Sexual harassment as an issue is complex and varied in nature. It can be a by-product of power, an aphrodisiac in itself for some people, and combined with the unthinking respect given to authority makes the 'architect' of such harassment feel unassailable. It goes beyond the behaviours of a self-serving lothario who does not recognise societal codes of behaviour in a modern western world where men and women have sexual freedom. It encompasses the workplace femme fatale who uses sex as leverage to broker her career goals. Her actions reinforce the view that sex is coinage for workplace transactions and interactions. The sexual attention associated with such harassment is not an aspect of romance or honest sexuality. Sexual harassment is based on power and intimidation. It extends into the politics of resentment, bullying, and protest.
The Jane Hill versus the NSW Water Resources Commission case of the mid 1980s shows the complexity of sexual harassment. That case showed that sexual harassment could extend beyond sexually explicit behaviours to covert harrying actions by men when they feel disempowered in the workplace as in Ms Hill's case when she was promoted. It also demonstrated that laws alone are not protection when moneyed defendants can protract cases and force punitive costs on the plaintiff.
After the 1960s, in its most invidious form, sexual harassment became a symptom of a culture that did not understand sexual freedom and female rights beyond the notion that the boundaries that had previously restrained sexual behaviour had been removed. That culture labelled anyone who took offence at sexual harassment or who questioned such behaviours or who said no as prudish, uptight, lacking in a sense of humour, oversensitive, and most importantly, out of step with the values of the day. Such labels resulted in dismissal and invalidation of other perspectives and responses to the intention behind unwanted sexual attention. Sexual harassment existed then and exists now because there are people in the workplace, wider community, and the popular media who no longer recognise 'what is acceptable or offensive, how and why'.
By the eighties, the ripple effect of the women's movement seemed far-reaching, changing even conservative female and male worlds, but the nineties saw the 'workplace suit' tailored to a female as well as a male cut. Women seeking powerful positions adopted male dress codes as part of the business of gaining power in the workplace. Gender politics had not been dismantled but had gained new dimension.