Ways of explaining sexual harassment: motivating, enabling and legitimizing processes

by Charlotte Diehl

Institution: Universität Bielefeld
Degree: PhD
Year: 2014
Record ID: 1105702
Full text PDF: http://pub.uni-bielefeld.de/publication/2711954


This dissertation aims to contribute to a comprehensive explanation of sexual harassment by the investigation of three social-psychological processes, which seem to crucially contribute to the etiology of sexual harassment: motivation to sexually harass (e.g., power or sexuality), enabling processes (e.g., through diverse situational cues), and legitimization of sexually harassing behavior (e.g., by applying myths about sexual harassment). By consolidating these three processes into one multi-factor theory, diverse shortcomings of previous, mostly single-factor theories in sexual harassment research can be solved (see Pina, Gannon, & Saunders, 2009, for a detailed critique), and a broader but also more accurate explanation of the complex phenomenon sexual harassment is provided. In this work a three-factor model is introduced and tested, which describes the hypothesized direct effects of motivation, enabling processes, and legitimization on sexually harassing behavior, as well as various hypothesized interactions between the three model components. The empirical part of this work is based upon three manuscripts, which test different components of the model. They contain mostly experimental studies, in order to identify causal relationships between the contributing factors and sexually harassing behavior. (a) In Manuscript1, motivating and legitimizing processes on the perpetrators’ side are explored. Combining evolutionary and socio-cultural accounts to explain sexual harassment, it represents the first attempt to simultaneously test power and sexuality as the prevailing motives for specific forms of harassing behavior (Gelfand, Fitzgerald, & Drasgow, 1995): Power is assumed to lead to gender harassment, which includes hostile and degrading gender-related behavior. Sexuality is assumed to lead to unwanted sexual attention, which includes more ambiguous but also offensive and unrequited sexually connoted behavior. Furthermore, legitimization tendencies via sexual harassment myth acceptance (SHMA; Lonsway, Cortina, & Magley, 2007), and their interplay with the two motives is tested. In this study, sexually harassing behavior is measured in vivo by using a refined version of the computer harassment paradigm (Dall’Ara & Maass, 1999). As part of an alleged computer-chat task, male participants can choose between sexualized personal remarks (representing unwanted sexual attention), sexist jokes (representing gender harassment), and non-harassing material to send to an attractive female target. The findings indicate that power and sexuality are two differentiable motives, both predicting different forms of sexual harassment: Sexually motivated men only showed unwanted sexual attention, while power motivated men particularly showed gender harassment but also unwanted sexual attention. This latter effect may indicate that unwanted sexual attention seems to be functional also for a hostile motive in order to create an embarrassing and humiliating atmosphere. Furthermore, SHMA fully mediated the effect of a power motive on…