In October 1991, the phrase “sexual harassment” and the menacing environment it created for women in the workplace exploded onto the national consciousness. Like the rest of the nation, I sat in front of my television riveted as I listened to the reluctant testimony of Anita Hill during the confirmation hearings of then-Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas. Despite Hill’s stunning allegations, Thomas was confirmed. But what she said changed the dialogue in this country.
Hill gave voice to the silent indignities endured by women, professional women in particular, at the hands of men who subjected them to lewd comments, propositioned them wherever and whenever, or chased them around a desk or office sofa. And usually a combination of some or all of those tactics. The nation was forced to acknowledge that sexual harassment was pervasive in the workplace and that it could no longer be tolerated.
And then came Harvey Weinstein.
Nearly 26 years to the day of the Anita Hill hearings, the New York Times and Ronan Farrow writing for the New Yorker revealed that movie mogul Weinstein allegedly harassed and assaulted actresses for years. The number of accusers is now more than 50. Ever since, a tsunami of women have come forward against other men in other industries, alleging actions that make what Hill accused Thomas of doing look chaste by comparison. Veteran journalist Mark Halperin is the latest addition to the dishonor roll. CNN reports that five women accused the former NBC News political analyst of sexual harassment in the 1990s through the mid-2000s when he worked at ABC News.
What another woman, not a part of the CNN story, posted on Twitter is very telling.
I did not report Halperin to ABC because I thought I was the only one, and I blamed myself, and I was embarrassed and I was scared of him.
— Emily Miller (@EmilyMiller) October 26, 2017
What Miller said she did hearkens back to the days of silence about sexual harassment that Anita Hill’s testimony exposed. It also showed that the potency of the power dynamic that allows such abuse to occur and go unreported. But Miller’s tweet and the punitive actions that have taken place in the aftermath of Weinstein represent something new.
Anita Hill’s testimony ushered in an era of recognition of a problem. What we are witnessing now is empowerment to say something and do something about it. “Abused women feel liberated to bring down powerful men in government, media, tech, politics, business and pop culture,” Mike Allen of Axios wrote Thursday. “It’s spreading by the day.” If I may put an even finer point on it: They have found the courage to hold their tormentors accountable. And those men are being held accountable.
Follow Jonathan on Twitter: @Capehartj
Subscribe to Cape Up, Jonathan Capehart’s weekly podcast