One of the most famous sexual-harassment cases in history took place 25 years ago this year. The Anita Hill-Clarence Thomas Controversy prompted a national conversation regarding sexual harassment.
In 1991, President Bush nominated Clarence Thomas to the Supreme Court as a more conservative replacement for Justice Thurgood Marshall after he announced his retirement. This was a controversial nomination as many were very concerned that Thomas’ conservative views would reverse gains that had been made in civil rights fought hard for by Justice Marshall, and that he would rule against legal abortion. The nomination continued on to the Senate Judiciary Committee hearings and the committee vote was split seven to seven.
When the nomination went to the Senate floor, a law professor at the University of Oklahoma named Anita Hill, came forward with accusations that Thomas had sexually harassed her when she worked for him at the Department of Education years prior.
Hill alleged that after declining his invitations to date him, Thomas continuously discussed inappropriate sexual topics with her of which she was extremely uncomfortable. Thomas testified about the claims calling the hearings “a high-tech lynching for uppity Blacks.”
The case was one person’s word against another’s and Thomas was ultimately appointed to the Supreme Court after winning the Senate vote 52-48.
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While women have struggled with this issue since they first joined the workforce, the term sexual harassment was coined in 1975 by a group of women at Cornell University. One of their co-workers encountered a woman who was so distressed by the behavior she was facing by a male supervisor that she quit her job. When the woman filed for unemployment benefits she was denied on the grounds that she quit her job for personal reasons, insinuating that she should have put up with the supervisor’s behavior. She complained to the Human Affairs office at the university where numerous feminists were working at the time.
These women formed a group called Working Women United and they held a Speak Out. Many women of varied professions came to share their stories, bringing to light the problems that so many females struggled with in the workplace. The New York Times covered the event and used the phrase “sexual harassment” in their headline which began the use of the term we are so familiar with today.
Since the 1970s much has changed in regards to sexual harassment including laws. In 1986, the Supreme Court in the Meritor v Vinson case declared that quid pro quo sexual harassment and hostile environment sexual harassment were in violation of Title 7.
As we reach 25 years since one of the most famous sexual harassment cases took place, many are reflecting on how far we have come since then and how much still needs to be done. The case drew national attention and forced many to reevaluate what should be considered appropriate workplace behavior.
HBO will be releasing a new movie entitled Confirmation which will star Kerry Washinton as Anita Hill. The movie will air on April 16th, 2016 and allow viewers to remember or perhaps discover for the first time the issues that confronted the American public regarding women in the workplace.
While much progress has been made the problem of sexual harassment in the workplace is far from solved. All one must do is pick up a newspaper, glance at social media, or watch the news to see another sexually fueled workplace dilemma that has made national headlines. Most recent coverage has been directed toward the music industry where several sexual harassment, assault, or abuse issues seem to come up. In the recent case, a popular music producer from Sony has been accused by a pop singer of sexually abusing, raping, and harassing her for years. The singer took the producer to court in an attempt to be released from her contract tying her to working with him. She lost the case yet a public outcry by many has been noted and once again brought sexual assault into public view.
Yet it is not just in Hollywood and the music industry that we see issues with sexual harassment. It has been well documented that hostile work environments are still quite prevalent today, most especially in places where women are the minority. Women in Silicon Valley are typically outnumbered by their male coworkers and according to a new survey, 60% of women working in Silicon Valley companies have reported being the target of unwanted sexual advances from a superior.
While we have come very far since the 1991 Anita Hill case, news headlines will tell you that we obviously have a lot farther to go. This is a problem that occurs across the country and is not solely a woman’s issue. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 states that the victim of sexual harassment doesn’t have to be of the opposite sex and that anyone can be affected by offensive conduct; not just the person being harassed.