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The Hill-Thomas hearings last fall made Washington, and the rest of the country, cringe. Testimony included graphic accounts of Pornographic movies and bestial behavior. It was offensive at best, but the specific subject matter wasn't the real issue.
The problem was that Americans were suddenly talking openly-and on prime-time network television-about allegations of sexual harassment. A taboo of silence was broken. This made everyone involved embarrassed and uncomfortable, and ultimately they were forced to take sides even though there was no objective criteria that could be used to prove who was telling the truth-or even his or her own version of the truth.
The Senate judiciary Committee isn't a court of law, so there was no binding legal verdict. But Anita Hill's charges against Judge Clarence Thomas were more than an exercise in high stakes "she said, he said." It was a slow scraping of fingernails down the blackboard of America's social-economic-sexual-political psyche. No matter who you were, it had an effect.
To the women's movement in Washington, a major overriding message was that a panel of white, middle-age and professional male senators "just didn't get it." "What disturbed me as much as the allegations themselves, was how the Senate first appeared not to take the charge of sexual harassment seriously," notes Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.), one of the two women currently serving in the Senate. "I was taken aback by how incredibly hard it was to get them to understand," says Kate Michelman of the National Abortion Rights League.
Hundreds of thousands of phone calls and letters from women, and men, across the country got Congress's attention-for the moment, at least. The question now on the minds of the various women's rights groups is how-or can-this attention and energy be translated into …