Thomas hearings to leave scars Social scientists blast senators and the process.

October 17, 1991|By Sue Miller | Sue Miller,Evening Sun Staff

Three days of riveting and, at times, unpleasant hearings into Anita F. Hill's allegations that Clarence Thomas sexually harassed her have left people "scarred and confused," say social scientists at Johns Hopkins University and Goucher College.

And, some were highly critical of the Senate Judiciary Committee,which they contend "dealt cavalierly" with the complicated issue of sexual harassment and "lost a golden opportunity to educate the nation" when it failed to call in experts to talk about the subject.

Dr. Patricia Fernandez Kelly, a Hopkins social anthropologist, called for a "new code of values," a "gentler society" where men and women have a greater appreciation of one another and national leadership that makes education, housing and access to health care its top priorities.

Dr. Joan Burton, a Goucher sociologist, said sexual harassment workshops are needed in the workplace and public schools must beginto have dialogues on the subject.

"I think these hearings are going to scar and scar very deeply," said Dr. Marianne Githens, chairman of Goucher's political science department and director of its Women's Studies Program, who viewed Tuesday's Senate debate with some of her students.

"The young women are very disillusioned with what has been going on. And, like some of the men students, they were appalled by the fact that sexual harassment was so cavalierly disregarded as a critical issue."

Githens stressed that students also were sickened by the suggestions of some senators that Hill, an Oklahoma law school professor, might be schizophrenic or have some other kind of mental illness.

The hearings have caused a lot of confusion among men and women, a lot of anger and a certain level of paralysis about behavior -- no one knows what to do because no one knows what is acceptable and what is not, Kelly said.

"And, there is another layer on this onion," she said, "and that is a lot of loneliness -- because when in confusion, then better not to act."

Many things are being redefined -- including such things as ways of looking at people, language, smiles, whistles -- in terms of what is and is not appropriate behavior as a result of the process that led to these hearings, she also said.

Men and women will have to pitch in to pull the nation out of its confusion, Kelly said.

"Women should learn more about how to be assertive and understand boundaries without using the presupposition that if you are a man somehow you are a pig," she said. "Men really have a lot to learn about how important the differences are between men and women . . . and that they should not assume that rude, crude and irreverent remarks are as funny to women as they are to themselves."

Kelly urged that the nation reassign and reorganize its priorities.

"We need an entirely new code of values," she said, "one that will really place the highest priority on people's education, on people's rights to live in decent homes, have access to health and have the right to really not work themselves to death.

"I want the priorities of this nation to be on families and children, I want the national budget emphasis to be on human capital investments and education, health and housing, livable cities, entertainment and art. And, I want to see more white families extending a hand to poor black families."

A Goucher psychologist, Dr. L. Richard Pringle, believes the frankness and public spectacle of the hearings was "really beneficial" because it got sexual harassment out front and in the center of attention, "where it has needed to be for a long time."

"I was appalled by so many things about these hearings," he said. "But one of the things that bothered me the most was that no experts were ever called to really address the question of what do we mean fundamentally about sexual harassment?"

Legally, he said, sexual harassment is definable as a physical act or verbal exchange of a sexual nature that is unwanted and makes the recipient uncomfortable and continues even after it is rejected by the person at whom it is being directed.

At the same time, there is an asymmetry in power involved and the action can interfere with job performance or job promotion.

"Under that criteria, I believe, Anita Hill underwent sexual harassment."

But he stressed that he feels the public came away from the

hearings confused about sexual harassment and the Senate Judiciary Committee missed "a golden opportunity to educate people."

Pringle said he didn't think it was at all unusual for Anita Hill to have stayed in her professional relationship with Clarence Thomas.

Kelly believes it was an ill-advised decision for Hill to make revelations 10 years later because she was not subpoenaed by a court of law and did not have to come forward.

"But, I think she really did feel she was doing her country a service," she said.

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