Constructions of masculinity and femininity and their impact on sexual harassment in the workplace

Marmy A Clason, Marquette University


This study investigates the relationships among organizational culture, gender and sexual harassment. To investigate these relationships, I conducted a qualitative study using as data both in-depth interviews with 20 employees in manufacturing organizations and textual analyses of three sexual harassment policies. The results indicate a relationship between how people construct both gender and sexual harassment. This relationship reveals itself in five interrelated conclusions. First, the organizational cultures were firmly grounded in masculinity and at times, hegemonic masculinity. Masculinity was reified within the hierarchical structure and the communication patterns of the organizations. So powerful was the construct of masculinity, that little expression of femininity was voiced by employees or management. Second, sexual harassment is part of the normal functioning and structure of the organization; this is built on the gendered assumption that male heterosexual behavior is considered normal in manufacturing organizations. For example, objects like sexually explicit calendars or sexual jokes were reconstructed into normal expressions of masculinity and as such, deemed appropriate for the workplace, not sexual harassment. Third, gendered communication patterns were also related to sexual harassment. This was illustrated by a preference for assertive, unemotional communication, and by re-defining factory women as masculine and sexual joking as normative. Fourth, Human Resource (HR) departments are often marked as feminine and as a result HR is not highly valued. This has serious consequences as most sexual harassment complaints are handled through HR departments. Finally, there is a notion that the real cause of sexual harassment in manufacturing is not because people harass, but because women are present. Implications and applications for the findings are discussed, and possible avenues for future research are offered.

Recommended Citation

Clason, Marmy A, "Constructions of masculinity and femininity and their impact on sexual harassment in the workplace" (2008). Dissertations (1962 - 2010) Access via Proquest Digital Dissertations. AAI3306505.