Anita Hill a Poor Choice to Lead Commission on Sexual Harassment
The many recent allegations of sexual harassment and assault in Hollywood have brought down powerful men—most notably Harvey Weinstein—and prompted industry executives to seek ways to combat the rampant problem. One such effort to was to form the Commission on Sexual Harassment and Advancing Equality in the Workplace, a panel spearheaded by Hollywood executives to devise a strategy to confront “the broad culture of abuse and power disparity” in the industry.
This is a laudable move that could very well make Hollywood a safer and more welcoming place for women. But there’s just one problem: the woman tasked with leading the commission – Anita Hill – has a history of defending sexual assault.
In an April 1998 interview with Tim Russert on NBC’s Meet the Press, Hill dismissed allegations against former President Bill Clinton -- including former Arkansas state employee Paula Jones’ allegation that Clinton exposed himself to her and former Clinton volunteer Kathleen Willey’s claim that the president groped her – by arguing that such behavior did not constitute harassment because accepting it was not a “condition of her employment.”
“I think we have to evaluate it not on the basis of whether it’s sexual harassment, but evaluate it on the basis of what we would like to see in terms of the behavior and the moral decisions and judgments of the president,” Hill said at the time, adding that Americans have “sort of become cynical and sort of said, ‘Well if he did it, maybe, that’s OK they all do it.’”
Hill also told Russert at the time that “I don’t think that most women have come to the point where we’ve said, ‘Well this is so bad that, even if he’s better on the bigger issues, we can’t have him as president.’”
She said during the interview that “we have to look at the totality of the presidency” and Clinton’s record “on women’s issues generally,” essentially arguing that Clinton’s conduct towards women should be tolerated due to his political views.
That is why I recently joined other female conservative leaders in calling for Hill’s removal from the panel. Victims of sexual harassment or assault should be able to trust that an individual working on their behalf will defend them even if a man is powerful, even if he is a liberal.
“They all do it” is an unacceptable defense of unacceptable behavior. Such justification was wrong then, and it remains wrong now.
Some may dismiss Hill’s remarks by arguing that they took place prior to the #MeToo era, or that many of the president’s supporters – including Gloria Steinem and every Democratic woman in the Senate and the Clinton administration – offered a similar defense of Clinton, and completely rejected the reports of Clinton’s sexually predatory behavior, because he was “their” President. But Hill’s appointment to the panel comes at a time when members of Clinton’s own party are now reconsidering the willingness by women during the Clinton era to turn a blind eye to his misconduct toward numerous women, spanning many years. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), who holds the seat once held by Hillary Clinton in the Senate, recently said that Bill Clinton should have resigned over his conduct towards then-White House intern Monica Lewinsky, something he would have been required to do had he not been so forcefully defended at the time by the women of the left.
As recent revelations about Weinstein and others show, sexual harassment and assault is pervasive in the entertainment industry, and efforts to confront it should be applauded. Sexual harassment is always wrong, even when the perpetrator is a liberal man – a variety that is plentiful in Hollywood. The commission would be better served by a chair with a record of speaking out against all offenders, including liberal and powerful ones. Otherwise, the commission will be nothing more meaningful than a Hollywood movie set.
Ms. Mitchell is a political law attorney in Washington, DC representing conservative groups.