Study: Men and women mostly agree on what constitutes sexual harassment

TRONDHEIM, Norway — The #MeToo movement has exposed how many regular behaviors can make people feel uncomfortable or worse. As awareness continues to grow, a study by researchers in Norway finds that, for the most part, men and women do agree on what constitutes sexual harassment and inappropriate touching.

“There’s little reason for moral panicking. Men and women generally agree on what is okay or not,” says Leif Edward Ottesen Kennair of the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) in a media release.

“It’s not true that men and women can’t be friends, work together or even flirt at work after #MeToo,” NTNU researcher Andrea Melanie Kessler adds.

Study authors asked about 500 men and women to signify which behaviors they consider to be sexual harassment in different scenarios. They explain that an action could be appropriate in one context, but not another. Sometimes, similar actions in the same scenario can be interpreted as sexual harassment. For example, when an employee hugs a co-worker to congratulate them but slides their hand a little too far down their back. What starts as an innocent gesture quickly turns into inappropriate.

Do men and women agree on where ‘the line’ is?

The vast majority of the survey agree that approaching someone at work to ask them on a date is not usually harassment. Trying to convince someone after receiving a “no” however, is still inappropriate.

Many behaviors, the survey participants agree, are more problematic in a private setting than in a public one. One behavior that was universally decried as inappropriate is when one person demands sexual favors in exchange for work advantages.

Men and women mostly agree on inappropriate behaviors and other points, but their opinions diverge when they are asked which gender tends to be the offender.

“Men often regard women’s actions as less harassing than men’s. Women don’t distinguish between the sexes that way,” Kessler explains.

Sexual harassment impacts both genders

Men are more likely to regard other men’s behavior as worse than women’s behavior, even under the same conditions. The study shows that women sexually harass men as well, contrary to popular belief, and there is a prevalence of same-sex harassment, too.

Researchers say that they want to find common ground between men and women when it comes to sexual harassment because many people are uncomfortable in the wake of current events, particularly in Hollywood.

The study was published in the journal Sexuality & Culture.

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