How History Changed Anita HillBreaking News
tags: womens history, Anita Hill
JESSICA BENNETT You need no introduction, but I wanted to tell a little back story of mine, which is that I was 10 years old when you testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee. I don’t remember really understanding what was happening, but I do remember my father insisting that we leave the television on. It wasn’t until many years later, when the documentary about you came out, that I really truly learned your story. But I want to ask you, how did 1991 change the course of your life?
ANITA HILL Well, you know, it’s almost impossible to know. It’s been almost 30 years now, so it’s hard to even remember exactly what was going on in my life before. This is the new normal for me. I had not planned to be sitting in front of an audience talking with The New York Times 30 years ago. But I will say that I am still a teacher, and I do teach at a university; it’s my career. I maintain that. Although the content of what I teach now is different.
The emphasis that I now have on equality was not the emphasis that my work was taking back in 1991. I was actually a contracts professor — a contracts and commercial law person. I did some work around equality issues, but it wasn’t the focus of my life. But the thing that I have to say is that what I have done is I’ve combined the old with the new. So when I look at equality I look also at economic inequality. And so the background is always there in terms of my profession. In terms of being a public figure, absolutely no. I would have rather spent my life in front of my computer or in a library.
MS. BENNETT You’re a very private person, and a few years back my colleague Sheryl Gay Stolberg, our congressional reporter, profiled you. And she wrote that at the time — this was in 2014 — many of your students at Brandeis [University] didn’t actually know your back story. You were just their professor. But at that same time, you decided to cooperate with a documentary filmmaking team. Why?
PROFESSOR HILL In 2014, I think we were really coming back to the issues that were opened up in the hearing in a brand-new way. I won’t go all the way back and through all of the details of 1991, but I will remind you that after the hearings, 70 percent — or at least a pretty wide majority of people — thought that I had perjured myself. Most of the people polled, regardless of race, regardless of gender, believed that Clarence Thomas should be confirmed for the Supreme Court.
Many people viewing the hearings didn’t even realize that sexual harassment was something that was actionable, that they could file a complaint about. They had no idea what the concept was about. So we were at a very different point. In the decades following the hearings, that changed. It changed because people started telling their stories, we started filing complaints, we had lawsuits that were filed, and the public became much more aware. There was still an issue of connecting that awareness with action. And I wanted people to understand with this new awareness what had actually happened in 1991. The film made that possible.
MS. BENNETT You wrote for us last year that during the [Brett] Kavanaugh hearings the Senate Judiciary Committee basically had an opportunity to right the wrongs of yours. Did they do that? What would you have done differently?
PROFESSOR HILL No. You know, absolutely they did not. I mean, just to start with, they should’ve had a process in place for receiving complaints. They had none. And can you imagine that we are putting judges on the bench — not just on the Supreme Court, but on the trial court benches, on the courts of appeal benches — who may in fact have complaints against them, but where people are not able to come forward because they don’t have a system to come forward in.
One of the big discussions of the Kavanaugh hearing was, you know, what should’ve happened to Christine Blasey Ford’s complaint. Even though it was out there, it was known, there was no way for her to know how to be heard. We also know that in the process they put together at the last minute, there was this chilling effect — there may have been other witnesses who might’ve come forward.