#MeToo is a Movement, Not a Moment.

AuthorVineberg, Flora

For those contemplating the origins of the #MeToo movement and the current climate around sexual assault and harassment, they might remember October 11, 1991. On that day, a young, black female lawyer from Oklahoma and Yale law school graduate walked into a U.S. Senate Confirmation Hearing for federal district court judge Clarence Thomas. Mr. Thomas had been nominated to succeed retiring Associate Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall on the U.S. Supreme Court.

A decade previous, Ms. Hill had been attorney-adviser to Mr. Thomas while he was Assistant Secretary at the U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights. The following year, in 1982, Ms. Hill followed Mr. Thomas to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC"), where she served as assistant to his Chair position before leaving the job in 1983.

Fast forward to that date in October 1991. Mr. Thomas' nomination to the court had seemed unopposed, until reports surrounding FBI interviews with Ms. Hill were leaked to the press and his good character was thrown into question. The highly publicized Hearing was called, and Ms. Hill--at that point a University of Oklahoma law professor--was subpoenaed to testify regarding her allegations of workplace sexual harassment involving Mr. Thomas while he was her boss at both the Dept. of Education and the EEOC.

By all accounts, what Ms. Hill did next was nothing short of a sheer act of bravery in the face of debasing character assassination, thinly veiled challenges to her credibility, and a barrage of disbelief from the all-male Senate Judiciary Committee headed by then-Senator Joe Biden.

With poise and grace, Ms. Hill recounted in great detail--to roughly 20 million viewers across the country--the nature, extent and impact of Mr. Thomas' sexual harassment: how he repeatedly asked her on dates while she was his assistant (to her repeated declines), how he used work situations to discuss subjects of a graphic sexual nature, and described to her his own sexual prowess while giving details of his anatomy. Among the flood of victim-blaming, the Committee asked Ms. Hill to recount Mr. Thomas' words verbatim from the previous decade, to explain why she thought Mr. Thomas was "behaving in this way," and why she followed him from one department to the next if she was truly being harassed. She answered each question coherently, explaining the gist of his words, the impact of his behaviour and how she reluctantly stayed because she needed her job, highlighting the power imbalance in such working relationships.

Mr. Thomas also received the chance to testify, flatly denying all allegations of sexual harassment, and characterizing the proceedings as a "high-tech lynching for uppity...

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