Boundary lines: Labeling sexual harassment in restaurants

Gender and Society 8 (3):378-401 (1994)
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Abstract

Research has shown that a majority of employed women experience sexual harassment and suffer negative repercussions because of it; yet only a minority of these women label their experiences “sexual harassment.” To investigate how people identify sexual harassment, in-depth interviews were conducted with 18 waitpeople in restaurants in Austin, Texas. Most respondents worked in highly sexualized work environments. Respondents labeled sexual advances as sexual harassment only in four specific contexts: when perpetrated by someone who exploited their powerful position for personal sexual gain; when the perpetrator was of a different race/ethnicity than the victim—typically a minority man harassing a white woman; when the perpetrator was of a different sexual orientation than the victim—typically a gay man harassing a straight man; or when violence or the threat of violence was used. The authors argue that the hegemonic norms of acceptable sexual activity privilege heterosexual relationships, legitimize institutionalized forms of sexual exploitation in the workplace, and may protect assailants of the same race and sexual orientation as their victims from charges of sexual harassment.

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