When It Doesn't Pay to Tell the Truth.


I made this point on this week's soon-to-be published podcast, and I had planned to write a longer post about it, but Sally Quinn beat me to it with a post called "Why Anita Hill Deserves an Apology":

Women like Anita Hill who try to tell the truth about being sexually harassed all too often are disbelieved and even demonized. Hill testified, during the Senate confirmation hearings on the Supreme Court nomination of Clarence Thomas, that Thomas had engaged in a consistent pattern of sexual harassment of her in the workplace. And now, Virginia Thomas, Justice Clarence Thomas' current wife, has left a voice mail for Anita Hill asking Hill for an apology. [...]

So many women over the years have come to me in a pastoral context and told me about these patterns that constitute sexual harassment at work. They know it's wrong, they even know it's illegal, and they know they are being discriminated against on the basis of their sex. But even today many just want to keep silent because they are more afraid of what will happen if they speak up. The lesson of Anita Hill is not lost on them. Look at what happens to women who try to tell the truth?

For her decision, Anita Hill was labeled "a bit nutty and a bit slutty," a variation on the general language for women who confront their harassers and abusers. They'll say that the new clerk was "imagining things" when her male co-worker threw unwanted innuendo her way or that the radio-station producer shouldn't have worn such a low-cut top since "you know how men are." And if you're unlucky enough to be raped by a former partner? Well, the district attorney might not take your case, since who is to say that you didn't want it?

In the time since Anita Hill made her choice to tell the truth, we've made a lot of strides toward stopping and prosecuting sexual harassment. That said, if this episode with Virginia Thomas illustrates anything, it's that women are still damned if they do -- and damned if they don't -- when it comes to sexual harassers. If you don't confront them, then you're all but ensuring more harassment for other women. But if you do, and if he's powerful, you can rest assured that you will be stigmatized for having the gall to tell the truth.

-- Jamelle Bouie

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