Anita Hill on sexual harassment and survival: ‘You have to think: what is my life for?’

Before Christine Blasey Ford and Monica Lewinsky, there was Anita Hill, shamed for exposing the actions of a powerful man. She explains how she withstood the tumult

Anita Hill sits so still that, when she is not speaking, I worry that the screen through which we are talking may have frozen. Yet despite her lawyerly, academic poise, she exudes warmth: you would feel safe confiding in her. And that is what people have been doing for the past 30 years – telling her of their own experiences with sexual harassment and assault. “I was a symbol of so many people’s experiences,” she says.

In the pantheon of women shamed for exposing the actions of high-profile men – before Christine Blasey Ford in 2018 and Monica Lewinsky in 1998 – there was Anita Hill. In 1991, the US president, George HW Bush, nominated Clarence Thomas to the supreme court. Senate hearings for his confirmation were completed without incident, until an interview of Hill by the FBI was leaked to the press. In it, Hill accused Thomas of sexual harassment while he was her supervisor in two separate jobs, at the Department of Education and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Among other claims, Hill said that Thomas discussed women having sex with animals, and pornographic films depicting group sex or rape scenes, and described his own sexual prowess and anatomy. According to Hill, Thomas’s behaviour forced her to resign from her job.

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