Yesterday, the New York Times published an op-ed by former Obama chief of staff, now Mayor of Chicago, Rahm Emanuel, laying claim to having begun the successful reform of the Chicago police department. The Chicago Tribune replied with an editorial calling bullshit. The reason is clear: Emanuel, in the midst of his farewell tour, having announced that he would not be running for another term, has fabricated his success out of whole cloth. It’s a lie. It’s revisionist history. It is bullshit.
Today, the New York Times has published another lie, this time by Anita Hill. I have no clue what happened between her and Clarence Thomas. I remember well watching Thomas’ confirmation hearing. I recall being grossed out by Hill’s testimony about a pubic hair on her can of Coke. I was no fan of Thomas, and believed he was singularly inadequately distinguished to serve on the Supreme Court.
But Hill’s testimony, disturbing though it was, failed to doom the nomination for an obvious reason. She could have taken action against Thomas, proved her claim and prevailed. Instead, she did nothing, save made excuses for her failure to act. That was 1991, decades before people forgot that mouthing untested accusations was absurdly inadequate to prove they were wronged.
If the Senate Judiciary Committee, led then by Mr. Biden, had done its job and held a hearing that showed that its members understood the seriousness of sexual harassment and other forms of sexual violence, the cultural shift we saw in 2017 after #MeToo might have began in 1991 — with the support of the government.
Anita Hill is a law professor. For her to conflate sexual harassment with sexual violence suggests she shouldn’t be allowed anywhere near law or students. It’s wrong. It’s false. Whether this suggests Hill is deluded, dishonest or dumb isn’t clear, but one thing she accomplishes now that didn’t happen in 1991 is that her own words do nothing to enhance her retrospective credibility.
Indeed, the front online page link to her op-ed, written apparently by the Times’ 12-year-old headline writer, sums up the fortitude of Hill’s intellect. Apparently, an adult changed the headline on the op-ed page to the far less ridiculous, Anita Hill: Let’s Talk About How to End Sexual Violence; That’s the most important conversation right now.
Hill sees #MeToo as vindication of her accusations, and sees herself as the mother, or perhaps grandmother, of the movement.
Thousands of women and many men have shared with me their stories of being sexually harassed since my testimony 28 years ago. These stories are especially troubling because they are so common. Yet they had long gone unseen, with the public viewing behavior from sexual extortion to sexual assault as a personal issue to be dealt with in private.
Was the “public” to blame? Hardly. Assuming this to be true, then blame falls on every person who made the decision to do nothing. If an offense was committed, they could have, should have, come forward at the time and acted upon it. Their accusation would have been tested, as all accusations should be, and some would fail, whether because they didn’t happen, and others would fail because they weren’t wrongs except in the sad feelings of hurt or regret.
Back in 1991, it wasn’t enough that a woman’s feelings were hurt to establish that an offense occurred. Also back in 1991, women still aspired to equality rather than fragility. Rather than cry about the emotional extortion of sex, strong women just refused and told men to shove it. Those were the days.
As the #MeToo revelations laid bare the truth of the overwhelming size of the problem, victims dared hope that our political leaders would take up the challenge of confronting it.
The empowerment of women, like Hill, to accuse with impunity, to never be expected to prove the veracity of their accusations, to be believed no matter what, was the goal of this forsaken movement. The government provides a wealth of ways in which sex offenses can be addressed, from crimes* to civil causes of action to administrative complaints. That some, like the “millions” whom Hill believes bolster her claim, have chosen to do nothing to avail themselves of these mechanisms is their fault alone.
Each accusation stands, or falls, on its own merit. Was it a crime, or even the vagary of sexual harassment, or was it behavior that offended some woman who didn’t care for the way a man behaved? In the world of #MeToo complaints, they’re all the same, wrapped up in empty rhetoric that neither informs as to the wrongfulness of the offense nor proves anything more than a woman complained about it.
Just as Rahm Emanuel wants to revise the history of his term as mayor to pretend that he wasn’t at the wheel while the Laquan McDonald video was deliberately concealed, Anita Hill wants to revise history to use a million vapid and unproven complaints now to show she was telling the truth in 1991. It doesn’t work that way. Not for either of them.
A million sad stories that evaded the means by which society tests accusations of wrongful conduct don’t make them proven. And it surely doesn’t make Anita Hill’s story any more credible than it was when she told it to the Senate Judiciary Committee. Her call now to ignore evidence and due process, to deny those accused of any ability to challenge the sad stories of a million women, isn’t a testament to Anita Hill’s credibility or strength. It’s a reflection on how people have succumbed to the evisceration of proof, of due process, or the means by which every accusation gets tested before we decide to baselessly believe or not.
If someone refuses to put their accusation to the test by using the means our society has crafted to do so, she has no one to blame but herself.
Despite the grim reality, I remain hopeful, knowing how far we’ve come. If we acknowledge the severity of the problem and demand processes in which all sexual harassment and assault survivors are heard and not dismissed or punished for coming forward, our leaders will step up.
We have the processes. We had the processes in 1991. Hill doesn’t want processes. She wants “survivors” to be believed, full stop. And she wants to be adored as the unproved victim, so beloved today, when no “survivor” should ever be expected to meet the patriarchal and misogynistic demands of having their accusations questioned. Like Rahm, she’s given real estate in the New York Times to reinvent history. Unlike Rahm, few will call bullshit on her lie.
*If the police fail to act upon a criminal complaint, that presents a police problem which stands apart from the existence of a mechanism to address rape or sexual assault. It does not mean the mechanism doesn’t exist.