Big Bad Body Shops

Sexual Harassment

If you think there's something about our culture that makes sexual harassment on the job a red-blooded American male thing, you're right. The first international study ever done of sexual harassment in the workplace shows that it's far more common in the United States than in Europe or the Soviet Union, and it has negative effects on both women and their jobs.

James E. Gruber, Ph.D., of the University of Michigan, and Kaisa Kauppinen-Toropainen, Ph.D., based at the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health, interviewed nontraditional female workers in five countries. They tapped women engineers in Finland, Sweden, Denmark, and the United States; Finnish architects and technicians; American autoworkers; and technical specialists from the Soviet Union.

A whopping 79% of female autoworkers experienced sexual harassment, defined as unwanted touching, leaning over, or cornering; sexually suggestive looks or gestures; sexual teasing, remarks, or questions; and sexually oriented notes, letters, or posters. Scandinavian professionals experienced the least harassment (33%), while American engineers endured nearly twice that amount. Soviet female technical specialists faced much less harassment than their American blue-collar or engineer counterparts.

Regardless of country or job, young and unmarried women are moving targets for harassment. So are those in low-status jobs.

The effects of harassment are not trivial-they increase women's psychological stress level and lower their job satisfaction. And for some women, especially blue-collar workers in the United States, they can diminish self-esteem.

It may be, say the researchers, that American women face more harassment simply because they are newer on the work scene; Scandinavia and the Soviet Union have had gender-integrated workplaces a lot longer. Alternatively, those countries may give women more dignity at work because they have strong national policies aimed at promoting gender equality in all facets of life.


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