A rather sordid scandal from 19 years ago was revived when Virginia Thomas, the wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, left a voice mail message with Anita Hill, currently a law professor at Brandeis University.
The gist of the message was, “Professor Hill, I would really like to reach out to you and talk. Would you please consider issuing an apology for the way you slimed my husband during his nomination hearings in the Senate 19 years ago?”
It is something of a commentary that initially Hill turned the message over to campus security. Assured that the message was genuine, Professor Hill declined the request to apologize.
Nineteen years ago, Clarence Thomas was nominated by then-President George H. W. Bush to a seat on the Supreme Court recently vacated by Thurgood Marshal. Clarence, who is both African American and conservative, raised a few eyebrows among the left, but it looked like his nomination was sailing through.
Then Hill was produced with what appeared to be a nuclear bomb of a revelation. Hill, who had worked for Thomas at the Department of Education and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, accused Clarence of “sexual harassment” in the most vivid and crude manner. The allegations were unsubstantiated and even today are in dispute. The suspicion raised by Thomas’ supporters at the time was that Hill was produced at the last minute in an attempt to derail the nomination. There was also a racial element in the scandal that followed Anita Hill’s allegations, with Thomas himself accusing his enemies of attempting a “high tech lynching.”
Thomas was eventually confirmed and, eventually, Hill went back to obscurity. Hill and her allegations were pretty much destroyed by author David Brock in his book “The Real Anita Hill.” However, the damage to Thomas’ reputation and to male/female relations in the work place had been done.
Awareness had been “raised” about the problem of “sexual harassment” on the job. Employers, afraid of law suits by female employees, imposed an often Byzantine series of rules about how people should behave toward the opposite sex at the office or other work site. Forbidden behavior not only included sexual comeons, but often “inappropriate humor” or even “staring.”
Mind, while one does not want to return to the “Mad Men” era when apparently every man could have at his secretary with impunity, rules that require day-long seminars to explain would seem to be silly at best and oppressive at worse. In times past, this sort of thing was handled by an unofficial code that people used to be indoctrinated in from childhood. It was called behaving like a gentleman or a lady.
One of the no doubt unintended effects of this new “awareness” of sexual harassment was making legitimate male/female intercourse rather complicated. With more women in the work place, the opportunity to meet men outside the work place has tended to become more limited. But if men are afraid to approach a female coworker for a little after hours entertainment for fear of a trip to Human Resources, women will tend to find themselves neglected and ignored. Thank you, Anita Hill.
If Hill could find it within her to apologize, not only will Clarence Thomas find satisfaction, but maybe male/female relations will become just a little less strained — a salutary effect indeed.
Sources: Wife of Clarence Thomas asks Anita Hill to consider an apology, CNN, October 20th, 2010
The Real Anita Hill, David Brock, Touchstone, 1994