HOUSTON — Anita Hill had some advice for Christine Blasey Ford.
First, she should know she is not alone.
Second, she need not talk publicly about her decision to open a frightening and embarrassing chapter of her life to scrutiny before the Senate Judiciary Committee, even though, yes, those hours in front of the television cameras would change everything that came after them.
“Don’t do anything that will dehumanize you or cause you pain or trauma,” Professor Hill said Friday, speaking to a conference of mostly young female tech employees in Houston. Her informal talk came just a day after Dr. Blasey’s Senate testimony about a sexual assault she said she suffered at the hands of Judge Brett M. Kavanaugh, who is being considered for a seat on the Supreme Court.
More than a quarter-century earlier, Professor Hill’s life had been turned upside down by her own appearance in 1991 before the Judiciary Committee, where she faced excruciating questions about sexual harassment allegations she had leveled against an earlier Supreme Court nominee, Clarence Thomas.
On Friday, Professor Hill had several messages for Dr. Blasey in her speech to the young professional women: “Be authentic and do what feels right to you.”
The two women have bookended an era in which the public has increasingly come to grips with the issues of sexual harassment and assault, an era that Professor Hill says has been marked by progress, though uneven and incomplete.
Now a law professor at Brandeis University, Professor Hill spoke in measured terms, almost in a monotone. Dispassionately, she built a case against Judge Kavanaugh, based on the testimony Dr. Blasey had presented in Washington. She insisted that she had tried to keep an open mind while watching Dr. Blasey and Judge Kavanaugh, “but at the end of the day, I certainly believed her.”
“I was struck by the doctor’s openness to say how terrified she was to be there and talk about something that had had a profound impact, and knowing there would be hostility,” she said. “I was also impressed by how calm she was, how careful she was and how it affected her.”
As for Judge Kavanaugh, she noted that he had projected “anger, a lot of aggression.”
“No female candidate for a Supreme Court position would ever have the license” to speak with such irritation and fury, she said. “We still don’t allow women to cry or to be angry.”
As for Dr. Blasey’s reluctance to come forward until the confirmation process was nearly over, Professor Hill said she totally understood. “She came when she needed to come,” she said. “She came when the country needed her to come.”
Professor Hill focused her remarks on diversity and inclusion in the workplace, and how young women can advance and prosper in companies where they still struggle for equality. But the subject of the Kavanaugh hearing came up again and again in questions, captivating an apparently adoring audience.
“Many of us are going to feel betrayed,” Professor Hill said of her expectation that the Senate would ultimately confirm the nomination. She spoke as the Judiciary Committee met Friday to advance Judge Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Senate floor.
There is much that is similar in the stories and experiences of Dr. Blasey and Professor Hill, although they came from very different social backgrounds. Both are university professors, neither wanted at first to reveal their names to the Senate, and both had vivid memories of their alleged encounters with the two judges. Both women faced angry rebuttals from the judicial nominees and were broadly accused of telling untruths.
Professor Hill accused Justice Thomas of repeatedly making unwanted overtures years earlier in the workplace, when she worked for him first at the Education Department and later at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Three senators who heard her testimony before the Judiciary Committee remain on the panel, and two of them are strong supporters of Judge Kavanaugh, as they were of Justice Thomas.
But Professor Hill pointed out differences between her time in the spotlight and now.
A generation of women have taken gender studies since then, she said. There are more women in journalism now, many even serving on editorial boards where they can shape opinion. More women are coming forward with their stories of abuse, she said, and powerful men are being held to account.
“We are not alone, she is not alone,” Professor Hill said. “There is a community of us that has grown up in the last 10 to 15 years,” especially as the #MeToo movement crests, she said.
“The work we are doing to make a more inclusive society, it’s an honor,” she said. “It’s worthy of all our talents and energy.”
Professor Hill saved her most pointed remarks for the Senate, and the failure by the Republican majority until then to launch a full investigation of Dr. Blasey’s allegations.
“Over and over I heard, ‘We have a schedule, we have to press ahead with this,’” she noted. “Are we concerned about formalities or reality? We need to value the human experience over tradition.”
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