“The Anita Hill case made sexual harassment a household phrase” – And today, we’re reflecting on its legacy
Photo: Elizabeth Lippman
We’re continuing our weekend of Anita Hill to look back on her historic testimony, and the chain of events it set in motion – the effects of which are still felt to this day! In case you missed our first part yesterday, you can get caught up here.
While it’s true that five years prior to Clarence Thomas’ 1991 nomination, the Supreme Court had unanimously ruled that sexual harassment was a violation of women’s rights, the issue had not yet broken through into cultural awareness or become a topic of everyday conversation. And Americans hadn’t yet begun to discuss the fact that sexual harassment towards women had actually been thriving within one sphere in particular: the workplace.
All of that changed when George H.W. Bush nominated Thomas to fill the vacancy left by Justice Thurgood Marshall and, as part of a routine background check, the FBI began to contact people who had worked with Thomas throughout the years – among whom was Anita Hill, a law professor and Thomas’ former legal assistant.
This video from Makers provides a great overview of the events that followed:
And in the years since Anita Hill’s historic testimony, she’s continued to speak out as an educator and an advocate for women’s rights. She was very vocal when the #MeToo movement first hit, and has contributed to a number of panel discussions and think pieces to help provide context. And when Dr. Christine Blasey-Ford was asked to testify during now-Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination process, Anita Hill served as both a parallel to the past and a voice of experience for those of us who struggled as we watched those hearings.
Speaking with the New York Times last year, Anita Hill was asked about the cost of having found herself on the front line of a movement. Her response?
“I had two things going for me. I had youth — you know, I was 35 years old — and I have a lot of patience. And more and more I think the ability to take the long view, to see — to measure progress, not just about in my lifetime, but to measure progress through the lifetime of women, to realize that we have moved forward, but also to take the long view in looking forward to thinking about what we can do for the next generation.”
We’re so grateful she chose to meet the moment and, in the process, helped advanced the cause of safety, equality and dignity for women. If you want to know more about her story, check out the 2014 documentary “Anita”, and the 2016 film “Confirmation” starring Kerry Washington (who we stan!) as Anita Hill.