This week I saw a Sundance Film Festival film from 2013 at the Tivoli and learned about an amazing woman. Anita Hill, the beautiful woman in the blue dress, was virtually put on trial for coming out and sharing her story of sexual harassment. It was a story that plagued her for much of her career but she kept it to herself and never really planned on telling anyone except for a few close friends. But, when she was contacted by the FBI, she decided that she had to tell the truth.
The FBI was doing background research on Justice Clarence Thomas who was nominated to fill the vacant Supreme Court justice seat. The FBI wanted to know about her experiences working with Justice Thomas. She decided it was important to finally tell the truth. Following her submission, Anita Hill was subpoenaed by the senate. In October of 1991, Anita Hill walked into the lion’s den where the closed-minded senators dragged her through the dirt and tried to discredit her as a lawyer, a professor and a human being by attempting to poke holes in her story and humiliating her in front of the entire country.
Thomas was given the seat on the Supreme Court despite Anita’s claims. But her story had a huge impact on the working world and the women who occupy it more and more every day. She made it just a little bit safer for women everywhere to stand up for their rights in the United States and she paved the way for women to report sexual harassment in the workplace.
I am ashamed to say that I did not know anything about Anita Hill. I even have family ties to her. Her brother (I’ll call him T for the purpose of this post) was the life partner of my great-uncle for my entire life up until my great-uncle passed away a few years ago. Even though my great-uncle is no longer alive, T remains a part of our family. I remember T mentioning his sister and her story recently. But I had no idea about the impact that her story had on women and the workplace. Nor did I have any idea of the impact that telling her story had on her life and on her family.
Why aren’t we learning about this in school? Why didn’t my teachers feel that it was an important thing for us to learn about? I was 7 years old when Anita Hill was ravaged by the senate and I am only now learning that the man who is currently the Vice President of the United States ran this travesty of a “trial.” I don’t want to get too political, but this factoid really irks me. I made it through high school, college and graduate school and no one ever said anything about Anita Hill.
I think back on my former life during the recession in the restaurant world working as a server and I recall the instances of sexual harassment that I experienced. One incident occurred with a customer who thought he was really funny asking me for a massage. Throughout his entire dining experience, he kept prodding me. The second incident occurred at the hands of a fellow employee who thought it was okay to rub up against me as I walked by. I reported both incidents to my managers at the restaurant and did not feel that the complaints were handled properly or that they even cared. The second incident led me to quit the job. In retrospect, I should have gone over the head of my manager and reported the incident to the corporate office (at least with the second incident which happened on more than one occasion). Of course, my experiences pale in comparison to the stories that Anita shares and the humiliations she endured while working for Justice Thomas. Harassment is alive and well in the world and the workplace.
In a society that many of use acknowledge as being a rape culture, it’s important that stories like Anita Hill’s and people like her remain at the forefront to help us combat a world where women are at fault for being the victims of rape and other types of sexual violence and degradation. According to the Boston Globe, “sexual harassment continues to be a scourge for working women; in each year since 2000, the EEOC has received more than 11,000 new charges; research reveals that, as with sexual assault, far more women suffer this offense than ever report it” (http://www.bostonglobe.com/opinion/2014/04/07/anita-hill-legacy/4o7P6BqAh7MU0nAxYd5wqI/story.html).
Anita Hill was not seeking fame. She was not seeking retribution and she was certainly not a scorned woman as one very famous senator inquired. Because of Anita, there are laws designed to protect individuals from the harassment. But, this is not the only reason that she matters. Anita is also important because she is an amazing role model for women. She is intelligent, she’s stubborn, she uses her brain and she is a brilliant and inspiring speaker. She didn’t let her experiences at the hands of the senators defeat her. She did not wilt at their slander or their distasteful treatment. She continued to fight in that room and even after she exited the building. She found a new normal and a way to tell her story so that generations following her know and can be empowered with that knowledge.
I had the privilege of hearing more about Anita and her life from her brother who attending the showing with us. I got to hear about how the experience of his sister affected his family and I even got to see him in the film itself. After the film and sitting down to dinner, I told T that if there is ever an opportunity to meet his sister, that I would jump at the chance if only to shake her hand and thank her for what she did for women and to offer her my absolute respect and admiration for standing strong in the face of adversity for herself and for women everywhere.
If you’d like to see the preview, here is the YouTube video.
For more information about the documentary, click here to visit the website.