The world is ripe to revisit Anita Hill’s story—and to catch up on where her story has gone.
Young women today were too young to have watched the confirmation hearings of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas in 1991, but they may know Hill’s name anyway.
She testified at these hearings about the sexual harassment she experienced while working for Thomas at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). Thomas was confirmed—by the narrowest margin of approval in over a century—and continues to serve as a Supreme Court justice.
In December 2017, Hill was asked to lead the Commission on Sexual Harassment and Advancing Equality in the Workplace.
The commission was spearheaded by women in entertainment, and seeks to correct the industry’s issues, thrust into the spotlight by the #MeToo movement.
Their second meeting is in March.
“When you have a culture that supports harassment, it also supports other kinds of biases,” Hill said. “We’re going to be looking at all of the ways that under-represented or marginalized communities are kept from having equal opportunity and equal outcome in the entertainment industry.”
Hill has said that coming forward with the allegations in 1991 changed the trajectory of her life. Since that hearing, she has leaned into that trajectory and used her platform to continue the conversation around sexual harassment in the workplace.
Although Hill’s testimony sparked this conversation 27 years ago, only recently has the conversation sparked a movement.
In 1992, there were almost 10 times as many sexual harassment claims filed with the EEOC than the year before—from 1,244 to 10,532. This is a source of pride for Hill.
“I’m not just proud of the fact that they filed complaints in court or with their employers; I’m also proud that they were able to share their stories with their families,” she said. “This is something that women had been keeping secret from the people who cared about them…and just had no idea that they had to suffer.”
Hill has had many accomplishments beyond her difficult testimony from that year.
She became the first tenured Black professor at the University of Oklahoma, wrote several books, and has remained an advocate for equality for over the last 27 years.
She’s now a full-time law professor at Brandeis University, although she is currently on a one-year leave.
And her leave is not a vacation—she’s at MIT assessing the 45th year of Title IX and the various ways that women still suffer disadvantages in higher education, particularly women in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math).
She’s also serving on the board of directors of the National Women’s Law Center, the organization that administers the money raised from the TIME’S UP Legal Defense Fund.
When I asked Hill what her greatest accomplishment was, she said, “I haven’t had it yet.”
Hill is proud “that the groundwork that had been laid by me and by many other women who have been involved in research, filed complaints, or done advocacy work has led to this moment.”
But she says there is still work to do.
“With the work of this commission, and with the work that I’m continuing to do, I’m [confident] that we will see more change,” she said.
Women’s movements are working to hold abusers accountable, and reduce the risks of coming forward with sexual harassment complaints. But Hill said it’s still not possible for every woman to formally come forward.
“Not everybody’s going to be able to file a complaint, because we still know that there are women who are too vulnerable to come forward,” she said.
Hill said she wants to take a look at the history of sexual harassment, and “to see this moment in time as an enlarging of our ideas about what is freedom and what’s equality,” she said.
“For too long,” she said, “the idea that women and girls—and really all people—should be free of sexual coercion, wasn’t part of a bigger agenda of equality. And this is a moment where we can make it a part of that.
“So how we now think about equality needs to include the freedom to work, and go to school, and walk the streets free of sexual assault and harassment.”
Hill is excited to come to Oakland. She is speaking at the Barbara Lee & Elihu Harris Lecture Series on Saturday, March 10, 7 p.m., at the Oakland Marriott City Center, 1001 Broadway in Oakland.
The event, which is free, is part of the Elihu Harris & Barbara Lee Lecture Series, co-presented by the Martin Luther King Jr. Freedom Center and Peralta Community College District.
To RSVP, call (510) 434-3988.