Sunday, October 23, 2011

Remembering Anita Hill

Like many women I know, I've been very interested lately in keeping up with the Occupy movement that started on Wall Street and has spread all over the United States and even the world. I keep running into my feminist friends down at Kerr Park in downtown Oklahoma City--and not the same ones, either.

Feminism as I know it is a movement about complete transformation of an oppressive world. Feminist analysis generally starts with an examination of gender, but it's not about keeping the same rotten system except with equal opportunity for women to be oppressors. Even though the Occupy movement has very little explicit feminist analysis, it has the feel of it of something that means to get to the roots of oppression and dig them out.

I was looking through my inbox looking for material for my latest blog post about Occupy OKC when I came across this reminder of events from 20 years ago that brought the nation face to face with the pervasive reality of sexual harassment in the workplace. As Emily Douglas of The Nation writes:
After the hearings in which Anita Hill testified about the harassment she’d been subjected to as an employee working under Clarence Thomas at the Department of Education and EEOC, and after Thomas had been confirmed to the Supreme Court, polls suggested that 70 percent of Americans felt Hill had been treated fairly by the Senate Judiciary Committee. It would take years before Hill would be vindicated in the view of the broader public—but, in the words of Catharine MacKinnon, the hearings served as a “massive consciousness-changing session” for the entire country. Even those who didn’t believe her were forced to admit that if what she said was true, Thomas should not have been confirmed to the Supreme Court—implicitly acknowledging that sexual harassment, long considered “just life,” was wrong, and women shouldn’t have to put up with it.
Of course, feminists had been talking about sexual harassment for years and organizing to end it. But it the grace and courage of University of Oklahoma law professor Anita Hill forced the nation to deal with this issue as never before.

With Hill's example to inspire them, women in Washington state shared with the press their stories of having been harassed and physically molested by Democratic Senator Brock Adams. Adams was driven from office by the allegations in 1992.

Oregon Republican Bob Packwood was the next to go. He had been narrowly re-elected to the Senate before the reports surfaced that he had a long history of sexually harassing female employees. Packwood finally resigned in 1995, after the Senate Ethics Committee unanimously recommended that he should be thrown out of the Senate.

As Emily Houston's Nation post reported, on Oct. 15 there was a conference honoring Hill at Hunter College in New York. I remember listening to the coverage of Hill's testimony 20 years ago and being filled with awe at her courage and filled with rage at the story that she told. Today, the fight against sexual harassment is not over, but it is less likely to be treated as a joke.

So here's a big thank you to Anita Hill, and a thank you to the feminist movements that have worked so hard to stop harassment. This serves as a reminder that when you move against injustice, people may treat you with disdain. Persistence is our only hope of success.

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