Anita Hill. Murphy Brown. The “Year of the Woman”. Is it 1992? It feels like it. But there are some important differences.
“What goes around comes around.”
“Everything old is new again.”
“Those who cannot remember the past are doomed to repeat it.”
Pick whichever trope you prefer. They all work well in describing the feeling that millions of American women have been experiencing of late.
I’m talking in particular about women who lived through this once before:
- Women who remember the Supreme Court nomination hearings in which Clarence Thomas was credibly accused of sexual harassment by Anita Hill, an attorney on his Department of Education and Equal Employment Opportunity Commission staffs.
- Women who caught every episode of Candice Bergen’s legendary Murphy Brown on network TV from 1988 to 1998 – in the days before DVRing made it easy to do – and pledged to emulate her take-no-crap assertiveness in their own work and personal lives.
- Women who remember thinking that the 1992 national elections – it was, after all, “The Year of the Woman” – would forever change our lives for the better.
Fast forward to 2018 – and it seems as if we’re living in the past.
Credibly accused sexual harasser Judge Brett Kavanaugh is Donald Trump’s nominee for an open seat on the Supreme Court. The first woman to accuse him, Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, met with the same efforts to disregard, diminish and discredit her account that Hill endured back in 1991.
Murphy Brown is back on TV. Bergen’s character is still feisty and still funny – and she’s still waging war against the same exasperating patriarchy she bumped heads with a generation ago. The only thing that seems to have changed is the pink pussy hat she now wears on her head.
And it’s all playing out in advance of an election that many expect will send record numbers of women to state governorships, the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate.
Yeah, it’s “The Year of the Woman” take two.
Whiff of hope
A few things have changed for the better.
When Anita Hill presented her case to the Senate Judiciary Committee in October 1991, she encountered a wall of public doubt. Following her testimony, 62 percent of Americans polled said they had no opinion about whether her charges were true. All 29 of the major polls taken between July 1 and October 14 that year showed plurality or majority support for Thomas’ confirmation. Even among blacks and women, a majority or plurality supported his confirmation to the high court.
But after Dr. Blasey Ford testified to the Senate Judiciary Committee on Sept. 28, 2018 – with three Senators who’d heard Hill’s testimony 27 years earlier listening again (Republicans Chuck Grassley and Orrin Hatch, and Democrat Patrick Leahy) – public opinion moved her way.
An ABC7 news poll out of Los Angeles found that 60 percent of Californians considered Dr. Blasey Ford’s account believable, while just a third of those polled thought Judge Kavanaugh’s testimony was believable, and 46 percent thought it unbelievable.
A Quinnipiac University poll reported in The Week found that 48 percent of voters believed Dr. Blasey Ford more than Judge Kavanaugh, while 41 percent thought he was more believable than she. Overall, 48 percent of those polled said he should not be confirmed, and 42 said he should. But respondents split sharply based on gender: 55 percent of women opposed his confirmation, while 49 percent of men supported it (with that number jumping to 59 percent among white men). Fully 81 percent of black respondents and 65 percent of Hispanic respondents opposed his confirmation.
And following the hearing, opposition to Kavanaugh’s nomination grew, reported New York Magazine’s Daily Intelligencer. A CBS News/YouGov poll taken that weekend found that opposition to his appointment had grown from 32 to 37 percent, with 35 percent approving – a flip that was propelled in large part by an eight-point increase in disapproval among Democrats.
But, despite the growing tendency of Americans to believe women when they report sexual assault – spurred in no small part by the #MeToo movement – we may well see the same outcome when the full U.S. Senate votes on the Kavanaugh nomination as we saw in 1991. Yes, a second credibly accused sexual abuser may be given another of the nine lifetime seats on the highest court in the land.
So what do we do?
Vote, for starters. Vote. And convince everyone you know who believes that giving a lifetime Supreme Court appointment to Brett Kavanaugh is a travesty against decency, honesty and morality that they must vote, too.
If there are qualified, credible women running for any office on the ballot you cast, vote for them. Turn that “Year of the Woman” moniker into a reality.
And then fight. And keep fighting: keep boosting the presence and the voice and the authority and the power of women in every sphere of American life.
Do NOT do what far too many of my generation did in the years after America’s first “Year of the Woman.” Do not assume we’ve won. Do not become complacent.
Do not trust those in government to protect the rights and the freedoms that women have gained over the years – because there are far too many opponents of our rights and our freedoms lurking in the shadows…heck, coming out into the daylight and just declaring that they will do all they can to send American women back into the kitchen and the bedroom and out of the public sphere.
If we want to ensure that our rights and our freedoms will be protected, we must be seated at the table when those rights and freedoms are being debated again. Because they will be. In fact, they’re being challenged right now.
Seek power. Seize power. And do not let it go. Not ever again.
Because, as Yogi Berra – one of America’s most beloved trope-tellers – used to tell us: It ain’t over till it’s over.
And the battle for women’s rights may never end.
Don’t believe me? The GOP-controlled United States Congress just allowed the Violence Against Women Act, first signed into law in 1994, to expire.
Today. October 1, 2018.
‘Nuff said. Get to work.