Yesterday the Washington Post published the strangest story of the week: “Virginia Thomas Seeks Apology From Anita Hill.”
“Good morning Anita Hill, it’s Ginni Thomas,” said the message left this month, according to a transcript provided by ABC News. “I just want to reach across the airwaves and the years and ask you to consider something. I would love you to consider an apology sometimes and some full explanation of why you did what you did with my husband.”
What Anita Hill did to Ginni Thomas’s husband was accuse him of sexual harassment at his Supreme Court confirmation hearings in 1991. I was in 12th grade, and when Hill testified before Congress, a television was brought into Government class so that we could watch. In the days before the 24-hour news cycle, Supreme Court confirmation hearings were never broadcast live. But Anita Hill was doing something historic, something revolutionary, and the networks knew it. Looking back, it was a remarkable, almost subversive, act on my teacher’s part, especially given the discussions of pubic hairs and “Long Dong Silver” videos. It is probably not a coincidence that the teacher who showed us the hearings is a woman.
There was no doubt in my mind that Anita Hill was telling the truth. As a teenage girl, I knew how gut-wrenching it is to speak the truth about being bullied, about creepy behavior, about people taking advantage. I believed her because I knew that nobody would line herself up for that kind of scrutiny and abuse unless she was either telling the truth or straight-up insane. Anita Hill was obviously not insane, and she was no liar. The (white) men on the Senate Judiciary Committee may not have known this, but I knew it when I was sixteen years old.
Less than a year after watching Anita Hill testify, I got my first job. Right away, a man who worked there started bringing Victoria’s Secret catalogues to my desk so he could “show ya my favorites!”, offered to take me to a popular DC strip club, and opined that “you’d look good naked.” He was in his late thirties. I was 17. I immediately flashed back to Anita Hill in her turquoise suit, telling her story calmly, and with dignity. I walked into the boss’s office, feeling distinctly nauseous, and told her what had happened. She listened, her face impassive, then told me to go back to my desk. As I got up to leave she said, in a level voice,”Becky, I’m sorry. Sometimes this happens.” The man in question never spoke to me again, although I worked two summers at that office. God bless that boss. If only there were more like her.
“Sometimes this happens” was pretty fucking prescient. I am 35 now. I have worked in more than one “hostile workplace.” I have been groped, propositioned, had my looks and clothes commented on, and been asked intrusive questions about my sex life and my body. So yeah…sometimes this happens. Every working woman I know—every single one—has at least one story like this. My grandmother, a widowed, working mom in the 1950s, put up with it. My mother put up with it. My aunts put up with it. My friends and mentors put up with it.
Did Anita Hill tell the truth? Fuck yeah. She told our truth.