The Disturbing Omissions of Anita Hill

In a new interview with Slate, Anita Hill condemns the stereotype that men are logical and women are emotional.

Responding to interviewer Dahlia Lithwick, who noted the “absolute fury” in dissents by liberal Supreme Court Justices Sotomayer, Ginsberg, and Kagan, Professor Hill argued that calling the dissents “furious” ignores the idea that the writing is logical, in fact as logical and fact-based as that of the men. Lithwick saw the point and quickly apologized. (“So first of all, Anita, thank you. I’ve never enjoyed being checked and corrected more than that.”) 

In her recently published book Believing: Our Thirty Year War to End Gender Violence, Professor Hill, who accused Clarence Thomas of sexual harassment in 1990, reacts with emotion more than logic. In fact, she often allows it to destroy her argument.

While Hill’s accusations against Justice Thomas remain murky and confusing, she runs into a much more serious problem when writing about Christine Blasey Ford, who accused Judge Brett Kavanaugh of sexual misconduct in his explosive confirmation hearing in 2018. Professor Hill’s weak treatment of this episode should call into question her conclusions about other matters, not to mention her commitment to basic fairness.

Hill argues that women and black men are more likely to believe a female accuser. She writes, “The 1991 [Judiciary Committee] was entirely made up of white men, and men in the Senate outnumbered women 98 to two. That the 2018 Senate Judiciary Committee included women, one of whom was Black, as well as a Black man, gave me hope for a greater understanding of gender and power, as did the fact that 23 women were Senate members.”

Hill never stops to think that black men may have disproportionately been the victims of false accusations throughout history, and thus much more willing to defend ideas like due process.

Indeed, black men had serious doubts about Christine Blasey Ford—and were appalled at the lack of due process in the entire fiasco. In October 2018, Atlantic writer Jemel Hill went to Ozy Media’s “Take On America” town hall series in Baltimore. The gathering featured over 100 black men in the audience. Coming on the heels of the Kavanaugh clash, Hill assumed she would hear a lot of anguish over the GOP victory. Then this happened:

On Tuesday night, I was in an auditorium with 100 black men in the city of Baltimore, when the subject pivoted to Brett Kavanaugh. I expected to hear frustration that the sexual-assault allegations against him had failed to derail his Supreme Court appointment. Instead, I encountered sympathy. One man stood up and asked, passionately, “What happened to due process?” He was met with a smattering of applause, and an array of head nods.

Yes, black men, like white men (and many black women and white women) believe in due process. Hill, a university professor of social policy, law, and women’s studies at Brandeis University, apparently does not.

Hill also dismisses Rachel Mitchell, the sex crimes prosecutor whom Republicans hired to question Ford. Rather than having a full forensic interview, Ford insisted on doing it in five-minute pieces before the cameras and the world. “I wondered if the former sex-crimes prosecutor would regret accepting the role of being Ford’s inquisitor,” Hill writes. “Was this really what she wanted her legacy to be?”

This is a low and tawdry—and catty and emotional—attack. Anita Hill, who praises the importance of logic to Slate, completely ignores Mitchell’s final report (which the media also tried to smother), which is quite damning. Hill does not address a single one of Mitchell’s points about Ford’s changing story, the therapist’s notes she refused to produce, and the influence of Ford’s lawyers. She claims that baby-voiced Ford, indelible-in-the-hippocampus and all, ran the risk of coming across as “too intelligent.”

There is also the fact that Hill didn’t even watch the full hearing. Right after Mitchell’s questioning of Ford, Hill stopped watching: “Then I turned the TV off, not because it was painful (although it was), and not because the hearing was a sham (although it was), but because watching the first few minutes had given me confidence that Ford was up to the task of convincing a majority of the committee that she had been sexually assaulted as a teenager and that Kavanaugh had been the assailant.”

So an accuser who cannot name the time or place of an alleged assault, whose story keeps changing, who refused to produce therapist’s notes the she claims corroborate her story, whose lawyer herself admitted that the motivation for the accusation was political, who claims to have a fear of flying while jet-setting all over the globe to go surfing and party at various exotic locales, whose own family (including her own father) didn’t believe her, was a completely convincing witness. Anita Hill may be a worse lawyer than Michael Avenatti.

Finally there is this: “Despite the support Ford had from her family, lawyers, and others surrounding her, I knew that she would feel isolated and, perhaps, outraged.”

This is either ignorant or a willful sleight of hand. Ford may have had support from her husband, but she did not have support from any of her blood relatives. From the September 27, 2018 Washington Post: “Christine’s own parents and siblings—the Blaseys—have not released any similar statement of support. As their daughter and sister has become the country’s most talked-about woman for accusing Supreme Court nominee Brett M. Kavanaugh of sexual assault while both were in high school, the Blaseys have strategically avoided the press. Voicemails, texts, emails and letters from reporters have gone unanswered. Friends have politely declined to comment on what the family is going through.”

Ford’s own father supported the Kavanaugh nomination, and apologized to Brett’s father.

But perhaps pointing out all these contradictions is the wrong kind of logic. As Hill reminds us in her Salon interview, for ideologues like Christine Blasey Ford the truth is “about where they’re coming from.”

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