"I had to tell the truth"
April 14, 2016 6:01 PM   Subscribe

Twenty-five years ago, Anita Hill stood before 20 million people and testified that then Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas had sexually harassed her while she’d worked for him at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

Time: Anita Hill on Confirmation, What Joe Biden Did Wrong and the Clintons (warning: auto-play video)

It was very painful personally because what I felt was being said was that [Thomas'] experience as an African-American man mattered more to the race than my experience as an African-American woman.

And then on an intellectual level, I felt as though it again dismissed all African-American women and the significance of our racial experience. Let me just say, African-American women have been lynched. And maybe even more important, the whole history of sexual violence and injustices that have been heaped upon African-American women was missing from his narrative. I think it was deliberately excluded.

NPR: The Real Story Behind HBO's 'Confirmation' From The NPR Reporter Who Broke The Story

Nina Totenberg: You don't recognize this now, but sexual harassment was a dirty little secret that most women had but they didn't talk about. They were embarrassed by it; it was a hindrance and not a help in any way. Now suddenly, it gets popped into the open. ... But all of those silent, female experiences materialized in the ... phones exploding on Capitol Hill.

Daily Beast: Why Anita Hill Matters Now More Than Ever

Wendell Pierce: “I think Anita Hill is an American hero. Someone who was reluctantly pulled into the spotlight. And she dared to stay there and be honest, and tell what she believed to be truth. And it changed the course of how we live our lives.”

HuffPo: What They Didn’t Tell You About Anita Hill and Clarence Thomas

Anita Hill’s 1991 testimony did indeed launch a national conversation about sexual harassment and women’s working conditions. But instead of a “he-said/she-said” narrative, with commentators taking sides based on their political views, the hearings could have been “he said/they said.”

Another witness was waiting to testify against Thomas, with information that could have helped corroborate Hill’s allegations. But Angela Wright, then a North Carolina journalist who had been subpoenaed by the Senate Judiciary Committee and left waiting in a Washington hotel for three days, was never called to testify.

Wright heard Anita Hill and thought, “I believe her because he did it to me.” Her testimony might have changed history. She was subpoenaed. Why wasn’t she called to testify — and what would she have said if she had been?

In 1994, Florence George Graves cleared up those mysteries in the Washington Post, revealing the intricate — and bipartisan — behind-the-scenes maneuvering by several Senate Judiciary Committee members to discourage Wright’s testimony. The article, entitled “The Other Woman,” uncovered a surprising agreement among top Republicans and Democrats not to call Wright, apparently because they feared either that her testimony would create even greater political chaos or that it would doom Thomas’ nomination.

NYT (2001): Book Author Says He Lied in His Attacks on Anita Hill in Bid to Aid Justice Thomas (previously here and here)

Time (1991): Sex, Lies and Politics: He Said, She Said

Another previously: the intimate story of a woman who spoke truth to power

Confirmation trailer
posted by triggerfinger (31 comments total) 55 users marked this as a favorite
There must be more victims out there. I keep waiting for a Cosby-like wave.
posted by humanfont at 6:08 PM on April 14, 2016

I loved this, from Nina Totenberg, on why she'll never reveal her source for Anita Hill:

I didn't even tell my lawyer when they subpoenaed me. I've never told my husband. I'm taking this one to my grave.
posted by Dashy at 6:08 PM on April 14, 2016 [25 favorites]

This was a fundamental moment for me in my understanding of gender issues. Hill's testimony was so plausible, yet watching the nation tie itself in knots to say "no," was like a punch in the throat.

And I can only imagine what it was like for Hill, to step forward like that and to be made a circus act. Ugh. Not that we've progressed much in the intervening years....
posted by GenjiandProust at 6:09 PM on April 14, 2016 [21 favorites]

This is still so painful I don't want to relive it. However, I heard Anita Hill on NPR a few days ago and I'm glad she's doing well.
posted by acrasis at 6:10 PM on April 14, 2016 [2 favorites]


Back when I was a black girl in a different country, this whole thing felt gross to me.

Now that I am a black woman lawyer in America? Who has read justice Thomas' opinions? I just can't even.

If Anita Hill's harasser had been white? Or if he had ended up as a force for justice as I understand it? I would at least be able to come to terms with one or another stance on this.

I am sorry for what Ms. Hill went through then, and what she's suffered since. I am grateful that she had the strength then, to make life better now for women like me.

Thank you, Anita.
posted by sparklemotion at 6:12 PM on April 14, 2016 [47 favorites]

"You may remember David Brock, founder and head of Clinton's Correct the Record Super PAC, as the guy who smeared and discredited Anita Hill..."
posted by kliuless at 6:19 PM on April 14, 2016 [4 favorites]

I really regret we failed to really listen to her and understand how absurd it was to believe she would have had any motivation to fabricate. I also appreciated this comment from her:

You teach courses on gender equality at Brandeis. What impact do you think Hillary Clinton winning the election would have?
I think we need a female President. It’s very symbolic. People sort of say, “Oh well, that’s not anything.” But I think it’s a lot. We know from research that girls — and boys — respond to role models, and to have women as models of leadership I think is significant to [children’s] development.

But we also have to have someone who really understands the experiences of women, at work and in the home, in terms of policies need to be developed to address questions of equality — why we need equal pay or access to childcare or family leave.

I’ll give you an example: Ruth Bader Ginsburg and the Lily Ledbetter case. I think if Ruth Bader Ginsburg had not been such a clear and strong voice — in that one case in particular, and in many others — we still would have the court requiring women to somehow on their own find out what their peers are paid. We would have policy where many women would never be able to recover for decades from lost wages. So that’s why it’s important to have, as Ruth Bader Ginsburg herself said, nine women on the court.

posted by bearwife at 6:46 PM on April 14, 2016 [34 favorites]

“he said/they said.”

and sadly we know how that almost always shakes out too...
posted by nadawi at 6:52 PM on April 14, 2016 [4 favorites]

I was 11, and I will always remember my babysitter at the time, helping to explain what happened to me. He made it very clear that he believed Anita Hill. I will always thank him for that.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 7:20 PM on April 14, 2016 [12 favorites]

So for 25 years we have had a Justice on the Supreme Court who everyone close to the process knows and knew at the time perjured himself at his confirmation hearings.

And we hold ourselves out as a country that respects the law above all else and all others.
posted by jamjam at 7:46 PM on April 14, 2016 [25 favorites]

It's an insult to the entire institution of justice that the monster Thomas was a replacement for Thurgood Marshall. He shouldn't have been allowed anywhere within the hallowed halls of the Supreme Court. One of the biggest mistakes was letting him through.
posted by Talez at 7:53 PM on April 14, 2016 [5 favorites]

Someone here on metafilter had suggested Anita Hill as a Supreme Court nominee. That would be so completely awesome :)
posted by gt2 at 8:08 PM on April 14, 2016 [7 favorites]

At the time my uncle noted that Ginni Thomas went bug-eyed when cocaine was mentioned during the hearings.. .

I hope that Confirmation recreates Hill's male friends and relatives literally having her back as she testifies.
posted by brujita at 8:16 PM on April 14, 2016 [3 favorites]

Someone here on metafilter had suggested Anita Hill as a Supreme Court nominee. That would be so completely awesome :)

For whom? I can't imagine that having to work with my rapist would be anything close to awesome.
posted by zebra at 9:11 PM on April 14, 2016 [1 favorite]

For whom? I can't imagine that having to work with my rapist would be anything close to awesome.

The assumption I think is that Thomas's coronary arteries finally give out.
posted by Talez at 9:22 PM on April 14, 2016 [1 favorite]

I remember watching the confirmation vote on TV, after all of Hill's testimony, and being stunned that they voted him in. She came across as compelling and honest, Thomas did not.
posted by zippy at 9:25 PM on April 14, 2016 [2 favorites]

Have you spoken to Vice President Biden since the hearings?


Has Joe Biden ever publicly apologized to Anita Hill for his awful role during those hearings? Or expressed any regret?

I wondered last year whether Biden's embarrassment and shame over the way he handled the Anita Hill testimony had something to do with why he chose not to run for President. Now I'm sure it did.
posted by mediareport at 9:26 PM on April 14, 2016 [7 favorites]

(Page 9 in "The Other Woman" pdf link is particularly useful if you want to understand Biden's role.)
posted by mediareport at 9:33 PM on April 14, 2016 [2 favorites]

I love this:

Time: That women-against-women narrative is so pervasive. And yet it was a group of Congresswomen who demanded that Biden and the committee hear your testimony.

AH: I will say: if those women from Congress had not marched over to the Senate and demanded a hearing, I do not think it would have happened. That, to me, is leadership. And that’s why we need more women in leadership positions. We haven’t even come close in terms of representation to a critical mass.
posted by triggerfinger at 10:12 PM on April 14, 2016 [11 favorites]

It's astounding how Machiavellian the victim card was played in Thomas's favor. First he claims to be a victim of a lynching, which of course is designed to trigger white guilt. Then, Wright is accused of being homophobic, again playing to the biases of the left in defense of Thomas.
posted by CheeseDigestsAll at 10:35 PM on April 14, 2016

I was in my early 20s when this all took place, and I've only got angrier about it in the subsequent 25 years. There are reasons I've never really warmed to Joe Biden, and this is top of the list. I believed Anita Hill, and I still do.
posted by skybluepink at 12:57 AM on April 15, 2016 [3 favorites]

I'm only 28 and didn't know much at all about this case until the recent movie buzz. I'm glad I know now. It really does sound like, even if she didn't keep Thomas off the court, she did make a huge difference for women in America.
posted by showbiz_liz at 6:26 AM on April 15, 2016 [2 favorites]

Has Joe Biden ever publicly apologized to Anita Hill for his awful role during those hearings? Or expressed any regret?

Biden has not apologized. Neither did Arlen Specter. What's worse, both men have claimed credit for bringing awareness to the issue of sexual harassment through their roles in the hearings, as though having a Supreme Court nominee rejected on the basis of sexual harassment would not have done far, far more good.
posted by jedicus at 7:49 AM on April 15, 2016 [3 favorites]

I was in junior high school. Anita Hill gave me a name for the behavior of my male classmates in gym class, in the halls, in the lunchroom that made me hate school so much and just hide in the library whenever I could. Anita Hill taught me that it was wrong and that I shouldn't be treated like that at school.
posted by hydropsyche at 8:36 AM on April 15, 2016 [14 favorites]

What an awful man.
posted by gottabefunky at 9:10 AM on April 15, 2016

If Anita Hill's harasser had been white? Or if he had ended up as a force for justice as I understand it? I would at least be able to come to terms with one or another stance on this.

Would it have even been a blip if he had been a white dude?
posted by phearlez at 9:15 AM on April 15, 2016

I was recovering from surgery on full bed rest during these hearings, so I was basically glued to the TV the whole time. I was a young engineer in my first job at that time, and had no real sense of how pervasive sexism, and downright misogyny, was in the world. These hearings opened my eyes, not only as a feminist, but as someone who was finally starting to take an interest in the political situation in this country. I recall wanting to throw things at Arlen Specter, of being appalled at how this panel of old white men was treating Ms. Hill, and of being amazed at the final decision of the committee.

Now, 25 years later, I am just starting to work to make the world better for those women who come after me in what is still a very difficult field for women. Anita's plight, and her poise and tenacity under fire, helped nurture that desire in me.

I believe Anita Hill is one of the heroes of our time, and I hope some day she is vindicated and that Thomas is thrown off of the bench in disgrace.
posted by blurker at 10:04 AM on April 15, 2016 [3 favorites]

Also, Nina Totenberg? You are a shining beacon for journalism.

[HBO] wanted me to re-enact my memory of the questions I asked her, so they could have me asking her questions on the phone the first time we talked and things like that. And I said, "We don't do that at NPR. That's called pretend news."
posted by blurker at 10:11 AM on April 15, 2016 [7 favorites]

Would it have even been a blip if he had been a white dude?

Probably not, sadly, but if he had it would be easier for me to say that it's a travesty to have him on the court at all.

But representation matters. And I don't know if it matters enough to make it OK that a man like that got onto the court, but given that there's only been one other person of color nominated to the court in the past 2.5 decades...my brain starts to do stuff like saying "well, he's not Cosby or anything" which is obviously wrong and gross. But this wouldn't be a problem if the pipeline for Supreme Court nominees wasn't so unrepresentative. Which wouldn't be a problem if ranks of former Court clerks and white shoe law firms weren't so unrepresentative. Which wouldn't be a problem if the graduating classes from the top law schools weren't so unrepresentative. Which..... it's racism all the way down. Racism that Thomas has no problem fighting attempts to alleviate the effects of.
posted by sparklemotion at 10:44 AM on April 15, 2016

And once they're on the court, it's damn near impossible to get rid of one. To be fair,that's a feature,not a big. The only way to remove a Supreme is if they are impeached. You couldn't get either body of the legislature to agree that humans need air, much less that a lying liar is a liar.

That he will never resign is a given, but Thomas is unworthy of the seat he holds, and with his every breath he pollutes the air of justice. Were there a shred of decency in his soul, he would hang up his robe, bow his head in disgrace, and spend his remaining years in contemplation and doing service for others in the hopes that he might be forgiven.
posted by SecretAgentSockpuppet at 9:50 PM on April 15, 2016 [2 favorites]

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