Does it really matter what a woman looks like when it comes to sexual harassment and sexual harassment claims?
A recent study by the University of Washington shows that people find it harder to believe that anyone would sexually harass a woman who does not fit a narrow definition of attractiveness.
What does the research say about perceptions and sexual harassment?
The research showed participants a variety of digitally manipulated images of women. They found that the closer a woman was to the “prototypical woman,” the more likely participants were to believe that her claims of sexual harassment were credible.
The prototypical woman refers to something previous research found – that what people consider womanly falls into a narrow category. Think of a young Jane Fonda or any other young, slim woman you would see on a movie poster. In terms of tennis players, think Maria Sharapova rather than Serena Williams. In terms of singers, think of a young Britney Spears rather than a young Janis Joplin.
In addition, the research found that people thought that women who did not meet the prototype were less likely to “suffer” if someone did harass them. In short, what the research is saying is if you are not “conventionally attractive,” you will have a more challenging job convincing your employer, your colleagues or a court that someone has been sexually harassing you at work. Even if they do believe you, they may think it is not that big a deal.
Sexual harassment can happen to anyone in any workplace
It does not matter what sex, gender, race or color you are. It does not matter whether you wear high heels or a boiler suit and welder’s mask — people at work can still subject you to unwanted attention, comments or actions of a sexual nature that harms you as much as it would anyone else. To stop sexual harassment, you need to understand the legal recourses available.