What Has Been the Impact of Anita Hill?
Twenty years after the Thomas hearings, a conference introduces her legacy to a new generation.
The Lessons for a New Generation
Laetitia Donnet, 26, a Hunter College junior studying romance languages, had never heard of Anita Hill until her political science professor suggested that she go to the conference. Her boyfriend, Sam Mbassa, 33, who attended with her, filled in the blanks.
Donnet, daughter of a Haitian mother and Belgian father, grew up in Belgium. "I've never felt discrimination as a woman, but know my mom was in positions of powerlessness," she said. "This helps to understand what challenges lie ahead. But it also helps me appreciate the steps that women have taken to protect women like me. It's inspiring."
For Nicole Clark, 28, a social worker who was 8 at the time of Hill's testimony, the conference reinforced the importance of having black women speak out as black people and as women. "It's especially difficult in the black community, where brothers and sisters have stood together to fight racism," she said, "but black men need to recognize that we have experiences that transcend race."
And perhaps, for some young women, the meaning of Anita Hill is just becoming clear. Tynisha Foster-Bey, a Hunter junior in women's studies and African-American history, was 3 when the hearings occurred. She didn't have much to say about the conference -- a professor had suggested that she go, and she was taking it all in.
When asked if she'd ever experienced harassment, she initially said no. But she added that a young Asian woman at her workplace, a restaurant in Queens, had complained up the chain that a white male supervisor's sexual language, jokes and drawings made her feel uncomfortable. Staffers initially took their boss's side, Foster-Bey said, even though they'd also witnessed the inappropriate jokes. Foster-Bey saw the parallels between her co-worker and Anita Hill.
"She had some fears, but she did it anyway," she said. "And it worked out better for her because he was fired and she's still there." She thought for a moment and added, "I see her as a hero."
Crenshaw described the 20-year milestone as a "torch-passing moment" and urged the audience to link women's equality with racial equality, making it clear that the third wave of feminism was alive and well. It may even have a new hue.
Anita Hill should be pleased.
Editor's note: The video of "Sex, Power and Speaking Truth: Anita Hill 20 Years Later" can be seen on C-SPAN.
Robin D. Stone is a freelance writer and editor in New York.