Dear Commons Community,
With the accusation of sexual misconduct threatening to derail Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court, various observers have begun to compare the accuser, Christine Blasey Ford to Anita Hill who in 1991, accused Clarence Thomas of inappropriate behavior during his confirmation hearings. The cases seem similar at first: Hill and Ford, both college professors, accused a man nominated to the country’s highest court of sexual misconduct. On closer examination, however, the two accusations are different in many details. In 1991, Hill was a tenured professor at a major research institution, accusing Thomas of harassing her in the workplace. Today, Ford teaches at a university that specializes narrowly in psychology programs, and her assault allegation dates to when she and Kavanaugh were suburban teenagers. Below is an analysis courtesy of The Chronicle of Higher Education.
When Anita Hill Testified, These Scholars Were Moved to Act. Now They’re Contemplating What’s Changed.
By Fernanda Zamudio-Suaréz
SEPTEMBER 17, 2018
In 1991, Mary Gray, a professor of mathematics and statistics at American University, watched Anita Hill tell the Senate Judiciary Committee that her former boss Clarence Thomas, recently nominated to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court, had sexually harassed her.
Gray also watched as the credibility of Hill, a law professor at the University of Oklahoma, was questioned by both lawmakers and the viewing public. By the time Thomas was confirmed, Gray was pushing her university to consider revising its own student-conduct code, for both its own protection and that of accused students. She told The Chronicle that the hearings had inspired the second look.
On Sunday, Christine Blasey Ford, a professor at Palo Alto University, accused Brett M. Kavanaugh, the current Supreme Court nominee, of sexually assaulting her when they were high-school students, in the early 1980s. And professors like Gray had occasion to consider what has changed — and what hasn’t — since the law professor’s experience discouraged so many women nearly three decades ago.
The cases seem similar at first: Hill and Ford, both college professors, accused a man nominated to the country’s highest court of sexual misconduct. On closer examination, however, the two accusations are different in almost every detail. In 1991, Hill was a tenured professor at a major research institution, accusing Thomas of harassing her in the workplace. Today, Ford teaches at a university that specializes narrowly in psychology programs, and her assault allegation dates to when she and Kavanaugh were suburban teenagers.
In a Washington Post interview, Ford said Kavanaugh and a friend were both drunk when they took her into a bedroom during a gathering of friends at a home in the Washington suburbs some 35 years ago. Kavanaugh assaulted her, she said. He has denied the allegations, and he and Ford will both testify before the Senate committee on Monday.
Despite the differences, Ford’s accusation gives those who watched Hill testify déjà vu. In the middle of the #MeToo movement, scholars like Gray say the time is ripe to evaluate the progress of women’s rights.
If Thomas’s hearing and his subsequent appointment left many women deeply disillusioned, said Gray, the recent success of women who have taken on men in Hollywood, politics, corporations, and the academy for sexual harassment has changed the equation. But it took years. “That fact that we see all of it now is because there have been some successes,” Gray said. “There was no success with Anita Hill.”
Still, that feeling of progress has its limits. Despite the attention being paid to women’s issues and the #MeToo movement, Gray said, she expects Kavanaugh to be confirmed.
After watching Hill’s case unfold, and now Ford’s, Gray said both serve as reminders to her students to speak up immediately after they have been assaulted or harassed.
In 1991, Deborah L. Rhode, a Stanford University law professor who specializes in ethics and gender issues, joined more than 100 other professors in signing a petition urging senators to delay Thomas’s vote until the Judiciary Committee had evaluated Hill’s charges. Now, she said, women have more power to levy accusations.
“The lesson today with the #MeToo movement has been that women have voice and agency, and they can come forward without risking all, and that their concerns will be taken seriously,” Rhode said.
And after repeated cases of serial sexual harassers have come to the public’s attention, a woman can be a little more at ease that she might not be the lone accuser, Rhode said. “Women are realizing that it’s hard to be the first,” she said, “but there’s a very good chance that you won’t be out there alone for very long.”
There was an uptick in concerns about sexual harassment after Hill, Rhode said. Complaints to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission went up too. Companies and various institutions introduced training to warn against and curb sexual harassment.
Now things have come full circle, she said.
At least Ford’s accusations can be taken seriously, for the moment.