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Policing Gender at Work: Intersections of Harassment Based on Sex and Sexuality

Abstract

Theorists have suggested that oppressions based on gender and sexual orientation are inherently linked. The present study aims to operationalize and test this proposition, by modeling relationships between sexual harassment and heterosexist harassment. Based on prior research in organizational and feminist psychology, we hypothesized a three-factor model of workplace harassment, comprising sexualized harassment, gender harassment, and heterosexist harassment. We then factor-analyzed data from 629 employees (both female and male, sexual minority and heterosexual) in higher education, finding this hypothesized model to be superior to three competing alternatives. Next came multiple-group analyses, which suggested this model to be invariant by gender, but not sexual orientation. Implications of these findings for research, theory, and practice are discussed.

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Notes

  1. Our conceptualization of heterosexist harassment does not include behaviors that are intended to be positive, but that erroneously assume heterosexuality (“indirect heterosexism” in Deitch [2002, unpublished doctoral dissertation] and Waldo’s [1999] terms). We excluded such behaviors because, although important, they appear to be primarily motivated by ignorance of the presence of sexual minorities in the workplace rather than intentional malice. Due to the lack of hostility toward non-heterosexuality, these behaviors do not necessarily constitute “harassment” per se.

  2. Fitzgerald et al. (1988, 1995) originally termed such behavior “gender harassment,” but we use the more specific term of gender derogation (reserving the term “gender harassment” for the larger construct).

  3. We also tested whether any of the alternative models provided a better fit to the sexual-minority data, compared to our hypothesized model. According to chi-square-difference tests, however, the fit was significantly worse for the 2-factor approach-rejection model (Δχ2 = 41.94, Δdf = 2), the 2-factor sexual-heterosexist model (Δχ2 = 22.15, Δdf = 2), and the 1-factor harassment model (Δχ2 = 67.26, Δdf = 3).

  4. As Waldo, Berdahl and Fitzgerald (1998) noted, this legal distinction may reflect a false dichotomy, because harassment based on sexual orientation is inherently gender-related. For instance, when fellow employees harass a male coworker for being gay, it is not because he dates men (which they find perfectly acceptable for female coworkers), but because he dates men and he himself is a man. This means that he is harassed because of his sex, suggesting that heterosexist harassment should be recognized as a form of illegal sex discrimination.

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Acknowledgements

This article, which was presented at the Annual Meeting of the Society for Industrial-Organizational Psychology in May 2006, is based on the dissertation of the author Julie Konik. This project was partially supported by a Jacob K. Javits Fellowship and the American Psychological Association Division 35’s (Society for the Psychology of Women) Hyde Graduate Student Research Grant. We are grateful to the following individuals for their work on the larger project from which these data came: Perry Silverschanz, Davidson Hook, Kathi Miner-Rubino, Marisela Huerta, and Vicki J. Magley. Thanks also to Jennifer Berdahl for her comments on an earlier version of this article.

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Konik, J., Cortina, L.M. Policing Gender at Work: Intersections of Harassment Based on Sex and Sexuality. Soc Just Res 21, 313–337 (2008). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11211-008-0074-z

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Keywords

  • Sexual Orientation
  • Sexual Harassment
  • Sexual Minority
  • Sexual Coercion
  • Traditional Gender Role