and maintained.