Thursday, December 1, 2011


What Anita Hill did 20 years ago is burned in my mind. We remember moments like O.J. sweating, holding up his hands to show that the leather gloves didn't fit. I remember how embarrassed Anita Hill was, sweating, determinedly truthful, describing Thomas quizzing her about pubic hair on a coke can.

She gained national attention in 1991 when she alleged, at Clarence Thomas' Senate confirmation hearings for the Supreme Court post, that Thomas had made provocative and harassing sexual statements, when he was her supervisor.

Grilled by 14 white Senators on national TV, Hill testified that while they worked together, Thomas made sexual overtures, described pornographic films, and bragged repeatedly and graphically, about his sexual prowess.

Watching her on television, I was impressed and amazed at her poise and the courage it took to testify at the hearing. I couldn't help thinking what I would have done had I been in her situation as an employee -- what will happen to her -- will this blight her life, embitter her -- how will she be able to pursue a career as a lawyer?

What happened -- well, she took a polygraph test that found that her statements were true. He declined the test, calling it a "high tech lynching."

Nevertheless, the Senate confirmed Clarence Thomas by a 52 to 48 vote.

Today, Justice Thomas is in history books. He has a great life and great job. He's been married to Virginia Lamp since 1987. Professor Anita Hill, age 56, has never married. She writes, lectures, is teaching law at Brandeis University's prestigious law school.

Off and on, over the years, liberals and conservatives have attacked Justice Thomas, claiming his decisions are based on his personal needs and political beliefs. Last year, Virginia, founder of a Tea Party activist group that's funded by a personal friend of her husband's, got lots of media attention for her group after she phoned Anita Hill and left a voice mail message asking Anita for an apology.

It was ugly, and inappropriate. Anita handled it briefly, didn't let it become a an important issue. She brushed it off.

I admire her and like her. I met her at a celebrity dinner party where she was one of the guests of honor. She was friendly, easily accessible, and fun to talk to -- a very educated professional who's going on with her work stronger than ever. She loves teaching, and appears quite often on TV. Her articles are published in the NY Times, Newsweek, and in scholarly publications.

What happened to her on television in 1991 has affected many working women. Though Hill didn't specifically claim legal "Sexual Harassment," the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission logged a record 9,920 harassment complaints in the past year, 50% more than the previous year, despite the fact victims know it's difficult to get their cases resolved. A recent Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll, said 44% of voters think Hill was telling the truth, while support for Thomas' version of events has declined from 40% to 34%.

Anita Hill's autobiography "Speaking Truth to Power" was published in 1998. Her second book, "Reimagining Equality" was published a few weeks ago.

Boston reporter summarizes what happened 20 years ago. As you listen to what Anita says about it today, you get a sense of a strong, down-to-earth, womanly woman.

Here's the link


Anonymous said...

I wonder if the end result would be different today with all the sexual allegations going on up front in the media? Anita Hill is a courageous woman of intelligence and spirit and I admire her too Em. I never believed Thomas....I believed Anita.
kam Kathleen Ann McGee

Carola said...

I know I never could have been as brave as she was.

Ameer S. Washington said...

I was 8 when Anita Hill stood up for herself. I'd like to think she emboldened many other women who were the victims of workplace sexual harassment by older, more powerful white bosses. But I equate her success with that of Martin Luther King Jr. She lost the vote and Dr. King was assassinated. Yet, today every policy manual at every firm I've heard about has a section on sexual harassment and there are laws that protect those who speak out. Unlike Dr. King, who didn't have the chance to live in an America that is more tolerant and safe for blacks, Anita hits gets to live through the laws and practices that her own actions may have spawned.

Linda Phillips said...

I detest Clarence Thomas and so wish that vote had been in Hill's favor. I always knew she was telling the truth. What other possible reason would she have had to have put herself in that position otherwise?

Jerry Drake said...

Hi Em,

Just read your article on Anita Hill. As the current headlines indicate, males as well as females are subject to abuse and unfortunately, many times it is children who are the victims.

Jerry Drake

Jerry Drake said...

Just posted a comment on your article on Anita Hill.

Gennady said...

Sorry, I do not believe that a woman, especially of 36 years old, can be sexually harassed if she really doesn't want it.

The manner in which it is being processed encourages the concoction of the stories by women seeking publicity

I have a friend who lectured in US university as visiting/invited professor and he narrated in details that US universities are dominated by explicitly licentious, exhibitionistic behavior by young female students stalking male professors which cannot be coped because those girls are very fast and easy to submit complaints on sexual harassment.