Anita Hill will be in town Monday to speak at the Planned Parenthood Votes! luncheon. She says that even though it seems like not much has changed in the 20 years since she made headlines by testifying about Clarence Thomas, women are making progress.
Gee whiz, Anita Hill, where do we even start?
New York Congressman Anthony Weiner’s crotch shot? Or that Weiner says he isn’t sure if the crotch in the Twitpic sent to a community-college student is his?
Arnold Schwarzenegger fathering a child by his family’s longtime housekeeper?
Or maybe Dominique Strauss-Kahn, former head of the International Monetary Fund, accused of trying to rape a chambermaid at a New York hotel?
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With so many men (allegedly) behaving badly, you wonder if Hill feels like she even made a dent 20 years ago, when she testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee that then-Supreme Court Justice nominee Clarence Thomas was a bit of a perv.
Hill claimed that, when they worked together at the Department of Education and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, Thomas made inappropriate sexual comments.
Some see Hill as the woman who couldn’t take a joke. But others see her as the woman who wouldn’t take it anymore. Either way, her name means something to people.
“These examples keep coming up,” Hill said the other day of the recent, raunchy rogues gallery, “and I find it all fascinating. But it doesn’t mean that we haven’t had any impact.”
It’s no small thing that men and women can talk about sexual harassment and abuse so openly, she said. And not just on television news shows and late-night monologues, but in the carpool, at the office and the dinner table.
“Before we decide that women have not made any progress,” Hill said, “think about the likelihood that this woman working in a hotel in New York would have come forward if we had not had conversations about how men abuse their power in sexual ways.”
Had we not, she said, the reaction of the woman’s employer, and the public, would have been very different.
What won’t change is how power can be dangerous in the hands of some people, she said.
So we have to keep them accountable, and seek not only behavioral change, but cultural and institutional change. That won’t happen overnight, or even in a generation.
“You have to know that once you’re in it, you’re in it for the long haul,” Hill said. “And I’m in it, 20 years later.”
No kidding. Last October, now-Supreme Court Justice Thomas’ wife, Virginia, left a message on Hill’s office phone, asking her to consider apologizing to Thomas for claiming that Thomas talked about pornography and pubic hair and Coke cans.
“It was totally inappropriate and who knows what to make of it,” Hill said of Mrs. Thomas’ call. “But I’m at the point in my life that if I don’t know what to make of it, then I am not going to struggle to try.”
Hill will be in Seattle on Monday to speak at the Planned Parenthood Votes! luncheon at the Washington State Convention & Trade Center.
“The issues that they are addressing are very much related to women that I come in contact with,” Hill said of the organization. “How can they control their lives, control their well-being in ways that allow them to be fully active and engaged in their home life and work life?”
Hill, now 54, lives near Brandeis University in Waltham, Mass., where she teaches social policy, law and women’s studies, and likes to paint and draw.
She is working on a book, “Reimagining Equality,” in which she examines gender and race equality in America over the past 50 years. With all that book work and painting, you’re surprised to hear Hill bring up the recent end of “The Oprah Winfrey Show” after 25 years on TV. “I am concerned about whether this is the end of an era where we had a forum to hear and talk about things that were important to women,” she said, “to our well-being, emotionally, physically, spiritually.
“And how do we make sure our stories are told?”
Seems to me women are speaking out more than ever, thanks in no small part to Hill.
Nicole Brodeur’s column appears Tuesday and Friday. Reach her at 206-464-2334 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
To quote Miss Rivers:
Oh, grow up.