On Thursday, Dr. Christine Blasey Ford entered the Senate Judiciary Committee’s hearing room to testify publicly about the alleged sexual assault she says endured at the hands of Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh when the two were teenagers in the early 80s — roughly a decade before Anita Hill offered similar testimony against then Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas. Even with all those years in between, the memory of Hill’s own Senate confrontation haunted the proceedings, the resonances loud and clear.
“What I saw was an attractive woman in a blue suit, telling her story in a room full of men,” said Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), recounting her memory of Anita Hill, and the cerulean blue suit she wore on her historic day, as she introduced Ford — who also wore a blue suit to testify before a large assembly of men.
Feinstein has credited watching Hill’s testimony, and observing the mistreatment she faced back in 1991 as the impetus for her own run for office — which made this an unfortunate full-circle moment for the senator’s career. As you might recall, it was Feinstein who Ford first reached out to when she saw her one-time assailant poised to become a Supreme Court justice, sounding the alarm to the Senator in the form of a letter.
Feinstein noted many unhappy similarities in the way both Hill and Ford were handled. She recalled Hill being told by Republicans, “It won’t make a bit of difference in the outcome.” It was Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) that sounded a similar refrain of Ford, “I’ll listen to the lady, but we’re going to bring this to a close.”
Ford herself evoked Hill during her opening statements, telling the committee, “I am here today not because I want to be. I am terrified. I am here because I believe it is my civic duty.”
Back in 1991 Anita Hill said, “What happened next, and telling the world about it, are the two most difficult things, experiences of my life.”
Some of the similarlities could perhaps be chalked up to the fact that several of the same key players from 1991 were back in the room today: Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley, Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), and Sen. Patrick Leahy were all present during Hill’s hearing.
And Grassley, perhaps unable to ignore the parallels, thought it to be a good idea to quote then-Chairmen Joe Biden who presided over Hill’s session before the committee. “The next person who refers to an FBI report as being worth anything obviously doesn’t understand anything. The FBI explicitly does not in this or any other case reach a conclusion. Period,” Grassley read.
On social media, many had Anita Hill in their thoughts as they watched Ford recount her story.
Having serious Anita Hill flashbacks. This professional educated woman looks so scared.
— shonda rhimes (@shondarhimes) September 27, 2018
I hope Anita Hill is doing okay today.
— Mia McKenzie (@miamckenzie) September 27, 2018
Senator Patrick Leahy begins his questioning with a statement saying he was there 27 years ago and they failed Anita Hill.
— AprilDRyan (@AprilDRyan) September 27, 2018
Republicans didn’t learn from the mistakes of the Anita Hill hearing and are making new ones. Blocking an FBI investigation, no outside witnesses, having a prosecutor cross examine Dr. Blasey Ford and scheduling a vote before her testimony are among their bad decisions.
— Sen Dianne Feinstein (@SenFeinstein) September 27, 2018
During the run-up to the hearing and throughout Thursday’s session, Ford’s public supporters have constantly highlighted what she and Hill have in common. The comparisons to Hill have shown up in both social media posts as well as in public protest to showing up in droves to the court to protest peacefully. A pink button with “I Believe Anita Hill” in black lettering that Hill’s supporters wore back in the ’90s has been refashioned and recirculated in support of Ford.
Back in 1991, 1,600 black women took out an ad declaring their support for Anita Hill. Earlier this week 1,600 men did the same thing in Ford’s honor.
The two hearings start to diverge only slightly in the form of a sentiment regarding the public demeanor of the two women, which began to crop up not long after Ford began speaking on Thursday morning. CNN analyst Joan Biskupic opined that while Hill was so strong and stoic during her turn before the Senate committee, Ford came off as “vulnerable” and visibly clearly pained from her ordeal — which, to Biskupic’s mind, lended Ford a greater share of credibility and authenticity.
CNN pundit saying that Blasey-Ford’s testimony is more resonant bc — unlike Anita Hill who projected strength and poise — Blasey-Ford projected vulnerability.
Soo much to unpack there.
— Jawny Mathis. (@GeeDee215) September 27, 2018
The LA Times also noted the difference in the way the two women composed themselves, observing, “Ford has appeared more visibly traumatized by the experience than Hill, who maintained a steely demeanor during her testimony and the subsequent questions.”
It might be more apt to note that the nature of these distinctions could be better attributed to the relatively different climates in which the two women offered their testimony. Hill’s hearing was somewhat unprecedented.
And the expectations put on each woman were different as well. Hill, in her bright blue suit, maintained a rigid and unwavering demeanor, and labored to summon the fortitude of a brick wall. Society simply doesn’t permit black women, then or now, to take the same liberties — to project vulnerability, or express emotion. This isn’t to say that Hill wasn’t being authentic — if we’ve learned anything between these years, it’s that there is no one singularly “authentic” survivor story. But the distinction drawn by Biskupic, whether she realizes it or not, is an inevitable product of deeply-rooted racial codes.
Nevertheless, Hill and Ford are now joined in history, and rightly so. For what this day has truly underscored, in the way it has seemingly reverberated, reaching back in conversation with Hill’s famous testimony is that in our society, powerful men are heavily protected. And women, no matter what, are not.