Men in positions of power who sexually harass their subordinates could be acting because the ‘fear being judged as incompetent’, scientists claim.
There has been no shortage of high-profile men accused and convicted of sexual harassment within the last year.
According to new research, men in high-powered jobs will typically harbour insecurities about their competency and worthiness in the eyes of others.
These concerns, as well as doubts about their own performance, leads men to abuse their power by sexually harassing others.
Researchers found the trait was not present in women in similar positions of power.
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Researchers found ‘fearing that others will perceive you as incompetent is a better predictor of sexual harassment than your self-perceived incompetence’. Pictured: Harvey Weinstein has been charged with multiple accounts of sexual assault and rape in the first- and third-degree
Following the success of campaigns including #MeToo and #TimesUp, there is more awareness of the abuse suffered by women at the hands of powerful men.
However, our understanding of why this occurs remains largely unknown.
Ohio scientists Leah Halper and Kimberly Rios looked into the reasons behind the behaviour and what caused it.
According to their findings, sexual gratification was not the main driver behind the behaviour – but instead, the self-doubt often found in high-powered men.
‘Fearing that others will perceive you as incompetent is a better predictor of sexual harassment than your self-perceived incompetence,’ explains Dr Halper.
‘The findings also suggest that men do not necessarily sexually harass women because they seek sexual gratification, but rather because their insecurity about being perceived as incompetent prompts them to want to undermine a woman’s position in the social hierarchy,’ added Dr Rios.
They found that most studies about sexual harassment focus on the characteristics of the victims, and how they experience and deal with the harassment, instead of the triggers in the perpetrator.
Previous research has shown that some – but not all – men in powerful positions are more inclined to sexually harass others.
Dr Halper and Dr Rios conducted three different studies using a combination of adults and college students. Some of these studies included only men, while others included both sexes.
Scientists have found that men in high-profile jobs have insecurities about how competent they are in the eyes of others. These concerns, as well as doubts about their performance, lead men to misuse their power by sexually harassing others (stock)
WHAT IS SEXUAL HARASSMENT?
Sexual harassment is defined as: Harassment (typically of a woman) in a workplace, or other professional or social situation, involving the making of unwanted sexual advances or obscene remarks.
It can be anything that violates a person’s dignity, humiliates them or makes a person feel intimidated or degraded and often creates a hostile or offensive environment.
In the UK, it is is a form of unlawful discrimination and is covered by the Equality Act 2010.
Sexual harassment can include:
- Sexual comments or jokes pertaining to physical behaviour
- Unwelcome sexual advances
- Touching and various forms of sexual assault
- Displaying pictures, photos or drawings of a sexual nature
- Sending emails with a sexual content
Advice from the Citizens Advice bureau suggests:
- Telling your manager – put it in writing and keep a copy of the letter or email
- Talk to your HR team or trade union – they’ll be able to give you advice
- Collect evidence – keep a diary recording all of the times you’ve been harassed
- Tell the police if you think you’re the victim of a crime – for example, if you’ve been physically attacked
If a person lodges a complaint and is then treated differently at work as a result, this is also a form of harassment and is covered under Equality Act 2010.
The person who treats you less favourably can be the person who actually harassed you, but it can also be someone else.
In one study, 273 men had to imagine themselves in the position of a male employer who was in a position of power over a female employee or interviewee.
These men were asked to indicate whether they would ask for sexual favours in return for securing her a job, a promotion, or some other job-related benefit.
Participants had to answer questions that measured their self-esteem and how narcissistic they were, as well as how important they viewed the opinions of others.
The results of the study support the notion that powerful men are inclined to sexually harass others when they worry that they will be perceived as incompetent.
This deep rooted flaw in a masculine confidence was consistently found to predict sexual harassment among men in powerful positions.
However, the same outcome was not true for women.
The findings, according to the researchers, corroborate the theory that sexual harassment is in part a byproduct of a person feeling threatened and wanting to maintain a high social status by exerting power over others.