Anita Hill on sexual harassment, Ginny Thomas, Slutwalks, and more

Anita HillLast week, I interviewed Anita Hill for our Feministing Five series to commemorate the 20th anniversary of her famous testimony before the U.S. Senate. The interview was filled with so much goodness that I had to write a follow-up post with more of her insights, which you’ll find below.

And don’t forget, if you’re in the New York area, come hang out with Feministing writers/editors and hear a great lineup of speakers (including Anita herself, of course!) and performances at Hunter College’s “Sex, Power and Speaking Truth: Anita Hill 20 Years Later” conference, which Feministing is sponsoring!

Anita Hill on…

How far she thinks we’ve come in the past 20 years regarding sexual harassment:

We’ve come far because now women can and do complain. The half empty part of the glass is that it still happens, especially to a lot of younger women including teenagers on their first jobs. Those things are out there and we have to be vigilant. We can’t sit back and say, “Oh, we’ve taken care of this. 1991 happened and now we’re a more enlightened country.” There is much more to be learned.

If she could go back and do it all over again, would she still speak up:

At the time I testified, I knew that what happened to me was wrong. I also knew that it was an indication of Clarence Thomas’ respect for the law and his ability to be an impartial judge of the law. It was going to affect his idea for enforcing the law for the entire nation. We were talking about a lifetime appointment in the country’s highest court and I had relevant information to that appointment. The answer is yes because that has not changed. We are still talking about the court, the integrity of the court and the integrity of the individual who makes decisions that impact the entire nation. The answer is yes.

The first thought that went through her mind when she received Ginny Thomas’ voicemail asking for an apology for testifying last year:

My first thought was that this was a hoax. This is somebody imitating Ginny Thomas so let me figure out who it is and get to the bottom of this. This can’t be real. When I learned it was real, the story was out and it went to the press. The reaction that I got from people who read about it, to me, was more compelling than the message. What it said when that story hit the news and I got flooded with emails was that Clarence Thomas, his behavior, and now his wife’s involvement, still resonates with people. It’s not an issue people say, “Oh this happened years ago, it’s over.” It still resonates with people including young people who were not even born when the hearings took place.

Dominique Strauss-Kahn:

The willingness to believe that the accuser was, in fact, raped is a sea change. Perhaps even the police would not have taken the action that they took in removing this very powerful man from an airplane and pursuing him through the legal process. That’s a change. Many people are disappointed with the outcome that the charges were dismissed. The outcome notwithstanding, I think there are signs of progress but we still have a way to go. And it’ll be interesting to see how the French respond to him now that he’s gone back to France.


What people need to understand and appreciate about the SlutWalk is what I see as a movement to take control of our own stories as opposed to letting others define us.  Whether or not you agree with the language or the terminology is not as important as the fact that you have young women willing to put themselves on the line to be able to define who they are- that I find extraordinarily compelling and so important if in fact we’re going to get to that 21st century vision for gender equality. That is so critical and I think that is where the SlutWalks are headed and I support that.

The state of women and the SCOTUS:

I’m absolutely thrilled that there are three women on the court today. The thing that I love about the appointment of Ruth Bader Ginsburg was that she was a woman whose career was made in part addressing gender issues! That, to me, is exciting. She knew from the fundamentals of her own practice how important gender equality is to this country. Her appointment to the court was exciting. She represented a generation of women who really were pioneers and her voice there will continue to resonate even beyond the time she’s on the court whether she’s writing majority decisions or dissent. Sotomayor brings a wealth of experience as does Elena Kagan and they bring new energy. They’re really my generation of women lawyers. It is time that we had a court that looks like America. With that, people have more confidence in the judicial system. They have more reason to believe the judicial system works for them.

The probability of a woman president:

Politically, a woman president? I don’t know when we’ll get there. I’d like to think we’ll get there in my lifetime. I don’t mind living a long time to make sure that happens.

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