What Has Been the Impact of Anita Hill?
Twenty years after the Thomas hearings, a conference introduces her legacy to a new generation.
Hill described her new book, Reimagining Equality: Stories of Gender, Race, and Finding Home, as the exploration of a certain concept as central to achieving the American dream: the concept of home as a safe space where women are valued, "an ideal state of being as much as a place which is re-imagined for each generation." Similarly, she said, "we should also imagine a workplace where sexual harassment no longer exists."
Gender or Racial Solidarity?
Speaker after speaker rallied the capacity crowd of 2,000, describing how Hill's testimony prompted an avalanche of sexual harassment complaints, inspired progressive women and men to strengthen anti-harassment measures and challenged assumptions that racial solidarity trumps gender solidarity. (Guinier: "Many of us had to deal with the ambivalence and the ignorance of the question, 'Are you black or are you a woman?' ") I scanned the audience of mostly white, mostly gray (or strategically covered gray) women and noticed a smattering of young black women throughout.
Black-white tensions have splintered the women's movement from the start -- from black women's fight to be included in the suffrage campaigns at the start of the 20th century to black women sitting out today's "SlutWalk" protest marches against victim blaming in cases of sexual assault. At the same time, black women have been challenged to choose race over gender or gender over race, depending on with whom they were standing.
For young black women, I wondered, as one conference session was titled, "What Does Anita Hill Mean to You?" Jamia Wilson, 31, vice president of programs at the Women's Media Center, an event co-sponsor, gave a glimpse of that meaning. Wilson, who shared the stage with Guinier and law professors Judith Resnick of Yale and Catharine MacKinnon of the University of Michigan, said that she learned of Anita Hill by watching the infamous hearings on television with her family when she was 11 years old.
"It's something that forever changed who I am today," she said from the podium, describing the anger and passion that led her, as a tween, to proclaim at her parents' dinner party, "I believe Anita Hill, and I'm a feminist!" Rather than Clarence Thomas' claim of a "high-tech lynching," Wilson said, "It was a modern-day witch hunt."
After her presentation, Wilson told me, "I see Anita Hill as a feminist icon: She was one person who experienced what a lot of people experience every day. We were here in '91, and we're still here in 2011 asking the same questions."