Newsweek's 1991 Anita Hill Cover Story

Would the full might of social media have shifted sentiment in 1991?
Dr. Christine Blasey Ford prepares to testify on Thursday, Sept. 27, 2018, during the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on the nomination of Brett M. Kavanaugh to be an associate justice of the Supreme Court of the United States, focusing on allegations of sexual assault by Kavanaugh against Christine Blasey Ford in the early 1980s.
FE_Hill_01_1041671200 Source: Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call/POOL/Getty

On September 27, Christine Blasey Ford testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee regarding her sexual assault allegations against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh. It was eerily familiar, as if no time had passed between 2018 and 1991, when, nearly to the day, Anita Hill testified regarding alleged sexual harassment by Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas. Again, millions tuned in to watch as Ford—with a poise reminiscent of Hill's—recalled a harrowing attack during a high school party, as well as the years of emotional damage that followed. Kavanaugh, much like Thomas, strenuously denied all of the allegations, with palpable rage and some tears.

There were more disturbing echoes. Over two decades later, the Republican senators facing Ford were still all men. Once again, hatred was directed at the accuser, who received death threats. A woman speaking up, it seemed, was still a target for condemnation, as well as a tool for partisan politics.

On October 21, 1991, Newsweek published a cover story by David A. Kaplan on the Hill and Thomas proceedings. An accompanying article, “Striking a Nerve,” examined how sexual harassment “is a fact of life for millions of American women. When Anita Hill talked last week, they heard themselves—and they’re fed up with the fact that men don’t get it.” Also included: “Why Women Are Angry,” and essay by Laura Shapiro. Among her points was that the rage ignited by Hill’s charges “had been smoldering for years, fed not only by the common experience of sexual harassment but all the outrages large and small that make this country a radically different place for women than it is for men.”

There was notable progress in 2018. Ford was believed by many and praised for her demeanor. Joe Biden, a Democrat who had served as the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee in the ’90s (and came under criticism for his aggressive questioning of Hill), called her testimony “courageous, credible.” No one implied that Ford's claims were adapted from The Exorcist (as Senator Orrin Hatch did of Hill) or that she had “introduced sleaze” to the Senate. And this time, the Judiciary Committee agreed to a one-week supplemental background check by the FBI, thanks to a last minute change of heart by GOP Senator Jeff Flake of Arizona—a flip that came thanks to an emotional encounter, in an elevator, with a sexual assault survivor incensed by the treatment of women like her. Captured on video,

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