Mere hours before the U.S. Senate judiciary committee was to vote on controversial Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, Anita Hill spoke in Houston. While pre-planned, Hill’s appearance at the Grace Hopper Celebration—an annual global gathering of women technologists—was astonishing in its relevance, something Freida Kapor Klein called a moment of “tragic irony” in her introduction.
A harrowing day of emotional, extraordinary testimony before the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee had riveted the nation less than 24 hours prior. It also sent it reeling back 27 years to the October day when Hill sat where Dr. Christine Blasey Ford did and detailed her own accounts of sexual misconduct by then-nominee Clarence Thomas. Swiftly drawn parallels abound—of the testimony, of the nominees, of their accusers, and of what’s yet to come.
Thomas was confirmed, of course, and Hill made clear she thought Kavanaugh would be, too. As it stands, Kavanaugh's nomination is headed to the floor after the committee earned its last necessary "yes" vote from Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) on the condition of a one-week delay for an FBI investigation before a final vote.
It remains to be seen if that will actually happen, but this morning, Hill predicted Kavanuagh would make it through despite what she characterized as a more understanding and sensitive public response to Blasey Ford’s testimony than to her own. She attributed that to an evolved society, one more educated on matters of gender, and a diversified press with more women reporters and editors. Indeed, few could imagine today's New York Times calling yesterday’s hearings “a wonderfully obscene spectacle,” the phrase that paper assigned to Hill’s experience back in 1991.
If watching the Kavanaugh hearings felt to the rest of us like witnessing history repeat itself, imagine the profound and dreadful sense of déjà vu it raised for Hill, who described “identifying very strongly with a woman telling a story in a place where she doesn’t want to be, in front of people whom, many of them, don’t want to hear it.”
She recalled feeling isolation in tandem with terror, but also a notion of duty, the compulsion to vocalize a hard but necessary truth. When people ask why Blasey Ford waited more than three decades to come forward with her story, “My response is, she came when she needed to come,” Hill said. “She came when the country needed her to come.”
In striking contrast to Blasey Ford’s testimony, which Hill called impressive and heart-wrenching, was Judge Kavanaugh’s. Hill was struck by the fact that Kavanaugh could “express a real anger and aggression as well as a lot of emotion,” she said, when “no female candidate for a SCOTUS position would ever have the license.”
It all revealed “how far we have to go to be able to be our authentic selves when we tell our stories,” Hill said. “The importance of that confirmation hearing goes beyond the Supreme Court and goes directly into women’s experiences on a day-to-day basis. We should not lose that, even though I think the Senate might lose that.”
In the absence of a government that reflects their values, Hill called on those present to set the example themselves. And when an audience member asked what she’d tell a woman “who feels like her voice might not matter,” Hill’s answer was simple. “It does,” she said to raucous applause.
Anticipating a disappointing Senate committee decision to come that afternoon, Hill cautioned women against throwing in the towel, speaking from a uniquely earned place of wisdom.
“I had a choice 27 years ago. I wanted to do nothing more than to retreat back to my normal life and leave all of that behind and say nasty things about the U.S. Senate. I did say nasty things about the U.S. Senate, but I did not retreat. I did not retreat,” she said. “I’ll just say to you: You have a choice. You may not have a choice about what they do, but you have a choice about what you do. How are you going to act?”