Look beyond the stories to see how we define harassment

Summary: Surveys let us look beyond the salacious stories to see how men and women define sexual harassment. It is more complex than the news stories imply.

This is what most women in #meToo episodes did not do.

Woman repelling sexual harassment
Getty Image.

Sexual harassment:
how the genders and generations see the issue differently

By Matthew Smith, describing a UK survey by YouGov and The Economist.

Detailed results here.

YouGov has conducted a new study examining the difference in perceptions of sexual harassment both between men and women and across the generations. YouGov asked respondents about 12 actions and asked whether they would consider each to constitute sexual harassment if done by a man to a woman who was not his friend or romantic/sexual partner. Many of the actions are very obviously sexual harassment, but some could be considered grey areas.

The genders and generations are broadly united on the more obvious and severe forms of harassment. More than 80% identify upskirt photos, bum pinching, flashing and requesting sexual favours as either always or usually sexual harassment.

The most divisive action asked about is wolf whistling. Two thirds (64%) of 18-24 year old women say that wolf whistling is always or usually sexual harassment. That figure falls with each subsequent age group to just 15% among women aged 55 or over. {Details at “Sexist or harmless fun?“}

After wolf whistling, the next biggest divisions between younger women and older women are when it comes to  winking (28% of 18-24 year old women said is usually or always harassment, compared to 6% of the over 55s), a man touching a woman’s lower back (48% vs 29%) and commenting on a woman’s attractiveness (28% vs 11%).

Broadly speaking, the differences in opinion between female generations were also present among men. The issues that divide the genders the most are looking at a woman’s breasts (which women are more likely to see as sexual harassment, at 57% compared to 43% of men) and wolf whistling (which men are more likely to consider harassment, at 45% compared to 33% of women). …

Click to enlarge. 

What constitutes sexual harassment?

Guess of Sexual Harassment levels


The eye of the beholder…

Yougov asked both men and women to guess what proportion of women say they have ever been sexually harassed, The graphic says that “men underestimate.” But men’s average guess was more accurate than women’s. Men underestimated by 9 percentage points while women overestimated by 12 points.

Interesting findings.

The most interesting finding is that men and women differ little in their evaluation of most behaviors. The report does not say what the margin of error is, but it is probably several percentage points — the difference between the answers of men and women to most questions.

Another interesting result is that people judge many of these behaviors situationally — sometimes harassment, sometimes not (the survey didn’t ask how men should know when it is, and when it is not). So the most common answers are “usually yes” and “usually no.” Usually covers a lot of ground. No wonder misunderstandings are common. Is it sexual harassment when a man, not a romantic or sexual partner, or friend …

  • compliments a woman on her attractiveness? 4% say “always” and 26% says “never”.
  • pinches or grab a woman’s bum? 64% say “always” and 1% say “never.” Surprising how many say “usually.”
  • directs sexual jokes at a woman? 27% say “always” and 4% say “never.”
  • goes up to a woman in a club and dances by pressing himself against her? 50% say “always” and 1% say “never.” A surprising number of “usuallys.”

Some questions show that young men (18-24) are occasionally intimidated by young women. Is it sexual harassment when a man {etc.} …

  • places his hand on a woman’s lower back? “Always” say 26% of young men vs. 10% of young women.
  • winks at a woman?  “Always” say 12% of young men and 5% of young women.
  • asks a woman out for a drink? “Usually yes” say 10% of young men vs. 4% of women.

Some of the answers are bizarre. Is it sexual harassment when a man, not a romantic or sexual partner, or friend, requests sexual favours from a woman? “Never” say 68% of men and 77% of women. Which is odd given the frequency of hook-ups and sex on the first dates (e.g., see Cheap Sex by Professor Mark Regnerus). Telepathic consensus?  (When was phrase “sexual favours” last in use? WW2?)

The bottom line

Relations among the genders are becoming a minefield. This tells us about the smartest man in Washington: “Life in a Mike Pence world (thanks to #MeToo)” by Ingrid Jacques.

Boxing in the Gender Wars

For More Information

Ideas! For ideas about using Holiday cash, see my recommended books and films at Amazon.

If you liked this post, like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter. See all posts about society and gender issuesabout feminism, about sexual assaultabout rape, and especially these…

  1. The unexpected response to the sexual harassment crisis.
  2. Weaponizing claims of sexual harassment for political gain.
  3. Mysteries and ironies of the next new sexual revolution.
  4. Worrying while the harassment fires burn out of control.
  5. Second thoughts about romance in the #MeToo age.
  6. The amazing numbers behind the #MeToo movement!
  7. News from the front lines as the meToo madness spreads.
Who Stole Feminism?: How Women Have Betrayed Women
Available at Amazon.

A counterpoint to the debate.

Well worth reading: Who Stole Feminism?: How Women Have Betrayed Women (1995). From the publisher…

“Philosophy professor Christina Sommers has exposed a disturbing development: how a group of zealots, claiming to speak for all women, are promoting a dangerous new agenda that threatens our most cherished ideals and sets women against men in all spheres of life. In case after case, Sommers shows how these extremists have propped up their arguments with highly questionable but well-funded research, presenting inflammatory and often inaccurate information and stifling any semblance of free and open scrutiny.

“Trumpeted as orthodoxy, the resulting ‘findings’ on everything from rape to domestic abuse to economic bias to the supposed crisis in girls’ self-esteem perpetuate a view of women as victims of the ‘patriarchy’.

“Moreover, these arguments and the supposed facts on which they are based have had enormous influence beyond the academy, where they have shaken the foundations of our educational, scientific, and legal institutions and have fostered resentment and alienation in our private lives. Despite its current dominance, Sommers maintains, such a breed of feminism is at odds with the real aspirations and values of most American women and undermines the cause of true equality. Who Stole Feminism? is a call to arms that will enrage or inspire, but cannot be ignored.”


5 thoughts on “Look beyond the stories to see how we define harassment”

  1. YouGov’s study is faulty; women’s perception of sexual harassment is conditional on their level of attraction to the man performing the action. The question that should have been asked was “whether they would consider each to constitute sexual harassment if done to a woman by a man whom the woman finds attractive”.

    While there are some actions that would still be deemed sexual harassment, several of them would be graded shockingly lower. Sexually-forward behavior, comments, touch, and stares all flatter the woman to whom an attractive man bestows them, but creep out the woman to whom an unattractive man (in her judgment) does the same exact thing.

    1. Larry Kummer, Editor


      “YouGov’s study is faulty”

      It is not “faulty.” If provides aggregate data, which is always the starting point for analysis. There are always more layers. All answer to such questions are conditional. Don’t ask for too much detail to analysis you don’t pay for.

      ” women’s perception of sexual harassment is conditional on their level of attraction to the man performing the action.”

      I doubt that is always true. But in any case, it is a theory until validated by research. That would be a great subject for further reserach.

    1. Larry Kummer, Editor

      That is great! Compare this with a comedy sketch from “Pink Slip Show” to see what was considered funny in 2011 (simple role reversal in harassment).

      1. Larry Kummer, Editor

        Here is another 2017 SNL sketch about 2017. The one Craig posted was about women’s different reactions to the same actions — but by an alpha and a beta. This is about the different standards applied to White Guys and African-Americans. Times have changed. I doubt this could have been shown a decade ago with protests in the streets.

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