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Law Hum Behav. 1997 Feb;21(1):71-93.

Perceptions of sexual harassment: the effects of gender, legal standard, and ambivalent sexism.

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  • 1Department of Psychology, Saint Louis University, MO 63103, USA. WIENERRL@SLUVCA.SLU.EDU


This research tests the possibility that the reasonable woman as compared to the reasonable person test of hostile work environment sexual harassment interacts with hostile and benevolent sexist beliefs and under some conditions triggers protectionist attitudes toward women who complain of sexual harassment. We administered to a sample of undergraduates the ambivalent sexism inventory along with the fact patterns in two harassment cases and asked them to make legally relevant decisions under either the reasonable woman or person standard. We found that those high in hostile sexism, and women, found more evidence of harassment. However, those high in benevolent sexism did not exhibit the hostile sexism effects. Although men were less sensitive to the reasonable woman standard than women, under some conditions the reasonable woman standard enabled both genders to find greater evidence of harassment. The results are discussed from the perspectives of law and psychology.

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