anita hill’s feminist legacy in the kavanaugh age

September 17, 2018
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27 years after coming forward with claims of sexual harassment against then-Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas, Anita Hill is more than just a symbolic voice in the era of #MeToo. Now, her story is set to be re-examined once more.

Over the weekend, Brett Kavanaugh, Donald Trump’s second Supreme Court nominee whose divisive Senate judiciary hearings have already sparked charges of perjury and misleading testimony, was accused of sexual misconduct as a young man. A California professor named Christine Blasey Ford has alleged a violent and abusive interaction with Kavanaugh when they were high school students in suburban Maryland in the early 1980s. Blasey Ford made these accusations to both her husband and her therapist back in 2012; and in July, upon learning of Kavanaugh’s nomination, sent a letter to the office to Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the ranking Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, detailing the alleged assault and her hope for anonymity.

And just like that, we have returned back to the culture of shame and disbelief of Anita Hill and her accusations against Thomas. In typical form, the old white Republican men were, with a few exceptions, skeptical of the victim, believing the accused predator. This is a pattern with the Grand Old Party in general, and the patriarchy at large. Since Hill’s 1991 testimony, which left her pilloried and saw Thomas ascend to the highest court in the land, little has been done to protect those who’ve come forward with allegations against officials.

“The reluctance of someone to come forward demonstrates that even in the #MeToo era, it remains incredibly difficult to report harassment, abuse or assault by people in power,” she said in her statement. “The Senate Judiciary Committee should put in place a process that enables anyone with a complaint of this nature to be heard,” Hill continues. “I have seen firsthand what happens when such a process is weaponized against an accuser, and no one should have to endure that again.”

One in four women are said to experience sexual misconduct in their lifetime. Why is it so hard for powerful men to acknowledge this and treat abuse claims with the seriousness that they deserve, instead of hiding behind partisan politics? Maybe it’s less to do with what’s right than it is with maintaining the power of the patriarchy—legislatively and culturally.

Without Anita Hill’s bravery in 1991, it’s extremely difficult to imagine a woman like Ford speaking out, even during this #MeToo era. Here’s hoping that the lessons of the past won’t let us repeat history.