When Anita Hill came forward in 1991 to say that Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas had sexually harassed her when she worked for him years before, the bombshell accusations led to a series of “he said, she said” accounts on the floor of the United States Senate, the likes of which had never been seen before.
We all know how that ended — with Thomas being found innocent by an all-male congressional committee, and eventually being confirmed to the country’s highest court for a lifetime tenure.
This week, more than a quarter-century later, a different he said, she said on the topic took place. But this time the accounts — of Hill and former Vice President Joe Biden, who was also the Senate committee chairman who presided over the famous 1991 hearings — would align.
The two appeared separately at the Glamour Women of the Year Summit on Monday in Brooklyn, where Glamour editor in chief Cindi Leive interviewed the 47th vice president and his wife, Jill Biden, the talk ranging from the couple’s friendship with the Obamas to the death of their son Beau. When the discussion opened to audience members, one asked the former Senate committee chairman whether he wishes he’d done anything differently during the historic Hill case.
“I’m so sorry that she had to go through what she went through. Think of the courage it took for her to come forward. [S]he got put through hell during [the testimony],” Biden said onstage. “I feel really badly that she didn’t feel like the process worked. But I tell you what, I said something at the time that proved to be right — I said this is going to be the start of a fundamental change in what constitutes harassment in the workplace, and people are going to begin to change.”
He then affirmed the vote he cast during the committee hearing 26 years before. “I believed in Anita. I voted against Clarence Thomas,” Biden said. “Anita Hill was victimized, there is no question in my mind. Maybe I could have handled it better from the beginning, but I made her case on the floor and I made her case in the committee.”
Over the past six weeks, it seems that people’s allegations against men regarding sexual harassment and abuse are finally resulting in tangible consequences. It started, for whatever reason, with Hollywood megaproducer Harvey Weinstein and has exploded to include high-ranking men from politician Roy Moore to editor Leon Wieseltier and 21 other men as of this writing and as accounted for by the New York Times.
But for the countless people who have joined the #MeToo movement, the stories are not news at all, especially not for accusers against people like Bill Cosby (whose case resulted in a mistrial), former presidents Bill Clinton and George H.W. Bush, and, of course, Clarence Thomas.
While Hill’s testimony dominated media coverage and forever changed the history of sexual abuse in American politics, many of the Glamour Awards attendees — specifically the hundreds of high school students invited to the event — are more likely to recognize the name Harvey Weinstein than Anita Hill. The hearing against Justice Thomas took place well before many millennials and certainly all of Generation Z were born, after all.
But Hill was indeed present at the Glamour Summit — not when Biden made his statements, although she heard them afterward, and mentioned it to Yahoo Lifestyle at the Glamour Awards later in the evening. She said she was “happy to hear” that an apology had come, and addressed a question about the recent cavalcade of accusations and professional fallouts, about whether being fired or having a movie canceled is consequence enough.
“Some of this is physical assault, and in those cases there should be criminal charges,” Hill said. “If there are criminal assault charges, it’s not just about people’s fears with rape and sexual assault; it’s about the criminal justice system and seeking justice for the victims.”
During the awards ceremony itself, Hill stood onstage beside other victims of sexual harassment and assault, sharing their #MeToo stories. In addition to Hill were New York Times journalists Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey, who published the now infamous first story against Weinstein; they introduced Olympic gymnast Aly Raisman, model-activist Cameron Russell, and New York police officer Ann Cardenas.
The foursome stood in front of hundreds in the room, urging other women to come forward if they had stories to share. It was perhaps the night’s most powerful moment, bringing with it minutes of applause and standing ovations expressing solidarity.
For some survivors, reliving instances of harassment or abuse is wound-splitting. When asked whether there was anything else Hill wanted to talk about besides sexual misconduct, the lawyer and professor replied: “It’s hard to think outside of that right now. As we look to this next season, the holiday season, I’m hoping this will bring women and their families who have had this experience closer together and lift this burden from them, so they can be fully themselves and not hide.”
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