Getting Men to Speak Up

In early November 1991, a month after Anita Hill’s testimony about being sexually harassed by Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas, my mother invited me to dinner. After a long and pleasant meal, she told me that Hill’s stories were all too familiar. When my mother was in graduate school, her mentor groped her. She left school the next day and didn’t complete her PhD for 30 years.

Back in the 1990s, Hill wasn’t believed when she bravely came forward. Instead she was vilified by the Senate Judiciary Committee as a woman scorned, as “a little bit nutty and a little bit slutty,” as a now-contrite David Brock put it in his article smearing Hill. That response set the tone: Over the next 25 years, whenever a woman stood up to publicly accuse men like Bill Cosby or Bill Clinton of sexual assault, she usually ended up being the one on trial in the court of public opinion, charged with a lack of credibility.

But outside this public narrative, something started to shift: Women like my mother began to speak privately about their painful experiences. Mothers told their children, wives told their husbands, women told their friends, daughters told their parents. And they were believed.

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