Women should strive to be desirable sexual objects and take respon­sibility for being treated as sexual objects. Women who subscribe to a traditional feminine script may find it difficult to confront more powerful men who make comments about their bodies or inappropriately touch them. They are not able to counter the argument that a woman should be flattered by sexual attention, and that if a man’s attentions are inappro­priate, his actions are her fault (provoked by her behavior).

Although many women think the idea of women defining themselves as sexual objects is obsolete, residual behaviors and attitudes exist that perpetuate the idea that women should strive to be desirable sexual objects and men should interact with women under the assumption that they in­deed want this. Travis and colleagues (chapter 10, this volume) discuss women’s concerted efforts to look attractive (to men). Receiving attention from men in the form of compliments or nonverbal behaviors, such as a touch or warm facial expressions, is considered to be flattering. The prob­lem with this type of behavior or thinking is that women have difficulty confronting more powerful men who make unwanted comments about their body or inappropriately touch them. They find it difficult to counter the argument, either conceptually or in actuality, that they should be flat­tered by the male’s attention.

A related issue is the common assumption that women who are ha­rassed actually bring it on themselves through their provocative behaviors. Blaming the victim is also prevalent in incidents of rape (Rhode, 1989). In rape and harassment, the woman is said to have provoked the man by her behavior and therefore is responsible for the man’s resulting actions. Such arguments release the man from any responsibility in the encounter, as well as perpetuate the myth that women want to be sexual objects and adopt styles of self-presentation for this purpose.

Some organizations may not support but rather blame physically less attractive women who are sexually harassed. Because such women are not seen as desirable sexual objects, others may argue it is nonsensical to be­lieve that a man would pay attention to them or make sexual advances toward them. Thus, complaints from some women may be “dismissed as vindictive fantasies or wishful thinking” (Rhode, 1989). An alternative scenario used to place the blame on the victim is that an unattractive woman’s efforts to gain the man’s attention were rebuffed and led to the vindictive filing of a harassment complaint.

Traditional sexual scripts may lead some women to quietly endure sexual comments and overtures because they perceive male aggression and female submissiveness as the norm or as natural (Laws & Schwartz, 1977). Women are socialized “to accept the male cultural prerogative to initiate sexual contact in virtually any situation” (Fitzgerald, 1993, p. 1072). Ac­cording to the traditional script, women should endure unwanted sexual advances in recognition of men’s inherent entitlement. Consequently, women often opt to ignore incidences of harassment rather than challenge tacit rules concerning men’s societal prerogatives. Thus, ignoring the be­havior is one of the most common coping responses to sexual harassment (Fitzgerald, Swan, & Fischer, 1995). Such nonresponse is ineffective in stopping the behavior—ignoring the harassment does little to circumvent the behavior and in some cases may result in its escalation (Silverman, 1976).

Substantial research has shown gender differences in the perceptions of sexual harassment (e. g., Gutek, 1985; Powell, 1986). Specifically, the research on gender differences supports that men hold more constricted definitions of sexual harassment and are less likely to view any interactions as examples of sexual harassment (Fitzgerald, 1993). Several studies have investigated the variables that influence these differences in perceptions. If a woman has engaged in previous friendly, informal interaction with a man, men are less likely to see the man’s behavior as harassment (Williams & Cyr, 1992). Women, however, show no differences in perception, re­gardless of prior interaction.

Women who are harassed by men with whom they have had friendly interactions may choose to remain in the relationship and not report the harassment (Abbey, 1982; Abbey & Melby, 1986; Williams & Cyr, 1992). This response at first glance appears illogical, yet understanding the strength of traditional scripts mandates such passivity and illuminates some of the reasons behind such a response. Woman are socialized, overtly and covertly, to submit to men. If a woman on some level allows a man to interact with her (e. g., even by participating in behavior as basic as friendly exchanges), she is even less able to assert her disapproval. Not only is she normally expected to remain passive, but it also is assumed that she has given her implicit consent to the man’s dominating behavior. In other words, she has lost her right to complain. It also means, in a profound way, that women do not retain the authority to negotiate how and to what extent they may express or explore their own sexuality.

Another study supporting the influence of prior interaction on per­ceptions is Summers and Myklebust’s (1992) report that if a woman com­plained about harassing workplace behaviors from a man with whom she had previously been romantically involved, raters’ perceptions of the seri-

ousness of the behavior and of appropriate managerial responses shifted. Again, prior interactions mediated the perceptions of sexual harassment of men and women. Yet, in this instance men and women alike reported that prior romantic involvement weakened the severity of the harassment claim. Both sexes believe the woman “lost her right to speak up,” therefore in­creasing the probability of the woman remaining passive and the harass­ment continuing.