It has been 20 years since Anita Hill, a young black law professor, testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee on the nomination of Clarence Thomas to the Supreme Court.
Why did she speak out on October 11, 1991?
I Felt I Had To Tell The Truth
“I felt that I had to tell the truth. I could not keep silent,” was her response on October 10, 2011, when interviewed by Gwen Ifell on PRI’s The World.
The truth that she felt compelled to tell was about how, as an attorney adviser and special assistant to Clarence Thomas, she grew increasingly uncomfortable as he insisted on sexually harassing her, using sexually graphic descriptions. Inviting her to watch pornographic videos with him was allegedly one of his favorite techniques. There was also his alleged question to her: “Who put pubic hair in my Coke?”
And How Did The White Male Committee Respond?
The opening question by Howell Heflin, a Democrat, on October 11, 1991, pretty much sums it up. “I’ve got to determine what your motivation might be,” he said. “Are you a scorned woman?”
Why did this change my life?
Women As Sexually Insatiable Handmaidens Of The Devil – Then And Now
First, I had been researching into my ancestor, the last woman to be executed for witchcraft in England in 1685, and as I listened to the Anita Hill testimony, I heard the exact same arguments as had been used in the witch hunts 300 years earlier.
16th and 17th century Europe saw lurid, pornographic trials, in which “witches” were accused of being handmaidens of the Devil and disrupting the status quo because they were sexually insatiable.
On October 12, 1991, Senator Orrin Hatch suggested that Professor Hill had concocted her story from a pornographic film with a character called “Long Dong Silver,” as well as from “The Exorcist.” Continuing the theme, Senator Alan Simpson warned his colleagues on the committee to beware of the evil influence of women like the law professor from Oklahoma University.
In 1563, Johann Weyer, a renowned doctor and occultist, wrote, witches are women “who because of their sex are inconstant and of dubious faith.”
On October 12, 1991, Paul Dietz, a psychiatrist, spoke about Anita Hill, “I know it is entirely possible for someone to be coherent, competent, intelligent, and attractive and have normal social relations while also holding an absolutely false belief about someone’s harassment of them.”
And so it continued.
Anita Hill On Trial For Being A Woman/Witch
Anita Hill was on trial for being a woman: her uncontrolled sexuality was clearly responsible for corrupting honest men. The white male committee transformed a tenured law professor, beloved by her students, into, at best an opportunistic harpy, and at worst, a woman consorting with the devil. Exactly as my ancestor, Alice Molland, had been transformed from a harmless old woman into a witch in 1685.
Secondly, as a result of this, I became a firm advocate of women’s rights, which comes with a greater understanding that some things never change.
Thirdly, Anita Hill’s courage in speaking out before this all-male committee was inspirational to me and to so many others.
25,000 Letters Since 1991 Praising Hill’s Testimony
In her PRI interview, Professor Hill spoke of the 25,000 letters she has received in the past 20 years, from women and men, telling her what those hearings meant to them, and in particular how important her testimony was.
Ms. Hill has moved on, with the publication of her new book, Reimagining Equality, but her spirit continues to inspire many of us. Like I said, Anita Hill changed my life.
Photo Credit: wnyc