Sex and the Workplace

A chronic issue that's lately receiving massive and much-needed exposure.

Berebitsky, Julie. Sex and the office: a history of gender, power, and desire. Yale, 2012. 359p ISBN 9780300118995, $38.00.
Reviewed in CHOICE November 2012

Berebitsky’s piece concerning sexuality in the workplace is an ambitious, thorough, and fascinating exploration of US office culture since the 1860s. She deftly discusses the ways in which popular concepts of womanhood in the late 19th century, complicated by women’s arrival in urban white-collar offices, both protected them from exploitation and left them with little defense when they were indeed exploited by men who had far more power. Her discussion, particularly of the 1910s-20s, presents a compelling analysis of sexuality and masculinity, as men, feeling emasculated by their often-static positions in the corporate world, use sexuality—from filthy jokes in the office to secretarial conquests—to reaffirm their manliness. Berebitsky (history and women’s studies, Sewanee: The Univ. of the South) then traces these themes through the later century, ending with a discussion of the transformation of often-uncomfortable office sex culture into sexual harassment, a prosecutable charge. The book is suitable for any collection on gender and history, and particular chapters could be used effectively to demonstrate sex-related workplace changes—intimately tied to power, position, and rights—for men and women. Summing Up: Highly recommended. Most levels/libraries. —J. L. Cote, Saint Joseph College

Bullying in the workplace: causes, symptoms, and remedies, ed. by John Lipinski and Laura M. Crothers. Routledge, 2013. 428p ISBN 9781848729612, $165.00; ISBN 9781848729629 pbk, $69.95; ISBN 9780203798638 ebook, contact publisher for price.
Reviewed in CHOICE March 2014

Editors Lipinski (Middle Tennessee State Univ.) and Crothers (Duquesne Univ.) have compiled a well-researched, comprehensive volume on workplace bullying. Academics from a variety of disciplines contribute informative essays that span research and practice. The first section shares several definitions of bullying and explains different ways to measure it. Another uses neurological, evolutionary, ecological, and developmental theories to explain why bullying exists. The volume addresses various forms of bullying, such as sexual harassment, physical and verbal abuse, employer and union intimidation, cyber bullying, and abuse of the disabled. To manage such bullying, a separate section covers strategies for treating bullies, remedies for victims, employee handbook policies, and legal issues. Recommended ways to keep bullies out of the workplace include formal job candidate assessments of hypothetical situations; job simulations; interviews about past behavior; background checks; and thorough references. Management commitment and prompt investigations of inappropriate behavior are needed, according to the final study. A shorter, more accessible book on bullying is Teresa Daniel’s Stop Bullying at Work: Strategies and Tools for HR and Legal Professionals (CH, Jun’10, 47-5747). The present volume is timely in addressing a significant societal issue as it relates to the workplace. Summing Up: Recommended. Upper-division undergraduate through professional collections. —G. E. Kaupins, Boise State University

Cochran III, Augustus B. Sexual harassment and the law: the Mechelle Vinson case. University Press of Kansas, 2004. 227p ISBN 0700613226, $29.95; ISBN 0700613234 pbk, $14.95.
Reviewed in CHOICE November 2004

Using Meritor Savings Bank, FSB v. Vinson as a focal point, Cochran (Agness Scott College) provides an insightful analysis of sexual harassment law. The early social science research on sexual harassment is methodologically flawed but still indicative of a widespread social problem in the US. The early cases leading up to Vinson reveal the reluctance of federal judges to enter the sexual harassment thicket. A detailed analysis of Vinson demonstrates the difficulties of using the legal system to redress the effects of sexual harassment in the workplace. The arduous, convoluted journey of Mechelle Vinson’s case from federal district court to the US Supreme Court illustrates that making new law is most difficult. Thirteen years after her case began, Vinson settled with Meritor. The terms of settlement are closed and remain secret. Neither side came out unscathed. Neither side was totally victorious. However, future litigation answered the questions raised in Vinson by defining unwelcomeness, determining what is sufficiently severe sexual harassment, addressing employer liability, and expanding the applications of sexual harassment law to arenas outside of the workplace. Vinson’s claims in court inaugurated an era of social change and have contributed to better work environments for millions of women. Summing Up: Highly recommended. All levels. —R. A. Strickland, Appalachian State University

Dromm, Keith. Sexual harassment: an introduction to the conceptual and ethical issues. Broadview Press, 2012. 171p ISBN 9781554810109 pbk, $22.95.
Reviewed in CHOICE February 2013

This book is an excellent introduction to the legal and philosophical issues surrounding sexual harassment. Concise and readable, this thorough discussion also provides a historical perspective. Dromm (philosophy, Northwestern State Univ.) approaches this often socially embarrassing topic in a practical, logical way. The text is organized around five questions: What is sexual harassment? What is wrong with sexual harassment? Where can sexual harassment occur? How can sexual harassment occur? How do we prevent sexual harassment? Each chapter includes review questions, discussion questions, and group activities. Also helpful is an appendix listing films and television episodes involving sexual harassment. The book would be an excellent primary text for a course on sexual harassment or related topics. Instructors teaching courses in business ethics, human resource management, employment law, or practical philosophy will want to use this as a resource. Sexual harassment training professionals will also appreciate the insights in this book. Summing Up: Highly recommended. Upper-division undergraduate students through professionals. —T. R. Gillespie, Northwest University

Gardner, Carol Brooks. Passing by: gender and public harassment. California, 1995. 256p ISBN 0520081870, $40.00; ISBN 0520202155 pbk, $16.00.
Reviewed in CHOICE February 1996

Gardner insightfully examines the relationship between sex and public harassment—those “abuses, harryings and annoyances characteristic of public places.” Public harassment is informal social control, another method of segregation, which can have long-lasting effects. Successful harassment is costly to women financially and psychologically in the form of cosmetic surgery, phobias, and constant self-monitoring. Public harrassment also differs, based on situational advantages, i.e., who has the power to define situations and the individuals involved. Though Gardner focuses on women and men, examining who participates in harassment, what behaviors are involved, and how behaviors are interpreted and dealt with, she reminds readers that women harass publicly as well as men. To ignore public harassment blinds people to discrimination that everyone tolerates and commits, and contributes to the continuation of a social order capable of repressing others. To rationalize any public harassment supports, justifies, and maintains the harassment of women, lesbians, racial and ethnic groups, and others. Gardner further notes that fear of rape must be understood by men if public harassment is to change. This book challenges readers to question what is taken for granted and rationalized as harmless behavior. Summing Up: Upper-division undergraduates and above. —G. Rundblad, Illinois Wesleyan University

Gregory, Raymond F. Unwelcome and unlawful: sexual harassment in the American workplace. Cornell, 2004. 252p ISBN 0801442508, $45.00; ISBN 080148927X pbk, $19.95.
Reviewed in CHOICE December 2004

Author of other works on disability and sex discrimination in the workplace (e.g., Women and Workplace Discrimination, CH, Jun’03), Gregory masterfully presents a brief but comprehensive overview of the law on sexual harassment. Although often highlighting a plaintiff’s perspective, attorney Gregory’s account is objective and balanced, and his presentation is accessible to general readers including undergraduates. He covers all the basic legal issues, such as definitional and threshold problems, employer liability, and damages, but also includes many newer or more complex issues such as gender harassment, reasonableness standards, constructive discharge, preferential treatment and third-party harassment, and arbitration as a dispute settlement mechanism. Although cognizant of social science research and philosophical foundations, Gregory’s approach clearly centers on legal analysis. Readers seeking a fuller theoretical treatment should consult Margaret A. Crouch’s Thinking about Sexual Harassment (CH, Sep’01). Gregory’s extensive reliance on case law makes the conceptual issues of sexual harassment law not only more comprehensible and concrete but also more interesting and vivid. As a side benefit, the reader receives a subtle lesson in legal reasoning as courts apply legal doctrine to the facts of specific cases. Summing Up: Highly recommended. Public, academic, lower-division undergraduate through faculty, and professional library collections. —A. B. Cochran, Agnes Scott College

Gregory, Raymond F. Women and workplace discrimination: overcoming barriers to gender equality. Rutgers, 2002. 232p ISBN 0813531365, $59.00; ISBN 0813531373 pbk, $22.00.
Reviewed in CHOICE June 2003

Gregory, a practicing attorney, offers a well-documented discussion of ongoing workplace discrimination against women. He uses a well-organized, legalistic approach to give an overview of trends in workplace discrimination and enactment and enforcement of federal laws prohibiting sex discrimination, followed by specific chapters on prohibited discrimination against various categories of women, including women of color, professionals, older women, and women with children. The book starts with the premises that sex discrimination against women persists; it exists at all levels and in nearly all job categories; and if the workplace is to be free of gender inequity, women must be committed to opposing such discrimination. Gregory’s stated purpose is to show that sex discrimination continues as a major disruptive force and to persuade victimized women to oppose such actions. He uses an excellent format of narrative discussion of basic concepts supported by summarized court cases to illustrate incidents of discrimination. Summing Up: Recommended. Academic collections; upper-division undergraduates through researchers and faculty. —S. F. Clark, Lebanon Valley College

Markert, John. Social impact of sexual harassment: a resource manual for organizations and scholars. Marquette Books LLC, 2010. 252p ISBN 9780982659748 pbk, $39.95.
Reviewed in CHOICE August 2011

Sexual harassment has existed since time immemorial, but it has been formally recognized only quite recently. Markert (sociology, Cumberland Univ.) here provides a very comprehensive, scholarly survey of this issue. The first chapter addresses the emergence of sexual harassment as a social issue and discusses the major court decisions in sexual harassment cases. The second chapter delineates all the core dimensions of sexual harassment in the workplace, including organizational responses to it. The third chapter then explores in greater depth the evolving social mores relating to sexual harassment in the workplace, and some emerging dimensions of such harassment (including the sexual harassment of men). The fourth chapter examines sexual harassment internationally, both the diffusion of sexual harassment laws and some enduring cross-cultural differences. There is a concluding chapter, and an appendix on principal theories relating to sexual harassment. The book’s subtitle may produce a somewhat misleading impression that a purely practical approach to the topic is taken here. A fine contribution to the literature on an important topic. Summing Up: Highly recommended. Upper-division undergraduates and above. —D. O. Friedrichs, University of Scranton

Ridgeway, Cecilia L. Framed by gender: how gender inequality persists in the modern world. Oxford, 2011. 233p ISBN 9780199755776, $99.00; ISBN 9780199755783 pbk, $24.95.
Reviewed in CHOICE November 2011

Impeccably titled, this meticulous scholarship showcases the richness of social psychology. Despite expanding rationalization in organizations, behaviors altered by technical and social innovations, and increasing egalitarian intent in relationships, the goal of equality is colliding with gender’s power to frame thought and action. Ridgeway (Stanford) attributes the persistence of inequality to a lag between conditions encouraging change and personal capacities to replace frames of hierarchy with frames of difference. Reviewing evidence, she considers how to resolve the lag in the social laboratories of workplace and home. Evidence of a more level playing field in biotechnology is not found in information technology, another innovative setting. Evidence on the rejection of hierarchical heterosexual conduct norms as domestic road maps is countered by proof of innovative unions that persist in favoring males. Egalitarianism can materialize as rational practice, but more commonly the lag allows a default organizational or relational blueprint to sustain male privilege, even in careers or relationships aspiring to escape the pattern. Ridgeway’s conclusion offers added urgency to the twin mandates that work become more family friendly and men become more thoroughly involved in caretaking in order for persisting gender inequalities to be overcome. Summing Up: Highly recommended. Upper-division undergraduates and above. —R. Zingraff, James Madison University

Women in game development: breaking the glass level-cap, ed. by Jennifer Brandes Hepler. CRC Press, 2016 (c2017). 223p bibl index ISBN 9781138947924 pbk, $35.96.
Reviewed in CHOICE October 2017

Hepler’s Women in Game Development is essentially a special interest discussion panel found at the Game Developer Conference in book form. The edited volume collects and presents experiences and career advice from a wide gamut of women involved in the video game industry, ranging from journalists to independent developers. Through their personal stories, the contributing authors acknowledge the gender inequality and the misogynistic attitudes and obstacles that women face in game development. Ultimately, the book is a call to action not only for women but for the industry as a whole to fight gender discrimination, workplace and internet harassment, and sexist video game content. This text is most strongly recommended for women hoping to enter or who are currently involved in the video game industry. Furthermore, it will be of interest to those individuals who are looking to learn more about gender issues and advocacy in relation to popular digital media. Summing Up: Highly recommended. All readers. —A. Chen, Cogswell College