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The Cycle of Harassment in the Workplace

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Sexual harassment and discrimination are the problems outlined in this chapter, which uses legal scholarship, management studies, and domestic violence literature to examine the cycle of harassment in the workplace. The chapter begins with an overview of legal approaches to sexual harassment, discrimination, and retaliation and then examines cultural norms that help to sustain hostile work environments (HWEs). Mayock here uses new terms such as the “last straw phenomenon” and the “feminist fuse.”


  • Sexual Harassment
  • Sexual Violence
  • Sexual Discrimination
  • Unwanted Sexual Attention
  • Hostile Climate

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  • DOI: 10.1057/978-1-137-50830-0_6
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  1. 1.

    See Crouch, Chapter 5, for a critique of MacKinnon’s conceptualization of sexual harassment in the workplace.

  2. 2.

    Morgan provides a useful summary of EEOC and Office of Civil Rights (OCR) definitions of sexual harassment: “The EEOC defines sexual harassment as any form of uninvited sexual attention that either explicitly or implicitly becomes a condition of one’s work (U.S. EEOC, 1999). Along the same lines, the OCR conceptualizes it as a form of unwanted sexual attention that becomes a condition of one’s educational experience (U.S. Office of Civil Rights, 1999). The types of behaviors that fit EEOC and OCR definitions include but are not limited to unwanted talk about sex, jokes about sex or sexualized horseplay, uninvited physical contact, requests for sexual favors, pressures for dates or sex, sexual abuse, and sexual assault.” (210). For additional information on application of Title VII and Title IX law to higher education, see Dziech and Hawkins’ Sexual Harassment in Higher Education. Reflections and New Perspectives. For the text of the decision of Meritor Savings Bank v. Vinson, see Applications of Feminist Legal Theory to Women’s Lives. Sex, Violence, Work, and Reproduction (740–748). For histories of sexual harassment law, see also Peirce, et al., and Crouch (Part 1).

  3. 3.

    Timothy Macklem theorizes about the perception of women as different and the resultant denial of human rights and opportunities: “What women are entitled to, and what a misconception of their character may deny them, is the opportunity to make a success of the projects of their lives. That opportunity is not one that is owed to women in particular, as a special entitlement born of their special condition, but one that is owed to all human beings yet finds its particular meaning in its application to particular human beings, in this case, women. The particular character of what women are owed is simply a consequence of the fact that human beings can develop and pursue the projects of their lives only on the basis of the particular qualities of character, distinctive and nondistinctive, that they happen to possess, and more important, that not only they but the societies in and through which those projects are pursued understand them to possess. It follows that if a society misunderstands what it means to be a woman, either comprehensively or in some respect that is critical to the success of the project of a woman’s life, as I have contended we now understand women, it thereby denies them the opportunity to which they are entitled as human beings” (192).

  4. 4.

    See The New York Times2008 “bullying questionnaire” for a useful way to audit the work environment through a series of pointed questions.

  5. 5.

    See Yoshino for a fuller examination of identity politics and performance in the workplace. See Chamallas for analysis of the “reasonable person” standard in sexual and racial discrimination and harassment law.

  6. 6.

    Additional recommended references include Sandler and Shoop’s Sexual Harassment on Campus: A Guide for Administrators, Faculty and Students (1997), Paludi’s Sexual Harassment, Work and Education: A Resource Manual for Prevention (1998), and Gruber and Morgan’s In the Company of Men. Male Dominance and Sexual Harassment (2004). The “Know Your IX” website ( is a particularly useful resource for college students who want to understand Title IX in the context of sexual violence. See the US Department of Education website for abundant information for Title IX Coordinators ( Finally, the Feminist Majority Foundation has created a very useful “Education Equity” website:

  7. 7.

    See Hill and Silva’s Drawing the Line. Sexual Harassment on Campus (AAUW, 2005) for an extremely useful guide to how sexual harassment plays out specifically on college and university campuses and especially how it affects students.

  8. 8.

    See the Gender Action Group (GAG) website at

  9. 9.

    Morgan cites loss, distress, and trauma as the primary areas of impact on women who have been harassed (216–19).

  10. 10.

    See The Chronicle of Higher Education’s “Reader’s Guide,” titled “In Context. Campus Sexual Assault” for a summary of articles published on this topic in the busy fall of 2014. The PDF is available to subscribers through a web request form.

  11. 11.

    See John Mahoney’s website Workplace Fairness. It’s Everybody’s Job ( for more information on retaliation.

  12. 12.

    Edelman and Talesh state that, “Neo-institutional organization theory emphasizes the process through which common systems of meaning, values and norms develop among the community of organizations that make up an organizational field (Meyer and Rowan, 1977; DiMaggio and Powell, 1983; Powell and DiMaggio, 1991; Scott, 2002)” (104). In the organizational context of colleges and universities, this means that college presidents and their leadership councils observe the legal landscape, analyze risk, follow what peer institutions are doing, and often follow suit. Higher education institutions therefore often respond to change by replicating what others do, which is often to circle wagons and respond to the most immediate risks. Edelman and Talesh also comment upon the tendency of organizations to create new offices to respond to federal regulations while at the same time attempting to maintain “unfettered discretion over employment decisions” (107).


  • Gruber, James E., and Phoebe Morgan (eds.). 2004. In the company of men. Male dominance and sexual harassment. Boston, MA: Northeastern University Press. Print.

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  • Hill, Catherine, and Elena Silva. 2005. Drawing the line. Sexual harassment on campus. Washington, DC: AAUW. Print.

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  • Paludi, Michele A., and Richard B. Barickman. 1998. Sexual harassment, work and education: A resource manual for prevention, 2nd ed. Albany, NY: SUNY Press. Print.

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  • Parker-Pope, Tara. 2008. Have you been bullied at work? The New York Times, 24 Mar 2008. Accessed 8 Feb 2012. Web.

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  • Sandler, Bernice R., and Robert J. Shoop (eds.). 1997. Sexual harassment on campus. A guide for administrators, faculty, and students. New York: Allyn and Bacon. Print.

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Mayock, E. (2016). The Cycle of Harassment in the Workplace. In: Gender Shrapnel in the Academic Workplace. Palgrave Macmillan, New York.

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