Aussie women less likely to be offended by sexual harassment

Are you offended? New research says that most women aren't. Source: Shutterstock

In Australia and across the globe, hundreds of women have recently come forward with allegations of sexual harassment against men. It comes after an array of leading ladies in Hollywood began calling out sex pests, such as Harvey Weinstein, promising to continue to protest in the name of women’s rights. But how many times have you rolled your eyes or considered the behaviour as nothing more than harmless banter? 

New research by Curtin University and Edith Cowan University has found that Australian women are less likely to be offended by behaviour typically associated with sexual assault. Things such as wolf-whistling in the street, being asked to engage in sexual activity and men overstaying their welcome weren’t deemed as offensive by Australian women as they were in other countries.

The survey questioned 1,734 undergraduate students from 12 different countries and the results in terms of perceptions of inappropriate behaviour varied greatly. As part of the research, the women were asked to discuss how they felt about 47 different types of male behaviour including strangers striking up conversation in public, randomly receiving presents and more serious things such as forced sexual contact, death threats and physical abuse.

While most of those surveyed agreed that the more serious and explicit behaviours were wrong, lead author Dr Lorraine Sheridan from the School of Psychology at Curtin University, said they didn’t all agree when it came to other types of behaviour.

“There was no unanimous agreement among the surveyed women from around the world on any of the different behaviours surveyed, even for those relating to forced sexual violence,” Dr Sheridan said. “However, women from Western countries, like Australia, generally had a lower acceptance of behaviour associated with attempts to monitor them, while women from non-Western countries were less tolerant of discussions and behaviour relating to sexual activity and dating.”

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Just 26 per cent of Australian women thought that a man requesting sex at a social event was out of line, compared to the 100 per cent of women in Egypt who said that it was. The results also determined that other countries shared similar views to women in Egypt, with 99 per cent of Indonesians, 97 per cent of Japanese and 88 per cent of Portuguese respondents deeming the behaviour as unacceptable.

The results also found that 64 per cent of Australian women were comfortable with a man visiting a specific location because they knew the woman would be there, a much higher number compared to the 7 per cent of Italians and 6 per cent of Egyptians who shared the same view.

Co-Author Dr Adrian Scott suggested that culture appears to play a huge role in shaping women’s views. “These results suggest that culture may take precedence over personal interpretations of the unacceptability of intrusive behaviour that is not obviously harmful or benign in nature,” he said.

Other findings of the research suggested that 25 per cent of Australian women were offended by wolf-whistling, compared to the 98 per cent of women in Egypt.

Of the 12 countries surveyed, all women agreed that forced sexual contact, death threats and physical pain were unacceptable.

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What do you think? Are Australian women more laid back when it comes to sexual harassment?


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