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Ironically, Hill's uptight style helps make her case -- it's easy to see how someone so reserved could be devastated by sexual comments that might not faze a more freewheeling type. During the hearings, Clarence Thomas' supporters tried to paint Hill as a sexually voracious, spurned woman, but such a woman could never have written this utterly sexless book. She describes the shame of relating Thomas' remark, "Who put a pubic hair on my Coke?" to the congressional committee: "At once, I was twenty-five years old again," she writes. "By that time I had had several jobs and worked with many different people, but never before had anyone ever uttered such an absurdly vulgar and juvenile comment to me. Disgusted and shocked, I could only shake my head and leave the office. I heard him laughing as he closed the door."
The book's greatest contribution is to help those of us who always instinctively believed Hill to understand why she waited 10 years to bring her charges against Thomas and why she called him a dozen times during those years. She's absolutely convincing, explaining that it didn't occur to her -- then a 25-year old neophyte -- to confront Thomas (who was, after all, in charge of the agency that dealt with sexual harassment). It is equally clear why, with her quiet passion for the law, she told congressional investigators about the harassment as soon as they asked. Eventually, Hill took a teaching job at Oral Roberts law school, which lacked both accreditation and prestige, just to get away from Thomas. But given the hostile climate she found herself in at that conservative university, it's no wonder she was unwilling to sever her few professional connections, even those to someone like Thomas. I imagine most women reading Speaking Truth to Power will remember similar instances -- a letter of recommendation from a lecherous teacher, a reference from a sexist ex-boss.
While at the start of the book Hill's primness is grating, her tone eventually lends poignancy to her desperate attempts to retain her dignity during the escalating sexual humiliations of the hearing and its aftermath: "I will not count the number of times, even before the hearing, that I have been threatened with sodomy, rape, assault and other forms of sexual and nonsexual violence." A student columnist called her "dirty, depraved, schizophrenic and grossly sexual, a sheer idiot or a sore liar," and her treatment at the hands of Congress was only a few degrees more civilized. Sen. Alan Simpson said in a veiled threat, "Anita Hill will be sucked right into the -- the very thing she wanted to avoid most. She will be injured and destroyed and belittled and hounded and harassed."
Of course, the reader already knows what's in store for Hill. The chapters when congressional investigators first contact her and her story begins to circulate have a horror-film dimension, as we see her step, naive and afraid, into a political, sexual and racial nightmare. These chapters are the most powerful because they relate the part of the story only Hill can tell. It's the story of a shy 35-year-old woman, sweating under the glare of flashbulbs, terrified by a barrage of death threats, humiliated from relentless questioning about her sex life and horrified to find herself the object of so many powerful men's unbridled hatred and contempt. --SalonNov. 3, 1997
But I am no longer content to leave the assessment to others, for they cannot know what I experienced—what I felt, saw, heard, and thought. Whatever others may say, I must address these questions for myself. I did not choose the issue of sexual harassment; it chose me. And, having been chosen, I have come to believe that it is up to me to try and give meaning to it all.
Posted August 24, 2006
As a white male who has experienced sexual harassment, I techincally would not fit the image of sexual harassment or Anita Hill's defintion. One thing that was disappointing about this book was that she reflected to much on racial and gender politics, although in her case they are undeniable. I believe her with the charges that she brings up in this book. She hit a vein, I think, in talking about African American politics and how it has hampered any attempt at adjudicating the problem. I sympathize with Ms. Hill. I think she was sexually harassed by Clarance Thomas and was harassed even more worsely by Republican Senators bent on revenge and cowardly Democratic Senators. Her story was certainly manipulated by David Brock and relied on insinuations for Senator Spector (shame on him). I, think, however that Ms. Hill was too smart a woman to be either a pawn or not politically connected. The latter charge by her I would dispute. I hope one day Ms. Hill gets the justice she deserves.
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