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Stories about sexual harassment in the workplace have dominated the news cycle this fall, but New Yorker journalist Jane Mayer remembers a time not that long ago when even the term "sexual harassment" felt new. That started to change in Octoberwhen a law professor named Anita Hill testified before a Senate panel that then-Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas had sexually harassed her. Thomas had been Hill's boss at the U. Though Hill's testimony didn't prevent Thomas from being confirmed, it did help bring the issue of workplace sexual harassment into the open.
Mayer believes it might be time to reinvestigate Hill's allegations against Thomas, and New York magazine journalist Rebecca Traister agrees. But Traister is cautious about how much has really changed since Hill testified before the Senate. On the idea of reinvestigating the sexual harassment allegations against Clarence Thomas. Jane Mayer: I feel like this is a ripe area to go back and re-report. Some of the women may feel that they can speak out now in a way they didn't before. Over the years I've heard of other women too who are sitting on their stories about Clarence Thomas but haven't felt that they could afford to speak up.
I have to say as someone who covers politics in Washington — despite everything that we've seen in the last few months about this change in thinking about zero tolerance for sexual harassment — maybe I'm too cynical, but I have grave doubts about whether anyone's going to really want to reopen the Clarence Thomas story in Women want sex Coal Hill serious way, or subject him to recall or potential impeachment hearings.
I think it would be a bloody moment politically. There was always a race aspect of this, too, that in a way kind of protected him. And he played that big in saying that he was being subjected to a "high-tech lynching," is the way he put it. I think it's still a very fraught area and I doubt anyone is going to want to move on it. Rebecca Traister: I think we would all profit from a reinvestigation of the case, but I can't envision a future where there's any result that satisfies.
It feels, on the one hand, as though we've been through these two months in which we're seeing really powerful people lose jobs, in some cases; where we're seeing women's claims taken very seriously; where people are worrying, in fact, that all the claims are being taken seriously. But that we're having this moment, in part, because up until, like, five minutes ago, women's claims weren't taken seriously.
Mayer: She was just dragged through the dirt. They accused; they questioned her motives; they suggested that she was something they called an "erotomaniac"; they questioned whether she was a woman scorned, whether she had personal motives, whether she had professional motives, political motives. They basically questioned her sanity and made her out to be a liar and potentially a lunatic. She served as kind of a canary in the coal mine for women about what happens when you do speak up against a powerful man, even though she hadn't even asked to speak up. Traister: Ted Kennedy At the time of the Anita Hill hearings, Ted Kennedy's nephew, William Kennedy Smith, was on trial for rape in Florida for an event, an alleged rape, that took place on a night that had begun with William Kennedy Smith drinking with Ted Kennedy.
There was this sense that Kennedy's own behaviors in some way muzzled him in this political moment when he, as a member of the Judiciary Committee and by many measures the liberal conscience of the Senate, should have been more vocal. On the importance of distinguishing between consensual and nonconsensual workplace relationships. Mayer: I don't want to see the workplace become overridden with a kind of Taliban-like mentality that the sexes have to be separated and any kind of sexual behavior between colleagues is something that is terrible.
Maybe I say that partly because I ended up not taking the job, but that's how I met him. A lot of women and Women want sex Coal Hill meet each other through work; it's where we spend most of our time. Again, this gets back to the subject of consent.
There's nothing improper about getting involved — it's a little complicated maybe, but it's not necessarily a situation that is of harassment. On why Mayer and many of her female colleagues in journalism didn't report harassment when they experienced it early in their careers. Mayer: As someone who was in the workplace now for — God, I don't know — 40 years or something, it was so rampant.
It was something that we all dealt with, and there's so many men who have so much to atone for, if you go back in time. Most of us just had to cope some way or another. It was just kind of how things were. Women want sex Coal Hill think the answer is kind of, this exaggerates it a little bit, but it's a little bit like asking the slaves why they didn't complain about the masters.
The power was on the other side, and it went all the way up through to the top of these companies, and you really had very little power as a young female working almost exclusively for men. There was kind of nobody to complain to, including HR departments. Amy Salit and Thea Chaloner produced and edited the audio of this interview. I'm Terry Gross. Women, at least some women, are being heard now when they come forward. This shakeup is raising a lot of questions for both women and men.
We're going to talk about some of those questions and look back at a turning point in how sexual harassment allegations have been handled, the Clarence Thomas Supreme Court confirmation hearings and Anita Hill's testimony that he sexually harassed her when she worked for him at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. I have two guests. Rebecca Traister writes about feminist issues for New York magazine.
Let's start by going back to the Clarence Thomas hearings and seeing how the allegations of sexual harassment were treated then. First, let me ask you both, do you see that as a turning point in women's issues and in the question of sexual harassment, and how do we handle it as a culture? This is Jane speaking. I mean, I feel that it was the moment when, you know, to use the phrase of today, when the country began to be woke to the subject of sexual harassment. And having lived through it at the time and covered it at the time, I have to say, it was - at that point, it was revelatory.
Most of us really didn't know much about sexual harassment. We - many of us had experienced it, but we didn't really know the name for it or how to handle it or that there was a way around it.
And I think Anita Hill, by making her case and speaking so straightforwardly about it, really educated the country. I've always seen it as - I know that, for me, I was in high school at the time, and it was one of the moments that sort of awakened me. I mean, I guess that's a riff on the notion of being woke to how feminism's contemporary application was being made visible and understood in my life. The Anita Hill hearings was an absolute - they were electrifying to me and I think to so many. And I have been thinking about them so much recently over the past year, even before we had this cycle of sexual harassment revelations, because I saw them as a real moment that this political moment was echoing.
Anita Hill made her allegations. She lost. She experienced a sort of material loss. Clarence Thomas was appointed to the Supreme Court, but in the wake of her testimony and the conversation about sexual harassment that it provoked and in the visuals of this all-male all-white Senate Judiciary Committee sitting in often very cruel judgment of her, it provoked a lot of women to get into electoral politics.
And the very next year,was the year of the woman.
That's what it was called at the time. And Patty Murray specifically spoke about how it was anger about Anita Hill's treatment that made her decide to run for the Senate. And what we've seen this year in the wake of something that has a lot of echoes of that period, Hillary Clinton's loss to Donald Trump.
It is a material loss with real long-lasting consequences - the shaping of policy. Justice Clarence Thomas has helped to shape the law over the past 20 years. And yet, one of the things we've seen is a reinvigoration of womens' interest in getting into electoral politics. Emily's List has said that there are 19, women who've expressed interest in running for office. That's totally unprecedented in the year since Donald Trump's victory over Hillary Clinton.
And I think that's another sort of way in which that Anita Hill moment was a touchstone. And that's even before we get into the re-energized conversation around sexual harassment and how we should approach it and what the consequences should be. Let's start by hearing an excerpt of that hearing. And this is when Senator Joe Biden, who was the head of the Judiciary Committee, was questioning Anita Hill, asking her to lay out her allegations against Clarence Thomas.
HILL: The incident involved his going to his desk - getting up from a work table, going to his desk, looking at this can and saying, who put pubic hair on my Coke? HILL: There is - I recall at least one instance in his office at the EEOC where he discussed some pornographic material or he brought up the substance or the content of pornographic material. What was the content of what he said? HILL: Well, this was a reference to an individual who had a very large penis. And he used the name that he had been referred to in the pornographic material.Women want sex Coal Hill
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