Written by SP Biloxi
I had the opportunity to see Anita Hill documentary this weekend tat played in limited theaters. In 1991, Anita Hill, a young law professor, testified that her former boss and then-Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas had sexually harassed her. Sexual harassment, during that time, was not opened topic to discuss. But, Ms. Hill’s testimony to the Senate committee provided a serious open dialogue to a topic and a need for change that is still an issue today 20 year later. The Senate Judiciary Committee which was an all white male committee, treated Ms. Hill as if she were on trial. One senator had referred to her a “scorned woman.” Clarence Thomas denied all charges that Ms. Hill accused Mr. Thomas of. But, what I walked away with from watching this documentary and reliving that hearing that I watched on TV is what about the other women that were not called in for testimony at the hearing that accused Mr. Thomas of inappropriate remarks and sexual harassment similar to Ms. Hill’s accusations?
The Senate never talked to Lillian McEwen who was a former assistant U.S. attorney and Senate Judiciary Committee counsel and who had dated Mr. Thomas for years.
She had worked on the Hill and was wary of entering the political cauldron of the hearings. She was never asked to testify, as then-Sen. Joe Biden (D-Del.), who headed the committee, limited witnesses to women who had a “professional relationship” with Thomas.
Now, she says that Thomas often said inappropriate things about women he met at work — and that she could have added her voice to the others, but didn’t.
Given that history, she said Hill’s long-ago description of Thomas’s behavior resonated with her.
“He was obsessed with porn,” she said of Thomas, who is now 63. “He would talk about what he had seen in magazines and films, if there was something worth noting.”
McEwen added that she had no problem with Thomas’s interests, although she found pornography to be “boring.”
According to McEwen, Thomas would also tell her about women he encountered at work. He was partial to women with large breasts, she said. In an instance at work, Thomas was so impressed that he asked one woman her bra size, McEwen recalled him telling her.
What about Angela Wright who worked as director of public affairs at the EEOC under Mr. Thomas? From Salon:
Upon learning of Hill’s claims, another former Thomas employee, Angela Wright, who had worked under him as director of public affairs at the EEOC, wrote a column — not meant for publication and intended only to show potential employers at a North Carolina newspaper that she could turn around a fast and topical piece — outlining the inappropriate behavior he’d exhibited toward her. Somehow, Judiciary Committee investigators learned of the column, contacted Wright, and convinced her to sit for a phone interview, during which she detailed a pattern of harassing behavior, including an instance in which Thomas asked her what her bra size was. She was subpoenaed by the committee and flew to Washington to testify in the nationally televised hearing; the basics of her claims were reported by media outlets at the time. Her testimony would have bolstered Hill’s case — a second female Thomas underling, one who had never met or worked with Hill, accusing him of the same conduct. But the committee never called Wright, and instead simply entered the transcript of her interview into its record on the eve of the final vote. The details of her interview were buried in press reports.
Or Rose Jourdain?
Rose Jourdain, who had worked with Wright under Thomas, told committee investigators that Wright had spoken to her while they worked together about their boss’ conduct. As later reported by Graves, “Though her recollections had differed slightly from Wright’s, Jourdain … had confirmed the basic elements of Wright’s account, including Wright’s anger at Thomas for what Wright had said was overtly sexist behavior. Jourdain had mentioned “comments [Wright] told me that he was making concerning her figure, her body, her breasts, her legs, how she looked in certain suits and dresses.”
Or Sukari Hardnett?
In a letter to the committee, a former aide to Thomas at the EEOC, Sukari Hardnett, wrote that many black women at the agency felt they were “an object of special interest” to their boss. “If you were young, black, female and reasonably attractive,” her letter read, “you knew full well you were being inspected and auditioned as a female.”
Lastly, statements from Mr. Thomas’ acquaintances from his college years?
In November ’94, three years after Thomas was confirmed, Wall Street Journal reporters Jill Abramson and Jane Mayer released a book, “Strange Justice,” which brought new information about the Thomas/Hill confrontation to light. As a Washington Post article described it:
“Strange Justice” uses statements from Thomas’s friends and associates to undermine Thomas’s testimony that he never talked dirty with Hill. The authors, after interviewing acquaintances as far back as his college years at Holy Cross, report that he often recounted sexually explicit films in lurid detail. Kaye Savage, a former colleague, reports that the walls of his bachelor apartment were covered with Playboy nude centerfolds. The owner of a video store near the EEOC said Thomas was a regular customer for pornographic movies.”
Unfortunately, none of the women were given an opportunity to testify. There are people who don’t believe Anita Hill’s testimony today but believe Mr. Thomas or vice versa.( On a side note: from the documentary, Ms. Hill showed file cabinets in her basement of her home full of letters throughout the years from approximately 25,000 + people who shared their support and stories. And many of the letters are from men.) But, rest assured the goal of the Senate Committee was to target one woman for humiliation on national television as a warning to other women who wanted to speak out about employment harassment. Has anything changed in Washington? You can only answer that question. After all, remember Sandra Fluke, an attorney and women’s right activist who was refused by Republican members of House Oversight and Government Reform Committee to allow her to testify on the importance of requiring insurance plans to cover birth control during a discussion on whether medical insurance should have a contraception mandate. Republican members of House Oversight and Government Reform Committee then replace Sandra Fluke with men from conservative religious organizations to testify. Anita Hill documentary certainly is perfect timing to discuss and end the gender inequality in this country and the documentary is not just about setting the record of who was telling the truth in the 1991 Senate hearing. Ms. Hill’s message simply is she is helping women find their voices. She found her voice and she is not afraid to use it.