It’s been 20 years since Anita Hill had the temerity to challenge the U.S. Supreme Court nomination of Clarence Thomas. It took a lot of nerve for her to come forth with allegations of sexual harassment against a man who was lined up to be the second African American male to serve on the Supreme Court.
She certainly knew that her every word and motion, her career and life would be severely scrutinized. But she did it anyway, with incredible grace and dignity. And in the 20 years since the spectacle of white men on the Senate Judiciary Committee grilling her, she has gained stature for bringing attention to the everyday kind of sexual harassment that many women experienced on their jobs. The year following Hill’s testimony, reports of sexual harassment to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission increased by 50 percent, according to a recent story in Newsweek.
Yet she has managed to maintain her privacy and dignity, having little to say publicly on the subject since her 1997 book Speaking Truth to Power. In her recent book, Reimagining Equality: Stories of Gender, Race, and Finding Home, she profiles myriad inequalities faced by women, minorities, and the poor and challenges the nation to live up to its ideals. The Newsweek article describes her as steadfast in her insistence she was telling the truth in her testimony and serene in the face of detractors.
Justice Thomas has paid his own price for the notoriety, as the media (including National Public Radio) have widely reported on the occasion of the 20th anniversary of the hearings. Thomas’ wife, Ginni, added to the awkwardness with a harassing phone call to Hill last October. Despite the enormous harassment that Hill endured following her testimony, it has apparently been the source of even more agony for the Thomases.
For her part, in those 20 years Hill has gained respect for her continued dignity, teaching public policy, law and women’s studies at Brandeis University and accepting an invitation to speak at a recent commemoration acknowledging her contribution to standing up against sexual harassment. It would seem that for Hill, serenity – more so than success – is the best revenge.