Study Shows Sexual Harassment Targets Women Who Defy Gender Stereotypes
A recently published study in the Journal of Applied Psychology finds that sexual harassment targets women who do not conform to gender stereotypes. Jennifer L. Berdahl, a professor at the University of Toronto, studied approximately 550 students and professionals and concluded in her article "The Sexual Harassment of Uppity Women" that women with masculine traits were more likely to be sexually harassed than those with strong feminine personalities.
Traditional views hold that sexual harassment is perpetrated by a male superior against a female subordinate as a result of "natural and inevitable feelings of sexual desire," Berdahl writes. Her study, however, suggests that in most cases men sexually harass assertive, ambitious, or independent women leaders. A man is not usually physically attracted to the woman he harasses, but instead he wishes to punish her for threatening his masculinity, according to the study. Such behavior constitutes gender harassment, the most common form of sexual harassment.
Berdahl's study asserts that a woman who demonstrates some masculine personality traits is more likely to experience sexual harassment, even if she also exhibits strong feminine characteristics, than a woman perceived as completely feminine. She writes, "These results highlight the double bind faced by women who are dismissed and disrespected if feminine but scorned and disliked if masculine, limiting their ascent up the organizational ladder."