Professor Anita Hill and Dr. Christine Blasey Ford: Then and Now

In 1991, Professor Anita Hill testified against Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas. She claimed that he sexually harassed her while she worked for him at the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the Department of Education. 27 years later, in the wake of Judge Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation to the United States Supreme Court following accusations of sexual assault from Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, the story of the Hill/Thomas hearings remains relevant. Dr. Ford’s experiences testifying mirror and differ from that of Professor Hill in a variety of ways.

In terms of similarities between the testimonies, both Dr. Ford and Professor Hill began their statements by introducing themselves and their backgrounds. It was clear that although they were reading from pieces of paper, each was still visibly shaken by sharing her respective story of surviving sexual misconduct. Dr. Ford and Professor Hill expressed their emotions in different ways, but signs of trauma and discomfort were immediately noticeable for both. For both accusations, there was a significant amount of time between the date of their alleged assaults and the date on which they testified. Both were clearly very nervous to come forward with their stories in fear of retaliation; they were not able to answer every senator’s question perfectly, admitting to the fact that they did not have the information necessary to do so. Both appeared put-together, donning suits and blown-out hair.

However, Professor Hill spoke with a surprising conviction and volume and a calm tone that Dr. Ford lacked. While there was a greater amount of time between Dr. Ford’s alleged story and her testimony than that of Professor Hill’s, it seemed as if Dr. Ford was discussing a recent experience, appearing very disturbed by her own story. Throughout her testimony, her voice shook. On the verge of tears, Dr. Ford said “I am here today not because I want to be: I am terrified.” On the other hand, Professor Hill concealed her emotions, trying her best to remain straight-faced. She spoke slowly and clearly and maintained eye contact with Senators. At the time of Professor Hill’s hearings, the senators were all male and were quick to question the majority of claims she made during her testimony. One Senator said he did not understand how Professor Hill could refer to her experience as sexual assault; others asked her about her emotional state or constantly asked her to repeat the events she had just described. Today, however, the Senate as a whole is more diverse in terms of gender and showed more sympathy, sensitivity, and understanding towards Dr. Ford. The majority of their questions began with them apologizing to her, and focused on the specifics of her story rather than aspects of her psychological state.

How should we consider these vivid parallels and direct between hearings that are 27 years apart? What does it say about our country that not one, but two of our Supreme Court justices has been publicly accused of sexual misconduct?