In 1991, the University of Oklahoma law professor Anita Hill was only 29-years old when she testified in front of the Senate judiciary committee that their colleague, and her former boss, sexually harassed her. Her testimony was difficult as she stood in front of a predominantly all-male, all-white committee and her former boss, Clarence Thomas was a Supreme court nominee; however, she is considered the bellwether of change as her testimony sparked ongoing conversations about gender misconduct in the workplace.
At the time, it was taboo for women to speak-up against sexual harassment, as for following in Professor Hill’s footsteps could damage a women’s reputation rather than propel a movement towards sexual harassment accountability.
Her testimony was televised for three-days where she would recount her “most embarrassing” moment with Judge Thomas. Doubtful, the Senate committee responded cynically towards Professor Hill’s allegations, but it raised awareness that their reaction is part of the larger scope of the problem.
She faced the panel poised but resentfully disgusted as she details the harassment Judge Thomas perpetuated when he was a supervisor at two government agencies. For 8-hours, she was ridiculed by the hand of powerful men, where they asked her questions if she was a “scorned woman;” Sen. Arlen Specter challenges Professor Hill, asking “how can you allow this kind of reprehensible conduct to go on right in the headquarters without doing something about it;” Sen. Alan Simpson was told to “watch out for this woman” recounting warnings he has received about her from her former colleagues.
She was gaslit facing her deniers as they believed that these allegations were risky and a ploy from women to benefit from this. However, Anita’s plead was a voice of reckoning that needed to be heard as it sheds light on many women that experience familiar situations. Her testimony inspired a nationwide effort to stop workplace harassment once and for all. Although she faced a forceful denial from the public’s attention, many victims of sexual harassment recollected back to 1991 as strength to combat this prompting the emergence of the #MeToo movement.
When asked ‘how did 1991 change the course of her life,’ Mrs. Hill said she couldn’t imagine the trajectory her life will go. She reinstates that she still teaches at a university. “It’s my career. I maintain that” she says to the New York Times. “Although the content of what I teach now is different.” The impact of her voice was profound but stating that her voice was “the” voice implies the urgency of a larger problem: to strengthen workplace sexual harassment protections and accountability.
Anita Hill was listed as one of the Times magazine’s “100 Women of the Year.” Months after her testimony, Congress passed a law extending the rights of sexual-harassment victims, according to Times. “The Equal Opportunity Commission received a 50% increase in sexual-harassment complaints than it had the year before.” She focuses on equality in her teaching and continues to inspire women to speak-up against sexual harassment.