If you are a woman of at least a certain age, you remember the fall of 1991 and how it changed everything. We had laws against sexual harassment, sure, but no one really knew what it was or that it was illegal. The way women were treated in the workplace was simply The Way Things Are.
Legit for-real great American hero Anita Hill changed that. Her testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee that fall, about the mistreatment and humiliation she suffered while working for Clarence Thomas at the Department of Education and then at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, was America’s first Sexual Harassment 101 class.
We listened to her slightly-nervous-but-impressively-composed voice as she described, in excruciating and grotesque detail, the things he had said to her: about pubic hairs on his Coke can; the size of his dick; the kind of sex he enjoyed; the kind of porn he liked to watch; his incessant requests for her to date him; and, once she finally decided to quit her job, his ominous warning to her that if she ever spoke of the way he’d treated her, it would ruin his career and, implicitly, her own.
And we watched the humiliation Hill suffered at the hands of the all-male, all-white Senate committee. In her book, Speaking Truth To Power — and yes, you absolutely must read it if you never have — she describes how Republican senators orchestrated an elaborate campaign to discredit and smear her. They solicited letters from her former students and colleagues calling her a “radical feminist” (oh no!) and a lesbian (even worse!). They invited a witness who claimed Hill was a sexual predator and a madwoman who suffered from delusions that she was the object of Thomas’s desire.
Wyoming Sen. Alan Simpson infamously declared, during the hearings, that he had “all kinds of incriminating stuff … from her former law professors, statements from people that know her, statements from Tulsa, Oklahoma, saying, ‘Watch out for this woman.’ But nobody’s got the guts to say that, because it gets tangled up in this sexual harassment crap.”
Pennsylvania Sen. Arlen Specter accused Hill of perjury and declared that even sexual harassment laws themselves are inherently crap because they’re “so broad that a person can accuse someone at any time and ruin their reputation.”
All the while, the committee’s Democrats, including then-chairman Joe Biden, sat back and allowed it to happen. Thomas had accused the senators of conducting a “high-tech lynching”; the character assassination of Anita Hill was a worthwhile price to pay to avoid accusations of racism. Never mind that Hill was also black, as was Angela Wright, another woman who claimed Thomas had sexually harassed her, but who was not allowed to testify at the hearing. Clarence Thomas was the victim, according to Clarence Thomas, and according to the Republican senators who supported him.
Despite his ruined reputation, Thomas was confirmed by the Senate and has spent the last 25 years playing the role of most reliably uber-conservative justice on the Court.
Meanwhile, Anita Hill’s courage that fall changed the workplace, and Congress, and America. She started a conversation we didn’t even know we needed to have. If you’re that woman of at least that certain age, you already know that. Hell, you might still have your “I Believe Anita Hill” pin in a drawer somewhere. If you’re of a not-old-enough-to-remember age, it’s time to do your homework. And say thank you.
Here’s this week’s good, bad, and downright ugly:
- Oh no, Republican Sen. Kelly Ayotte is in trouble. She’s already facing a tough re-election battle in New Hampshire this November, and things just got worse for her because now Planned Parenthood is coming for her:
Planned Parenthood Votes, an independent expenditure committee affiliated with Planned Parenthood, is starting a $400,000 buy featuring an ad entitled “Lifetime” as an early step in what is expected to be a series of attacks on Ayotte that will continue through November. […]
The ad blasts Ayotte for supporting the Senate Republican leadership’s refusal to hold hearings and a vote on U.S. Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland. It also hits Ayotte for her support of overturning the landmark Roe v. Wade decision.
You can watch the ad here. Whether you gleefully chuckle and say, “Good, it’s time to get rid of her” while doing so is up to you.
- You’ll be shocked — shocked! — to know the Pentagon has been busted for being, shall we say, less than forthcoming about how it handles the military’s little sexual assault problem:
The Pentagon misled Congress by using inaccurate or vague information about sexual assault cases in an effort to blunt support for a Senate bill that would make a major change in how the military handles allegations of sexual misconduct, an Associated Press investigation found. […]
The legislation aims to stop sexual assaults by stripping senior officers of their responsibilities to decide whether to prosecute sexual assault cases and giving that authority to seasoned military trial lawyers.
This is a silly move by the Pentagon, because no one in Congress could possibly oppose improving the process for prosecuting sexual assault in the military, right? Ha, wrong, so wrong:
The Senate legislation, which is sponsored by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., was first introduced in the spring of 2013 and has won the backing of at least 50 senators. But the legislation has twice failed on the Senate floor to meet a 60-vote filibuster threshold.
- Last year, Kansas found a way to ban second-trimester abortions by inventing the new term “dismemberment abortions,” because that sounds especially icky and cruel, doesn’t it? Never mind that it’s not a medical term; since when do “pro-life” legislators care about actual medical stuff? Now Mississippi has joined in on the fun, with its “Unborn Child Protection from Dismemberment Abortion Act.” Gov. Phil Bryant (R-Obviously), and the four other dudes who were with him when he signed the bill, are very proud of themselves for “making Mississippi the safest place in America for an unborn child.” But joke’s on you, Gov. Slow Poke, because everyone knows the real safest place is Kansas.
- North Carolina’s impressively bad decision to pass HB 2, the anti-LGBT bill that protects bigotry and prohibits transgender people from going to the bathroom in peace, continues to amaze with just how very bad it is. The University of North Carolina announced it will comply with this law, but there’s just one itsy bitsy problem with that:
On the other hand, the one-year anniversary of the effect date of President Obama’s Executive Order 13672, which bars federal contractors from engaging in anti-LGBT workplace discrimination, passed. Any contractor who entered new agreements to do at least $10,000 a year in business with the U.S. government since April 8, 2015, is subject to the anti-bias rules under the order.
The events are related because, as a Washington Blade investigation discovered, the University of North Carolina is a federal contractor. Therefore, the school system could be subject to penalties if it discriminates against LGBT workers, such as by complying with HB 2 and prohibiting trans workers from using restrooms consistent with their gender identity. […]
The U.S. Department of Labor is among the agencies conducting a review of HB 2, which may result of a loss of federal funds for the state. Critics say the law contravenes Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, but the review at the Labor Department could also take into account whether the University of North Carolina is in violation of Executive Order 13672.
- Meanwhile, in slightly more encouraging news on the trans rights front:
A U.S. appeals court on Tuesday ruled for a Virginia transgender student seeking access to the bathroom of his gender identity in a case that could impact the national bathroom wars playing out between gay rights activists and social conservatives.
Some whiny busybodies in Gloucester County, Virginia, complained that high school student Gavin Grimm was using the boys’ bathroom even though he was born with a vagina. Oh, the horror! The school district responded with a policy to stop him from doing that, so he sued for discrimination. A lower court tossed the lawsuit out, but too bad for you, Gloucester County school district, because now the suit can proceed.
“Today’s decision gives me hope that my fight will help other kids avoid discriminatory treatment at school,” Grimm said in a statement, calling the ruling a relief and vindication.
State Rep. Tom Taylor (R-Dunwoody) was stopped April 7 for driving 72 mph in a 45-mph zone with four children in his vehicle, reported the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
The 54-year-old Taylor had a blood-alcohol content of .225, which is nearly three times higher than the legal limit of .08, and was legally carrying a gun on his hip at the time of his arrest.
Just googled it: This guy voted to require drug testing for welfare recipients https://t.co/m3OpiSwU9e
— Brandon Friedman (@BFriedmanDC) April 18, 2016
- Pro-life terrorism strikes again:
A Missouri man who confessed last year to burning down a mosque, and trying on two occasions to burn down a Planned Parenthood clinic, pleaded guilty in court on Monday. He faces a maximum sentence of 61 years in prison without parole.
Jedediah Stout, 32, was charged in October with two arson attempts at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Joplin, Missouri.
If you’re thinking his targets were selected at random, you can cut that out right now:
In a statement, Assistant Attorney General Vanita Gupta, head of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, emphasized Stout’s ideology was a catalyst for the attacks. Stout “admitted that he attempted to burn the Planned Parenthood because it provides reproductive health services, and that he set fire to the Islamic Society of Joplin mosque because of its religious character,” she said.
At least he’s an equal opportunity terrorist, trying to stop women from receiving healthcare and Muslims from having a place to pray. Is that progress? (No.)
- The Treasury Department announced that we will be kicking Andrew Jackson’s ugly racist mug off the $20 bill after all and replacing it with Some Chick To Be Determined. (Update: The chick has been determined, and she is Harriet Tubman, which is SO VERY YES!!!) Naturally, the geniuses at Fox News are very concerned about that:
BRIAN KILMEADE (CO-HOST): Why don’t we just create another bill for a woman? Create like a —
NAUERT: Like a $2 bill. No, a $4 bill.
AINSLEY EARHARDT (CO-HOST): No, more than that.
KILMEADE: Make it a $25 or something because Andrew Jackson at 13 was a courier in the Revolutionary War.
KILMEADE: He was a congressman, a senator. Certainly one of best generals we ever had.
Maybe we could make a $.79 bill and honor a woman’s face on that.
- “Moderate” John Kasich last week told us ladies a new one we’ve never heard a zillion times before. If you don’t wanna get raped, it’s on you to not go out and get yourself raped:
At a town hall in Watertown Friday morning, the Ohio governor answered a college freshman’s question about his plans to improve campus safety nationwide “regarding sexual violence, harassment, and rape,” with a dated reference to “coeds” and an even more dangerously dated bit of casual victim blaming. […]
“I’d also give you one bit of advice. Don’t go to parties where there’s a lot of alcohol.”
Kasich didn’t clarify whether it’s OK to go to parties where there’s a moderate amount of alcohol. If you’re holding your breath waiting for the Republican Party to condemn this latest tone-deaf Moment In GOP Rapesplaining, don’t hold your breath, because you will definitely turn blue.
- Heckuva job, The Media:
The biggest news outlets have published more negative stories about Hillary Clinton than any other presidential candidate — including Donald Trump — since January 2015, according to a new analysis of hundreds of thousands of online stories published since last year.
Just a tip, The Media, but if you find it easier to be critical of Hillary Clinton than of fascist, racist, sexist, xenophobic, ignoramus Donald Trump (!!!), you’re terrible at your job.
Join us next Wednesday for another round of reporting. Unless we’ve won the war by then.