By Kathy Groob, founder ElectWomen
On a flight to Philadelphia I couldn’t wait to lift off so I could watch Anita, Speaking Truth to Power, the new documentary film I had downloaded on my iPad. Like so many women in 1991, I was riveted to my television while the nation watched the live Senate hearings that thrust Anita Hill, an unassuming college professor, into the public spotlight for which she was unprepared and victimized for telling her stories of sexual harassment by Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas. At the time I believed Anita Hill and saw that she had exposed a long dark secret of sexual harassment that many employed women endured but remained silent.
The new documentary film recounts the senate hearings where Anita Hill came forward to tell the truth about sexual harassment that she endured while working for Clarence Thomas. Twenty-three years later, film director Frieda Mock takes us through those painful hearings, the media frenzy that surrounded Anita Hill’s testimony and the years that followed; including the year of the woman, in 1992 when record numbers of women ran for public office. The film details the years that it took for Anita Hill to rebuild her reputation and her life.
I found myself shaking my head and tearing up several times during the film, feeling the familiar outrage welling up in me again, watching this brave woman endure the one-sided treatment she received at the hands of the Senate panel. Her impressive education and career weren’t enough to give her credibility with the senate panel. I watched once again, as the panel of familiar faces of 14 white men grilled her about terribly uncomfortable situations she had already described in detail in her statement. Even when a table full of her professional colleagues spoke as character witnesses about her integrity and honesty, still the senators were relentless.
The Anita Hill hearings were a turning point for women
The moment that Anita Hill emerged as a witness to a powerful man’s character and behavior, her life changed forever and the phrase sexual harassment became a household word in corporations and offices across the country. Before Anita Hill stepped forward, women accepted sexual innuendos, jokes, dirty pictures and slurs as commonplace. It was so common and such a part of male-dominated workplaces that women didn’t speak about it, didn’t report it while enduring the uncomfortable feelings.
I know a little something about what Anita Hill went through and why she did not come forward to make a complaint. At 20, I was working as a bookkeeper at an all male engineering firm while putting myself through college. Eager to learn how to run a business, I spent each day working hard for the partners and staff. Along with casual conversations that occurred around the coffee pot and during lunchtime, there were other conversations that I listened to on a regular basis. Dirty jokes, descriptions of women who had large busts and sexy figures; and posters of Farrah Fawcett in a bathing suit were hung in the “drafting room”. I even had to listen regularly to stories from one particular partner about his sex life and how much better he was at sex in the morning with his wife.
Looking back, I can only imagine the look on my face as I listened daily to these inappropriate comments, jokes and stories. There was nothing in my background or education that would have equipped me to deal with the men I worked with each day. These were family men; men with daughters of their own. And these men were my bosses. There was no human resources department, no sexual harassment training, or laws of any kind against this type of workplace behavior. Listening to my friends, I wasn’t alone; it was very common to be chased around and “hit on” by bosses and co-workers. It was just part of the 1970’s workplace.
For me it took until the Working Girl Movie and the Anita Hill hearings to realize what I had been subjected to and that is had a name—sexual harassment.
Law professor Anita Hill did not set out to become a leader on women’s rights in the workplace, but she became one. Her testimony opened the doors for women to come forward, for more women to run for office and for laws to be passed banning sexual harassment in the workplace. Sexual harassment is still visible today across the globe and it is a systemic problem in the United States Military. But because of Anita Hill, women are no longer living in secret and in shame because somebody they work for plays out his sexual fantasies at work.
Thank you Anita Hill.
The Anita Hill movie is available now on ITunes
For more information about the I Believe Anita Hill movement: