In 1976, 90% of Women Said They Were Sexually Harassed At Work — What's Changed?

Kaitlin Menza
Redbook
Photo credit: Designed by Megan Tatem
Photo credit: Designed by Megan Tatem

From Redbook

"My boss - a married man, the father of four kids - runs his hand up my leg or blouse. He hugs me to him and then tells me that he is 'just naturally affectionate,'" one woman wrote. "I've never felt so helpless or intimated. When I complain, my boss says that the wrongdoing is in my imagination. Half the time he has me feeling guilty."

Another woman wrote that her daughter just quit a job in a clothing store "because the boss kept coming up behind her, his hands everywhere. She was afraid to say anything; she just walked off the job."

"I went to the personnel manager with a complaint that two men were propositioning me," wrote yet another woman. "He promised to take immediate action. When I got up to leave, he grabbed my breast and said, 'Be nice to me and I'll take care of you.'"

These sound like personal stories of sexual harassment women might post today in a private Facebook forum, or share among friends. But these were all responses to a landmark survey publishing in Redbook's January 1976 issue, which asked women about sexual harassment - a term coined just a year earlier - at work.

The results of that questionnaire were published 40 years ago this month. Over 9,000 women mailed in responses, in addition to hundreds of letters, and the answers were extraordinary: Over 90 percent of the respondents reported receiving at least one form of unwanted attention at work, whether it was ogling, leering, pinching, or overt demands for sexual favors. Only 15 percent found this attention flattering, while the other 75 percent checked the boxes for "demeaning," "embarrassing," or "intimidating."

"I've never felt so helpless or intimated," one woman wrote.

What could have been a throwaway little quiz - as recognizable to today's internet clickers as "What vacation spot is right for your personality?" - created a sensation. The concept of women being harassed at work was a new one; or, perhaps, women had always been hit on or groped in the workplace, but now they were willing to say that they were not interested in that kind of attention. "Thank you for writing about this," one respondent wrote. "I thought it only happened to me, that I was peculiar or somehow asking for it."

Redbook's survey has since been cited in over 1,000 scholarly articles, in research and analysis and books on the subject. But in all that time, it seems that the problem of sexual harassment has not progressed very far - it's still often an issue of 'he said she said', a crime that's difficult to prove or prosecute.

And, unfortunately, the topic of sexual harassment in the workplace has never been more relevant than in 2016. In one extremely public example, Fox News anchors Megyn Kelly and Gretchen Carlson risked their careers by publicly discussing the reportedly lecherous behavior of their then-boss, former CEO Roger Ailes. We all know this kind of behavior used to be commonplace (we all watched Mad Men, right?), but women are still being propositioned and groped, inappropriately mocked or commented on, in offices around America.

With this in mind, Redbookmag.com is reissuing the original 1976 questionnaire verbatim to see how much the issue of sexual harassment at work has changed in the past four decades. Some of the language may seem funny or outdated - but the issues it addresses most certainly are not. Take a minute to answer 20 multiple-choice questions about your own experiences at work. Then check back to see the results in an upcoming story on Redbookmag.com.

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