Sexual harassment by men has tended to be associated with unwelcome verbal proposals and physical gestures and contact, and only exceptionally by unwelcome physical displays (as in the case of indecent exposure). That initiated by women has tended, by contrast, to be associated with provocative visual displays and the use of perfumes, and only exceptionally by unwelcome verbal proposals and physical gestures or contact. Such displays are often associated with feminine wiles and attractiveness and are carefully cultivated in cultures ruled by sexual competitiveness.
Just as it has proved difficult to challenge the legitimacy of male harassment, there are aspects to female sexual harassment which are embedded in traditionally accepted modes of behaviour, however unwelcome they may be to particular men under particular circumstances. Sexual harassment of men by women has been legitimated by fashions in revealing dress that are encouraged in certain cultures and reinforced by the fashion industry with the complicity of both women and men. Dress length, or cut, may be deliberately chosen by women to attract attention, irrespective of whether the distraction is welcome to men, notably in a work situation. Dress tops may be adjusted to exaggerate cleavage in order to achieve the same end. The physical qualities of dress materials (such as transparency, tightness or looseness) may be deliberately chosen to evoke responses. Physical movements, notably of the legs and hips, may also be carefully orchestrated to evoke non-professional responses in a work environment. As with harassment by men, although usually with greater subtlety, casual touching may be practised (whether with the limbs, the body, or the hair) as well as invasion of body space. Women may also pursue a traditional form of indirect harassment by cultivating a sexually competitive atmosphere in which men are set against each other to compete for the attention or favours of a woman, whether they or not they wish to do so.
Perhaps the most extreme sensitivity to the social consequences of female sexual harassment is that of the Islamic tradition in which it is required that after puberty a woman should not expose any more than her face and hands; physical beauty is only revealed to near relatives, to domestic servants, or to children.
In the USA about 5% of sexual harassment claims are brought by men against women (8 to 9% in Washington) in a culture in which it is claimed that only 5% of corporate supervisors are in fact female (28% in Washington). This suggests that women may be as liable to undertake sexual harassment when in positions of power. It is argued that sexual harassment is associated with personal power. However this perspective fails to take account of the power of women even in those societies, such as Japan, where they supposedly have a totally subordinate role.