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SEXUAL HARASSMENT IN THE WORKPLACE
A large portion of the social research devoted to sexual harassment has focused on documenting the extent of sexual harassment: what percentage of women are sexually harassed (MacKinnon 1979); which women are sexually harassed and in what jobs (Carothers and Crull 1984); and who are the harassers (Gruber and Bjorn 1982; Gutek 1985). Other research categorizes types of sexual harassment (Fitzgerald 1990; MacKinnon 1979), delineates responses to sexual harassment (Gruber 1989; Maypole 1986), determines who labels which experiences as sexual harassment (Giuffre and Williams 1994; Schneider 1982), and asks the question "What factors contribute to sexual harassment?" Answers to this question have included sex-role spillover (Gutek 1985). Ragins and Scandura 1995), patriarchy (MacKinnon 1979), and compulsory heterosexuality (Giuffre and Williams 1994; Schneider 1982, 1985).
Gutek (1985) describes sexual harassment as a result of the inappropriate spillover of gender roles to the work environment. Sex-role spillover theory, while still widely employed in some fields such as social psychology, assumes that organizations are gender-neutral, asexual environments; gender and sexuality are "smuggled" into organizations by gendered workers. Women workers, in this light, are seen as women first, workers second. In female-dominated jobs, feminine role attributes such as nurturance and (hetero)sexuality spill over into the workplace. When combined with a workplace that emphasizes sexuality, men who interact with women in female-dominated jobs take on the sexual aggressor role, and the result is often sexual harassment.
There are several problems with spillover theory, most of which derive from critiques of sex-role theory in general (Connell 1987; Segal 1990). A sex role is conceptualized as something that exists outside work, a characteristic of individuals, and spills over inappropriately to the workplace. Therefore, sexual harassment is a matter of unprofessional or inappropriate behavior of individuals in the workplace. Organizational responsibility for sexual harassment, then, extends only to punishing the occasional harasser. Consequently, sex-role spillover theory identifies the sex ratio of an occupation as a key contributing factor; jobs that are highly sex segregated are fertile ground for sexual harassment.
However, gender and sexuality construct and are constructed by work relations (see, for example, Acker 1990; Hall 1993; Hochschild 1983; Lorber 1994; Pierce 1995). Often, there is nothing deemed inappropriate about the incorporation of (hetero)sexuality into the workplace; indeed, jobs are often designed to incorporate sexual appeal seamlessly into the capitalist drive for accumulation (Fiske and Glicke 1995; Hochschild 1983). Lesbians, gay men, and bisexuals are, however, either rendered invisible or accused of inappropriately bringing their sexuality into the (presumptively) asexual workplace (Woods 1993). Unquestioned by spillover theory are same-sex power relationships outside the workplace and the sexual power relationships between heterosexual women and men.
This is not to say that the obligatory heterosexuality of the workplace is not complicit in the sexual harassment of women (and more generally women's subordination in the workplace). To the contrary, Fiske and Glicke (1995) have demonstrated that stereotypes of women as sex objects "map" to pink-collar jobs, which, in turn, foster sexual harassment. Similarly, Schneider (1982, 1985) notes how workers are obligated to enact female receptivity to heterosexual advances, which, in conjunction with their relative lack of power in the work context, creates sexual harassment. Therefore, understandings like these take sexual harassment from the exclusive realm of individual actions and incorporate it into institutional and organizational arrangements. Rather than looking exclusively at sex ratios (Gutek 1985) and occupational types (Gruber and Bjorn 1982; Ragins and Scandura 1995), which are but symptoms of the gendered organization of work, we should examine how gendered organizations affect sexual harassment. A fruitful analysis would use a labor process theory approach to gendered organizations (see West 1990) including a systematic analysis of power and control in the employment relationship as it derives from and results in gender inequality.
In this light, sexual harassment is about the control of women workers, of women as workers and workers as women. Sexual harassment is about particular constructions of gender, especially organizational imperatives to "do gender" in a particular manner (Lorber 1994; West and Zimmerman 1987). Many have implicitly if not explicitly recognized the role of asymmetrical power relations in creating sexual harassment (Fiske and Glicke 1995; Gutek 1985; MacKinnon 1979). MacKinnon (1979), for example, notes that women's work is defined as inferior, because of both the limited range of available options and the economic and organizational marginality of women's jobs.
This research explores a form of employment that ties together these themes. Temporary workers are a growing, highly feminized, and relatively powerless group in today's workplace. In the office, temporary workers are often treated as nonpersons, as passive recipients of orders (Henson 1996; Rogers 1995b), much like wait persons or even children. They find themselves interactionally invisible as they do inconspicuous work in conspicuous places, such as filing for hours in a busy hallway (Rogers 1995b). In addition, temporary workers are generally considered to hold the lowest rank in the office, as they are given work and orders by supervisors and coworkers alike. In fact, it is not unusual for permanent coworkers to participate in "dumping" undesirable work on temporary employees (Henson 1996; Rogers forthcoming).
While their low status leaves temporary workers open for many types of workplace abuse, the transitory nature of much temporary work further intensifies this vulnerability. Temporary workers report that people seldom remember their names (referring to them simply as "the temp"), isolate them from office sociability, and often treat them as a piece of furniture (Henson 1996; Rogers 1995b). Thus, temporary workers are objectified and stripped of their personhood, paving the way for poor treatment, including sexual harassment.
Understanding the interplay of gender, sexuality, and power as it relates to the organization of temporary work will enable us to gain a better understanding of some of the shortcomings in theories of sexual harassment. We address the sexual harassment of these workers and attempt to locate structural influences that affect their workplace experience as well as their opportunities for resistance. The expansion of temporary work, which has grown at almost three times the rate of overall employment since 1982 (e.g., see Callaghan and Hartmann 1991; Castro 1993; Kilborn 1993; Morrow 1993), combined with the evidence that employers rather than workers have provided the impetus for these changes (Golden and Appelbaum 1992), provides us with strong practical and theoretical reasons for using the case of temporary workers to understand sexual harassment. Rather than analyzing sexual harassment as a result of sex-role spillover, we set out to explicitly analyze how a particular organization of work (itself already embedded in gendered organizational processes) may exacerbate sexual harassment and limit workers' opportunities for action.
It is our contention that temporary work arrangements create an environment that both fosters and tolerates sexual harassment, frequently punishing the harassed rather than the harasser even to a greater extent than in traditional employment relationships. Previous research has found that low occupational status and sex segregation exacerbate quid pro quo sexual harassment (Paludi and Barickman 1991), since sexual harassment in female-dominated occupations is more likely to be perpetrated by a work superior than a coworker (MacKinnon 1979). Therefore, if we consider that temporaries are likely to have the lowest status in an office (virtually everyone is superior to a temporary worker) and to work in a largely female occupation (63 percent of all temporary workers are clerical), it is conceivable that they would be even more likely to be harassed than permanent workers.
This research is based on in-depth interviews and extensive participant observation from two broader studies on temporary clerical work. One of the studies was conducted in Chicago in 1990-91, while the other was conducted in Los Angeles in 1993-94. In these studies, the subject of sexual harassment was not initially included in the interview guides; both researchers, however, found it to be of concern to the interview subjects. As a research focus, sexual harassment was emergent from the data and gained in importance throughout the course of the research process. In both studies, the researcher questioned the interview subjects about their relationships with coworkers. For example, general questions such as "Who did you work with and what were those relationships like?" elicited stories of sexual harassment. While the goal of this research is not to document the extent of sexual harassment in temporary work but, rather, to understand its organization and effects, approximately 40 percent of the respondents found it troublesome enough to mention without being prompted to do so. It is likely that more direct questioning would have uncovered even more sexual harassment.
Together, these two studies yielded 68 in-depth interviews (35 in Chicago and 33 in Los Angeles) ranging from one to three hours in length. Interview subjects included temporary agency personnel and client company representatives, but the majority were temporary clerical workers. All interviews were tape-recorded, transcribed, coded, and analyzed. All names indicated in the body of this article are pseudonyms.
Interview subjects were located through a variety of sources including personal contacts, referrals, flyers, and advertisements. In addition, both researchers conducted extensive fieldwork as temporaries. Collectively, the interview subjects had worked in over 40 temporary agencies, with individual tenure in temporary employment ranging from a few …