Anita Hill and Senator Biden

By Susan Estrich

March 20, 2019 5 min read

If you watched it, at least if you watched it like I did, it's almost impossible to forget.

An intelligent and respected law professor came forward to tell her account of her treatment by the man George H.W. Bush decided was the most qualified in America to serve on the Supreme Court. The hearings, until Anita Hill came forward, were a textbook display of obfuscation in which Judge Thomas managed to avoid expressing a view about any legal issue, all but assuring confirmation.

A day or two before the hearings began, I wrote an opinion piece for The New York Times. I dug it out: It could have been written before the Brett Kavanaugh hearing, which is certainly not what I expected. It should have been dated. It isn't. I explained all those things that every survivor knows but seems to utterly confound senators even now. No witnesses? No, gentlemen, very few people assault women with witnesses. No corroboration? In the old days, women were required to resist to the utmost, and there are people — politicians even — who continue to believe that it is "well-nigh impossible to rape a woman who is resisting." Wrong on that. Fresh complaint? When you see what happened to her, and then to Christine Blasey Ford, it's a miracle that women continue to have the courage to face yet another victimization.

That's what I told Senator Joe Biden on the phone. Don't attack Anita Hill. She's not on trial. You're not sitting in judgment of her. If you don't think her complaints are enough to cost him the seat, then say it. If you do (or if you don't have the guts to say that), then don't turn her into a liar to give you an excuse to beat your chests about sexual harassment while destroying the woman who had the courage to speak up.

Whatever you do, don't put the victim on trial. It would be terrible for victims.

They did. Seven men. Biden presiding.

Asking her to put herself in his shoes? Insisting that she take the perspective of the man who harassed her, explain his motives, exculpate him even?

Consider this exchange between Senator Biden and Professor Hill:

BIDEN: Can you tell the committee what was the most embarrassing of all the incidences that you have alleged?

HILL: I think the one that was the most embarrassing was his discussion of pornography involving these women with large breasts engaged in a variety of sex with different people, or animals. That was the thing that embarrassed me the most and made me feel the most humiliated.

BIDEN: If you can, in his words, not yours, in his words, can you tell us what on that occasion, he said to you? You have described the essence of the conversation. In order for us to determine, can you tell us his words, what he said?

HILL: I really cannot quote him verbatim. I can remember something like, you really ought to see these films that I've seen, or this material that I've seen. This woman has this kind of breasts, or breasts that measure this size, and they've got her in there with all kinds of things, she's doing all kinds of different sex acts. Those were the kinds of words, where he expressed his enjoyment of it, and seemed to try to encourage me to enjoy that kind of material as well.

BIDEN: Did he indicate why he thought you should see this material?

HILL: No.

BIDEN: Why do you think — what was your reaction? Why did you think he was saying these things to you?

HILL: Well, coupled with the pressure about going out with him, I felt that, implicit in this discussion about sex was the offer to have sex with him — not just to go out with him. There was never any explicit thing about going out to dinner, or going to a particular concert or movie, it was, "We ought to go out," and given these other conversations, I took that to mean we ought to have sex, or we ought to look at these pornographic movies together.

Hard to forget.

To find out more about Susan Estrich and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.

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