Joe Bi­den’s ques­tion­ing of Anita Hill is hard to for­get

The Buffalo News - - OPINION - Creators Syn­di­cate

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 Sen. 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, 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

Su­san Estrich

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.

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