What You Need to Know About Anita Hill

The confirmation hearings to putBrett Kavanaugh onto the Supreme Court hit a major derailment when thejudicial nominee was accused of an attempted sexual assaultduring his teen years. According to Christine Blasey Ford, a 17-year-old Kavanaugh forced himself on her and attempted to remove her clothing, when he became drunk after a pool party.She was just 15 at the time.

But Kavanaugh denies that the incident occurred.

The late-breaking news has stalled the GOP’s brisk march to a confirmation — one that the party hoped to finish before missing records from Kavanaugh’s time in the Bush White House can be delivered, and before the right potentially loses their slim majority all together after the midterms.

Now both sides of the aisle are calling this an “Anita Hill” moment. But who was Hill, and how does the Kavanaugh case compare to that iconic moment from the 1990s?

Here’s everything you need to know:

Who is Anita Hill?

Anita Hill is best remembered for testifying inthe Supreme Court nominationhearings for Clarence Thomas, selected by Republican President George H.W. Bush in 1991. At the time, Hillworked as aprofessor of law at the University of Oklahoma,and she was brought in to substantiate her sexual harassment claims against Thomas when sheserves as his assistant at the Office of Civil Rights at the Education Department in Washington.

What did Thomas allegedly do?

According to Hill, Thomas tried to convince her to go out with him, but once she rebuffed his attentions he turned to making inappropriate statements about sex, pornography and more.

AsTime Magazinereported in the ’90s:

“He spoke about acts that he had seen in pornographic films involving such matters as women having sex with animals, and films showing group sex or rape scenes,” she alleged. “He talked about pornographic materials depicting individuals with large penises or large breasts involved in various sex acts. On several occasions Thomas told me graphically of his own sexual prowess.”

So why didn’t this hurthis nomination?

Hill was grilled by the Senate Judiciary Committee — the same body that will be in charge ofquestioningBrett Kavanaugh’s accuser, Christine Blasey Ford — and the all-male committee decided that she was likely making up her stories or misunderstood Thomas’s interactions. In other words, like today,Hill didn’t have witnesses or proof, so a powerful man’s wordcarried more weight.

Why did Hill bother to speak out, then?

Hill didn’t actually come forward with harassment accusations. In fact, senators encouraged her to speak when she wanted to stay silent.

Despite her desire to remain anonymous, the Chicago Tribune reports:

“Here is a person who is in charge of protecting rights of women and other groups in the workplace, and he is using his position of power for personal gain, for one thing,” Hill told NPR’s Nina Totenberg. “And he did it in a very, just ugly and intimidating way.”

She recounted how she had tried to maintain her privacy, reluctant to come forward when Senate staff approached her about Thomas’s nomination. Ultimately, however, she felt she had a “duty to report,” she said.

So what’s different this time?

Unlike in 1991, today we are in the middle of the #MeToo Movement,and we– allegedly — no longer accept sexual harassment or unwanted sexual conduct as simply a daily occurrence or the price of being female. Thanks to social media and real-time feedback, lawmakers can’t simply badger an accuser into silence without feeling the wrath of an audiencethatdemands fairness and justice.

The U.S. power structure is filled with women who remember what happened to Anita Hill. We recognize that the same dismissive, misogynist actions that allowed a man of power to prey on a woman and expect to feel no repercussions for his actions evolves into a justice who sees marginalized communities as less deserving of rights and protections — and will rule as such when their cases come before him in court.

We learned from Anita Hill. This time, we will not let the accused be smeared and dismissed.

Photo credit: Gage Skidmore/Wikimedia Commons

45 comments

Annabel Bedini
Annabel B2 months ago

Susanne R
My problem is not only that the event happened and was utterly despicable, but that a potential Supreme Court judge should deny it, lie about it and attempt to blacken the name of his victim. That is NOT the behaviour you would hope for in someone destined for that role. It would have been so much more honourable and respect-worthy, if he had said Yes, it happened and I am deeply ashamed of my youthful self. If since then there have been no further sexual misdemeanours in his life it might be possible to discount this one atrocity if freely admitted to and apologised for, committed as a teenager when one's moral compass is not always to be relied on to keep one from emulating peers who seem more glamorously free than your strict upbringing has allowed you to be. I am not, repeat NOT condoning his sexual assault on Ford, heaven forbid!, just saying that to my mind the morally reprehensible attempts to cover it up are just as strong a reason for not allowing him to sit on the Supreme Court.

I have the feeling that only you and I Susanne are left discussing this topic.....

SEND
Susanne R
Susanne R2 months ago

Sorry, Annabel. I'm too wordy...

The first time he was interviewed, no-one was aware of this issue. It does make a difference. We already have one sex offender sitting on the highest court in the land. Any citizen who truly respects this country and our rule of law wouldn't want to risk having another.

"Equal Justice under Law" is the motto of the Supreme Court. Woman need to start being treated as equals, and it won't happen if sex offenders and/or misogynists are interpreting our constitution.

SEND
Susanne R
Susanne R2 months ago

Annabel B. - While you're probably right about Kavanaugh being confirmed in spite of the allegations against him, it disappoints me immensely that he behaved the way he did when he was a teenager. Drinking to the point of abandoning common decency and abandoning everything he learned during his Catholic school upbringing is not a usual occurrence. I had a Catholic school upbringing, and the consequences of my actions, which were drilled into my brain every day, served as mental red flags. Enjoying the company of someone who not only engaged in but encouraged drinking and sexual abuse was not a wise choice. We choose our friends. He not only chose a bad one, he emulated his behavior. For someone who chose the career that he did - and I would think he had such ambitions by the time he was seventeen years old - he certainly did some very foolish things --if the allegations are true, of course. Considering that the accuser passed a polygraph test and an FBI investigation, I lean toward believing her. The fact that Kavanaugh's friend, Mark Judge, refuses to testify or take a polygraph test, is very concerning to me in light of the fact that he encouraged violence against women in his Catholic high school year book and in articles he wrote as an adult. In addition, he was the only witness in the room. And then there's the question of why the Senate Investigative Committee will not agree to allow Kavanaugh to be re-interviewed by the FBI. The first time he was

SEND
Annabel Bedini
Annabel B2 months ago

Susanne R
Of course I agree with everything you say about your, let's say, 'unusual' president! And now, hearts in mouths for what will happen at the UN General Assembly and within the Security Council for Trump's pre-announced all out attack on Iran. This is not sensible policy, but we can't go into that now. We'll have to see how other Council members react.

As for Brian F. I have told him I honour his commitment to social justice and I agree with him on environmental issues and the Israel/Palestine question. It's just a pity he can't stop repeating himself on any and every thread. Anyway, I don't take his attacks on me to heart because I can see where he's coming from.

To get back to the subject under discussion (if anyone is still following it) it strikes me that Kavanaugh will certainly not be able to remember what he did, drunk, at a party thirty years ago. I think men simply have no idea how sexual assault feels for a woman. Why should she make such a fuss, these things happen, is how most men will see it. So I fear there isn't a hope in hell that an all-male commission will take Ford's testimony as seriously threatening Kavanaugh's confirmation, while for her it will be a fraught and painful experience. Sigh......

SEND
Susanne R
Susanne R2 months ago

Annabel B. (I was too wordy and got cut off...)

As far as Brian is concerned, please don't let him stop you from posting. Many other commenters have made it clear that they don't pay attention to his rantings, which never change, and he has no right to decide who should and shouldn't contribute. He's called me stupid, a liar, and told me that my posts weren't welcome by anyone on this site. That may be true, but I don't know how he would know that. I just consider the source and ignore him completely. I hope you will, too.

SEND
Susanne R
Susanne R2 months ago

Annabel B. - Why would what's going on in the U.S. be no one else's business, other than that of its own citizens? You are right when you say that American politics are far-reaching. We've NEVER had a president quite like trump. He has caused a lot of damage around the world --just by dismantling all the good that President Obama achieved during his tenure. His deregulation of environmental protections affects the whole word. His love-hate relationships with Vladimir Putin and Kim Jong Un put the entire world in danger. He's erratic and unpredictable, and his staff serves as baby-sitters and are always in damage-control mode. It's no longer the U.S.A. I grew up in. The country is more divided than ever. Our journalists are most often the only source of information we have, yet trump has bullied, criticized and discredited everyone who disagrees with him. He supports one news source, which many describe as "infotainment," and uses it as his official mouthpiece. He even seeks advice from a few of its "so-called" journalists. The behavior of our president and the decisions he has made affect the entire world (but you've already said that better than I ever could). I, for one, am very interested in hearing what people from other countries have to say, so I'm always grateful to hear outside opinions from interested, intelligent observers who obviously care.

As far as Brian is concerned, please don't let him stop you from posting. Many other commenters ha

SEND
Annabel Bedini
Annabel B2 months ago

Susanne R
Thanks! Being an outsider can cut both ways. On one side it does give me and Rhoberta and others a perhaps more objective view of what goes on but on the other we can understandably be accused (by Brian F. for example) of having no right to poke our noses into what is none of our business. In my case, my excuse is that I have many American friends and relatives with whom I discuss what goes on in the U.S. so I do actually care. Also, as a world citizen, I think it's important to watch and listen to the way things are unfolding in your country because of the impact they have on all of us. Not just crazy policies undoing all the good that has been done over recent years but also the worrying trends towards right-wing populist extremism and what's being done to truth and facts, trends that both reflect and influence the direction in which many other nations are going. I'd be tempted to say that anyone who doesn't follow American politics has their head buried in the sand but that's probably going too far!

SEND
Elizabeth M
Past Member 2 months ago

many thanks

SEND
Susanne R
Susanne R2 months ago

Annabel B. - Thank you for your kind words! (I'm sure our resident trolls are cringing, and that makes your comment all the more satisfying.) I'd like to mention that you deserve much more credit than I do. It's my understanding from previous comments you've made that you don't live in America and are not an American citizen. In light of that fact, I am very impressed with your interest in American politics. Your comments are always factual and well written, but the depth of your knowledge would lead one to believe that you live in this country. Our Canadian friend, Rhoberta, is another contributor who always impresses me with her knowledge of American politics. It's so nice to have the two of you on our side! I'm sure there are many others, and I'm grateful that they care enough to add their voices to these discussions!

SEND
Kathy G
Kathy G2 months ago

Thank you

SEND