At the Glamour Women of the Year Summit in New York last week, former vice president Joe Biden was asked about his treatment of Anita Hill during Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas’s confirmation hearings in 1991. Biden’s role as chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee during the hearings has come under increased scrutiny in the wake of the allegations against Harvey Weinstein, with many arguing he didn’t do enough to support Hill, who was called to testify about Thomas’s alleged sexual harassment of her.
“Let’s get something straight here, I believed Anita Hill. I voted against Clarence Thomas,” Biden answered, adding, when asked about Hill’s comments that the hearings were not a fair process: “The message I’ve delivered before is I am so sorry if she believes that. I am so sorry that she had to go through what she went through. Think of the courage that it took for her to come forward.”
Three days after Biden’s remarks, the Washington Post conducted an interview with Hill and women who had been her allies and defenders on Capitol Hill during her testimony in 1991. When asked about Biden’s apology, Hill and the other women seemed underwhelmed. They described the frustration with the process, from the Judiciary Committee’s claims that Hill had contacted them anonymously (in fact, they had reached out to her for information relating to Thomas’ behavior) to the seemingly impenetrable boys’ club they kept running into. As former congresswoman Pat Schroeder, a Democrat from Colorado said:
We went to see Biden, because we were so frustrated by it. And he literally kind of pointed his finger and said, you don’t understand how important one’s word was in the Senate, that he had given his word to [Sen. John Danforth (R-Mo.), Thomas’s chief sponsor] in the men’s gym that this would be a very quick hearing, and he had to get it out before Columbus Day.
Asked about Biden’s apology, and whether he truly accepts his own culpability in the process, Hill answered:
Some part of it. But I still don’t think it takes ownership of his role in what happened. And he also doesn’t understand that it wasn’t just that I felt it was not fair. It was that women were looking to the Senate Judiciary Committee and his leadership to really open the way to have these kinds of hearings. They should have been using best practices to show leadership on this issue on behalf of women’s equality. And they did just the opposite.
And though Hill agrees that society’s attitudes towards sexual harassment has evolved since her hearing, she said there is still much further to go.
Things have evolved. I’ve heard from thousands of women and some of them tell me very good stories about what has changed. But there needs to be more than just process on the books. Women are still experiencing this problem. It’s still a teachable moment where we can learn from what happened in 1991. Just having somebody come forward is not enough. You’ve got to be able to come into a system that respects and values our experiences and our work and our integrity. And we’re not there yet.
Read the full interview here.