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Sexy? You're More Likely to be Believed When It Comes to Harassment

A new study has found that the better looking a woman is, the more likely it is she'll be believed if she reports that someone has harassed her.


According to newswise.com, women who are young, “conventionally attractive” and appear and act feminine are more likely to be believed when making accusations of sexual harassment, a new University of Washington-led study finds.


So what's a less attractive -- or young -- professional woman to do? "That leaves women who don’t fit the prototype potentially facing greater hurdles when trying to convince a workplace or court that they have been harassed," the site explains.


The study, involving more than 4,000 participants, reveals perceptions that primarily “prototypical” women are likely to be harassed. The research also showed that women outside of those socially determined norms — or “nonprototypical” women — are more likely perceived as not being harmed by harassment.


“The consequences of that are very severe for women who fall outside of the narrow representation of who a victim is,” newswise quotes Bryn Bandt-Law, a graduate student in psychology at the UW and one of the study’s lead authors. “Nonprototypical women are neglected in ways that could contribute to them having discriminatory treatment under the law; people think they’re less credible — and less harmed — when they make a claim, and think their perpetrators deserve less punishment.”


As if life isn't hard enough for women who aren't the right age or don't have the ideal body type!


The #MeToo movement inspired this, the researchers say, the movement founded by Tarana Burke and popularized in 2017 after a number of actresses accused movie producer Harvey Weinstein of sexual harassment and abuse. #MeToo and related movements empowered individuals to come forward about their experiences with sexual harassment.


As a young woman in corporate life, I was harassed by an executive and when I turned down his advances, was transferred across the country to another job at the same company. Today that wouldn't happen, not because I'm older or less attractive but because life has given me the ability to talk back.


In the study, researchers set up a series of experiments to address these questions:

--who we think is sexually harassed

--what constitutes harassment

--how claims of harassment are perceived


The team started with the premise that more women are sexually harassed than men. They employed a psychological framing of group membership, whereby a behavior — in this case, sexual harassment — is linked to a specific group, in this case, women. Each group has prototypes for who is considered part of it.


Past research has identified characteristics perpetuated in pop culture and society of the prototypical woman: young, feminine, conventionally attractive, and even weak and incompetent.


Researchers’ scenarios explaiend the different ways sexual harassment can manifest: coercion, with a quid pro quo expectation; unwanted advances, with no quid pro quo; and gender harassment, which are hostile comments and behaviors tied to a person’s gender.


In one scenario, for example, a supervisor who puts his hand around a female employee’s waist; in another, a supervisor asks about a female employee’s boyfriend. Some scenarios were clear and egregious violations of the law, some were clearly benign, and some were appropriately vague.


In my case, after a business trip away, the executive threw his arms around me in the limo taking us home. I laughed, thinking it was a joke. But I was the one who didn't get it.


Some participants were asked to draw a woman who was harassed — or not harassed, depending on the assignment. Additional tests included presenting participants with digital headshots, in some cases manipulated to look more masculine or feminine, and asking them to choose, for example, which image best represented the woman in the scenario they read about.


Some participants were asked to determine whether a scenario constituted harassment, to what degree a victim was harmed and whether the potential perpetrator deserved punishment.


The overall results were clear: Participants generally perceived sexual harassment victims to be prototypical women. In fact, the association between sexual harassment and prototypical women is so strong that the exact same woman was seen as more prototypical when people were told she was sexually harassed.


With nonprototypical women, participants were seen as less credible, less harmed by the harassment, and their harasser is seen as less deserving of punishment.


So what do you do if you're a young, attractive woman on the way up. Be clear, be conscious and be in charge, at all times.


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