The Feministing Five: Anita Hill

Anita HillThis month marks the 20th anniversary of Anita Hill’s testimony during the confirmation hearing for U.S. Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas. It’s an important time to note the anniversary, with the recent SlutWalks to end sexual violence and cases of sexual assault implicating top leaders around the world, including Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Julian Assange and the Australian Defence Force Academy. Clearly, this is not a dated issue.

Hill’s testimony transformed the way this country views sexual assault and harassment. As Joan C. Williams, professor of law at the University of California Hastings College of Law in San Francisco, says, “Young women entering the workforce for the first time may not even know her name, but Anita Hill shaped their lives in ways they don’t understand.” Despite the horrible treatment she received from disbelievers, including threats of murder, rape and sodomy, as well as victim-blaming questions by senators, including whether she’s a “scorned woman,” Hill is not remaining silent on the topic. On October 6th, Hill will be speaking at an event at Georgetown Law School on the context and consequences of her case and on October 15th, Hill will be speaking at a conference at Hunter College titled “Sex, Power and Speaking Truth: Anita Hill 20 Years Later” of which Feministing is a sponsor.

It’s an honor that Hill took time out of her busy schedule to talk with me about her new book, “Reimagining Equality: Stories of Gender, Race, and Finding Home,” how far we’ve come in terms of male power and sexual harassment, her thoughts on Ginny Thomas’ voicemail last year, whether she would do it all over again and much more. In fact, it was so awesome that I’ve decided to make this Feministing Five a two-part series — look out for a second one coming out next week!

And now, without further ado, the Feministing Five, with Anita Hill.

Anna Sterling: What prompted you to write this book?

Anita Hill: There’s a personal story. I was searching for my own home, whether it be an intellectual home, physical home or something more of a spiritual home. The subprime mortgage fiasco started and then came the foreclosure crisis and I started thinking about how important it is in terms of our achievement of equality for everyone to be able to find their home. It’s something that will resonate with a lot of people. For women and people of color, it figures into our ability to achieve equality and because I’ve been working on equality issues now since the hearings I started to think of it in a different way. I want to have a different conversation about what it takes to truly achieve all those opportunities that are available in our country. The finding of home is something that is critical to everyone, finding that place where we can feel safe, secure, nurtured and supported and begin to achieve our goals [of equality].

AS: Who is your favorite fictional heroine, and who are your heroines in real life?

AH: Beneatha Younger from “A Raisin in the Sun” because she is so full of energy. She is so excited about her possibilities in life and the things she wants to do. She wants to be a physician, to connect with different people, and she wants to bring healing not only to her clients but to the world and in some ways she’s naïve and I find that refreshing as opposed to people who are jaded. She’s not a completely perfect person which to me makes her real, but she is impassioned and cares about the world. I love that.

My heroine in real life was my mother. She had confidence that I could do everything and that continued until her death at the age of 91. This book is dedicated to her and her life. She very bravely sent me off to a world that she didn’t completely understand, but she saw that it was going to create opporunities for me that she didn’t want me to miss out on. Instead of saying, “don’t dare do this!,” she sent me out and I know she must have had some fears. One being that the world was too harsh and wouldn’t live up to it’s promises but also that I might leave her. She didn’t do that and so she really is my heroine. She allowed me to grow on my own and grow into who I am now.

AS: What recent news story made you want to scream?

AH: The political story having to do with the foreclosure crisis and the whole financial collapse. The Standard & Poor downgraded the US credit, reducing it to the second level. That made me want to scream in part because the Standard & Poor had not of course downgraded these financial institutions that were targeting communities of color and women with these subprime loans, bundling those and selling them. They weren’t looking at these instruments that were being circulated that ultimately led to the collapse of the housing industry and financial industry. But then conservative politicians tried to turn that around and put that blame on President Obama. It made me want to scream twice.

AS: What, in your opinion, is the greatest challenge facing feminism today?

Trying to find some common language and energy that we’re all going to rally behind to really move us forward. That’s a challenge. In the years past, things were so obvious. Gender bias was so obvious. People could easily say it’s wrong to prohibit women from working in this office and that sexual harassment is wrong. Now we’ve got to do the real hard work of making sure that bias is not built into our institutions and so on the surface things may look fine but now we gotta get down to the hard work of clearing out all of that old baggage from how decisions are made in ways that favor men and how do we look at how equality or inequality is experienced in our day-to-day lives as opposed to thinking of equality as something abstract. We’ve so long relied on rights, saying, “well, you can just sue if something goes wrong.” If we do that, then we haven’t focused enough on making sure these things don’t happen so that we have to sue.

AS: You’re going to a desert island, and you’re allowed to take one food, one drink and one feminist. What do you pick?

AH: I would probably take eggplant. I know I need protein and I just love eggplant. I know I’d need water, but I’d want to spice it up a little bit so it’d have to be sparkling water. Can I possibly mix that with wine once in awhile? Alice Walker is the first person that comes to mind [for the feminist] because she’s so wise and so spiritually grounded that if I’m stranded I know I would need that spirituality to help me really get through the experience and to make the most of it.

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