In 1991, I was 14 going on 15, busy navigating what exactly it meant to be a female in American society. It was a grueling age, not a child, not an adult, completely trapped and utterly free to do as I please. Men were paying more attention to me, something that had always made me uncomfortable, but conversely something from which I gained my sense of worth.
Having been abused and pimped out by father since infancy, my concepts of mental and physical autonomy were nothing less than convoluted piles of confusion. As an upper-middle class Christian, I was taught that I could become anything in the world. Poverty, class, and culture were not supposed to be barriers to my success. I distinctly remember being overwhelmed by the idea that out of anywhere and any time in the world, I was born into comfort and privilege...but what the hell did that mean to a girl who was bought and sold by her own dad in her own neighborhood?
I cannot recall a time from my childhood when I was not an object from which men could derive pleasure. I had no say in what men said or did to me, but I was still somehow responsible for the shame of all that sin. I was taught that any woman who claimed to be harmed by a man had, on some level, culpability in her plight. When I first heard of Anita Hill, it was from my mother, and in a disparaging tone. Anita Hill was a liar, she was trash, she was making up lies for attention to bring down an honorable man.
Clarence Thomas was a Christian, a conservative, a soul anointed by God and the GOP to sit in judgement on the highest court in our land, and thereby above reproach.
But then Anita Hill came along and tried to ruin it for everybody. She got pushed and pulled through the wringer for it, too. She was torn up and torn down, shamed and scolded, all on public television, in front of the goddam Senate Judiciary Committee for the United States of America. Who the hell did she think she was?
I will tell you who she was: she was the woman who publicly subjected herself to the highest level of mansplaining bullshit and condescension in order to clearly define what it means to sexually harass someone.
Anita Hill changed how women are viewed in our society. People like my mother railed and stomped their feet and talked about how awful she was, but none of it could stop the lesson America had to learn: sexual harassment is not funny, it is not a joke, and it is not light-hearted fun. It is a method in which people in power can and do manipulate and humiliate subordinates. For women in particular, it is a direct threat to our sense of physical security.
For me, personally, Anita Hill helped me see clearly the lines that had been blurred since I was a small child. I do NOT exist solely to entertain or pleasure men. My reproductive organs do NOT render me incapable of logical reasoning. I do NOT have to put up with harassment, and I DO have a voice in this world.
It took me awhile to figure that out, though. It certainly didn't help that my own mother perpetuated the negative views of women held against Anita Hill. My mother, too, after all, has been harmed by those views. I've had years of therapy to work all of that out, though, so I don't need to regurgitate it here.
The point is this: Anita Hill did not prevent Clarence Thomas from being confirmed as a Supreme Court Justice, but she sure as hell didn't sit down and shut up, either. She demonstrated that women do not have to tolerate sexual harassment, and that there are consequences and repercussions for those in management positions who insist on blurring those lines.
Anita Hill taught me how to assert myself as a woman, and as a human being. Her experience taught me that doing so will not be easy, and will almost certainly piss off a hell of lot of people, but will ultimately make the world a better place for me, for other women, and for society as a whole.
HBO's Confirmation has been described as depicting a "forgotten time in our history," but I have not forgotten what Anita Hill went through, or what she did for me. In order to value how far we have come in society, we have to be aware of how we got here, and of how much work still needs to be done. That is why Confirmation is an important film, and why we should all watch it.