It is chilling to rewatch Anita Hill’s testimony about Clarence Thomas, which took place on Oct. 11, 1991. As she stands in front of a panel of all-White men, staring at the future President of the United States — who was in charge of overseeing the Senate Judiciary Committee during the hearing — she reads a powerful opening statement.
Hill presents multiple accounts of Thomas’s alarming behavior towards her when she was working under him at the Department of Education and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), including asking her out socially multiple times. She recounts that Thomas would use work situations to discuss sexual situations and push boundaries while she was his assistant. In one of the most disturbing moments of the hearing, she stated, “He spoke about such manners as women having sex with animals and films showing group sex or rape scenes,” as well as describing his genitals to her.
The televised hearings were shown all across the country, serving as a sinister warning about the future of American politics. The warning seems to be as relevant to us now three decades later: overturning Roe V. Wade was not decided under the guise of protecting life, but rather under the ability to possess the power to control women and people with uteruses.
Duty to provide the truth
While Anita Hill set the stage for the future #MeToo movement that evolved decades later, SHE never desired publicity. When her statements in a private interview with the FBI were leaked, Hill was forced to become a public figure despite desiring private protection. Prior to the leak, Thomas’s nomination was met with little opposition and his confirmation was, in fact, complete, until the “allegations” reopened the hearings and Hill was called to testify. Although Hill remarks upon her testimony with “no regrets for having made it” because she felt a “duty” to provide the truth about Thomas, Hill has since criticized the usage of the word “allegations” to describe her statements:
“It suggests that I was bringing some kind of claim against someone… That was not the case. I was giving testimony about my experience of working for an individual, testimony that read to the character and the qualification of an individual who was going to be sitting on the highest court of the country and given a lifetime appointment to that court.”
Hill believes the term “allegations”' within the context of the early ‘90s forced this expectation of her to “[prove] her case.” While asking a victim to provide evidence might seem outdated in today’s more progressive culture surrounding sexual harrasment, these expectations for assault/harassment victims still permeate through our culture. Simply put, a woman's word is always valued lesser than the man who simply says “her statements are not true.” As Justice Thomas did just that, his contributions to critical political decisions are executed in a manner that seeks to protect perpetrators and suppress the liberty of women and non-cis individuals.
The perfect victim
Oftentimes, supporting evidence is rarely viewed as reliable, damning, or valuable enough. Four other women waited in the wings, present to support Hill’s statements, but none were actually called due to a compromise between then Senator Biden and Republicans of the senate.
The senate wanted a victim with “clear-as-day” evidence — never mind that Hill had lots of it, with four other women ready to defend her credibility — within a mere testimony. While Hill remained stoic as the Judiciary Committee ripped her apart, one thing became clear: a victim of misconduct will always be met with the unattainable expectation of the “perfect victim.” If they fall short in any area, they are a “jealous liar.”
The Senate Judiciary Committee brutalized Hill. As the chairman, Biden asked Hill to repeat “the incident of the Coke can,” 30 minutes after she had stated that Thomas once asked her who had put pubic hair in his Coca-Cola can. Senator Orrin Hatch read a quote from the book The Exorcist, which stated, “There appeared to be an ‘alien pubic hair floating around in my gin,’” accusing Hill of lying by the “similarities” he drew from the text to her statement. Additionally, he vouched Hill restated the term “Long Dong Silver” from the details of a sexual misconduct federal court case in Kansas, rather than believing her statement of Thomas using that term to recall a pornographic film he viewed. After Hill passed a lie detector test, Senator Alan K. Simpson alleged Hill was mentally unstable, stating, “If a person suffers from a delusional disorder, he or she may pass a polygraph test.” Thus, “a polygraph examination in this context has absolutely no bearing on whether the events at issue are true or untrue.”
Male politicians sought to characterize Hill as delusional, hysterical, and manipulative in response to her taking action towards her perpetrator. Through the manners in which many men of the hearing sought to protect the high position of another male predator, the agenda behind confirming Clarence Thomas largely was to preserve the ability for men to perpetrate abuse towards women with little repercussion.
Racial dynamics in the hearings
In his statements of defense, Thomas described the hearings as “high-tech lynching for uppity Blacks” who disagreed with his conservative politics. He highlighted the racist stereotypes of Black male sexuality and how these allegations played into racist fears. It is problematic to ignore the truths in his statements, particularly given how some people react to his conservatism today. The language surrounding Thomas’s decisions on Roe and other cases teeters between justified anger and blatant racism. I have seen many white liberals diminish his Blackness in an attempt to justify his particular politics, which highlights how much of a role race played in these hearings: how Anita Hill was constantly diminished and undermined for her identities as a Black woman and how Thomas was continually calling out the racism of the Democratic party.
As a Black woman, Hill was racially demonized. Stereotypes surrounding Black womanhood project an obligation for Black women to serve men. Hill’s bravery to speak up created a fear of the door she opened for other women of color survivors, which American politics has historically sought to suppress. Black and Brown women are the most affected by Roe V. Wade’s overturning, non coincidental to Hill’s treatment by male senators.
Workplace sexual misconduct
We can thank Anita Hill for setting a precedent about acknowledging sexual harassment in the workplace. At the time, and still now, many individuals reacted to the historic hearing with little care for Hill’s position due to the normalcy of work-place harassment. While her courage encouraged women to seek justice from uncomfortable experiences with male supervisors, Hill was used as a punching bag for questions like, “Why should we care?” and “Why can’t you just deal with it?” Hill’s bravery set a precedent for enforcing appropriate office behavior, but the refusal to hold Thomas accountable led us to the terrifying, but unsurprising, reality we live in today.
Justices who controlled women before will control women again
The decision to confirm Justice Clarence Thomas despite Hill’s testimony lingers in the current overturning we are witnessing today. While President Biden has recently expressed deep regret for his involvement in the hearings, his former willingness to disregard Hill and therefore protect Thomas - despite differing politics - projects his current “outrage” as infuriating and contrived. The overturning of this Landmark decision was a result of a political desire to protect male perpetrators and silence the women who come forward.
“Protecting life” has nothing to do with this current overturning, because the lives of those with uteruses - particularly in instances of rape and incest - will never be protected under these conditions. Anita Hill’s treatment by the senate epitomizes what our politicians believe to be the rightful treatment of women of color, making the present-day climate devastating, yet unsurprising. Justices who controlled women before will control women again, and with their amount of power the rights of all of those with uteruses belongs in the hands of cisgender men.