Prof. Anita Hill recognized for her ‘courage to speak’
Time Magazine named Prof. Anita Hill the 1991 ‘Woman of the Year.’
For the past 72 years, Time Magazine has named a “Man of the Year.” Beginning in 1999, women were allowed to hold this title when Time broadened its parameters to “Person of the Year.” However, women were still largely unrepresented in these issues — only 11 women were featured, and three women were named Woman of the Year prior to the 1999 change.
On the 100th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment, Time re-examined each year, starting in 1920, to analyze which women had the greatest impact on history — both good and bad — in the hopes of recognizing the women’s stories that had been overlooked. Prof. Anita Hill (Heller) was among these 89 newly selected people for her “courage to speak,” according to Time’s website.
This “courage” is in reference to Hill’s allegations of sexual harassment against Supreme Court Justice nominee Clarence Thomas. Hill said she experienced this harrassment while she was an aide to Thomas, her then-supervisor at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. The Federal Bureau of Investigations’ background checks for Supreme Court Justice nominees are extensive, so Hill — along with many others — was approached because of her past, professional relationship with Thomas. In a private interview with the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Hill detailed Thomas’ alleged misconduct, citing numerous instances of discussions of sex acts, bestiality and pornography. When these interviews were leaked by the press, Hill was called to testify publicly before the United States Senate.
“What happened next and telling the world about it are the two most difficult things — experiences of my life,” Hill said during the Oct. 1991 trial. “It would have been more comfortable to remain silent, but when I was asked by a representative of this committee to report my experiences, I felt that I had to tell the truth. I could not keep silent.”
This trial was one of the first, and perhaps one of the most famous of its kind, Time said. The hearing against Thomas occurred during a time when people infrequently talked about sexual harassment, and when it rarely resulted in disciplinary action against the perpetrator. Although legislation that confirmed that a woman could sue her employer for harassment under Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act was introduced in 1977, this legislation wasn’t used in the context of sexual harassment until the 1986 Meritor Savings Bank v. Vinson case, according to a Time article.
Thomas pleaded not guilty, and although he was found innocent on all accounts and was confirmed to the Supreme Court, this hearing became instrumental in the fight for the recognition of women's consent within the justice system and society.
Hill spoke up “nearly three decades before the start of the movement that might have supported her, and spoke alone as a Black woman in front of an all-white, all-male Senate Judiciary Committee,” Time’s profile on Hill said.
Time credited her with broadening the conversation about sexual misconduct. The magazine explained that in the months following her testimony, “Congress passed a law extending the rights of sexual harassment victims. And the following year, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission received a 50% increase in sexual harassment complaints than it had the year before.”
In 1992, outrage about the results of the hearing echoed across the country and resulted in a record 24 women elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, marking the largest number of women elected to the House in any single election. In Illinois, former Sen. Carol Moseley Braun, the first Black woman senator in U.S. history, “rolled to victory in the primary over a Democratic incumbent who had supported Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, then won in the general election over an ex-Reagan official,” according to a 1992 article by Time. 1992 was named “The Year of the Woman” in Time’s “100 Women of the Year” issue.
Hill’s “courage to speak” is still relevant in today’s conversations, with many crediting her with the creation of the platform upon which the #MeToo movement was able to develop and flourish. The starkest parallel to her experiences was when in 2018, Christine Blasey Ford accused Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh of sexually assaulting her during their teenage years.
“Like Thomas, Kavanaugh denied it and was confirmed, stirring up the same lasting questions about gender and power,” the profile said. “But as more women come forward and push for change, Hill’s courageous voice resounds.”
“I really found my voice in 1991, and having found it, I won’t lose it again,” Hill said in a 2014 documentary, “Anita,” made about the hearing. “So when I say raise your voice, I mean raise your voice wherever you find it.”