Once again in American history, a Supreme Court nominee who was accused of sexual misconduct has sailed through and been appointed to serve on the highest court of the land.
Judge Brett Kavanaugh was accused by Dr Christine Blasey Ford, a psychology professor and former Kavanaugh’s classmate of sexual assault, and on September 27, they both testified in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Although many people, in spite of their gender, believed Ford and called for a more serious approach against abuse against women, others say her testimony aimed at destroying the reputation of Kavanaugh, who boasts experience in the Justice Department, the White House and DC Circuit Court of Appeals.
The outcome of this incident surely brings to mind a similar one that happened 27 years ago when a university professor, Anita Hill, testified against Clarence Thomas, another Supreme Court nominee during his confirmation process.
Anita Hill was called in to testify publicly in October 1991 about allegations of sexual harassment she lodged against Thomas in a private interview with the FBI.
In that interview, she accused Thomas, whose nomination had already been greeted with controversy because of his race, of sexually harassing her over the number of years she worked for him in the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights division and at the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission in the early 1980s.
When she was called in to publicly testify in October 1991, Hill did not mince words as she recalled the frustration she went through while working under such conditions.
“She spoke of her fear of being squeezed out of good assignments, losing her job, maybe even not being able to find any job at all within the Reagan Administration if she continued to resist Thomas’ alleged overtures,” TIME magazine wrote of Hill’s testimony before the committee.
Her testimony against Thomas is now seen as a turning point moment in the fight against sexual harassment in the workplace, as it brought out the plights of many other women in a similar situation.
But at the time she testified, people doubted her allegations, humiliated her and exposed her to public mockery. She had to endure hours of questioning by senators who made it obvious they doubted her testimony.
“Are you a woman scorned?” asked Senator Howell Heflin. “Do you have a martyr complex?”
Hill, in spite of all, stood her grounds. “Telling the world is the most difficult experience of my life,” Hill testified. “It would have been more comfortable to have remained silent.”
Thomas denied the allegations, describing them as “a high-tech lynching for uppity blacks.”
He was subsequently confirmed by a 52-48 vote, while Hill was mocked in the press and accused of trying to ruin the reputation of Thomas.
People threatened her life and others pressurized the University of Oklahoma to relieve her of her duties.
But one thing was clear; Hill’s testimony changed America’s thinking about harassment. Reports stated that within five years of her hearing, the EEOC saw sexual harassment complaints double and companies started training employees on sexual harassment.
It also affected the structure of Congress, which then lacked a female representation, prompting a new generation of women to take up roles in the institution.
The other sad reality is that her hearing reminded many of how black women have been abused over the years with the offenders going unpunished.
From the history of slavery, through to the harsh treatments meted out to other black women in the South, these incidents have been going on and on.
The #MeToo movement, which alerted people to reassess Hill’s story, shot down scores of prominent men and became a rallying cry against sexual harassment.
This has, however, not changed how Ford is treated. Many women on social media have expressed their disgust at what they viewed on their screens as Ford boldly testified, citing issues of an aggressive white male privilege, a total dismissal of sexual violence and the lack of humanity.
The truth is, this is what many black women like Hill have been experiencing and they have blatantly been ignored, their race even making it worse.
It is evident that race has been tangled with how people have viewed both Hill and Ford’s testimonies and though black people are not divided on Kavanaugh’s confirmation due to polls released, white people are.
“According to the Quinnipiac poll, nearly half (47 per cent) of white women considered Kavanaugh to be honest. The numbers for black and Latinx voters? Just 7 per cent and 34 per cent, respectively. A plurality of white women did believe Blasey Ford (46 per cent)—but it was nowhere near the majority, as was the case with black and Latinx voters,” an article on Roots said.
Yet, for the white folks who have expressed anger at the situation, this shows that they are beginning to feel the pain black women have had to endure for centuries.
As written by Suzanne Moor, a Guardian columnist, a confirmation for Kavanaugh will mean “a very direct message is being sent out to women: that the ranks of patriarchy will close to block women’s voices. The next step is to close down women’s choices.”
Meanwhile, Hill who stated last week that she clearly believes Ford has advised her to be “authentic and do what feels right for you to do.”
“Don’t do anything that’s going to dehumanize you and cause you great pain and trauma,” she said.
Ford, a California psychology professor, has accused Kavanaugh of restraining her in a locked room at a party and trying to assault her more than three decades ago when they were in high school.
Kavanaugh who denied the allegations was on Saturday sworn in as the 114th Associate Justice of the Supreme Court, after the Senate voted largely along party lines to confirm his nomination.
There are parallels between Ford’s allegations and Hill’s, with many, despite gender and race, now agreeing that they have not been treated fairly by these same powerful men who sat on their cases.