Center for Gender & Sexuality Law
Nineteen ninety-one was a seismic year for sexual harassment. The first localized shift occurred in January, when the Ninth Circuit established that the standard by which sexual harassment in the workplace would be judged was no longer the reasonable man or even the reasonable person but rather the reasonable woman. In October a larger audience felt a much stronger jolt when Anita Hill spoke before the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Hill testified that Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas had sexually harassed her while she worked for him at the Department of Education and at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Her testimony was graceful and firm and was supported by a superb panel of four corroborating witnesses, "witnesses to die for," in the words of one court watcher: impressive credentials, no motive to lie, none overstating their case. But never mind. Thomas denied all of it and was confirmed by the Senate fifty-two votes to forty-eight.
Polls taken after the hearings showed Thomas would have been confirmed by popular vote as well. Some people thought that even if Hill had been telling the truth she simply waited too long to speak up. Others thought that Hill was telling the truth but that what had happened just wasn't that bad. And in the end more people believed Thomas's testimony (nothing happened) than Hill's (something rotten happened).
The Reasonable Women and the Ordinary Man,
S. Cal. L. Rev.
Available at: https://scholarship.law.columbia.edu/faculty_scholarship/2467