Satoshi Kanazawa

The Scientific Fundamentalist


Men sexually harass women because they are not sexist I

Sometimes "no" means "try a little harder...."

Posted Apr 19, 2009

One of the unfortunate consequences of the ever-growing number of women joining the labor force and working side by side with men is the increasing number of sexual harassment cases, particularly in the United States.  Why is this?  Is sexual harassment a necessary and inevitable consequence of the sexual integration of the workplace?  What is sexual harassment, anyway, and how can evolutionary psychology explain it?

The scholar who pioneered the study of sexual harassment is Kingsley R. Browne of the Wayne State University Law School, whom we’ve encountered before.  Browne identifies two types of sexual harassment cases:  the quid pro quo cases (“You must sleep with me if you want to keep your job or be promoted”) and the “hostile environment” cases (where the workplace is deemed too sexualized for workers to feel safe and comfortable).  While feminists and social scientists tend to explain sexual harassment in terms of “patriarchy” and other nefarious ideologies, Browne locates the ultimate cause of both types of sexual harassment in the sex differences in evolved psychological mechanisms and mating strategies, thereby “seeking roots in biology rather than ideology.”

Studies unequivocally demonstrate that men are far more interested in short-term casual sex than women.  For example, in a classic study, 75% of undergraduate men approached by an attractive female stranger agree to have sex with her; most of the remaining 25% excuse themselves on the ground that they are already in long-term relationships and their girlfriends might find out about their affair.  In contrast, absolutely none of the women approached by an attractive male stranger agree to have sex with him.  Many men who would not go on a date with the stranger nonetheless agree to have sex with her.  In another study, men on average desire nearly twenty sex partners in their lifetimes; women desire less than five.  Men on average seriously consider having sex with someone after only one week of acquaintance; women’s average is six months.

The quid pro quo and similar types of harassment are manifestation of men’s greater desire for short-term casual sex than women’s, and their willingness to use any available means to achieve their goal.  While feminists often claim that sexual harassment is “not about sex but about power,” Browne astutely points out that it is about both; it is about men using power to get sex.  “To say that it is only about power makes no more sense than saying that bank robbery is only about guns, not about money.”

So the quid pro quo type of sexual harassment can be explained by the sex differences in the interest in short-term mating, and men’s willingness to use anything at their disposal to obtain it.  But what about the other type of sexual harassment:  the hostile environment?  How can evolutionary psychology explain it?  I’ll discuss it in my next post.