How to Decode Sexual Harassing Messages: Sexual Harassment Essay Example


In an article titled Sexually Harassing Messages: Decoding Workplace Conversation, by Joann Keyton and Kathy Menzie a research study was conducted in March of 2007 to analyze the impact of sexual harassment in organizations. Scholars have not considered how language can be a pivotal part in verbal sexual harassment. Indirect language features were gathered through examinations of transcripts of audio, video, and written stimuli used in sexual harassment research and sexual harassment training videos. The interactions were closely analyzed for six language features: “Relationship attempts, contextually grounded opportunity for multiple meanings including sexual references, and presence of real or presumed power relative to the receiver’s indications that the overtures were unwanted” (Keyton, Menzie). The results of the study specified how sexual harassment appears in natural encounters from peer to peer or peer to management in the workplace. 

The goal of the study was to study the impact of sexual harassment in the workplace but determining what constitutes verbal sexual harassment through language. Keyton and Menzie looked at two other articles which looked at language features of sexual harassment in conversations, but the results of language features were minimal. The research question proposed for the study is “What language features constitute sexual harassment?” To help answer the question Keyton and Menzie looked at various scholarly articles and sexual harassment training videos that were analyzed to determine if language characteristics can be recognized, the extent to how these specific features take place in sexually harassing interaction, and how language features are formed comparatively to one another. The study was done to focus on the understated and unintended characteristics associated with sexual harassment. Language correlated to sexual harassment was the main focus because sexual harassment results from personal behavior rather than organizational policy or official action. Employees are more likely to confront sexual harassment in the form of a “sexually hostile working environment, which is far more illusive than quid pro quo sexual harassment? (MacKinnon, 1979).  

The methods conducted in the study consisted of two steps. The first was to determine sexually harassing discussion and the second step analyzed the interchange to identify important distinguishing features that were consistently used. Keyton and Menzie looked at scholarly literature that used video or audio-taped stimuli or written transcripts that included sexual harassment. Training videos expanded beyond Keyton and Menzies scholarly approaches. They checked web sites and emailed 20 production houses, which did not have training videos on sexual harassment. Keyton and Menzie gathered data analysis and read transcripts to familiarize themselves with the interaction and commonalities in the language. The authors of the study used a qualitative approach because they uncovered trends in their observations and came to conclusions through independent analysis. For example, the authors guided their discussions based on overall, did they both agree with the producer that the conversation was sexual harassment and more importantly what was it about the interaction that made it sexual harassment? 

The results of the study found that that six features commonly occurred. Four language traits were found in interaction; the person who delivered the personal relationship and the receiver’s proof of rejection, appearance of several meanings and sexualized content. “Two contextual functions, or relative aspects of the setting, were identified: sender’s presumed and expressed power, and contextualization of the work environment” (Keyton, Menzie). The author grouped common language patterns across 11 interaction exchanges and compared the features to obtain language structural properties, contextual functions of the conversation, and comparison checks. Personal relationships were shown when supervisors reached their friendship roles to secure their personal relationships. For example, the expressed their sincerity by saying that they wanted to spend more time with the worker so they can get to know each other better. The receiver of the conversation reacted with shock, distaste or discomfort to the invitation. They also found how the supervisor played a power role in the interaction. “You owe me a favor” or threatening the future of the employee’s place at the company. Lastly, the sexual harassment interactions were compared to non-sexually harassing interactions.  The authors found that the position of the supervisor played a crucial role in controlling the discussion with an attempted personal relationship. 

All in all, I thought this article proved to be intriguing because of the various elements involved in how sexual harassment occurs in the workplace. Identifying categories of alleged sexually harassing behavior, and what characteristics of could be considered sexual harassment. It seems easy to distinguish what sexual harassment is but after reading this article it can be challenging to separate what sexual harassment looks like vs. what it doesn’t look like. There are obviously certain aspects involved but sometimes it’s not clear. There is a wide variety of different sexualized behaviors that people can decide if it acceptable vs. unacceptable in conversations. A person may make a comment that wasn’t intended to be sexual, but the receiver takes as inappropriate. What I gathered from reading this article is that in order to differentiate what is appropriate vs. inappropriate is obviously the context of the discussion but looking at how language contributes to sexual harassment and how they can be compared to different workplace conversations.

 

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