Sexuality in the Workplace: Organizational Control, Sexual harassment, and the Pursuit of Pleasure

Williams, Christine L., Patti A. Giuffre, and Kirsten Dellinger. 1999. “Sexuality in the Workplace: Organizational Control, Sexual  harassment,  and the Pursuit of Pleasure.” Annual Review of Sociology. Vol.25, pp.73‐93.

This article was an overview of different occupations opinions of relationships and sexual harassment in a workplace in the United States. The beginning of this article talked about how the media highly publicizes sex scandals in the workplace. These cases and others received saturation media coverage, prompting one commentator to label “sex and its place in American life” as the dominant theme of the 1990s (Stan 1995). Something I found very interesting was that, “from a purely legal perspective, this argument is correct: Sexual harassment is technically against the law only insofar as it is a form of gender discrimination.”(Williams, Giuffre, and Dellinger 75) They must prove that they were treated different from every one of the same gender that was in the same situation and they suffered or lost a benefit because of it.

 

“Workers themselves often conceive of sexual behaviors at work along a continuum, ranging from pleasurable, to tolerable, to harassing.”(Williams, Giuffre, and Dellinger 76) Depending on the type of work that you are doing sets the bar for what is acceptable and what isn’t in the way of sexual behaviors. Workers may tolerate more sexual behaviors if they feel like it’s a requirement for their job. They have a quote from a catering manager on this subject.

 

She “expected” women workers to be able to cope with sexual behaviour and attention from men customers as part of the job. She said that if the women catering assistants complain, or say things like they can’t cope, I tell them it happens all the time and not to worry about it…it’s part of the job…if they can’t handle it then they’re not up to working here. (Adkins 1995:130)

Due to the atmosphere of a job like this, where sexual harassment is in the job, it may cause the employee to deny that there is any unwanted harassment is happening. In this case they may only realize there is a problem if it happens outside of work, after hours.

 

The article then takes a turn to consensual sexuality in the workplace. There is little sociological research done about the positive side of relationships between employees. Some of the upsides are that possibility of relationships can inject excitement into the work group, enhance communication and cooperation, stimulate creativity and create a happier work environment. On the negative side, studies find that romances can take time and energy away from work (late arrivals, early departures, long lunches); increase gossip; arouse jealousy and suspicion due to favoritism; and increase vulnerability to charges of sexual harassment (Anderson & Hunsaker 1985, Mainiero 1986, Powell 1993, Pierce & Aguinis 1997). Due to having positive and negative effects on the workplace, managers have to try and minimize any negative repercussions by transferring and even firing the employees.

Whether [corporations] like it or not, whether it is good for business or bad, corporate romance is as inevitable as earthquakes in California, and it must be explored and understood so that this often unpredictable social force can be properly channeled (Westoff 1985:21).

 

In jobs like the military or in some hospitals, the organizational structure is important and therefore they have very strict rules about employees dating. But most work organizations fall somewhere in the middle, promoting some types of sexual relationships and prohibiting others. The most successful relationships have drawn a line between personal and professional attitudes. With that being said, there are some drawbacks in doing so. Sexual banter sometimes is used as a distraction from jobs that are overly stressful and are seen as a release. In studies of guards in a men’s and women’s prison, women officers are seen as “willing or unwilling victims of seduction by male inmates” (1995:96) and therefore seen as weak. To compensate for this some women officers stick strictly to the rules, but because of that they don’t develop a good working relationship with the male officers who would like to slack off of some of the rules.

 

Sociologists still have a great deal to learn about sexuality in the workplace. Human beings are sexual and consequently so are the places that they work. Organizations will never be able to rid themselves of sexuality but they should do a better job of shielding workers from harassment and discrimination.


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About callyia

Sophomore, studying criminal justice, just trying to make it through each day.
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2 Responses to Sexuality in the Workplace: Organizational Control, Sexual harassment, and the Pursuit of Pleasure

  1. Pingback: Levels of harassment – Keeping Sweet in Seattle

  2. Pingback: “MANNISH” FEMALE COLONEL FIRED FOR “SEXUAL HARASSMENT” OF A “SENIOR MALE OFFICER” - « CITIZEN.BLOGGER.1984+ GUNNY.G BLOG.EMAIL

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