Education

Anita Hill: Leadership needed to stop gender violence

In Iowa City, she says she would still testify against Supreme Court nominee

Anita Hill gives a keynote address, #x201c;From Social Movement to Social Impact: Putting an End to Sexual Harassment,#x
Anita Hill gives a keynote address, “From Social Movement to Social Impact: Putting an End to Sexual Harassment,” Thursday evening at the Iowa Memorial Union in Iowa City. She called for leadership from presidential candidates — and all her listeners — to end sexual and gender violence. Hill became a household name in 1991 when she testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee, accusing Clarence Thomas, a nominee to the U.S. Supreme Court, of sexual harassment when they worked together at the U.S. Department of Education. (Andy Abeyta/The Gazette)

IOWA CITY — As a high-profile survivor of sexual and gender violence, Anita Hill’s story has connected with a wide array of victims and survivors.

In 1991, Hill became a national figure when she went before the Senate Judiciary Committee to accuse U.S. Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas of sexual harassment. Thomas, much like nominee Brett Kavanaugh in 2018, went on to be confirmed as a justice.

Hill, speaking to a crowd of nearly 1,000 on the University of Iowa campus Thursday evening, said she has found common threads in the #MeToo movement, Harvey Weinstein’s arrest, clergy sex abuse and racial and LGBTQ discrimination.

While she doesn’t have answers to all the problems, she also refuses to think they are unsolvable, human nature or inevitable.

“These problems are real,” said Hill, now 63 and a professor at Brandeis University. “And I want leadership that’s willing to say that, and say it out loud.”

Less than two weeks before Iowa’s first-in-the-nation caucuses, Hill did not shy away from the political landscape she walked into with her first-ever visit to Iowa.

“Since I’m in Iowa, I will just say, that you have something to do,” she told the crowd. “We need leaders who will take up the mantle to get us where we need to be on gender-based violence.

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“I’m talking about leadership, and I’m not talking about anyone in particular,” she added. “As much as you would like to say I am.”

Joe Biden, among the leaders for the Democratic presidential nomination, was chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee 28 years ago when Hill, at age 35, brought allegations against Thomas. The confirmation hearings were contentious and sparked debate about issues of gender and race.

Asked specifically about Biden’s role in those hearings, Hill said, “The statute of limitations for an apology is up.”

“Here is what I want now,” she said. “What are you going to do about it? What are you going to do today, knowing that 1991 was just the beginning … what are you going to do today, and will you promise, as leader of this country, and it could happen, would you promise to use all of your energy to address the problem?”

That, Hill said, “is what I want to hear.”

“And I not only want to hear it from him, but I want to hear it from every one” of the candidates, she said.

Beyond leadership, Hill charged the audience to take it upon themselves to pursue survivor-focused solutions and do their part to change the persistent culture of “hyper-masculinity.”

“We must stop equating physical aggression with masculinity,” she said. “Somehow culture has taught us early on that masculinity is defined by aggression and power.”

Hill also urged the audience to believe survivors and listen to them and to continue to grapple for answers and solutions to these difficult social ills facing the country.

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“We have to acknowledge that there is no quick fix,” she said. “We don’t have all the answers. But we have to come to them.”

For that reason, in part, Hill said she again would choose to testify — even knowing it wouldn’t halt Thomas’ appointment to the court and would subject her to pain and public scrutiny and criticism.

When asked what she would say to Christine Blasey Ford — who testified in 2018 to allegations of sexual assault against then-U.S. Supreme Court nominee Kavanaugh — Hill said, “You did an incredible job in an impossible situation.”

“Also, you educated the world about our need for government agencies and committees to respond in a way that allows more people to come forward,” Hill said. “And while it might be impossible for you to believe this right now, you have made a difference.”

Comments: (319) 339-3158; vanessa.miller@thegazette.com

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