Episode 3 – The Conversation

Please note: This transcript has been automatically generated.

Cindi: Hey, we’re going to be talking about sexual misconduct and violence in this series and in today’s episode. Please take care of yourself while you’re listening.

Salamishah: Cindi, do you have, like water and stuff? What’s your situation over there with the-the liquids? [00:22:17][3.4]

Cindi: I’ve got straight vodka, Salamishah. [Salamishah laughs] No, I have water 

Cindi: We’re sitting in a studio. Our first guest has just logged on.

Salamishah: Christine, do you have things around you?

Christine: I have a tea but yeah. 

Salamishah: That’s Christine, as in Dr. Christine Blasey Ford.

Christine: I’m so nervous right now. [laughs]

Salamishah: What kind of tea do you have? 

Christine: Not one that makes me not nervous [both laugh]. Like, Lipton generic tea, yeah.

Cindi: Dr. Ford is understandably nervous. She’s kept a low profile since 2018. That’s when she appeared before the Senate Judiciary Committee to testify that Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh had sexually assaulted her in high school, allegations he denies. That testimony changed everything for her. She got threats so serious and personal her family had to relocate several times. Her entire world shifted, and she’s still adjusting. Right now, she’s focused on her students at Palo Alto University and The Stanford University School of Medicine. But she’s been looking forward to this conversation with Anita Hill, maybe the one person in the world who understands what she’s been through.

Anita: So before we roll, I’m going to close the window now. [closing window sound] Hope that I don’t overheat [laughter]

Cindi: [laughs]

Salamishah: Our second guest, Anita Hill, joins the recording.

She’s a professor at Brandeis University, where she’s taught for more than two decades now. She’s also written a new book, called “Believing: Our Thirty-Year Journey to End Gender Violence.” So it’s been a busy time. 

Christine: Hi! 

Anita: Oh, hi. How are you? 

Christine: I’m OK, how are you?

Anita: I’m fine. Fine. Christine, have you had vacation? 

Christine: I have.

Anita: Oh, good.

Christine: Yeah.

Cindi: Dr. Ford and Professor Hill have met before, but this is their first public conversation. 

I’m Cindi Leive.

Salamishah: And I’m Salamishah Tillet. And this is Because of Anita, a four part series about Anita Hill and the legacy of her testimony. 

Cindi: You’ll hear us jump in once in a while, but this is mostly a discussion between the two of them.  Neither Anita Hill nor Christine Blasey Ford particularly wanted to testify. But both of them did. And today, we are privileged to present this conversation, about their anger, their grief, their hope, and where we go from here. 

Salamishah: Dr. Ford started by telling us about the first time she met Professor Hill. That was in 2019, the year after Dr. Ford’s testimony. 

Christine:  We met at an event I had the honor of introducing her. And I was so excited to meet her. And had been wanting to meet her since the year prior, but I was busy practicing the introduction and making sure not to mispronounce, I think, the name of the county you were from. And so I wasted a lot of time just stressing out about making sure I was going to pronounce things correctly. And I wish I had just sat and talked to you a little bit more and– 

Anita: I mean, it was a great introduction. And I always worry about introductions because then you have to go up and you have to live up to them. [Christine laughs] And I thought, oh, my goodness, I’m never going to be able to live up to Christine’s introduction. It was just so kind and generous. Yeah, and I did wish that we had had more time together. It was hard to spend time because there were, just like as I recall, so many people in the room. 

Christine: We didn’t have a lot of privacy, but I still I treasured the few moments that I did have to ask you some questions about how long it takes to get past this event and how long did it take you to sort of recover and get back to work and get back to your day to day life after your own experience. But the other thing I remember was also how well you were received. It felt like Beatlemania when you walked on the stage [Anita laughs], how excited the audience was to see you was unforgettable.

Anita: You pumped them up, though. [laughs] They didn’t dare not be receptive after that introduction. You know, it is true, though, that that conversation was really important. And one instinct that I have I think is, I have this very protective instinct. and when we met, one of my concerns was that, that you are going to be OK and talking to you and I could tell that were still so many things going on. But I did leave feeling assured that you were going to be able to handle what was going on in your life and that, you know, you had this strong core that would get you through it. So I left feeling better and less concerned than what I imagined in my mind was happening. 

Christine: Yes, I remember you saying that I would have a much better perspective in five years and in twenty five years, so. And you were right. [laughter] 

Anita: [laughs] well, good, good. It’s I like being right sometimes. Especially about that. [laughter] 

Cindi: It was July of 2018 when Brett Kavanaugh was nominated to the Supreme Court, to fill the spot left by Justice Anthony Kennedy’s retirement. Over that summer, Dr. Ford grappled with whether to share what she knew about the nominee, and how. As she weighed her choices, she thought back to 1991, and Anita Hill’s testimony.  There were a few details that stood out. 

Christine: I was in graduate school at the time and living in Los Angeles and several things uh, one was Anita’s professionalism and your composure and your precision, I was really struck by your precision and just thought that was incredible and so inspiring. And the ability to speak about something so personal in such a public forum is something that I just was in awe of. And I just couldn’t understand how you could get through that and just have so much respect for the fact that you could sit in that big room and that big room is big in space and it’s also big in meaning um for our country. It’s a very important place. And so just seeing you and the footage of you speaking there – so powerful, it’s not something that I’ll ever forget. And then thinking about my summer of 2018 when I was wondering what I was going to do.  I remember thinking that that’s just not something I could ever do, that I couldn’t be in that big room sitting with that group and that that wasn’t something that I was going to be able to do. And lo and behold…

Anita: you did.

Christine: I ended up there – I ended up in the smaller room. But, [laughs] 

Anita: But it was big. [laughs] 

Christine: yeah it was still big –.

Anita: It was. And it wasn’t just the room. I mean, that’s why it was so big, because it was really the world. I mean, it felt like you could have been down the street it just did not feel far away it really just grabbed all of us and pulled us in in a way that it was kind of a spiritual solidarity that is hard to articulate, there were people, of course, texting me through the day. And the thing that I think about when I think about your testimony was how generous you were, how you were so going out of your way to help us all understand what you had experienced and why it was important. And I guess with me it was sort of 27 years later, that was me sort of wanting to grab certain folks on the stage by the shoulders [laughs] and say, you know, ‘why d-did why can’t you get this? Why aren’t you getting this?’ What you did was just so amazing. 

Christine: Thank you for saying that. It was an incredibly stressful experience, as you know, just the walking into the room and the sitting in that chair. And one of the ways I coped with it was just to say I’m just going to be, you know, the best human being I can be and assume that everyone else in the room is also here to do the same and to try their best at sharing the data that I had and, assuming that that was data that they would want to receive. And that was my coping mechanism for just getting through the experience, I didn’t want to think about what other people’s agendas might be or any of the political pieces of it. I just wanted to be a person and do my best at sharing the data that I had and ask that they consider that data when they made their decision.

Anita: Mm. That sounds just so generous [laughs], maybe more generous than I was [laughs]. You know it it But I did in a similar way, say to myself before I testified that my job really is to be as open and as clear as possible. It’s not to persuade. Their job is to be persuaded. And so, the way I evaluated my experience and my contribution was whether or not I was clear about what happened to me, not based on what conclusions they reached from hearing what I experienced. 

Christine: Yes, I very much relate to that. The stress of the situation is such that I really had to let go of what the outcome was going to be really early on in the process, because I just could not get caught up in whatever the outcome was going to be. So like you, I just wanted to make sure that I was clear and do the best job that I could do in explaining the information that I had about the then-nominee.

Anita: And one point that you made, I think people overlook a lot, was that there was a whole summer experience of uncertainty that I think people don’t take into account very much. They think, OK, she was called to testify, she testified then she left. [Christine laughs “right”] And they see it as like that day and that experience. And there is, you know, the lead up to it, the follow up afterwards that people really aren’t quite aware of, I think. And all of that time is stressful.

Christine: Yes! That whole summer was 24/7 stressful and trying to figure out what I was supposed to do, and how could I communicate the information, and who was the best person to go to, and just really not knowing what to do. And you’re right, people think that my name was in the paper and then I testified and then it was over. But for me it was a three month lead up to that day. Where I just didn’t really know what to do. That’s really important, because for other people who are in the same situation, and we know there’s probably many, many other people in that situation, that they don’t know what to do. And I was a person of reasonable intelligence and still could not figure out what it was that I was supposed to do or who I was supposed to call or who I was supposed to contact and what the best route was. 

Anita: You know, I I think one of the conversations that we’ve had makes me think that there was a before, there was a during, and there was an after. And I really liked your sense of what their responsibility was at each of those phases – that that the committee had a responsibility all throughout. And, you know, of course, I don’t think they lived up to their responsibility in either case. But I think that willingness to collapse the experience to that one day allows people to not take responsibility for the whole of the system that they’ve put in place or haven’t put in place for dealing with this. 

What should be happening before that testimony happens? What should be happening during the hearing and then what should be happening after – and that certainly after is something that people don’t think about, that witnesses just sort of get dropped off [Christine laughs] and and [laughter], you know, they say goodbye to you and it’s like, now go live your normal life, uh which is impossible. 

Christine: Yes, I think that the before, during, after paradigm is really useful for organizing the experience. During the before period, especially in a government situation, there’s no H.R. department, so there’s no specific office or person who you can contact. And I was wishing that that was the case. Uh, certainly I had a friend or two suggesting that I get an attorney. That was hard for me to understand. I didn’t understand why I needed an attorney. I felt like I hadn’t done anything wrong. And also, I just want to point out that, you know, hiring an attorney requires resources and not all survivors have those resources. Ultimately, I decided I was going to use the civic pathway and go through my local US representative uh and then after that, I ended up with attorneys eventually. But that was a long process and very, very stressful. Then the after process, you’re right, they do sort of just say ‘Bye, thank you so much’ and if there’s ever anything I can do for you, let me know kind of thing and very, very polite. And – the hearing itself, maybe in part because of what happened during your hearing, I think what people saw on TV was generally people being very polite to me. So that was not the worst part of it by far. But the afterward, when you are experiencing the retaliation and the smearing and the-the ongoing media, you feel like you are being investigated and that you are being evaluated for the Supreme Court. That was just so unnecessary and damaging to my family.

Cindi: You know, I think when I hear both of you talk about your experiences, there is a sense that this is something that you were doing as citizens and you know that it was about doing your duty as opposed to worrying about what the outcome would be. And I-I wondered how much of coming forward was a sort of act of citizenship for each of you. 

Christine: For me, it was in a way, a calling. Um I don’t know how to phrase it, but a calling from the country or from my civic duty as a citizen that I had to say something. I didn’t know to whom I needed to say the information to, I didn’t know if it was the media, I didn’t know if it was the White House, I didn’t know who exactly, uh, and how I was supposed to share the information, but I knew that I was going to share it in some way. But when I reflect back on that, I realized that I would never have thought in my mind that I needed to say something if it wasn’t for Anita, because if Anita had never testified and we had never seen her do that, it would not have occurred to me that that was even something we were supposed to do or that a person should do. I hear from people all the time say I could never do what you did. And I say I-I could never do it either. [laughs] But when it does happen to you, it’s harder to sit with that information and not share it than it is to share it. But that said, I-if if it wasn’t for Anita, it just wouldn’t have occurred to me. I would have thought, ‘oh, there goes just another person climbing the ladder who did a really bad thing’ and I just wouldn’t have known that it was something that I should have said. Yet when the time came, I was certain that I was going to say something. So without Anita, I wouldn’t be with you today, with any of you, I just wouldn’t be here. 

Anita: Oh, thank you. 

Christine: It’s true. If you think about it, we wouldn’t know that it’s our civic duty until we see some other citizen actually participate. So that gives me hope that my life is only so long, but there-there’s-when there is someone else in this position and there will be, that, maybe they will also see that it is their civic duty to speak up. 

Anita: Uh, thank you. I think, you know, you can rest assured that you are going to be, continue to be, an example to people of what they can do and what they should do in circumstances like these.  And I-I too hear from people who say, ‘oh, I could never have done it’ and-and I do think that they underestimate themselves. It’s just when you have something and you feel that it’s important, that it’s critical, actually, then you can stand up in a different way than when you’re thinking about it in the abstract. 

For me, the whole idea of patriotism and why I felt it was my responsibility and duty came not just as a citizen, but also as a member of the Bar. I had felt in my life how important the Supreme Court’s decisions are. I had seen it lived out in my family’s life. I had 12 older siblings and 3 of us graduated from integrated high schools. The others graduated from segregated high schools. So I knew firsthand the importance of a decision like Brown vs. Board of Education and the importance of the Court having integrity, and the integrity of the Court was only as good as the integrity of the members of the Court. But, you know, it it also – my civic responsibility came in part not just as a member of a Bar, but as a teacher to students who were going to be members and in teaching, I not only tried to teach them the law, but I also tried to teach them their responsibility to the law. 

So for me, it was very complicated, it was very personal, um, but it was also about my profession. And I don’t think people understood that, I think – I don’t know if you get this or not, Christine, but I still think people believe that people who come forward like you and I did have some kind of personal vendetta against a party or an individual. And it-it wasn’t that at all, for me. And I think one of the most damaging things that we cast on to people who do come forward is this idea that they’re doing it for some individual personal gain when in fact, we know that the risks are so high for them personally.

Christine: Right. In the correspondence that I’ve received, and I’ve received mail from all 50 states and 31 countries and counting, at this point, and hearing from survivors talk about reasons that they didn’t report, reasons that they didn’t come forward. And it’s a fear of – often a fear of retaliation and we know that that is a valid fear.

Anita: Oh, absolutely. You know, of all the information that’s being collected about why people don’t speak up, what the dynamics of coming forward are, the fear of retaliation is high and it’s well placed. I mean, roughly 60 percent of the people who do come forward face some form of retaliation. People do the right thing and they end up suffering.

Salamishah: what do you think it would take to believe survivors, believe women, when they come forward with their experiences?

Anita: I think they do believe. I think they’re afraid of believing so they may even say they don’t believe. But I-I think somewhere inside they do believe, but they’re just not willing to do anything about it. They don’t want to take the responsibility, especially if you’re talking about someone who is really powerful, who is being accused. They don’t want to take responsibility for fixing the problem. So even when somebody says, well, I just don’t believe it’s true, I’m not sure that I believe them. Because if you ask them, well, if it were true, what would you do about it? They typically don’t have a response. 

Christine: I was struck when Anita said that you think that people do believe and it just reminded me of of sitting in that room, in that chair and seeing on people’s faces and thinking that they did believe me, and just if I had to bet, I think most of them did. That day, I did feel that the people in the room did believe me.

Salamishah: So, Anita, at the time, in November 1991, 1600 Black women took out an ad in The New York Times in defense of you, in defense of themselves and in support of you. And you talk about in your book how their expression of that really expressed an-an outrage that perhaps you at the time couldn’t express yourself, especially couldn’t express when you were giving your testimony.   

Anita: You know, it meant a lot um I have the poster in my office. It was the outrage, but it was also the sense of not being alone that I felt. There was so much effort, I think, to-to divide me from African Americans to create the idea that Thomas was representing the race and that I was doing something that, you know, was against Black people. And to have that articulation of support and just the explanation of the experiences of African-American women was something that was just… I’ll use the term soul saving because it helped restore me back to where I always felt that I was: a member of a community of Black people. 

But one of the things that, uh, you haven’t mentioned is the fact that in Christine’s situation, there was a similar poster that was modeled after um African-American Women In Defense of Ourselves, but it was done by men. And when I saw that poster, one of the things that it said to me was things have changed. That when a bunch of men are using African-American women as their model for how to respond to these situations, you know, there’s been change. And I don’t know, I I I’ve never asked you, Christine, how you felt about that. You probably were so caught up in the experience of the moment. But um do you have any thoughts about that poster that was there? What did it do for you?

Christine: So at the time, I was pretty inundated.  So I didn’t see a lot of things that most people saw, including that beautiful piece. However, afterward what was great was I did come to learn about it and then was able to meet the people who were responsible for creating that. And-and that was a joy. And having all of that support from the community definitely makes a huge difference and makes us feel less alone. It really helps when you have an army of people that are-are coming out to support you. 

Cindi: I want to move to something else. We’ve talked about this in an earlier episode of this series, but Anita, as we know, there were witnesses who would have been ready to corroborate your testimony in the hearing room.  Joe Biden eventually apologized to you for what you went through at the hearings, but as you note in your book this was an apology to you personally, not for the toll taken on the country. So what were the consequences of the hearings, for you personally but also for all Americans?

Anita: I’ll say that it reemerged in 2018, that anger and disappointment. In 2018, the consequences were evident again, uh as they had been for me in 1991, where people were saying to me, you know, I, I no longer have any confidence in our courts or our systems. I have no confidence in my representative that they understand my experience. So in one proceeding, they were able to diminish the confidence that people have in two of our government bodies, the courts and the Senate. And it’s real. People feel as though – and it’s mostly women, but some men as well as people who don’t identify as either – felt as though they were not being represented. And what that means is that people lose confidence in the decisions that are made and policies that are put in place. But there are also consequences in terms of, OK, what’s next? Christine was brave to come forward with nineteen ninety one in the background. But have people actually given up on the idea that the government will step up and respond appropriately with a process that is transparent so that you can prepare. 

And then finally, are there going to be protections afterwards against retaliation? I mean my job was threatened. My life was threatened. And seemingly, the Senate Judiciary Committee and the members took no responsibility for responding to that. And as Christine has pointed out, it will happen again, it will happen again that someone is going to come forward and so what does that say to people who are likely to be victimized?  

Cindi: As Professor Hill says, one thing that would help, is a transparent government process. A process that takes investigation seriously – more than it did in 1991, or 2018.

This summer, the FBI disclosed that back in 2018 it had received more than 4,500 tips about then-nominee Kavanaugh, but had only interviewed ten people, after the allegations against him emerged. 

Christine: When it was announced that there would be a one-week investigation after the hearing, we assumed that the FBI was coming to interview me and I was prepared and really looking forward to speaking with them and as were many of my corroborators. And we just held out hope that they were going to show up at some point and finally we were told that they were likely not coming. So that was, you know, profoundly disappointing and just still difficult to believe that that didn’t happen. And therefore, I’ve never been able to share a lot of that information. And I think that’s another thing that I look back on with the hearing. I didn’t completely understand that that was the one and only time that I would be speaking up and that that was my one chance. I think it’s because I’m a scientist. I assumed people would follow up and want to clarify things with me and that I would be available to them to provide additional information. And that’s just not the way that the process operates. So I’m hopeful that the next time this happens that people are more aware of of what this looks like.

Salamishah: Professor Hill and Dr. Ford are both fairly private people.

But they’re also two of the most visible survivors of sexual harassment and assault in American history. And as such, people often have lots questions for them.   

Christine: Do you have questions that many people ask you? Because I have people, sort of, ask me the same questions often. 

Anita: Questions that I get are really pleas for help, like how do we come forward or how do we make change in our own workplaces or our own communities or, you know, I’ve had people come to me where they’re having an experience in their church or synagogue. They want to know how to deal with it. One of the most compelling questions I had were two women who were obviously in the military. And they wanted to know how they could get movement to bring in more support for what was happening and more attention to what was happening in the military with sexual assault. I had some Native American women talk about uh the experiences of Native American women and sexual assault and other kinds of violence against them. They didn’t have a platform or no one was listening to them. Nobody cared about their experiences. So I get a range of questions, um, and you know some at times I just feel completely inadequate to-to answer them. But I always at least try to understand what people are feeling.

Christine: I’ve had similar questions where people are wanting to know now you know what do we do now? and I feel not equipped to, necessarily solve the problem, but, um, trying to learn and lead research projects that are aimed at understanding survivors and understanding the impact of sexual assault on survivors and how they process their experiences.

Anita: I I do want to ask a question about what you just mentioned – the work that you’re doing about how victims remember and recall their experiences, because I just felt so good about the manner in which you delivered your testimony. It was like, oh, here’s another teacher and she’s teaching [laughs] um the panel and the rest of us. You know, you had something that was very informed by who you are in your work a-about how you remember your own assault.

Christine: Yes. So in my testimony, I I made references to, sort of, neuroscience based models of memory — and was unsure whether that was being understood or not at the time of course, I was just trying to answer the questions in that big room in that big space. And I think of some significant events that we’ve gone through as a country that we’ve all experienced. For example, the space shuttle Challenger or 9/11, where we all were having a traumatic experience just by witnessing the event. 

And when people look back at the narratives and interviews for people that did watch those events, they have very, very specific memories. They can describe the television set in detail. They can describe the person standing next to them in detail. What they have encoded is very detailed – to some extent. Yet if you start asking them, what did you have for breakfast that day or what did you have for lunch afterward or what were you wearing, some of those details are obscured because the brain is focused on other details. I think that’s a helpful model and example for all of us to think about. That of course, survivors aren’t going to remember every detail of an experience, but they’re going to – what they do remember is going to be very specific and accurate. 

Anita: I think it’s just being able to tell survivors that is comforting, because I think one of the things that we do is we blame ourselves because maybe we could have been clearer about something. And knowing how the brain works, how it works in each of us could be really helpful to people really coming forward and being confident in their own testimonies. 

Christine: Yes. Yes. And what I’ve learned from-from the survivors who have written is that everyone remembers different components of their assault or harassment. I have letters from people who say they don’t recall exactly where they were, but it was on a beach and it was at night. And then other survivors who can describe in in a very detailed manner what they were thinking, what was going through their mind at the time of the assault, whereas the physical surroundings isn’t something that they encoded into their long term memory. There is some diversity in terms of what we each remember. But what we do remember is typically very accurate and detailed and specific.

Cindi: Christine, you mentioned your research–and we know you both work with students. How does that change how you feel about progress on the kinds of issues that we’re talking about? 

Christine: They’re very hopeful and they make me really hopeful. A lot of the students I work with are sort of on the front lines in terms of treating the symptoms of people who have survived trauma. And their view of-of the future makes me hopeful.

Anita: Well, my thinking is is similar to yours, but I I will say that uh judging by the behavior of many of the people in that generation, you know, they’re not all in favor of-of progress. There are members of that generation who behave just as badly as their fathers and grandfathers. But I also agree that part of the problem is that they have inherited systems that we reward the bad behavior. And challenging those systems is very difficult. So I think that there’s hope for progress, but my real feeling is that relying on them is a cop out. 

Christine: Mhmm

Anita: it’s our generation saying, ‘oh, well, we don’t have to worry about it. We’re not going to fix it, let them fix it’ when there are things that we need to be doing right now to make them more able to-to fix the problem. I’m just you know hopeful that that we will be able to see this as a collective effort across generations and that we’re the generation – which I consider myself a baby boomer – we’re the generation that can take the lead on this and not wait for young people to have to live through it.   

Salamishah: One of the things I think that we’re able to do now and thanks to a lot of young feminists, is talk about women’s anger and women’s rage in different ways. So I didn’t know if you experienced anger during your process or afterwards, if you experienced grief. And then how, men’s rage and men’s anger was used against you to turn them into victims and you into villains. 

Christine: I get quite a bit of correspondence where people speak about my composure or my demeanor during the hearing, and part of that is, is fear. It’s a pretty scary seat to sit in. And you’re looking at the seal of the United States of America and in awe of that. And I grew up in Washington, D.C., so we frequently visited the Senate, the Supreme Court, the White House for field trips. And there was a demeanor that we were told how to behave. 

And in fact, that the Supreme Court was where we had to be on our very best behavior. So there are also rules about how to behave in the Senate gallery. And if anyone violated those rules, whether it was chewing gum or walking too loudly so that your shoes were heard, uh, hitting the ground, we were we would be in trouble. And so when I entered that building, it was almost like I was entering this building that I had revered my entire life and that I had visited my entire life. And those rules of demeanor were ingrained in me and so I was certainly surprised by the fact that not everyone who participated in the hearing did not maintain that same demeanor. But I also have to point out that I didn’t watch my own testimony, nor much of of the other. You know, I lived it. I don’t feel like I need to go back and watch it. But yeah, I am surprised to see what I did see in terms of-of demeanor. And to your point about-about anger and grief, you know, most certainly there was a phase afterward, that I was grieving and adjusting and trying to get our life stabilized. We were pretty uprooted. There was a lot of upheaval afterward. And yes, there are still days when I can get very upset and very angry when I think about particular things and I’m reminded of particular things that happened. 

Anita: So I was smiling when I heard Christine talk about understanding how you were supposed to behave in these very formal settings like the Senate and the Supreme Court, and I grew up in a household with parents who were born in 1911 and 1912. My mother was born in Arkansas, rural Arkansas. My father was born in Oklahoma, and they both mostly grew up in Oklahoma. Both of those settings were Jim Crow settings. So we were taught to behave too,[laughs] but for a different reason: because not behaving could get you in trouble. And you certainly weren’t going to get ahead, and get out from under those systems by not behaving, in their minds. I mean that in that generation of, you know, poor Black farmers misbehaving could end up getting you killed. So, it-it’s amazing to me that two people from entirely different backgrounds, the commonality is this is how you behave [laughs]. And I think that’s true of so many of us. We know how to comport ourselves to be believed in those places or be heard in those places. And then finally, in terms of emoting, I’ve learned maybe – and you know there’s no real science to this – but I also feel like it just kind of depends on where you are on the spectrum. There are people who are very effusive and demonstrative of their anger and grief, and there are those of us who are less so. And it doesn’t mean we don’t feel that. It just means that we respond to it differently.

Cindi: I Want to ask you both, since you’re in a incredibly unique position to to answer this – Right now, you’re sort of a club of two people who have literally sat in a room that, most of us can’t imagine. I’m imagining that, you know, out there listening to this, there’s a woman or potentially thousands of women who are considering speaking up about something that a person more powerful did. And I’m-I’m wondering, what do you want them– what do you want that woman to know? 

Christine: I would want them to know that I’m incredibly sorry and that I feel terrible for them and very sorry for whatever has happened to them. And if I could speak with them directly to ask them, how are they doing and are they doing OK, ask them if there’s anything I can do to support them. And I think that language is a little bit different than the language that we use with survivors. And I’ve learned this just since 2018 that we use this, “I believe you” language and when I met with people to tell them what had happened and they said, ‘I believe you’, it was admittedly a little bit awkward. sort of like I had told them my name is Christine and they had said, [laughs] I believe you. So I think it comes from a-a wonderful place of support. It might be the only thing that we say that about that we say to a person, I believe you. And is that the most helpful thing to say? I’m not sure. Are there other things that are also helpful to say? 

But it just really occurs to me that when I have told people of other bad things that have happened to me in my life, the response wasn’t, I believe you. 

Anita: Yeah. I like this idea of-of really interrogating this approach of I believe you. What does that say? Maybe, I know other people don’t believe you. [laughs] I mean, what is it saying. 

Christine: [laughs] Yes! I think that’s it. 

Anita: But um I do want to know if they are OK. But then-then my mind quickly goes to – what are your resources. Do you understand the process? Do you know who you need to talk to? Do you know how you need to frame your story to be heard? I do care about where they are, but I also want to be able to support what is their ultimate goal, and that is to be heard. And so my approach is very different. And, you know, I’ve been saying this for the last thirty years now. I’m still not at the point where I can tell every person who has been violated that they should step forward into a system. I can’t tell them that. I can help prepare them if they decide to do that, I can help them make the decision about whether to do that. But I can’t just tell people to come forward, knowing what I know about the potential consequences. So I really do reject this idea that things will change if more people will come forward, if more women would just step up. My feeling is that more things will change if we provide systems and processes so that people can come forward. They can be heard. But we’re not there yet.

Salamishah: So if that one woman who was watching you, the thousands of women who were watching you and they ask you a simple question, was it worth it? What would you say? 

Christine: I get that question often, I have people who say, do you regret it? It’s a very common question. And certainly people in my community have seen how upended my life is and what we had to go through as a family. And all the smear media and the destroying of reputation and attempt at destroying career. And I’m absolutely sure that I would do it again. And that’s not to say that it hasn’t been really, really, really hard and that I’m still not as OK as I would like to be, three years out of the situation. I certainly wish I was doing better than I am. Uh, but I do firmly believe I would do it again. And I also believe that anyone in my situation would have also done that if they could, if they safely could, and if they had the resources to do so. 

Because I think that there’s a difference between the hypothetical of would you speak up versus the reality of holding that information and keeping it to yourself and the discomfort around that, that that’s not a comfortable way to live your life either, is to to not say anything. 

Anita: Yeah, and my answer to that question really goes back to why I testified. The why that I testified is just as important to me today as it was 30 years ago, when I was struggling with this during the summer of 1991. The why is-is because the Supreme Court matters and who’s on the Supreme Court matters. And I really want to believe in the integrity of that body. Because we now more than ever see how important the decisions that it makes are to all of us, all of our well-being. 

But, having said that, I realize that I had things that other people didn’t have, for example, and my situation is different from Christine’s. I don’t have children. I had a job that was supposedly protected. I had tenure. I had a degree that helped me understand some of the ways that the, uh, hearing was being held counter to the law. I had a supportive family, had supportive colleagues, versus someone who is making tips wages or minimum wage or, you know, sub-minimum wage, who has no certainty that they’re going to be able to keep their job or get another one if they have to step up. Because even if the complaint has nothing to do with the job, you can still lose your job. 

These consequences of standing up are real. Would I do it again? Yes. But again, I’m not in a position to tell anyone that they should do it. And I understand people who have gone through systems and say that they would never do again what they did when they complained because it was just too awful, the consequences were too awful. So in that sense, I know I’m privileged to have been able to weather this. 

I just want to say, you know, to Christine, that it-it does get better. 

Christine:  Thank you.

Anita: It will continue to get better. This is always going to be part of-of your life that, uh, the assault and and the experience of the hearing. But, I just see in you the ability to make sense out of it. And not only make sense, but I’m also hearing in you the ability to make some benefit out of it, some benefit that’s going to help other people. 

So. It’s not gonna be the same, ever going to be the same, but it’s going to be all right. 

Christine: Thank you so much. That’s…it is really great to hear that. And I do look forward to being in a position to help others and figuring out how to do that.

Salamishah: I’m Salamishah Tillet. 

Cindi: And I’m Cindi Leive. “Because of Anita” is a production of Pineapple Street Studios and The Meteor. 

Salamishah: Our senior producer is Kat Aaron and our managing producer is Agerenesh Ashagre. 

Cindi: This show was also produced by Justine Daum. Our associate producers are Janelle Anderson, and Xandra Ellin. 

Salamishah: Our editor is Leila Day. 

Cindi: Our project lead for The Meteor is Rebecca Halperin. Fact-checking by Ivette Manners. 

Salamishah: Our engineers are Davy Sumner, Raj Makhija, and Hannis Brown. Special thanks to Joel Lovell and Maddy Sprung-Keyser at Pineapple Street and Kara Kearns at The Meteor. This episode features original composition by Davy Sumner, Raj Makhija, and Hannis Brown.  Additional music from Blue Dot Sessions.

Cindi: Our show art is by Pentagram and our additional art is by Pixelittle. Our executive producers at the Meteor are us, Salamishah Tillet and Cindi Leive. And our executive producers at Pineapple Street are Max Linsky and Jenna Weiss-Berman. Thank you to Professor Anita Hill and Dr. Christine Blasey Ford for joining us for this episode.