Individuals may misuse the formal organizational power they have over subordinates, but act as if what happened was an incident of negoti­ated interpersonal power. Recognition of sexual harassment as an illegiti­mate use of power reflects the questioning of rights accorded to privileged men, and even less privileged men, in a society with patriarchal structures. Those who engage in sexual harassment try to force their definition of what is appropriate on others by illegitimately using their greater power.

A perceived power differential may be based on organizational status or on status characteristics such as gender. Whatever the power basis, those who perceive they hold greater power or who may feel threatened by a woman with power may try to force an unwanted sexual definition of the situation. For example, some male patients harass female nurses (Grieco, 1987) and doctors (Phillips & Schneider, 1993). For female doctors, the risk of harassment increases when they work in emergency rooms, corn – munity health centers, and as temporary replacements, although their own offices are the typical setting in which they are harassed.