Why We Still Need Anita Hill
Pop quiz: In what year did the CEO of a major ad agency make headlines when he was sued for allegedly saying a female staffer should be "raped into submission?" 1986? Wrong. It was this year. 2016. Thirty years ago this might not have been all that unusual, or noticed at all. But today that story sparks headlines and outrage, and we have Anita Hill to thank for bringing on such a seismic shift.
A little history recap: In 1991 Anita Hill, a respected Oklahoma law professor, testified before the Senate that Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas had made inappropriate sexual advances toward her when he was her superior, first at the U.S. Department of Education and then at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (which ironically handles sexual harassment claims). I was only a year old when it all went down. I never watched Hill painfully give her testimony to an all-white, all-male committee of senators. Now a new generation of women will get to see the hearings through Kerry Washington, who plays Hill in HBO's "Confirmation" (April 16).
You’ll cringe at some of the details — like when then-Senator Joe Biden presses Hill about her charge that Thomas had complained to her about pubic hair on his Coke can; when a committee member tries to diagnose her with erotomania; or when the committee subpoenas another woman who’d allegedly been sexually harassed by Thomas to appear at the hearing but never call her to testify.
We've come a long way since then. After Hill's testimony at the hearing, more women started reporting harassment, and companies implemented sexual harassment training. But we're not done. In one of my first jobs, male coworkers asked me to go to strip clubs multiple times; one even proposed we have an affair — totally inappropriate advances I was uncomfortable with but handled with nervous laughter. I didn't report them to anyone — I couldn't afford to lose my job and didn't feel that my claims would be taken seriously.
Hill is an inspiration. She faced much higher stakes — she could have been a Supreme Court nominee in her own right, and speaking up may have cost her that chance — but she stood up for herself. And women rallied around Hill, filling her office with tens of thousands of letters and notes of support. Confirmation reminds us we need to lend power and credibility to women’s voices and experiences — before we get torn down on national TV. Hill's story isn't the end; it's just the beginning.
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