Sunday, June 22, 2014

Book Review: Speaking Truth to Power, by Anita Hill

Browsing through the local used bookshop, I came across Anita Hill's biography. For those of you who have forgotten her, she is the attorney and professor who gave the damning testimony against the now appointed Supreme Court judge, Clarence Thomas, in the '90s. Since that time, the media has left her alone and she has lived a pretty secluded life away from the reins of the politicians who vilified her.

"Speaking Truth to Power" is Anita Hill's coming out testimony to her traditional Oklahoma upbringing, her experience with the Civil Rights era, and her later relationship with Clarence Thomas. It is a comprehensive book, at times too through and detailed, but successfully supports her claims of the sexual harassment she endured while working under Clarence Thomas.

However, the same question that persisted during her trial still persists in her book. Namely, how can a Yale Law School graduate and working attorney put up with such harassment for so long? By the end of the book, the answer becomes as apparent as it was then as it is still now for millions of women worldwide.

Anita Hill was raised in a traditional, patriarchal home. Her father ruled the household and her mother was a nurturer with no formal education. The family was religious at best, and like many residents living in the Bible Belt, the church and its teachings were the core foundations of every family.

You see this upbringing in the way Anita Hill allowed the sexual harassment to continue without a fight, let along protest. Worse, she allowed Clarence Thomas to convince her that she - a Yale school graduate and attorney - was inferior to him. Throughout the book, Anita Hill focuses on the harassment, but never the mind games she was exposed to. What Clarence Thomas did was have her believe she was unemployable and incompetent without his guidance. Although this is not explicitly stated in the book, it is implied with the manner in which he spoke down to her.

This treatment, and Anita's tolerance for it, reflects why such harassment continues today. We can continue to blame corporations and politicians for the gender gap all we want, but a women's self-respect and confidence begins at home. Parents need to stop assuming traditional domestic roles and teach their girls they can lead as well - and that harassment of any kind is never tolerable.

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