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Thoughts on Anita Hill, 20 Years Later

This Saturday's conference at Hunter College Sex, Power and Speaking Truth: Anita Hills 20 Years later was incredibly moving. Listening to women such as Professor Patricia J. Williams, Gloria Steinem and the President of Hunter College Jennifer J. Raab speak about where they were when Professor Anita Hill took the stand really drove home to those of us in the audience the degree to which her trial has influenced feminism and the fight against sexual harassment.

Anita Hill Then

When introducing Professor Anita Hill,  Patricia J. Williams asks, "What does crediblity look like?" Several speakers spoke about what it's like to be a woman and have to tred the line a "appropriate" attire to be considered credible. Professor Anita Hill's decision to wear a blue dress during her testimony was noted as both bold and remarkable.

Polls show that during the time of testimony 70% of people believed Professor Anita Hill to be commiting perjury. Hill spoke of how everyday she was aware that 7 out of 10 people believed her to be a liar and how this affected her ability to complete such simple tasks as grocery shopping in the public eye.  Much emphasis was made by Hill that her support system is the reason she has accomplished so much and moved on to become who she is now.

Many people speaking at the conference and in the Q & A stressed their desire to support Hill in anyway possible when they heard she was heading to trial in the 90's.  Though it's clear that much of the African American community turned their back on Hill, one of the more remarkable stories of support is reported in this story by the Nation:

In the days following the hearings, the New York Times printed an op-ed by Orlando Patterson that speculated that Thomas may well have said the things Hill described but nonetheless justified Thomas’s denial, arguing that Hill’s complaints came out of the “white, upper-middle-class work world,” whereas Thomas’s behavior was really just courtship, if you looked at it from a “Southern working-class” and especially black perspective. Frustrated, three black feminists—Elsa Barkley Brown, Deborah King and Barbara Ransby—gave birth to a manifesto that captured the rage of thousands of black women. In less than six weeks, nearly 1,600 women joined an effort to buy their way into the discourse, contributing nearly $50,000 to pay for a Times ad, published November 17, 1991, called “African American Women in Defense of Ourselves” (AAWIDO).


"it's an event, it's not me.."

Anita Hill Now

Speaking about her life after the trial Professor Anita Hill shares the stress, frustration and personal struggle she faced in moving foward.  Her words of advice for moving through fear included the pointing out the need to be vulnerable, and she encourages women to let go of the desire to apppear strong and instead reach out for support.

 Professor Hill now teaches at Brandeis and her book "Speaking Truth to Power" is heralded by Professor Williams as a beautifully written work which everyone at the conference should read. Her new book "Reimagining Equality: Stories of Gender, Race and Finding Home"  considers home. One way in which Professor Hill views home is "a lens through which one can safely view the world". Her books considers how the housing market collapse has impacted woman - a demographic often left out of analysis of the crisis. In her view, many women have been set back significantly after having made advances in their choice to own property and establish a home for themselves prior to the collapse of the housing market and her book considers the crisis with an awareness of gender.


Closing Thoughts

When asked about the phone call from Clarence Thomas's wife where she was asked to apologize for the trial and how that impacted her life a year ago, Hill described the call as "bizaree" but yet the catalyst to this and other conferences. Professor Anita Hill encouraged all those at the conference to consider, "How to make sure those who don't have a voice are heard?"

In a packed auditorium it was awe inspiring to be gathered with fellow feminists  20 years later offering Professor Anita Hill a standing ovation. I'm proud to have been witness to Hill continuing to speak out strongly on sexual harassment  in the halls of Hunter College. Watch C-Span covergage of the conference here.


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