Civil and women’s rights icon Anita Hill visited UC Santa Barbara (UCSB) last week for a presentation on the intersections of gender and sexual violence, in an event that served as a part of the UCSB Feminist Futures Initiative.
Hill rose to prominence 28 years ago for her testimony in the Supreme Court confirmation hearings of Judge Clarence Thomas, during which she bravely testified that Thomas repeatedly sexually harassed her during her two years of employment as his assistant.
Hill’s courage empowered women from all walks of life to fight sexual harassment and helped foster equality for women in the workplace. Today, Hill, a professor, finds parallels to her experiences in the #MeToo movement and Judge Brett Kavanaugh’s recent Supreme Court confirmation hearings.
As an activist against sexual- and gender-based violence, Hill believes that these types of violence need to be understood as large-scale problems that affect everyone — directly or indirectly — regardless of gender identity or sexual orientation.
“Abuse toward women, girls, and non-binary people is a threat to us all no matter who or where we are because that type of injustice threatens everyone’s security,” Hill said. “When an individual is assaulted in a community, the entire community is threatened and everyone needs to take interest.” Hill noted that there has been a cultural shift when it comes to sexual- and gender-based violence that started with the #MeToo movement in 2017.
“In 2017 through the valiant efforts of #MeToo activists, it became clear that the extent of sexual violence around the world is incalculable. But, I’ve noticed that sex violence hasn’t significantly declined since then, partially because there’s been no robust government action to address this crisis,” she said.
Hill believes that gendered and sexual violence needs to be treated as a crisis, and as such, there needs to be legislature that prevents and penalizes these behaviors. But, as Hill noted, sexual- and gender-based violence is rarely thought of as a large-scale issue that requires political action.
“None of the Democratic primary candidates have spoken about sexual violence and harassment in their campaigns or in their policies, which worries me because these problems are crises and need to be solved through government intervention,” Hill said.
“Judge Kavanaugh’s appointment to the Supreme Court shows that we’re nowhere near where we need to be politically when it comes to sexual- and gender-based violence.” Until there are more concrete laws that penalize and prevent gendered and sexual violence, Hill believes that we need more public education and advocacy that would change the ways we view them.
“Short of government action, we need to move the public perception of sexual violence forward quite a lot; many people still deny that it exists,” she said. In Hill’s framework, there are three specific ways that people deny sexual- and gender-based violence.
The first form of denial is when a person dismisses sexual assault and accuses survivors of lying about their abuse. This recently happened to Hill when someone asked her, “How does it feel to be the one witch who started all these false accusations?” For Hill, this isn’t an uncommon reaction.
The second manifests when people acknowledge that there is an issue, but deem it a small issue with a quick fix. “People who think this way usually think that if more women come forward, this problem will end,” said Hill. “The problem there is that more women reporting crimes to a system that’s designed not to solve said crimes won’t help anyone.”
The third way people deny sexual- and gender-based violence is by recognizing that they are big issues, but dismissing them as inevitable and unsolvable, leaving the next generation to find a solution.
Hill cautioned that these forms of violence shouldn’t be thought of as generational issues, as this way of thinking won’t move society toward new solutions for sexual and gendered violence.
“Personally, I don’t wanna be the generation that passes this problem down to a new generation and leave all the work of solving it to new, vulnerable groups of people,” Hill said. “This fictional ‘woke’ generation doesn’t bear the responsibility of ending sexual and gendered violence. No one generation created it and no single generation can fix it.”