27 Years After Anita Hill, Congress Still Got It Wrong

As seen in the Senate's treatment of Christine Blasey Ford, women are still having to bear the burden to prove they're telling the truth about powerful men.

The Senate’s treatment of Anita Hill in 1991 is considered a national embarrassment.

The treatment of Christine Blasey Ford will not go down in history much better.

Twenty-seven years later, women are still expected to pour out their experiences and perform their trauma in order to be believed.

“While young women are standing up and saying ‘No more,’ our institutions have not progressed in how they treat women who come forward,” said Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), the ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee. “Too often, women’s memories and credibility come under assault. In essence, they are put on trial and forced to defend themselves, and often revictimized in the process.”

Christine Blasey Ford testified 27 years after Anita Hill spoke out against Clarence Thomas. 
Christine Blasey Ford testified 27 years after Anita Hill spoke out against Clarence Thomas. 

When Hill testified about the sexual harassment she allegedly faced from Clarence Thomas, she went up against a Senate Judiciary Committee composed entirely of white men, who seemed unable or uninterested to comprehend what she was talking about. And then the Senate confirmed Clarence Thomas to the Supreme Court anyway. 

The committee is more diverse in 2018 ― but only on the Democratic side, which now has both women and people of color. The Republican side is still composed entirely of white men. 

Recognizing the optics and the high likelihood that one of their members would come out looking bad, Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) hired Rachel Mitchell, a female sex crimes prosecutor, to question both Blasey and Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh for them. 

The photos are just as damning though.

The Republican members of the Senate Judiciary Committee -- all white men -- listen to prosecutor Rachel Mitchell question Ch
The Republican members of the Senate Judiciary Committee -- all white men -- listen to prosecutor Rachel Mitchell question Christine Blasey Ford for them.
Anita Hill testified before an all-male Senate Judiciary Committee in 1991.
Anita Hill testified before an all-male Senate Judiciary Committee in 1991.

Hiring a prosecutor backfired. Mitchell tried, and failed, to find holes in Blasey’s story. Her questioning seemed disjointed and ineffective. And it made it seem like Blasey was the one who had something to answer for. 

“You are not on trial,” Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) reminded Blasey. 

“This is a disaster for the Republicans,” concluded Fox News host Chris Wallace. 

As was the case with Hill, Blasey’s testimony was riveting. In 1991, Hill spoke about sexual harassment, which was pervasive but little-discussed in public. Her testimony broke the floodgates and made it a national issue. On Thursday, Blasey spoke about what teenage girls face at the hands of boys, who use them for power plays and bonding with their male friends. 

“I was underneath one of them while the two laughed. Two friends having a really good time with one another,” Blasey said of her most indelible memory of the alleged attack.

Blasey’s prepared opening remarks were available the day before Thursday’s hearing. In them, she described her allegations of being sexually assaulted by Kavanaugh when they were teenagers: 

I was pushed onto the bed and Brett got on top of me. He began running his hands over my body and grinding his hips into me. I yelled, hoping someone downstairs might hear me, and tried to get away from him, but his weight was heavy. Brett groped me and tried to take off my clothes. He had a hard time because he was so drunk, and because I was wearing a one-piece bathing suit under my clothes. I believed he was going to rape me. I tried to yell for help. When I did, Brett put his hand over my mouth to stop me from screaming. This was what terrified me the most, and has had the most lasting impact on my life. It was hard for me to breathe, and I thought that Brett was accidentally going to kill me.

But it was hearing Blasey read that statement, near tears, that so moved people.

“You read the opening statement by Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, and it is one thing. But then you hear it, and in the way that she expresses it ... it is a totally different thing,” said Fox News host Brett Baier. 

The Senate failed Anita Hill. ... I’m concerned that we’re doing a lot less for these three women today. Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.)

Blasey, like Hill, is up against a White House and Senate Republicans who want to push their Supreme Court nominee through as quickly as possible, upset that the allegations came out so close to a vote. 

Neither woman wanted to be in the public spotlight, but both were pushed there when the media broke the stories of their allegations. 

The only reason Hill was allowed to testify was because female Democratic lawmakers, primarily in the House, pressured their male colleagues to let her speak. (Barbara Mikulski was the only Democratic woman in the Senate at the time.)

Although Democrats controlled the majority at the time, they did little to come to Hill’s aid as Republicans tore into her credibility, portraying her as a jilted lover, a fabulist and an opportunist. 

Twenty-seven years later, Blasey testified only after Democrats pressed their Republican colleagues, who were eager to confirm Kavanaugh as quickly as possible. Even once they agreed to a hearing for her, they quickly scheduled a vote on Kavanaugh for the following day.

Senate Republicans also refused to call Mark Judge, whom Blasey has identified as being present for her assault. And they still have not agreed to hear from two other women who have publicly come forward with other allegations. Likewise, in 1991, Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Joe Biden (D-Del.) never scheduled testimony from women who could have strengthened Hill’s account. 

The FBI conducted an investigation into Hill’s allegations in 1991. Republicans and the White House refused to allow one to go forward this time, despite Blasey’s request.

“Chairman, you and I were both here 27 years ago,” Sen. Pat Leahy (D-Vt.), said to Grassley on Thursday. “At that time, the Senate failed Anita Hill. I said I believed her. But I’m concerned that we’re doing a lot less for these three women today.”

After Blasey’s hearing, Republican senators said they weren’t really moved by her testimony and still didn’t think there was enough evidence to necessarily believe her over Kavanaugh. 

“I don’t even think it’s going to take 27 years” for people to realize the hearing was poorly run, said Fatima Goss Graves, president and CEO of the National Women’s Law Center. “A younger generation of people are going to look at it right now and say, ‘How is this OK?’ It makes the Senate look very disconnected.” 

Indeed, a HuffPost/YouGov poll conducted Sept. 17-18 found that only 10 percent of voters thought the Senate was doing a better job of handling Blasey’s allegations than it did with Hill’s claims. Twenty-four percent said it was doing worse, and 34 percent said it was about the same. 

And as of now, a Friday morning vote on Kavanaugh’s confirmation stands, despite the other allegations still out there.