Speaking Truth to Power

Opening scene: A telephone plays a voice message. It's a message from Ginny Thomas, wife of Clarence Thomas, asking Anita Hill if she wouldn't perhaps like to consider apologizing to Clarence Thomas for what she did to him in 1991.  

You may know I'm a lifelong Legal Services lawyer. One of the first cases I remember doing was back in 1979 or 1980, an unemployment case where my client had quit her job because of sexual harassment from the boss. Demands for oral sex, suggestive comments, and so forth. Our argument was that the sexual harassment gave her good cause for voluntary leaving, and we won.

Probably for many people the first they heard of sexual harassment was when Anita Hill came forward in 1991 and testified about how Clarence Thomas sexually harassed her. It was so sudden, because his confirmation hearings were already over, and then were reopened over a full weekend. I know that it wasn't only people like me, with an insatiable appetite for both law and politics, who were glued to the TV.

We know the outcome: the Republicans, particularly the vile Arlen Spector, Orrin Hatch, and Strom Thurmond, a man who, if the world were arranged according to his preferences, would be eligible to own Clarence Thomas, attacked Hill with every imaginable innuendo and insult and managed to confirm Clarence Thomas to the Supreme Court, where he continues to disgrace the institution.

What most people don't know is what happened to Anita Hill. I just got back from watching Anita: Speaking Truth to Power at the Green Mountain Film Festival. It goes inside the hearings, literally taking us backstage as Anita Hill is escorted into the committee room, and show us her life as a law professor before and after the Thomas hearings. It also, if you were watching, will reawaken the feelings of outrage you had over twenty years ago.

What happened to Anita Hill is what happens to a lot of people. She was just going through her life, doing her job, working hard, and things were pretty good. She was never an activist until she was forced into the public eye, forced to confront what happens when the male power structure decides to silence a woman for telling the truth.

It's clear from the movie that Anita Hill isn't glad about what happened to her. It was painful at the time, her job, her career, and her life were threatened, and she was uprooted from a successful professorship  not far from where she grew up in rural Oklahoma.

What she gained, though, was not only perspective, but an activist mission that wasn't there before. Hill's experience has led her to a career of advocacy for women's equality and opportunity that was not there before. We are no longer where we were in 1991, when Senator Alan Simpson could openly refer to “this sexual harassment crap”. Anita Hill shows us politicians, judges, law professors, and young women and girls who have been moved by Anita Hill's experience and efforts. 

Anita Hill opened in New York Friday night, but if you can get away from work for a couple of hours you have a chance to see it in Montpelier this Friday at 11:45. You'll be glad you did. 

Oh yeah, in case you're wondering, it's still absolutely clear: Anita Hill told the truth, Clarence Thomas lied. 

3 thoughts on “Speaking Truth to Power

  1. it is still taking place everywhere. Businesses, supervisors etc don’t want to deal with it & do not give a shit. Unemployment is in on it too. I had a recorded unemployment telephone hearing following an incident arising from a male co-worker grabbing my ass, in which my female boss even acknowledged I had requested not to be scheduled alone with this worker following the incident. Still lost my case to receive benefits.

    Only the very egregious acts are dealt with & usually there are multiple incidences with same perp – different workers in same place. It is often very subtle & difficult to prove even when some forms of physical contact have been made. Teens are especially at risk &  sometimes include alcohol or drugs & teen is afraid of getting in trouble — a teenage female in-law got a job at a local resort, her family was so proud of her. Her boss requested sex, she was afraid of disappointing her family by getting fired & complied but was sodomized causing injuries so she had to tell her family as she needed medical care. There was a lawsuit, I don’t remember why it never went anywhere but there was no justice.

    I alone have been SH-ed at nearly every place I have worked in varying forms & have never reported it – I wanted to keep my job. Generally I have ignored it & fortunately escaped, never complied, remaining businesslike, courteous but aloof which ended it usually but I have had some pretty bad experiences and have ended up quitting because of them rather than going through the misery of reporting as it is a losing game.

    Twice I dealt w/it directly. Once a male coworker banged my ass w/a book when I was turned around. In both  instances I made eye contact & calmly w/o raising voice said do not ever lay a hand on me again or my husband will dislocate your face (complete bs). Nothing more was said. I continued working on the same jobs w/o saying anything else & remained courteous but aloof & but not friendly.

    Another time I was working alone, a coworker walked up to me & made an extremely vulgar comment. I completely ignored it, never looked up or @ him & continued working. He left the area, I did not make eye contact following this incident. He then came to me and said “are you going to tell (our boss) what I said”? I said not if you promise you will never do it again & I never hear of you doing it to someone else. He said whew! I had a woman accuse me of SH – she told (our boss) so I could get in a lot of trouble. I said it’s not funny & it’s not ok. We remained cordial, never spoke of it, I never breathed a word so I’m hoping my passive response taught him a lesson.    


  2. This is a good post by Jack and I myself picked this movie as 1 of 3 I want to see at the GMFF.

    In ’91, the Republicans Jack mentioned castigated Ms. Hill for her ‘lack of decorum’ in the very bringing up of the matter.  8 years later, they held an ‘impeachment mini-series’ on TV over Bill Clinton’s sexual exploits.

    Now, it seems to me that, in ’91, they were saying sexual ‘improprieties’ in the workplace were OK, and no one is really being victimized if the bosses in question were of ‘high public stature’ because…what?…those bosses were just kidding around?  But in 1999, Monica Lewinsky was a victim.  And the nation comes to a halt–bigger than the OJ trial.

    So, there was not only sexism, but, also racism & classism involved with Anita Hill’s ordeal before the committee.  Like in RAPE–the victim has to go through another rape when testifying against the rapist.  It is also a rape of Justice.

    Yes, we should all see this movie.  Because, in 2016, if Hillary is the Dem candidate for Pres, they’re going to put her through an Anita Hill-style rape about her ‘crime’ of ‘enabling’ Bill to sexually abuse Monica.

    Why doesn’t Masterpiece Theatre do a mini-series on this?  Call it: UP-YOURS, DOWN-YOURS, AMERICA.      

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *