What It Might Be Like if Anita Hill Testified Today

She’d see a different Senate. But one not fully changed.

Anita Hill takes the oath, 12 October 1991, before the Senate Judiciary Committee in Washington D.C.
National Journal
Lucia Graves
Add to Briefcase
Lucia Graves
March 27, 2014, 4:20 p.m.

In 1991 An­ita Hill made us start think­ing about sexu­al har­ass­ment. Now, with the de­but of the doc­u­ment­ary An­ita: Speak­ing Truth to Power, she’s mak­ing us think about what’s changed 23 years later.

Back then, sexu­al har­ass­ment was still a re­l­at­ively new concept. It wasn’t un­til 1975 that the term even ap­peared in The New York Times, and when it did, the pa­per or­gan­ized a defin­i­tion of it in bul­let points, to suss out ex­actly what this for­eign idea en­tailed.

It was the be­gin­ning of an en­tirely dif­fer­ent era, par­tic­u­larly with re­gard to wo­men in Wash­ing­ton. When Hill went be­fore a Sen­ate Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee of all-white male sen­at­ors more than two dec­ades ago, her testi­mony sparked a back­lash that still re­ver­ber­ates. Where were the wo­men sen­at­ors?

The hear­ings helped in­spire the cam­paign of Demo­crat Patty Mur­ray of Wash­ing­ton state who, upon watch­ing Hill testi­fy, told her friends she was run­ning for the Sen­ate in 1992. That year would also see Di­anne Fein­stein and Bar­bara Box­er elec­ted to the Sen­ate, mak­ing Cali­for­nia the first state to be rep­res­en­ted in the up­per cham­ber by two wo­men. It was the year that Car­ol Mose­ley Braun of Illinois joined the Sen­ate, and the first year that four wo­men were elec­ted to the Sen­ate in a single elec­tion year.

After Hill’s testi­mony in Wash­ing­ton, D.C., sexu­al-har­ass­ment claims shot up. (It’s easi­er to speak about sex­ism when someone’s helped define the vocab­u­lary.) “Our phones were ringing off the hook with people will­ing to come for­ward who had been suf­fer­ing in si­lence,” Mar­cia D. Green­ber­ger, founder and copres­id­ent of the Na­tion­al Wo­men’s Law Cen­ter in Wash­ing­ton, re­cently told The New York Times. And Con­gress passed le­gis­la­tion grant­ing sexu­al-dis­crim­in­a­tion vic­tims the right to sue for dam­ages.

Journ­al­ists hailed it as the “Year of the Wo­man,” but Sen. Bar­bara Mikul­ski wasn’t buy­ing the sound bite. “Call­ing 1992 the Year of the Wo­man makes it sound like the Year of the Cari­bou or the Year of the As­paragus,” the Mary­land Demo­crat said at the time. “We’re not a fad, a fancy, or a year.”

When 2012 was dubbed Year of the Wo­man by me­dia out­lets such as Moth­er Jones, The Wash­ing­ton Post, and Salon, be­loved lady colum­nist Ann Fried­man sim­il­arly dis­missed the la­bel, not­ing that nine out of every 10 states still had a male gov­ernor and wo­men’s rep­res­ent­a­tion had been stag­nant since 2007. “We’ve made some in­cre­ment­al pro­gress since 1992, but to achieve gender par­ity in Con­gress and se­cure wo­men’s rights more broadly, every year has to be a Year of the Wo­man,” Fried­man wrote at the time. “And not just in the cam­paign head­lines, but on In­aug­ur­a­tion Day.”

If An­ita Hill were to testi­fy be­fore today’s Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee, she would face three fe­male faces in ques­tion­ing; they in­clude Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Fein­stein, and just one wo­man of col­or, Sen. Mazie Hirono. That may not sound like much, but it’s three wo­men more than when Hill first went be­fore the com­mit­tee in 1991.

Should Re­pub­lic­ans take back the Sen­ate in 2014, as poll ana­lysts like Nate Sil­ver are now pre­dict­ing, those num­bers could be even worse — which is to say even more uni­formly white and male. (There are cur­rently no fe­male or minor­ity mem­bers on the GOP side of the Sen­ate Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee, the side of the com­mit­tee that would likely ex­pand giv­en a Re­pub­lic­an vic­tory, though it’s con­ceiv­able the three Demo­crat­ic wo­men would all stay on the com­mit­tee and some new fresh­man wo­men could come on as well.)

But that there has already been pro­gress, however in­cre­ment­al, is un­deni­able. At the time Hill test­i­fied there were just two wo­men serving in the en­tire Sen­ate: Mikul­ski and Nancy Kasse­baum of Kan­sas. Today there are 20.

“With the three Demo­crat­ic wo­men on that pan­el, I can ima­gine that the dy­nam­ic would be a lot dif­fer­ent today,” says Marcy Stech, a spokes­wo­man for EMILY’s List, the polit­ic­al ac­tion com­mit­tee that helps elect wo­men who sup­port abor­tion rights. “But we have more work to do, which is why we at EMILY’s List are fo­cused on elect­ing more wo­men in 2014 and we’re ex­cited to see the im­pact that more and more wo­men can make once they get to Wash­ing­ton.”

The doc­u­ment­ary is now play­ing at theat­ers in New York, Los Angeles, and San Fran­cisco.

What We're Following See More »
SANS PROOF
NRA Chief: Leftist Protesters Are Paid
19 hours ago
UPDATE
NEW TRAVEL BAN COMING SOON
Trump Still on Campaign Rhetoric
21 hours ago
UPDATE
“WE’RE CHANGING IT”
Trump Rails On Obamacare
21 hours ago
UPDATE

After spending a few minutes re-litigating the Democratic primary, Donald Trump turned his focus to Obamacare. “I inherited a mess, believe me. We also inherited a failed healthcare law that threatens our medical system with absolute and total catastrophe” he said. “I’ve been watching and nobody says it, but Obamacare doesn’t work.” He finished, "so we're going to repeal and replace Obamacare."

FAKE NEWS
Trump Goes After The Media
22 hours ago
UPDATE

Donald Trump lobbed his first attack at the “dishonest media” about a minute into his speech, saying that the media would not appropriately cover the standing ovation that he received. “We are fighting the fake news,” he said, before doubling down on his previous claim that the press is “the enemy of the people." However, he made a distinction, saying that he doesn't think all media is the enemy, just the "fake news."

FBI TURNED DOWN REQUEST
Report: Trump Asked FBI to Deny Russia Stories
22 hours ago
THE LATEST

"The FBI rejected a recent White House request to publicly knock down media reports about communications between Donald Trump's associates and Russians known to US intelligence during the 2016 presidential campaign, multiple US officials briefed on the matter tell CNN. But a White House official said late Thursday that the request was only made after the FBI indicated to the White House it did not believe the reporting to be accurate."

Source:
×
×

Welcome to National Journal!

You are currently accessing National Journal from IP access. Please login to access this feature. If you have any questions, please contact your Dedicated Advisor.

Login