The Tech - Online EditionMIT's oldest and largest
newspaper & the first
newspaper published
on the web
Boston Weather: 35.0°F | Fair

The harassed have little chance for justice

"She's a bitch," answered the guy at the Store 24 when I asked him what he thought of the Thomas case.

"Who, Anita Hill?"

"Yeah, her."

"So you believe that she's lying and Thomas is telling the truth?"

No, he thought Hill was probably telling the truth, but she shouldn't have raised the issue. As far as the Store 24 worker was concerned, Thomas didn't do anything wrong, and, as he added as I left the store, "There's only one place for broads."

I usually don't remember quotations verbatim, but this guy was hard to forget.

It is now Tuesday morning, and it looks like Thomas may be confirmed anyway. To tell the truth, I am not that riled up over whether he gets to sit on the Supreme Court for the next 40 years, though the prospect does not please me. I am not surprised that the Republicans found a black man to promote policies that are opposed by most blacks, a man who, according to Wharton Professor Ed Herman in the most recent issue of Z Magazine, is a close associate of officially registered US publicity agents of the South African government.

What really bothers me is that if the latest polls are correct, the whole nation seems to be saying what the grocery-store worker told me: broads should shut up.

All across the nation this weekend, we were treated to the sight of whites deciding for the first time in their lives that a black man was innocent of a crime of which he was accused. I saw it in my own family, which attended a reunion this weekend. Does this mean that the next time they are on a jury they will give a black man the same benefit of the doubt that they give a white? Not likely. What it means is we are a nation of men who at some level are thinking, "It could have been me," and women who must tell themselves, "It could not happen to me."

The reason I say this is that everyone I have talked to who is not exceedingly conscious of harassment issues have bent over backwards to explain why Thomas must be telling the truth and Hill must be lying or (even better) fantasizing. This is incredible, because it is obvious that Thomas had every reason to lie about the event -- after all, it is his career at stake -- and Hill had every reason to keep quiet. Neither the Republicans, nor the witnesses, nor Thomas himself could come up with a reason for her to fabricate her story, though some of Thomas' coworkers on the stand thought she was not credible because, in their opinion, she was arrogant, resentful, distant, and generally unlikable.

Since the more obvious possible nefarious motives for Hill to lie are so far-fetched -- maybe the Democrats paid her off, or she has a secret liberal political agenda, or she harbors some hidden, overwhelming hatred of Thomas -- there have been suggestions that she may be removed from reality, misinterpreting actions of Thomas. That this highly successful and intelligent woman, who has no history of mental illness, can be written off as some kind of daydreaming hysteric shows a level of disrespect for females that I find stupifying. Incidentally, Thomas' testimony precludes any possibility of a misunderstanding, because he denies even doing anything that could have been misconstrued as pressure to date him.

Thomas, on the other hand, already showed that he is either removed from reality or has no difficulty lying to Congress when he told the Judiciary Committee that he had never discussed Roe v. Wade, the controversial Supreme Court decision of his lifetime.

Perhaps there is not enough evidence to prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that Clarence Thomas harassed Anita Hill. Of course, that is irrelevant to a Supreme Court appointment, which is not a right to be taken away but a privilege to be earned. The frightening thing is that the reasonable and logical conclusion is that in all probability, he did harass her, yet most people in this country do not take the reality of sexual harassment seriously enough to do anything but descent into the most extreme denial. All over the country, there are men who are telling themselves, "so I asked so-and-so on a date, why shouldn't I?" and probably many more who want to know, "if I joked around with those women at work, is some feminist now going to accuse me of being a monster?" And women who do not want to admit that this respectable-looking judge might be capable of obnoxious and inappropriate behavior must be asking themselves, "Do men really have this much power over me?"

What I want to know is, if Anita Hill -- a smart, eloquent, respectable, conservative, credible witness, who has also produced witnesses testifying that her complaints predate the confirmation hearings -- is not believed by people, what recourse is there for the powerless secretaries, or waitresses, or sales reps who are victimized by their bosses? What chance of obtaining justice do they have?

whoBarry Klinger is a graduate student in the Department of Earth, Atmospheric, and Planetary Sciences.