The reasonable woman standard: a meta-analytic review of gender differences in perceptions of sexual harassment.
Courts and legislatures have begun to develop the "reasonable woman standard" (RWS) as a criterion for deciding sexual harassment trials. This standard rests on assumptions of a "wide divergence" between the perceptions of men and women when viewing social-sexual behavior that may be considered harassing. Narrative reviews of the literature on such perceptions have suggested that these assumptions are only minimally supported. To test these assumptions quantitatively, a meta-analytic review was conducted that assessed the size, stability, and moderators of gender differences in perceptions of sexual harassment. The effect of the actor's status relative to the target also was evaluated meta-analytically, as one alternative to the importance of gender effects. Results supported the claims of narrative reviews for a relatively small gender effect, and draw attention to the status effect. In discussing legal implications of the present findings, earlier claims are echoed suggesting caution in establishing the reasonable woman standard, and one alternative to the RWS, the "reasonable victim standard," is discussed.
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