In the USA Black civil and women’s rights campaigner Eleanor Holmes Norton took up the issue at an institutional level, initially in her capacity as Commissioner of Human Rights for New York City. This led to positive coverage in the New York Times in 1975 and rapid take-up in North America. Norton went on to become Chair of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) in the USA in the years 1977-1981. In 1980 she was responsible for issuing EEOC guidelines on ‘sexual harassment’ that framed them as a violation of the Civil Rights Act 1964.

The term first started to appear in the UK national press (including the Daily Mail and The Guardian) in 1975 in coverage (both negative and positive) of US feminist politics and current affairs (including the work of Farley and Norton). At this point, it was presented as a North American issue and not something directly relevant in the UK context. Nevertheless, by the late-1970s, the term was being discussed by some women’s groups; the London Rape Crisis Centre was seeking funding to undertake research on the issue; and women in trade unions were beginning to campaign around it in the UK.


Further reading on the USA

Lin Farley, Sexual Shakedown: the Sexual Harassment of Women on the Job (New York, Warner Books, 1980, 1st edn, 1979).

Catherine Mackinnon, Sexual Harassment of Working Women (Yale University Press, 1979)

Kathrin S. Zippel, The Politics of Sexual Harassment. A Comparative Study of the United States, the European Union and Germany (Cambridge University Press, 2006).