I don’t quite remember what was said back in 1991 when Anita Hill testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee on the instances of sexual harassment she had received from then Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas. I was 10-years-old then.
If you’re unsure about the case, here is a quick recap: Back in 1991 Hill, who was a well-respected law professor in Oklahoma, testified before the Senate that Thomas had made sexually inappropriate advances towards her on several different occasions when he was her boss at the U.S. Department of Education. She went on to work for him at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (which coincidentally handles sexual harassment cases) because she thought the harassment had stopped. Only it didn’t. Salon wrote,
…She alleged that Thomas had repeatedly asked her out on dates and made lewd and graphic sexual comments to her when she had worked for him in the early 1980s. She made clear that the harassment had not been physical and that Thomas had never threatened her job, but said that she nonetheless felt uncomfortable and intimidated. “I felt as though I did not have a choice, that the pressure was such that I was going to have to submit to that pressure in order to continue getting good assignments…”
I remember watching the hearings with my family members. I didn’t quite understand what was happening, but I knew that whatever was going on was important.
I also vividly remember the women in my family commenting on how Anita Hill was a “lying bitch” without batting an eye. They didn’t care that I was in the room watching the hearings with them. What they saw was a black woman accusing a black man of sexual harassment (which wasn’t really a thing back then). To them, the most important thing that I should have gotten out of the hearings was that it was wrong for a black woman to call out a black man. Even when he’s wrong, he’s right.
They also wanted me to know that Hill was wrong to sever the loyalty she owned to a black man applying for one of the best jobs a black man could ever have in this nation (at that time).
What they said may seem pretty appalling, but to be honest, they weren’t alone in their thinking. I remember my mother having (what she thought was) several “woke” conversations with her friends, and they all thought Hill was lying too. I remember some church members and neighbors thinking the same when the subject was brought up in casual conversations.
What was interesting was that many of them had never really understood the concept of sexual harassment, and probably all of them had known at least one woman who had to sleep with a man in order to keep her job – whether she was a clerk at a grocery store, or a clerk at the DMV.
But that was back in 1991, and since then, even my mother had to admit that whether or not Hill was lying doesn’t take away from the fact that it was a conversation that Americans needed to have. Hill’s testimony changed the way women were viewed in the workplace, and it even changed how women in the military were viewed as equals. Today, it’s common to see companies implement sexual harassment training for their workers, and it’s even more common to see both men and women defend themselves when they are sexually harassed.
But we still have a long way to go.
I can’t tell you how many times I saw junior Sailors (both enlisted and commissioned) boldly correct high ranking officials when they made jokes or comments that crossed the sexual harassment line. It was actually sickening. My husband once quit a job, citing how fed up he was with seeing male managers manipulate female workers into sleeping with them, and upper management doing nothing about it.
Sexual harassment is nothing to take likely, and I’m glad Anita Hill spoke up about it when she did. She’s truly a she-ro to myself, and many other women who felt powerless when faced with workplace sexual harassment.
Hopefully, when the new generation of viewers watches the HBO movie Confirmation tonight, which discusses the details of the case, the importance of the subject won’t be overshadowed by whether or not Hill is a “lying bitch.”
Will you be watching Confirmation tonight at 8 P.M. on HBO, starring Kerry Washington, Jennifer Hudson, and Wendell Pierce?