Women's views on Anita Hill

Wiley A. Hall 3rd

October 17, 1991|By Wiley A. Hall 3rd

This is a story about the reactions some women had to Professor Anita Hill's ordeal.

Anita Hill, of course, is the law professor who claimed that Clarence Thomas, now confirmed to be a justice on the Supreme Court, had sexually harassed her when the two worked together some 10 years ago.

Hill's charge sparked three days of some of the most dramatic and contentious testimony ever heard in Congress, or on television, and supposedly raised the nation's consciousness about the status of women in our society.

My story begins at a bus stop.

"There is no question in my mind," said the lady at the bus stop, "that that woman lied her butt off."

We were across from the University of Maryland Hospital on Greene Street. The woman, 43, worked on the hospital's custodial staff.

"But why would Anita Hill lie like that?" I asked.

"Now you know that some of these women are capable of anything," the cleaning woman said. "They will say anything, do anything. I think she was jealous. Or that she was a spurned lover or something. The main thing for me is that she kept on working for him, she kept following him around from job to job. You just don't do that if he had treated her like that."

"Have you ever been in that kind of situation?" I asked.

The lady at the bus stop looked me dead in the eye and her look was so fierce that I almost flinched.

"No man," she said firmly, "has ever done anything to me that I couldn't handle."

"Men," said an attorney solemnly, "just don't understand how vulnerable women in that situation are."

"So you believed Professor Hill?"

"Definitely," said the attorney, who is 39. Her office had a window looking down upon the glittering waters of the Inner Harbor. A degree from a prestigious university was on the wall.

"What are you going to say? Who's going to believe you if you complain? You've got to make a decision," she said, "about what speaking up is going to cost you, to your career, and I know that a lot of women choose not to speak up."

"What about you?" I asked.

She looked at me from across her desk. She folded her hands. "I've been there, too," she said after a moment.

"Oh, shoot. I could look at her and tell she was crazy!" said the 28-year-old woman and mother of two, from a laundromat on Keswick Street. "I could tell that when she was testifying. She made the whole thing up."

"I bet you could talk to 10 women," said the woman in the parking lot at Towson Mall, "and I bet nine of those 10 women not only believed Professor Hill but they have had to go through some of the same experiences."

This woman, 26 years old, was a reading specialist for Baltimore County schools.

In Lexington Market, a check-out clerk admitted that she felt a little sorry for Hill.

"But I felt sorrier for the judge," she said. "Look at what he had to go through. Look at what she did to his reputation. And what about his wife? Look at what she went through."

"Look at what Anita Hill went through," I put in.

"Well, that's the thing, isn't it?" said the woman. "She didn't have to come forward, now, did she? This was all something she brought on herself, now, isn't it?"

Back in Towson again, a real estate agent said Anita Hill's story has encouraged women to begin talking about their ordeals. A college professor at Morgan State University predicted that lecherous supervisors will suddenly find themselves challenged like never before.

"I'll tell you straight out that I found Anita Hill incredibly inspiring," said the professor. "People will remember Anita Hill and her courage for a long, long time."

But an office clerk downtown disagreed.

"The bottom line," she said, "is that she put her career first. She put her career above her self-respect. She put her career before her dignity. In my opinion, she wasn't anywhere near as brilliant as she's supposed to be."

In all, I interviewed 15 women for this column. Eight were professionals and applauded Anita Hill. But seven weren't. And not one of those seven -- not one -- had any sympathy at all for her story.

Make of this what you will.

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