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Reprise: Anita Hill (and Christine Blasey Ford)

October 19, 2018

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I still believe Anita Hill. I believe Christine Blasey Ford. Each and every one of my female friends also believe these brave women.

Truly, as a colleague of mine said the other day, these are times that try women’s souls.

And so, later this month, for the 27th year in a row, several hundred women (and a handful of men) will gather in Columbia for our “I Believe Anita Hill!” party and networking event.

Our first public event, back in 1992, was a way to channel the outrage that many of us felt over the treatment of Professor Hill months earlier at the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing to confirm then-nominee Clarence Thomas to the U.S. Supreme Court.

We expected perhaps 50 women would show up at the home of our host. The gathering soon spilled into Kit Smith’s backyard and into the street as about 400 women waited in line to walk through her front door. Hundreds of us continue to show up each year, with our next event planned for this Tuesday, October 23.

It is the longest recurring remembrance in the United States of the 1991 hearing that spotlighted sexual harassment in the workplace. Next Tuesday will be an especially important—and poignant—reprise, coming just two weeks after Brett Kavanaugh was sworn into the U.S. Supreme Court after a contentious month of hearings, tears, demonstrations, and charges by Ford and two other women alleging sexual misconduct by Kavanaugh.

To me, the outcome was tragic, showing we haven’t come far at all since 1991, despite the galvanizing effect of the #MeToo movement. To me, the past month was a reminder that powerful people and institutions don’t care about women and survivors.

Twenty-seven years ago, I came to my first “I Believe Anita Hill!” event because I was angry. I was furious, in fact, at how Professor

Hill had been treated by the all-white, all-male Senate Judiciary Committee, how she had been demeaned and humiliated in front of the nation.

Some of us had been sexually harassed in our workplaces; all of us knew someone who had experienced such treatment. I had entered the workplace in the late 1960s, and I had plenty of my own experience with male colleagues, and at least one supervisor, who doubted my intellect, my competence, my veracity. Behind my back, I was nicknamed “Wonder Woman” by a couple of male colleagues at the daily newspaper where I then worked. The nickname was not intended as a compliment.

When Christine Blasey Ford testified earlier this month in front of the same committee—with some of the same senators who had aggressively questioned Professor Hill in 1991 still sitting in their same seats—Ford’s testimony was unpleasantly familiar. Women watched and listened and wondered: have we made enough progress over the past 27 years? Has respect for women’s rights changed enough? Would the fact that there are now four women on the Judiciary Committee make a difference? Or would it be déjà vu all over again, with the alleged victims challenged and then savaged?

The answer was swift in coming. The U.S. Senate confirmed Kavanaugh by the narrowest of margins, 50 votes to 48.

Next week’s “I Believe Anita Hill!” event, therefore, will be especially momentous. Hundreds of women will be there, networking and speaking their minds.

We continue to believe that the annual party—which has blossomed into a women-supporting women networking event—will eventually help women, at long last, be believed and respected.

(The October 23 event will be held from 5:30 to 8 p.m. at 701 Whaley Street in Columbia. Admission is free and open to the public.)

Collins-Jan-of-self-1

Jan Collins is a Columbia-based journalist, editor, and author. A former Nieman Fellow at Harvard and former Congressional Fellow in Washington, D. C., she is the coauthor of Next Steps: A Practical Guide to Planning for the Best Half of Your Life (Quill Driver Books, 2009).