The social construction of sexual harassment in nursing
Nursing has been identified as one of the most sex-typed occupations in the United States. Moreover, nurses typically practice in settings where there is an unequal distribution of power. These conditions make their workplace a particularly ripe environment for sexual harassment, yet some research literature suggests that sexual innuendo and even some touching is "normal" for these workers, concluding that sexual harassment does not happen to nurses. However, much of sexual harassment is embedded in gestures that are grounded and constructed both socially and culturally, implying that definitions of harassment are dependent on the context in which the behaviors occur. In this qualitative study, the term--sexual harassment--was not used at the outset of the semi-structured interviews that were conducted with thirty-seven working female nurses. Instead, respondents were asked to describe their job-related sexual advances, after which they determined how and under what circumstances they would (or would not) affix the sexual harassment label. This design allowed for analysis of the interpretive grounds under which definitions of sexual harassment are made and is predicated on the notion that harassment is not merely a list of proscribed behaviors but a range of actions subject to interpretation and constrained by factors which may be internal to the job. The respondents furnished details on 129 unwanted or unpleasant sexual acts. Yet the majority of the group equivocated when applying the label to those actions they had directly experienced. Other findings revealed that they expected that they would be sexually mistreated by male doctors and patients because they were female nurses--the treatment accorded them was "part of the job," thus their experiences were rendered invisible. Those who accept the current social definition of sexual harassment might argue that the nurses' reactions failed to appropriately label these experiences. However, the nurses' own interpretations of their situations mean that these acts and the responses available to them are constructed in light of their particular occupational situation where gender and the job are fused.
0453: Womens studies