Sexual Harassment, from Life in the USA: The Complete Guide for Immigrants and Americans

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Life in the USA
Everyday Life

Sexual Harassment
This material courtesy of Nara Venditti, Ph.D

The American attitude towards appropriate and inappropriate gender interaction may vary between the many cultures of the world. What is proper etiquette between genders in one culture may be considered inappropriate, shocking, or even morally reprehensible and subject to legal action in the United States. In other words, it may qualify as sexual harassment.

What is sexual harassment? Simply put, it is inappropriate (from an American standpoint) behavior when interacting with the opposite sex.

Often, when immigrants and foreign-nationals move to the United States, they have no time to adjust to a new set of rules and socially acceptable behavior. Socially acceptable behavior varies across cultures. What holds right in one society may not be so in another.

Consider this example. It may be normal in some countries for men to whistle at an attractive woman passing by. Whistling is not something you would expect from men on American streets or in the workplace. Men in some countries are notorious for whistling at attractive women in such a manner that would make most American construction workers blush. Women in those countries may not take offense at such behavior and even take it as expression of appreciation. As a rule, professional women in the US would not appreciate it. This can be very disturbing and threatening for American women and they may consider this humiliating and discriminating.

Here is another example of two foreign-born male employees working in a warehouse in US. They habitually made inappropriate comments about their female coworker and a complaint for sexual harassment was filed against them. When confronted with this charge, they did not have a clue as to what they did wrong. In their country of origin their comments would be considered to be normal gender interaction, and not subject to legal action or simple reprimand.

Newcomers to the United States must consider and adhere to rules of gender interaction commonly accepted in this country. Not knowing the rules may have a traumatic effect and even be subject to personal legal consequences as well as sexual harassment charges brought against the employer.

Even excessively gallant behavior like kissing hands and complimenting personal appearance may be viewed as annoying and inappropriate. As a nation, Americans are committed to equal rights for women. For this reason, women are expected to be treated as equal to men on all respects.

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