The Effect of Prototypical #MeToo Features on the Perception of Social-Sexual Behavior as Sexual Harassment

Abstract

The #MeToo movement has to a large degree addressed a specific type of sexual harassment, focusing on quid pro quo over hostile environment type sexual harassment. Prototypical #MeToo features include male over female actor; superior over subordinate actor; repeated over single case harassment; private over public settings; personal over general targets and sexualized over non-sexualized physical contact. We predict that these prototypical #MeToo features that gained attention during the campaign will increase peoples’ perception of which social-sexual behaviors are considered to be sexual harassment. Predictions were tested in a sample of 489 Norwegian participants (66% women). The results suggest that men tend to rate female actions as less harassing than male actions, while women did not make such a difference. We also observed a bias toward prototypical types of sexual harassment, as people perceive these more as sexual harassment compared to less prototypical but equally harmful types. Implications for future research on, and prevention of, sexual harassment are discussed.

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Acknowledgements

The research was approved by the Norwegian Centre for Research Data (NSD), which is the Data Protection Official for Research for all universities in Norway.

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Appendix

Appendix

Male Actors

Scenario 1 (Joke)

  • At a lunch break, both men and women employees are sitting in the cafeteria. A man at one of the tables tells a sexualized/debasing joke about how women become prettier when one has had a couple of beers. Some people at the table chuckle.

Scenario 2 (Invitation to date)

  • A woman is attending the summer party at work as a man sits down next to her. They get along well and enjoy each other’s company throughout the evening. The man says that he wants to meet again the next day, but the woman is not interested, and she declines politely. Two days later she receives a message on Facebook where the man again asks her if she has changed her mind about the date. The woman declines again.

Scenario 3 (Contact)

  • A female engineer has signed a sizable contract for a project. While in the office landscape, a male colleague comes up to her. He congratulates her and gives her a hug that lasts a little too long.

Scenario 4 (Quid pro quo)

  • A female lawyer eats lunch in the cafeteria. A male colleague begins a conversation that is polite at first, but then changes to less appropriate topics that concerns the woman’s private sex life. The male colleague puts his hand on the woman’s thigh and says that he might be able to influence her future career.

Female Actors

Scenario 1 (Joke)

  • At a lunch break, both men and women employees are sitting in the cafeteria. A woman tells a sexualized/debasing joke about how men with nice cars try to compensate for having a small penis. Some in the room chuckles.

Scenario 2 (Invitation to date)

  • A man is attending the Christmas party at work as a female colleague comes up to him. They get along well and enjoy each other’s company throughout the evening. The woman says that she wants to meet again the next day, but the man is not interested, and he declines politely. Two days later he receives a message on Facebook where the woman again asks him if he has changed his mind about the date. The man declines again.

Scenario 3 (Contact)

  • A male architect has signed an important customer. While in the office landscape, a female colleague comes up to him. She congratulates him and gives him a hug that lasts a little too long.

Scenario 4 (Quid pro quo)

  • A male real estate agent eats lunch in the cafeteria. A female colleague begins a conversation that is polite at first, but then changes to less appropriate topics that concerns the man’s private sex life. The female colleague puts her hand on the man’s thigh and says that she might be able to influence his future career.

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Kessler, A.M., Kennair, L.E.O., Grøntvedt, T.V. et al. The Effect of Prototypical #MeToo Features on the Perception of Social-Sexual Behavior as Sexual Harassment. Sexuality & Culture 24, 1271–1291 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12119-019-09675-7

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Keywords

  • #MeToo
  • Sexual harassment
  • Gender differences
  • Quid pro quo harassment
  • Social-sexual behavior