Trajectory Guarding: Managing Unwanted, Ambiguously Sexual Interactions at Work

Source: Chloe Grace Hart, American Sociological Review, OnlineFirst, March 18, 2021
(subscription required)

From the abstract:
Sexual interactions often involve implicit, ambiguous behavior, yet research on unwanted sexual interactions in the workplace largely focuses on interactions that are explicitly sexual. Drawing on 84 interviews with tech industry workers, I show that unwanted, ambiguously sexual interactions are relatively commonplace in their workplaces. Ambiguously sexual interactions can take multiple interactional trajectories, but one possibility is that they will lead toward explicit sexual harassment. When interviewees worry that an ambiguously sexual interaction might veer into sexual harassment, they engage in what I term trajectory guarding, in which they carefully monitor and guide interactions in an attempt to avoid opportunities for harassment to crop up. Interviewees described trajectory guarding as labor-intensive and potentially detrimental to their careers. Because women tended to be most wary of sexual harassment, they disproportionately engaged in trajectory guarding and risked the possible costs of doing so. I focus on the case of trajectory guarding against ambiguously sexual interactions, but I suggest that trajectory guarding is a more general strategy used by marginalized people seeking to avoid potential mistreatment.