An ugly side of our society


October 10, 1991|By Wiley A. Hall 3rd

Let's set aside for a second the question of whether Clarence Thomas possesses the judicial temperament we would like to see in a member of this country's highest court.

Let's focus instead on the haunted face -- the shocked, frustrated and injured face of Anita F. Hill as she confronted the press this week to assert, in effect, that she is not a bimbo, nor a publicity seeker, nor a bitter, frustrated, opportunistic, vengeful, wild-eyed crackpot.

Hill is the Oklahoma law school professor who had the great misfortune to tell congressional investigators that she had been sexually harassed by the Supreme Court nominee when the two worked together at the U.S. Department of Education and the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in the early 1980s.

The Senate Judiciary Committee apparently shrugged off Hill's story. And now that her story has been made public, Hill's character has come under just as much scrutiny as that of Thomas.

For instance, Thomas supporters in Congress have questioned lTC Hill's motivation in even making the charges -- as though persistent sexual advances between a boss and a subordinate reflect in no way on the boss' character.

On Tuesday, the Senate delayed a final vote on the nomination until a hearing can be held on the issue. And when the hearing is held, you can bet that both Thomas and Hill will be on trial.

"My integrity has been questioned by people who have never spoken to me," said Hill at her Monday news conference.

"People are talking about this as a political ploy, and all that is, is an attempt not to deal with the issue itself . . . I resent the idea that people would blame the messenger for the message rather than looking at the content of the message itself."

News accounts have described Hill as calm and professional throughout this ordeal. To me, though, she seems besieged, harried. She seems like a person pleading for sanity in a world of lunacy. And, dare I say it? She seems like a woman harassed.

Feminists keep telling us that the world is like this: That ours is a society that often counterattacks with appalling savagery when a woman tries to raise a sexual charge against a man. Feminists keep trying to tell us that women are made to feel like second-class citizens, like vassals, and that many prefer to suffer in silence rather than face the public anger and ridicule.

But it sounds impossible to believe. Haven't we learned to treat women as equals? Apparently not.

Hill's is but the latest example of the peril women face.

We might also point to the attacks launched against the alleged victims of Mike Tyson, the former heavyweight boxing champion, who is said to have slunk through a beauty contest like a deranged octopus last July -- leering, making obscene and suggestive remarks, and engaging in "serial buttocks fondling," according to a civil suit filed against him.

"He acted like he had walked into a room full of sluts," said a contestant.

Never mind that the contestants, on average, probably were better educated, had higher aspirations, a longer history of community service and were just all around finer people than the champ.

Tyson allegedly capped off his weekend by raping an 18-year-old contestant in his motel room, according to his accusers.

Meanwhile, Tyson's handlers defend him with appalling tastelessness. Tyson, they complained, was a victim of "economic rape." In fact, they said, Tyson is forever dodging hungry young women who want to fondle his buttocks. Yeah, sure.

Another example was the woman who charged that she had been raped by a nephew of Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass. You might say the alleged victim was victimized again by the New York Times, which not only published her name but blackened her reputation in a clumsy attempt to psychoanalyze her.

Despite some progress, the elements in our culture that continue to see women as sex objects are barely submerged. The violence, the anger, the contempt lurk just below the surface.

And now, Anita F. Hill, an attractive, educated, intelligent woman, shares with investigators behavior that she believes raises questions about a man's fitness to serve on the Supreme Court. She did so because she felt it was her duty as a citizen.

But she learned, to her regret, that she is but a citizen second-class.

No wonder so many women prefer to suffer in silence.

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