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Anita Hill

Hill discussed her current scholarship, politically ambitious women and civil rights



On Oct. 10, Anita Hill stood before a packed room in the Grove Hotel in Boise to discuss how data collection could improve policies that affect women and girls, and her now-famous 1991 testimony, in which she said she was sexually harassed by Clarence Thomas, who was later confirmed as a U.S. Supreme Court Justice.

"They said Clarence Thomas was innocent until proven guilty, and what does that sound like? A criminal standard," Hill said.

Five days before Hill took the podium, The New York Times published a story about sexual harassment claims against Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein. Soon, dozens of high-profile people, from actor Kevin Spacey to Sen. Al Franken, would have similar allegations leveled against them.

Before her Boise talk (and the swarm of allegations), Hill discussed her current scholarship, politically ambitious women and civil rights. In light of recent events, her remarks seem prophetic.

The subject of your lecture is the status of women and girls. What's up?

It's about how data is being collected—and not being collected—about the status of women and girls under this administration ... and what should be the response from ... universities, private employers and the general public.

Under this administration?

I'm very concerned about the disappearance of data collection as a priority for this administration, starting at the first removal of information from the White House website about LGBTQ people. The second indication...was the removal of information about sexual assault from the White House website. Since then, the administration has released businesses from a fair pay pledge.

What's the takeaway for the jurists in your audience?

Lawyers are citizens, and an informed public is what stands between us and the next lawsuit. If people don't know what the real evidence is, you will have people who are making claims about sexual harassment that are just a-factual.

You've written that women judges have the power to balance the justice system. What do you mean by that?

I'm talking just in terms of experiences. I think the best example of that is Ruth Bader Ginsburg. She, Sonia Sotomayor, Elena Kagan and Justice [Sandra Day] O'Connor drew on experiences they had as women to help their colleagues understand the impact of the law. ... We've got an increasing number of examples where they infuse the law with real information about their experiences as they work in real life.

You also wrote it's more important for there to be an inclusive democracy than debates about specific legal rights. What do you mean?

Simply having rights on the books will not get us to equality, because there are always barriers. What we really need is a concept of equality that doesn't say, "You have a right to not be discriminated against," but said in an affirmative way, "This is what equality looks like."

What do you tell politically ambitious women after the defeat of Hillary Clinton?

Look at what the alternatives are if we ... don't invest our efforts into changing the expectations from the public of what the president should be. It's going to take a lot of work, but it's worth it. I also tell them Hillary Clinton won the popular vote, so this idea that people don't want a woman president should be debunked by those numbers.

What did you learn researching how the Great Recession affected home ownership?

There's clear evidence that, in particular, people of color lost a great amount of wealth, and that impact is going to be intergenerational. There's a new study out on the impact of the recession and on predatory lending behavior, and the economic downturn, the impact of women, but particularly on older women and women of color—the impact has been hardest felt by those groups. It makes them much more financially vulnerable going into retirement.

Do you have policy solutions?

Some of the policy ideas have been put into place in the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, as well as Dodd Frank, but there is pushback on both of those, currently. ... More needs to be done to figure out exactly what the recession cost us, and who that cost is falling more heavily on.

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