The social realist film Business as Usual, directed by feminist film-maker Lezli-An Barrett and released in 1987, challenged the dominant narrative about sexual harassment and highlighted women’s diverse voices and experiences.

With a stellar cast that included Glenda Jackson, John Thaw and Cathy Tyson, the film was based on the real-life case of Audrey White, who (in 1983) had fought for reinstatement after reporting sexual harassment at a chain of Lady at Lord John boutiques in Liverpool. The film was unique for its time (and unusual even now) for its female direction and production team. It was also important in highlighting the ways in which sexual and racial harassment overlapped for women of colour, and of the significance of age, low pay and precarious employment in limiting women’s options.  A fuller discussion of the film is available here.

The pressing issue of sexual harassment was also beginning to feature in TV drama. In 1989 the popular soap Brookside (Channel 4) introduced a sympathetic storyline in which teenage hairdresser Tracy Corkhill (played by Justine Kerrigan) who was sexually harassed by her boss went on to win an unfair dismissal claim against her boss at an industrial tribunal. The hearing was covered on screen, and the Brookside team researched the treatment of the topic by talking to the EOC as well as to women who had been harassed about their experiences.

These two media depictions contrast with that of the controversial Hollywood film Disclosure (directed by Barry Levinson) which was a huge box office success in the USA and UK in 1994. Starring Michael Douglas and Demi Moore, and based on the novel by Michael Crichton, the thriller storyline involved a female executive (played by Moore) who harasses a more junior colleague (played by Douglas) and then brings a false allegation against him. The film sparked significant and often polarised debate in the press about the gender dynamics of sexual harassment.