Raise your hands if you watched Anita Hill testify at the Senate confirmation hearings of Clarence Thomas.
Raise your hands if you did NOT believe her story then.
Raise your hands if you believe her now.
Now a confession. I did watch the hearings; and I didn’t know what to believe.
Does that make me part of the problem?
I was walking through the hallway of the hospital where I worked. As I passed by a waiting room where the TV was mounted on a wall, her words, ‘pubic hair’ stopped me in my tracks. Poised and calm in her blue suit, she had just dropped a bombshell. She dominated the conversation that day, at the water cooler, over lunch, at a dinner meeting I had with my former boss (a woman), and that weekend at a Pakistani dinner party. The world around me was divided. My former boss—the woman—said to me, ‘I believe she is telling the truth, and all the women in my office believe her. Because men are like that.’ I tried to process that, and couldn’t. I found myself thinking, ‘Men are not like that. My husband is not like that; my father is not like that; my uncles are not like that; and none of my male colleagues are like that.’ Yet, I couldn’t dismiss what she was saying either, because I respected her and knew that she would not make such a serious comment without giving it enough thought. So there had to be some validity to what she was saying.
That weekend, at the Pakistani gathering, the women denounced Anita Hill in shrill tones.
‘Such lies!’ I kept hearing.
‘Why did she call him after all those years if he had indeed harassed her?’ They pointed out.
I listened quietly, not contributing to the conversation, because I have to admit, I was confused.
And then Anita Hill vanished and we never heard from her again—until now. But she left her mark and changed the face of corporate America. In the aftermath of the hearings, the HR departments of hospitals revised their policies and training curriculum and ‘sexual harassment’ became a lexicon. It didn’t solve the problem, but it raised awareness. Often when I’d hear a case of sexual harassment, I’d think of Anita Hill, and wonder what had become of her.
That was nearly three decades ago. Three decades to get from Anita Hill to the #MeToo movement. We know why the silence then, and we know why the ‘coming out’ now. And women in power are pushing all the right buttons to bring change. Change as in streamlining the complaint process, funds for legal recourse, limits on non-disclosure & confidentiality agreements, etc. All this is necessary to ensure that when an incidence occurs, justice is served. But there is one key element that I would like to see changed. The culture of sexual harassment has to be wiped out. We just cannot address the issue after the fact, we have to prevent it from occurring in the first place. Unless we tackle the problem at its root, get to the root cause, it will continue.
So where do we begin? We begin at the beginning. At home. Before the young boy starts kindergarten, through his school years, through college, after graduation, and during his dating years, all the way until he leaves home. The home is where parents teach their boys to respect girls, and respect women, both through their conduct and by direct counsel. Dad shows his respect and admiration for Mom in how he dignifies her; siblings are taught to respect one another as equals; and Dad has a heart-to-heart talk with his teenage son on exercising restraint and honoring the dignity of his fellow female students when he sends him off to college. And yes, an added piece of advice from Dad, ‘Son, watch what and how much you drink, lest you cross the boundaries.’ Teachers in schools, starting from kindergarten, need to foster the culture of respect and restraint and have a no-tolerance policy towards boys bullying girls.
These were the principles on which my grandparents raised my father and my uncles; this is the example my parents and parents-in-law lived by. There was this culture of ‘ladies first’, part the crowd if a lady is passing through (give her space), ‘honor your mother’ mantra. Foster that culture at home and in the schools, and one day that culture will transplant itself on autopilot in college campuses and the workplace, be it Hollywood or the coalmines.
Mom and Dad, lead the force. It's with you.