In the three decades that have passed since law professor Anita Hill first accused the then-nominee for the Supreme Court, Clarence Thomas, Hill said she was never discouraged by the outcome — seeing her harasser confirmed to the highest court.
“I don’t think of 1991 and 2017 as isolated moments in history,” Hill said Friday during a panel at United Talent Agency organized by the National Women’s Law Center. “I see them as part of an arc, and an arc that has been been bending towards justice.”
Hill participated in a discussion with Fatima Goss Graves, CEO and president of the National Women’s Law Center, moderated by the center’s general counsel, Emily Martin.
Hill reflected on what what has changed for women since the early 1990s, calling attention to public opinion polls that showed a plurality of Americans disbelieved Hill’s accusations against Thomas.
“In today’s atmosphere, there would be more people who would understand my story, who would believe my story, and I think the numbers have changed over the year in terms of people who believe me and support me,” Hill said. “We cannot underestimate the impact that those hearings had, even though the vote did not go the way most of us wanted.”
Anti-sexual harassment legislation was passed, and women ran for office in record numbers. Thousands of sexual harassment complaints were filed in the wake of her testimony before the all-male Senate Judiciary Committee.
More importantly, people began to share their stories at home, Hill said. What’s helped build momentum, too, has been intense media coverage that has spanned all industries and is being prominently featured in newspapers.
“It’s a matter of public concern,” Hill said, adding that women and other victims “now understand that this is not our personal burden to bear.”
She also challenged the entertainment industry to change representations of sexual harassment and rape in film and television. “We have this idea of sexual harassment as coming out of the movies, the boss is chasing the secretary around the room,” Hill said. “Sexual harassment becomes something of a punchline as opposed to a real problem,” she said, adding that the issue affects people’s livelihoods and careers.
Hill also called attention to the credibility gap some accusers face.
“We find some people credible but not others,” she said. “It can vary by race, and it can vary by income… and any number of factors that have nothing to do with a person’s credibility.”
Hill added: “When we look at those stories through the lens of race sometimes, of class, of physical appearance, we are doing a disservice to the issue.”