I’ve been doing a lot of radio interviews lately, not only on my book “The Hormone Myth” but also on current events involving women. Last week I did five interviews about Harvey Weinstein and sexual harassment. We discussed questions like “are men biologically wired to chase women,” “how has the playing field changed over the last 20+ years,” and “how can we begin to change the culture of sexual harassment.” Any discussion of the history of sexual harassment in America necessarily includes Anita Hill’s testimony at the Senate confirmation hearings of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. I noted that this was a watershed moment in the national consciousness of sexual harassment.
One woman had a very strong reaction to my comments and contacted me through my website with this message:
I heard you interviewed on Gordon Deal’s program this morning and took great offense at your comparison of Harvey Weinstein’s offenses to that of Clarence Thomas. IF you really know so much about women and IF you watched the confirmation hearings in 1991, you must know that “Anita-Hill-Hath-No-Fury” (as I and mine call her) was so enamored of Thomas that she was oblivious to how deeply in love and devoted he was — and always has been to his wife Virginia. We view Hill’s attempts to diminish Thomas’s character as abhorrent. She is just another green-eyed tramp.
Wow, there’s a lot to unpack there. I’d like to use this week’s blog to address her comments.
First, I didn’t compare Clarence Thomas to Harvey Weinstein. I think what Anita Hill accused Thomas of (repeated attempts to go out with her and telling offensive jokes) was wrong, but I don’t think that it is the same thing as greeting employees in a bathrobe, exposing yourself, asking them for massages, chasing them around the room trying to grope them, masturbating in front of them, and sexually assaulting them, all of which Harvey Weinstein is accused.
Second, I brought up Anita Hill’s testimony to Congress about the behavior she reported as a response to the question “do I think anything is going to change?” I think the professional and legal landscape already changed because of Hill’s testimony. The television broadcast of the hearings brought the beginning of a national consciousness to call out this abusive behavior as wrong, unprofessional, and illegal. Soon after, congress passed a law making it possible for people who were sexually harassed to pursue federal damage awards, back pay, and reinstatement. Many companies started to include training on how not to sexual harass in their orientation programs and employee development, and instituted policies for how the sexually harassed could have their grievances addressed. These changes give me hope for employers putting more effort into decreasing this kind of offense in the future.
It’s also important to note that the Clarence Thomas hearings were also a watershed moment for women running for political office. In 1991 when the hearings took place, the percentage of women in the U.S. Senate was a paltry 2%. The televised hearings made it visually apparent that all white men were running our government, and that they totally didn’t see that there was any problem with a man repeatedly asking a colleague or employee out on dates or telling lewd jokes about his private parts. The next year a flood of women ran for political office and the percentage of women in congress doubled in two years, and steadily climbed to where we are today which is at 20% (which is still not very representative of 50% of the population, but it does show steady, if slow, improvement).
Third, I did watch the hearings in 1991. I and many others found Anita Hill to be a very credible witness. She came across as an intelligent and rational woman. She did not come forward voluntarily (then-senator Joe Biden had convinced her to testify). She provided witnesses to whom she had related Clarence Thomas’ actions to at the time, who were also very credible.
I guess the person who emailed me is calling Anita Hill “a green-eyed tramp” because she thinks that Anita Hill was jealous of Thomas’ wife, and that Anita was throwing herself at Thomas? There is no evidence of that. Thomas never claimed that Anita Hill approached him.
Awareness of sexual harassment as a crime has increased over the last twenty-five years in no small part because of Anita Hill’s testimony. However, with all the recent revelations about Harvey Weinstein, and the explosion of women indicating they’ve suffered sexual harassment by posting “me too” on social media, we clearly have a long way to go to get to the point that no woman has to put up with a work environment where she doesn’t have to worry about a boss getting grabby or coercive.
One radio show host asked me “what can we teach our daughters to help them avoid this?” I responded that we’ve done so much to empower our daughters, now is the time to address our sons, and raise them to know in their hearts that physical intimacy is only appropriate when consented to by both parties. For there to be any meaningful change, that’s who needs to hear this message.