Anita Hill, the women’s rights icon who stunned the nation with her testimony about sexual harassment by a prospective Supreme Court justice in 1991, drew cheers and applause from an audience of more than 500 in Boise last night, and will deliver the Bellwood Lecture at the University of Idaho this afternoon at 2:30 Pacific time, 3:30 MT, on the University of Idaho campus in Moscow. This afternoon’s lecture will be streamed live online at uidaho.edu/live.
Hill told the Boise crowd, which included many college and law students along with lawyers, local officials and interested members of the public, “Sexual harassment is no longer a woman’s burden to bear, and it’s certainly not a secret that we have to keep.”
She detailed the reception she got from the all-male, all-white Senate committee in 1991, from suggesting her testimony was pulled from fiction, to a suggestion that anyone who would do what she was describing must be some kind of monster, to suggesting that Hill herself must be mentally ill and suffering from “erotomania.”
“When you’re not relying on facts, when you’re not relying on expertise, you try to fill in with myth,” said Hill, now a professor at Brandeis University. “When we look at what happened in 1991, it becomes a cautionary tale for what is happening today.”
She said, “So, when people say: Why didn’t people come forward? The Senate Judiciary Committee was demonstrating why people didn’t come forward. And unfortunately we are still doing those same things today – all you have to do is read the paper.”
Hill added, “Fortunately for us, women and men around the country did not allow the hearing and the way that it took place to be the final word.” Working women mobilized, and complaints to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity commission doubled over the next two years. “Employers responded to complaints, at employees’ insistence, and instituted policies and procedure where none had existed before.”
“Women acting on their own moved the conversation forward by stepping up and even by sharing our stories among friends and families,” Hill said. “And I believe that is one of the most underestimated benefits of what happened after the hearing – that we started to share our stories. That we refused to allow the hearings and our circumstances to silence us. We may not have filed a complaint, but we began the public conversation. … So we have advanced, and we have moved forward.”
She warned, “However, centuries of really abusive behavior doesn’t end overnight – it doesn’t end overnight no matter how much we would like for it to do. So we have much more work to do.”
Hill said her remarks in Boise were a “prequel” to the lecture she’ll deliver in Moscow today; the lecture, like last night’s Boise remarks, is free and open to the public. It will take place at the Bruce Pitman Center International Ballroom on the UI campus.
The Bellwood Lectures, endowed by longtime Idaho judge and UI graduate Sherman J. Bellwood, bring prominent and highly regarded leaders to the state of Idaho and the University of Idaho campus each year to give students the opportunity to discuss, examine and debate a wide range of subjects related to the justice system. Past speakers have included Chief Justice John Roberts; Kenneth Starr; Janet Reno; Antonin Scalia; and David Halberstam. It is the largest endowed lectureship at the University of Idaho.