Injustice Frames, Legality, and the Everyday Construction of Sexual Harassment

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This paper examines the frames that women use to understand their experience with sexual harassment. While legal frames do provide crucial guidance to women evaluating the behavior of their colleagues and supervisors, working women deployed a number of other interpretive frames when deciding whether they had been harmed by such behavior. Some of those frames emerge from feminist messages about discrimination and male abuse of power in the workplace; some emerge from management ideology that emphasizes efficiency and productivity; and some emerge from the criticism of sexual harassment policies as an unnecessary limitation on women's sexual freedom. But feeling a sense of harm does not automatically translate into the use of the label sexual harassment. Rather, women also employed an objective standard that compared their experience to some threshold of harassing behaviors. Only when the behaviors met this standard of offensiveness and were perceived as harmful did women consider their experiences sexual harassment.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)659-689
Number of pages31
JournalLaw and Social Inquiry
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jun 2003

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Sciences(all)
  • Law


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