A feminist study of men's and women's experiences of workplace bullying and sexual harassment
This thesis addresses both the discourse and dynamics of workplace sexual harassment and bullying, and on this basis develops an analysis of the relationship between these discourses, a topic which has hitherto been unexamined. My analysis builds upon a review of literature on workplace sexual harassment and bullying from 1979 to 1997. The emergence of the workplace bullying discourse in UK trade union publications, the media and self-help texts is traced. Empirical data based on interviews is used to explore three themes: (i) the characters of the workplace sexual harassment and bullying discourses; (ii) men's and women's experiences of workplace bullying and sexual harassment; and (iii) how both the workplace bullying and sexual harassment of men and women is underpinned by gender prejudice. My main data source is sixty men's and women's accounts of cross-sex or same-sex workplace bullying and/or sexual harassment in professional/managerial and subordinate jobs, produced in fifty qualitative, in-depth interviews and ten questionnaires. I show that many women embrace the workplace sexual harassment discourse to condemn unwanted male sexual conduct and many workers deploy the workplace bullying discourse to problematise a range of experiences previously understood as parts of the social relations of work. My data reveals that workplace bullying is often a campaign in which allegations of poor work performance are used to encourage an unwanted employee to resign and/or to set him or her up for dismissal. I demonstrate that the workplace sexual harassment and bullying of men and women is gendered: men are sexually harassed when they fail to conform to ideals of hegemonic masculinity and men and women are bullied by line managers because they do not appear to conform to normatively defined gender roles. My argument is that while men's and women's experiences of workplace bullying and sexual harassment might be conceptualised together as examples of 'abuse of power', the specificities of workplace sexual harassment and bullying must remain visible. As such, I propose conceptualising men's and women's experiences of workplace bullying and sexual harassment as a continuum to highlight the similarities and differences between these experiences.