By REBECCA KATHERINE HIRSCH
20 years ago this month College Professor Anita Hill took to the witness stand at the confirmation hearings of Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas. Despite being accused of “flat-out perjury,” Hill courageously revealed to the world that whilst working under Thomas’, the Supreme Court nominee had not only pressured her for dates, but, had boasted of his sexual prowess and regularly, with great detail had described pornographic films to her.
Two decades later on October 15 prominent scholars, attorneys, journalists, activists and our very own Emily May came together for New York City conference “Sex, Power and Speaking Truth: Anita Hill 20 Years Later” to celebrate the controversy that not only launched modern day public awareness but redefined stock assumptions of exactly how sexual harassment manifests itself. And I was lucky enough to bag myself a ticket.
Anita Hill gave a wonderfully casual and gracious talk about her experiences regarding intersectional racism-sexism in the wake of her 1991 hearing. Amidst the rejuvenating hullabaloo a poignant moment stood out to me. Hill referred to polls revealing that 70 percent of Americans felt that she had been treated fairly by the all-white, all-male Senate Judiciary. I asked myself how is this possible? Largely due to gender stereotyping and the myth of manipulative women. The severity of such stock perceptions is their impact on an honest woman’s testimonial. I believe that this form of sexism survives by condoning the “boys will be boys” attitude, whereby a male is above the law by virtue of his boyhood. A woman, particularly one of color with all the historical baggage of colonization and slavery, is seen as sexually available by default. To protest sexual harassment, in this instance, is ridiculous because “boys will be boys.”
Anita Hill made no apologies for audaciously confronting her attacker and celebrating her tenacity 20 years on will hopefully educate and inspire the next generation of empowered women. The conference yielded the notion that education starts from the ground up. Actively speaking the truth is the first step to enacting legislation against any type of harassment to create an environment where people take women seriously because women take themselves seriously. I encourage women to speak up and defend themselves! If you hear:
Take him on:
“Oh hey, you think I’m sexy? Well, geez! I just feel like I’m walking home! But tell me about that…”
Issues of gender-based stereotyping, violence and sexism in general should not be a taboo subject, bring it up at family dinners, in friendly emails, on Facebook or Twitter, at school, in the park or at the store. Being a kick-ass, sassy and change inspiring feminist is a fun and full-time job and it pays off to be empowering yourself and those around you. Show people that the stereotypes are wrong all we want is gender equality and mutual respect.
“We, as activists and saboteurs who seek to upset the status quo, are in a place of danger and we need to protect ourselves. And yet, we are about to be free and we are not going to stop.”