How Anita Hill Paved the Way for American Women to Spill Their Secrets

These women finding their voices is a remarkable moment in our country’s history

anita hill

All weekend long, women have been telling their secrets. On Twitter, on Facebook, on a walk along the Palisades.

As we looked out at the glittering Pacific Ocean, one friend told me about her days as a model at 17, when a photographer invited her to an evening shoot at his New York apartment. Her mother, suspicious, insisted on accompanying her, and when the photographer opened the door, the foldaway bed was already open, waiting to be used.

The sexual rendezvous didn’t happen. My friend’s mother stuck around for the Polaroid session that took 20 minutes instead of the planned hour and a half.

That story is more than 40 years old, but the woman remembers it with stark clarity.

And so, apparently, do the legions of other women who’ve been telling their long-held secrets in the past few days, propelled by the pushback against Christine Blasey Ford, the California professor who has accused Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh of attempted assault when they were both in high school, and lashed together by the hashtag #WhyIDidn’tReport.

Cher told her mother’s rape story on Twitter (after asking for permission). “Last yr mom told me, G Paul, a Family Friend Raped Her 54 yrs ago… He threw her on couch, Raped her. After, She cried but didn’t Want Us 2 Know. Took 54 yrs,” the star tweeted. Devastating.

Veteran Washington journalist Karen Tumulty spilled this:

Alyssa Milano, actress and activist, told of a 30-year-old sexual assault back when she was a teenager. “It took me three decades to tell my parents that the assault had even happened,” she wrote. “I never filed a police report. I never told officials. I never tried to find justice for my pain because justice was never an option.”

New Hampshire state Senator Martha Hennessey shared that she was assaulted by a classmate at Dartmouth 42 years ago.

In a long Twitter thread, military veteran Katie Rosa told a horrific story about being raped by three sheriffs deputies at age 14: “I had left the local mall to find my bicycle with tires flattened. I walked bike up road leaving mall parking lot,” she wrote. “My rapists were parked along side of road…. I was a terrified, size 0, athletic young girl.”

In the thread, she showed a photo of scars from a knife that she said one of the men used. She cited 30 other scars over her ribs and torso. The story is too truly painful to recount. But she laid it out in stark, courageous detail — so we don’t dare turn away.

Rich women, working class women. Elected officials, secretaries, university professors, waitresses, journalists, former marines. Their stories are tied together not just by their experiences but by their long-held reluctance to share, by the choice to bury an experience that evoked individual shame and a desire to forget. And now by their decision to speak up so many years later.

These women finding their voices is a remarkable moment in our country’s history.

It rests on the foundation of the courage shown by Anita Hill 27 years ago, when she testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee about her experience with then-nominee Clarence Thomas.

With notable dignity and under the scrutiny of the entire country, Hill gave detailed testimony about her time working for Thomas at the Department of Education, and then at the Equal Employment Opportunity Office.

The stories she told were embarrassing and graphic, and sounded completely out of place coming from a law professor, spoken in an august Senate chamber, about a Supreme Court nominee.

Those of us who watched those hearings can scarcely forget the moment. There has now been a documentary about it, and a film (starring Kerry Washington).

Through the decades between that time and #MeToo, Anita Hill has quietly pursued her university teaching work, even as Clarence Thomas has continued to serve on the Supreme Court. She has never insisted on retribution but she has also never altered her account.

History comes full circle, sometimes in our lifetime.