Saturday, October 06, 2018


 In 1991, I was riveted with the testimony of Anita Hill during the confirmation hearings on Clarence Thomas, who had been nominated to the Supreme Court.

As Anita Hill so calmly recounted unwanted sexual advances on her by Clarence Thomas, I thought—at last. A woman who is accomplished. A woman who is well-educated. A woman who is brave enough to recount (with the whole world watching) these unwanted advances. And then, the senators—all male—began to attack the woman. As the hearings deteriorated into a side show of male chauvinism and male arrogance and male dominance, I could barely watch anymore. The committee--all men, pronouncing judgment on the woman as a liar at best and as the transgressor at worst.

At the time of those hearings, our daughter was 10 years old. As she was growing up, even as young as age 4, we had been telling her that her body belonged to her. Once, I found a child appropriate book describing “good touch” and “bad touch” that helped with my conversations for her  to understand. I recall distinctly how she turned to me and said “Mommy, why would someone want to bad touch a girl?”  Well, that was hard to explain. So at the time, I reinforced the concept that her body belongs to her and to reject “bad touch.” But, that if it happened, to trust enough to tell us, her parents.

Lest you think our educating our daughter was insufficient or singular, we had also had similar conversations with our son, who was older than our daughter, when he was growing up. Maybe not the same phrasing, but the same idea—that his body belonged to him. AND we also taught him to respect girls. As he grew into his teenage years, we made sure he understood that boys have to be asresponsible as girls as they mature, particularly where matters of sexuality are concerned. 

So when Clarence Thomas was confirmed, I felt bereft—how now to inform my daughter? How could I say—if someone does something to you that you don’t like, touches you and you don’t want that—then just tell him NO.

That same daughter is now grown, married, with daughters of her own.

AND NOTHING HAS CHANGED. In fact, if anything things are now worse. We still have brave women who are willing to testify before yet another confirmation hearing, where the woman recounts the unwanted advances of yet another Supreme Court nominee, and she too is not believed.

Not only is she not believed, but the perpetrator of the unwanted advances is painted as the victim. And, with righteous indignation, the men on the Senate Judiciary committee (some of them the SAME men who sat on the same committee 27 years ago) vilify the woman and exonerate the man. Adding insult to injury, the president of our country led the cheering against her and then pronounced that these are dangerous times "for young men." 

How could they?  How dare they?

Oh, I know there are lots of answers—but are any of them sufficient to continue to deny women the right to what happens to their own bodies?  And, now, the confirmee—presumed to be the deciding vote should the question of the legality of abortion come before the Supreme Court—will be the one to decide yay or nay. He gets a pass on assaulting a woman, attempting to rape her, then he gets to decide whether or not should she (or any other woman) can have a medically safe legal abortion.

What now do we tell our daughters?  Your body belongs to you—unless some drunken boy tries to rape you. Then, shut up. Don’t tell. It won’t do any good. What do we tell our sons? Respect the person in whom you have an interest, unless you are sexually aroused and then it’s OK to force yourself on her?