“Talk about women showing up for women!” the director of the University of Washington’s Graduate Lecture Series said to a sold-out auditorium at Anita Hill’s Nov. 6 lecture, and then she told us the most surprising thing: Dr. Christine Blasey Ford would be introducing Hill.
Ford walked out onto the Seattle stage, and the crowd leapt up. Applause and cheers filled the room, transforming the staid academic atmosphere instantly into a ticker-tape parade. We’d come out to see a hero from a long-ago battle, and here was another we’d watched just over a year ago standing up before the Senate Judiciary Committee, one hand in the air, promising to tell nothing but the truth.
The impact of Ford’s appearance before us felt especially profound because I, like many of us, have worried about her in her absence from the public eye since the confirmation of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh. The applause died out, not because we wanted to stop clapping, but because we wanted to let her speak.
It was stirring and profound to hear Ford’s voice again — the voice we’d come to know so well so quickly, the voice that had replied evenly that some memories are “indelible in the hippocampus,” the voice that had gained confidence as the hours of the confirmation hearing elapsed.
After she read the formidable list of Hill’s accomplishments, she said of her, “She helped revolutionize equality for women, including me.”
Yes, how tremendous it was to hear Ford acknowledge the impact of Hill. Like many, I’d watched Ford’s testimony thinking constantly about Hill. If Hill hadn’t testified, would Ford have mustered the courage to come forward? How much had Ford weighed the 1991 Senate Judiciary Committee’s chilling disregard for Hill’s testimony in her own decision to speak up?
And what were Hill’s thoughts as she watched Ford’s testimony? Did she watch? Of course, she would need to watch, wouldn’t she? Or would it have been unbearable to watch another live through the wreckage? To, in fact, bizarrely face some of the very same senators who’d negated her experience almost three decades ago, Republican Sens. Chuck Grassley of Iowa and Orrin Hatch of Utah, and Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont.
Collectively, last fall, we’d wondered if the three decades had made enough of a dent.
Surely, they had! Surely, a woman’s experience was to be believed in 2018. Surely her input on the character of a man on the verge of holding one of the nation’s crucial decision-making positions would be considered.
But we know now that the outcome of their testimonies would be identical. So, had any real progress been made since 1991? Hill told us that this has been the very question she’s been asked repeatedly since Ford’s testimony in 2018. She addressed this question, but first she turned to Ford and said, “I also want thank you for your bravery. Coming forward in 2018 was an act of sheer courage and faith.”
How tremendous it was to hear Hill acknowledge Ford and her courage and faith. Yes, the Kavanaugh confirmation had gone forward. But the movement is real. Solidarity is real. Inspiration is real.
At a Silicon Valley YWCA event earlier this month, Ford said, “I was inspired by Anita Hill when I was deciding whether to testify, but it didn’t occur to me at the time that I would be inspiring anyone else.”
Individual acts of courage and faith cut a path for others. Some of these acts make a difference to the trajectories of lives right then in the moment and others do not. But even our unsuccessful acts are progress. They inspire other acts, some of which will bring tremendous change.
In her UW lecture, Hill spoke of women of color who came forward in the 1970s and ’80s with allegations of sexual harassment, a reality many then called “just life” and judges considered “too personal” an issue to adjudicate. Hill spoke the unfamiliar names of those women who — at great personal sacrifice — had made a difference, who’d won lawsuits that impacted corporate and government policies and procedures forever more, who inspired other women to come forward, just as Hill had inspired Ford.
Before Ford left the stage, the two women hugged.
How tremendous it was to witness that hug.