Anita Hill talks feminism, sexual harassment and Clarence Thomas

In 1991, when the young law professor, Anita Hill, testified that her former boss and then-Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas had sexually harassed her, the right wing threw ”virtually every derogatory and often contradictory allegation” in her direction. That’s according to David Brock, the man who later regretted his crusade to publicly portray Hill as ”a little bit nutty and a little bit slutty.”

It wasn’t just the press: the Senate Judiciary Committee treated her as if she were on trial, and one senator referred to her a “scorned woman.” Thomas, who denied all of his charges, later wrote in his memoir that Hill “might have been motivated not by personal outrage but by ideological conviction.” But as the new documentary film Anita underlines, there was no evidence that Anita Hill – reserved, composed, and scrupulous – was anything they said she was. As for ideological, she has kept above the political fray, and in an interview with msnbc, remained studiously non-partisan.

The film starts out with Ginni Thomas, wife of Clarence, leaving you a voicemail demanding you apologize to her. Who would you like to apologize to you? 

I’m not focusing on anybody apologizing. I think the hearings were a disservice to everyone. Rather than expect an apology, which in political terms is a pretty easy act to do, I would like for us to improve our processes, and ensure that we do not allow this to happen every again.

Your testimony changed the national conversation about sexual harassment. What do you think are the barriers that exist now? 

I think people are well aware that they have a right to come forward. But many people have a fear that the processes will not give them a fair hearing. Even for those who complain, I think we’ve fallen down in terms of the investigative process. We still have a lot of challenges in terms of making sure that the people who are found guilty of harassment suffer the consequences of their behavior.

We also need to think about this in terms of a broader pattern of behavior. I hear from a lot of people who are sexual assault survivors … If you look at sexual harassment in the military, for example, we see spectrums of behavior that go all the way to assault.

You worked with Clarence Thomas in the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in the Reagan Administration. Were you a Republican? Did your subsequent experiences change that? 

My purpose in working at the EEOC was to work against employment discrimination. One could be perfectly clear about this: The sexual harassment laws weren’t taken very seriously even before the Reagan election. I don’t think we can simply say that this is a matter of a Republican administration that failed to protect women in the workplace. There were judges throughout the country that didn’t see this as a real legal issue.

Did you always consider yourself a feminist? Did that change over time?

I don’t think it was ever an issue one way or another for me. I’d always believed in equal rights for women, and for people. For me, the question is equality.

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