THE HUFFINGTON POST
Anita Hill once inspired a national movement across the country for women to speak out against sexual harassment in the workplace. Now, in the wake of Bill O’Reilly’s harassment accusations and his subsequent departure from Fox News, Hill is calling for another change in the way U.S. society makes excuses for men in positions of power.
“The problem with sexual harassment isn’t just because people behave badly,” said Hill, now a professor of social policy and women’s studies, in a USA Today interview published Wednesday. “The problem is our inability to develop productive responses to it, and that exists because of our culture that accepts it, because that culture then gets built into how we approach solutions to it.”
“It gets built into the choices we make about who can be believed,” she added. “And even when we find sexual harassment exists, the solutions are very often to move the women who have complained to other positions.”
In 1991, Hill testified in front of an all-male panel of congress members against her former boss Clarence Thomas, who was waiting to be confirmed to the Supreme Court. During the hearings, which were broadcasted to millions of Americans across the country, Hill described all the sexually explicit comments she said Thomas had made while she worked for him as a federal government employee.
Her testimony was controversial and subjected to extreme scrutiny, but it also marked one of the first times that workplace sexual harassment was examined as a public issue. Hill’s testimony inspired thousands of women to speak out against harassment ― an act that was unheard of at the time.
In her interview with USA Today, Hill said that despite all the progress that’s been made, people still make excuses for men’s predatory behavior. She recalled President Donald Trump dismissing his “grab them by the pussy” comments as “locker room talk.”
“We have a whole host of people accepting that as just something men do as opposed to understanding it as predatory behavior that is not only immoral but is also illegal,” Hill told the USA Today. “We had some social forces coming together but we had a cultural excuse that overlaid [Trump’s] statement or his explanation.”
Hill added that women now have more opportunities than she did to speak out against harassment, giving as an example former Uber engineer Susan Fowler’s blog post, which detailed how the company had handled her sexual harassment claim.
“The idea that these kinds of behaviors can stay hidden is fading because there are ways to get them out. I think the key is to keep pushing,” Hill said. “When you deal with someone like Roger Ailes and Bill O’Reilly, the key is for people to keep coming forward.”
O’Reilly was dropped from Fox News on Wednesday after sexual harassment accusations resurfaced. Similarly, Ailes stepped down as CEO of Fox News in September after a sexual harassment lawsuit ended in a hefty settlement.
Hill’s comments on O’Reilly’s controversy and Fowler’s HR complaints echoed an op-ed she penned for The Washington Post this month, in which she argued that organizations have no excuse for not holding themselves accountable for sexual harassment.
“Sexual harassment is about control, power and those who abuse it,” Hill wrote for the Post. “It can be stopped only when companies recognize that everyone benefits when women can work in a workplace that is abuse-free.”
Read Hill’s full interview with USA Today here.