Is There an Idealized Target of Sexual Harassment in the MeToo Era? by Chloe Grace Hart (2023)

Social Problems, April 2023


Evidence suggests that Americans became more sympathetic toward people who experienced sexual harassment as the MeToo movement surged. Yet how comprehensive these shifts in public opinion have been remains unclear. I hypothesize that women who experience workplace sexual harassment are judged against the archetype of an idealized target of sexual harassment and deemed less credible when they fall short. Using data from a novel multifactorial survey experiment, I find that net of other factors, a Black woman is deemed less credible than a white woman. A woman is also deemed less credible when she does not assertively confront the harassment in the moment and when she does not report it to her organization. Further, she is deemed less credible when there are no witnesses and when her alleged harasser has not been publicly accused of harassment by others. Her credibility is not affected by a power disparity with the harasser, the presence of alcohol, or a prior romantic relationship with the harasser. Finally, the more facets of the archetype a target conforms to, the more credible she is perceived to be. These results demonstrate a hierarchy of sexual harassment targets, in which some are deemed more credible than others.