This is a paper I wrote for my American History Class, and I thought I would share it with you.
November 22, 2011
20th Century American History
Anita Hill vs Clarence Thomas
Anita Hill was an attorney-adviser for Clarence Thomas in 1981 at the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights and then Thomas left to become Chairman of U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in 1982 and Hill followed him to become his assistant yet again, but left the job in 1983. A decade later Thomas was ready to be appointed the next Supreme Court Justice.
Anita Hill’s testimony in 1991 against Clarence Thomas for sexual harassment in the workplace opened the door for many women throughout the United States to come out and file sexual harassment complaints against co-workers. In this case she especially pioneered and made it acceptable for women to speak up when treated inappropriately in the workplace, instead of just allowing it to happen. Although Hill did not come out victoriously in the courts; she created a legacy and gave other women the courage to speak out, against sexual harassment
The media portrayed Hill as a very respectable woman; throughout the entire case she kept her composure. Throughout the testimony she was never portrayed in a whiny way; she was very mature and calm. In contrast Clarence Thomas characterized the hearing as a “high-tech lynching for uppity blacks.”
Hill worked for Thomas from 1981-1983, but it was not until 1991 when Thomas was about to be confirmed as the next Justice to the Supreme Court (the second African American to hold the position) that Hill spoke up. The media wondered why it took her so long to come out with these allegations. During the time of the testimony and presently Hill was a Professor of Law at the University of Oklahoma. An article in Time from 1991 titled Sex, Lies and Politics: He Said, She Said (Smolowe) compares the two (both African Americans) and explained why it was so hard for the public to pick who to believe:
“… Viewers had to weigh the testimony of two admirable people – both of whom had escaped, through diligence and perseverance, a background of rural poverty to scale great heights, both of whom are known to be grounded in strong religious and spiritual values, both of whom have reputations for great personal integrity – and pronounce one of them a liar (Smolowe).”
The media also focused a lot on race during the trial. Many speculated how the trial would have been different had Hill been a white, blonde woman, or if Thomas had been a white male, but instead of wondering how it would have gone given different circumstances it would have been more productive to analyze the reality of the case that occurred. Although Hill has said that she felt as though people “ignored Thomas’ gender and ignored her race. (Palmer)”
Hill testified that while she worked under Thomas – first at the Department of Education’s office for civil rights from 1981-1982 and then at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) from 1982-1983 is when the alleged sexual harassment occurred. One of the most memorable pieces of her testimony is when she alleged that one time while in Thomas’ office he reached for a can of Coca Cola and asked, “Who has put pubic hair on my Coke?” She said her boss would often talk about pornography and describe X-rated material which even included beastiality. She alleged that he spoke of his own physical endowment and speaking as eloquently as possible as she testified to the Senate room filled with 15 men, including current Vice President Joe Biden. The media was able to analyze these televised hearings and viewers were shocked at how Hill was “bullied and demeaned by the committee (Bennetts).”
They got after her for her sanity, competence and sexuality; specifically because a small group of some that worked with her came out against her and said that she use be delusional to even think that Thomas would ever do such things. When it came time for Thomas to give his testimony he sat with his wife behind him, and acted as though he did not take this seriously. He denied that anything that Hill alleged had ever happened and he believed that the entire case was a waste of time. He had said:
“No job is worth what I’ve been through – no job. No horror in my life has been so debilitating. Confirm me if you want. Don’t confirm me if you are so led. I will not provide the rope for my own lynching.(Smolowe)”
The PBS News Hour demonstrated how angry Thomas was. He kept making references to how he was being “lynched by the US Senate instead of hung from a tree,” making it very much about race in his point of view. Biden, who was the Committee Chair at the time, lashed out at Thomas saying that he was sick of hearing about how terrible the system was. The woman who covered the trial said that Hill and Thomas were both credible witnesses and sounded equally convincing. The piece continued to show witnesses from both sides; including a witness for Hill that spoke up and said that Hill had previously told her in confidence about the inappropriate behavior that Thomas had exhibited but she was never specific with her co-worker about the actions that Thomas had done specifically. The other group of witnesses were women who spoke out for Thomas saying that he would never do such a thing and they searched for a motive behind Hill’s accusations. Anita Hill took and passed a polygraph test, but Biden called the tests inconclusive. Thomas refused to take a polygraph.
The entire testimony (of both Hill and Thomas) is on YouTube (from CSPAN), over 27 different 10-minute long videos that go one after the other immediately picking up where the last left off so that viewers can see the testimony in is entirety, and it was reported that Thomas did not even watch Hill’s testimony (Bennett).
The impact on the public specifically from a televised trial is immense, because it gets personal. The people at home get opinionated and start getting involved. Like the Casey Anthony trial and the O.J. Simpson trial – being able to watch the trial from home made it seem like the viewers could take part in it. They could analyze both Hill and Thomas and make their own judgments – not just rely on what the media was telling them, because they were seeing it first hand.
Twenty years later and there is still much controversy surrounding what happened between Hill and Thomas, and the only ones who will ever know what truly happened are the two of them.
The impact that this trial has had historically is incredible; it has been 20 years since the trial in 1991 and the aftermath of the new awareness of sexual harassment in the workplace and treatment of women within the workplace is great. This happened in a time where women were being harassed and not speaking up about it; women were treated not as well as the male co-workers and endured sexual harassment from their bosses, but could never do anything about it in fear of losing their job. Hill actually did leave her job after the trial as she felt like she was being driven out (Bennett).
The trial impacted awareness of sexual harassment, because Hill brought the subject that was formerly not spoken of or just accepted out into the open and showed that it was something unacceptable. It brought awareness by being publicly televised and women could relate to Hill.
An article in Newsweek from last month entitled Surviving Clarence adds tells of how Hill’s actions impacted women’s rights:
” Women’s-rights advocates initially viewed the whole debacle as a disastrous setback for the nation as well. “When Hill was not believed, the feeling was that this would cause fewer people to report sexual harassment,” says Gloria Steinem. “But what happened was the reverse, because she had opened up the subject. Women began to talk to each other and discovered that this had happened to many other women, so it turned out to be a huge national teach-in on sexual harassment (Bennett).” ”
The piece also argues that sexual harassment complaints filed with the EEOC increased 50 percent in the year after the hearings. Hill has said, “Women’s willingness to come forward and file sexual harassment complaints doubled in the five years after that.”
Founder and editor of the blog Feministing.com, Jessica Valenti, wrote a piece that appeared in The Nation in October 2011 which was titled Taking Up the Legacy of Anita Hill. She tells of her account as a 12-year-old girl who believed “women wouldn’t be subject to this kind of harassment,” and how she was wrong. She believes Hill was a pioneer for women to speak up about sexual harassment and that Hill actually did much more to empower women:
“Hill’s speaking out didn’t just influence elections and bring sexual harassment out of the closet. Her voice and strength, along with the anger of young girls who knew bullshit when they saw it, inspired a generation of feminist activists. It’s what we choose to do with that legacy that matters (Valenti).”
Some may go so far as to say that Hill is the “Rosa Parks of sexual harassment (Brock).” It is true that the reason that this trial is still talked about today isn’t only because it involves a Supreme Court Justice, but the fact that Hill’s actions opened doors and made it acceptable for women to come out and let their be repercussions toward those who offended and harassed others within the workplace. It is great that even though Hill was not victorious in the hearing, she has been victorious throughout history. Even though it seems as though justice may not have been served properly in that ordeal, she continues to be active regarding sexual harassment. If people had thought of her as a “liar” then why would she be chosen as a credible speaker for these events? Hill has really empowered women and it is great to see how much advancement women have had in the workplace since 1991.