Sexual harassment is a problem that continues to plague mostly women in the American workforce today. One tool that victims can use in these situations is confrontation, either through verbal or physical means. Yet, understudied to this point is how perpetrators respond to confrontation, which is highly salient as to whether this is an effective tool for victims. This study uses grounded theory methods to analyze 31 accounts of sexual harassment from within the fashion industry that recorded perpetrators’ responses to victim confrontation to clearly unwanted, abusive behavior. I argue that specific features of the fashion industry, or a “display work culture,” embolden perpetrators to effectively thwart any type of confrontation. Indeed, this study finds that these predominantly male perpetrators of sexual harassment moved to reassert their dominant position over their female victims in the moment of confrontation, immediately after being confronted, and even later, well beyond confrontation, as they aimed to reestablish normal business practices as usual. This research thus dispels a significant sexual harassment myth that victims working within this culture are able to stop perpetrators simply by speaking up and/or fighting back and points to the need for the development of sexual harassment theory to incorporate work culture-related risk factors and remedies.
Dr. Jocelyn Elise Crowley is Professor at the Bloustein School, a member of the Graduate Faculty in the Department of Political Science, Affiliated Faculty in the Department of Women’s and Gender Studies and Senior Faculty Fellow at the John J. Heldrich Center for Workforce Development