Anita Hill came to our town last week as the keynote speaker for the celebration of the 40th anniversary of “Our Voice”, our wonderful rape crisis/education/prevention center here in Asheville.
When I heard she was coming, I was immediately right back there on my sofa in Roxbury, New York, glued to the television set, watching every moment of those hearings. I remembered how I felt completely inspired by her courage, her composure, her refusal to back down. And I relived how completely horrified and despairing I felt when that panel of white men managed to find a way to approve Clarence Thomas anyway. Along with millions of other women, I felt kicked in the gut.
Here is a woman whose life was turned upside down simply because she decided to come forward, to do the right thing, to speak the truth. Here is a woman who believed in our system of justice and fairness, only to get kicked in the gut herself. But here is a woman who also has never backed down and has managed to find a way to forgive all those people on the Judiciary Committee and to say, “it was not the failure of those individuals; it was the failure of the system.” The committee, after all, decided not to call in experts to testify or to bring in the other women who were ready to corroborate her testimony. But here is also a woman who, when asked if she would do it again, answers yes, without a doubt. “I found my voice in 1991, and I am not about to give it up ever again,” she said. She said that is what kept her going, what brought her back to life after the hearings, were the letters and phone calls from people all around the country who thanked her for giving them the courage, finally, to speak out, to bring sexual harassment or sexual violence against them out into the light of day–to confront their predator and to bring justice.
I have to say it brings me great pleasure to see how, in the big picture, she has come out on top. She is a national icon, a hero for women everywhere. While that other person, who will remain nameless, will always be associated in most people’s minds with sexual harassment and othe predatory behaviors.
One of the other speakers at the event, a victim of sexual abuse, spoke eloquently about how the main cause of continuing sexual harassment/abuse/violence in this country is silence. When victims feel they have to keep quiet to protect their loved ones, their colleagues at work, even the predators themselves, then the behavior gets silently sanctioned, and the victims are the ones who end up carrying the shame and the embarassment. They carry the load for our society.
As she pointed out, the name of our local organization is “Our Voice” because it will require our collective voices, our collective breaking of silence, to stop this kind of abuse in our society. Here are the statistics: one in four women will be a victim, one in six men.
I went up to Anita HIll afterwards, and the first words that came out of my mouth were, “I love you!” A little embarassing for a sixty-year-old woman to be blubbering in front of her, but I managed to get myself back together. I told her, “I nursed one of my babies through the hearings, until I was afraid I was curdling the milk!” She laughed. I had a private moment with my heroine! I even have a bad picture, from my phone, to share, so you can all see me stalking this incredible, powerful woman.