Brett Kavanaugh, Anita Hill, and How Political Authority Complicates the #MeToo Movement
Back in 1991, long before the speeches and hashtags of the #MeToo movement, Anita Hill, a black woman from Lone Tree, Oklahoma, came forward to report that then-Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas had sexually harassed her while she was working at the Department of Education and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). Thomas served as her supervisor at the time. Her painful story of sexual assault was broadcasted to millions across the world on the eve of Thomas’ confirmation as a Supreme Court Justice.
Many criticized Hill for making the details of her sexual assault public, calling her mentally unstable, a liar, and a racist. Others questioned why, after being assaulted by Thomas at her job at the Department of Education, she went on to work with him at the EEOC.
In response to the query, she stated that she was working in a reputable position that matched her ambitions one that enabled her not to return to her previous job in private practice. In a sense, it was Thomas’ power and authority over Hill’s career that influenced her decision to remain in a vulnerable position in terms of her relationship with Thomas—a decision she would later attribute to “poor judgment.” Hill reported that Thomas often discussed sexual subjects such as “having sex with animals,” and describing “his own sexual prowess.” Ultimately, Thomas was able to evade these claims of sexual assault, as he was appointed and confirmed as a member of the Supreme Court—a seat he still holds today.
Hill’s answer to this question illustrates how severely political authority can complicate women who have been sexually assaulted. The same trends are perhaps even more prominent today, in the wake of the #MeToo movement, and specifically as current Supreme Court Justice nominee Brett Kavanaugh faces national scrutiny following sexual misconduct allegations dating back to his high school years.
Christine Blasey Ford came forward to report that she had been sexually assaulted by Kavanagh in the 1980s, while they were students in high school. Ford, who is now a college professor, claimed that she was “physically and sexually assaulted” by Kavanaugh, providing details in regards to the way she was pinned to the ground and groped.
Some believe Ford has come forward with false allegations in order to sabotage Kavanaugh’s career. However, as a recent NBC article points out, the facts don’t suggest this is the case. Ford confided in a therapist about the sexual assault back in 2012, which firmly corroborates her more recent accounts of the incident. The same article suggests that Ford refrained from making the details of her assault public because she feared backlash and humiliation.
Once again, it seems as though a woman who has been a victim of sexual assault has refrained from reporting it because of the perceived authority of her assailant. In Hill’s case, she felt that reporting a powerful man like Thomas would have a negative impact on her career. Ford similarly refrained from coming forward about her experience with Kavanaugh sooner because she feared the humiliation her family would face as a result.
Sharing testimonies of sexual assault can be risky and painful for the women who endure it, which is why victims must feel empowered and supported enough to come forward and hold attackers accountable. That way, the next generation of women may be a little less likely to ever have to say #MeToo.