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Race, Gender And Sexual Harassment


Two women have sat in front of Senate panels accusing Supreme Court nominees of sexual harassment. One this past week was Christine Blasey Ford, who is white. The other, in 1991, was Anita Hill, who is black. Kimberle Crenshaw assisted on Anita Hill's legal team. She's also a professor at UCLA Law School and Columbia Law School. And she's been thinking about how race and gender played out in both hearings. She says Ford was received differently than Hill, and I asked her why.

KIMBERLE CRENSHAW: That was 27 years ago. The conversation about gender and harassment and abuse has advanced since then. The very fact that the Republicans brought in another woman to interrogate Dr. Ford - those are all indicators that there is an understanding about how things have to at least look.

I do think that race does play a role. African-American women have routinely been challenged in their efforts to tell a story about sexual abuse. There was a time that a case might be dismissed if the allegation of rape or other forms of sexual abuse didn't also allege that the victim was white.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Well, one thing that the two women had in common was that neither showed anger. Anita Hill and Dr. Ford were contained. One was poised, the other upset, but neither showed anger. Why do you think that is?

CRENSHAW: Well, that's the part of the stereotype that applies to all women, namely, their ability to express anger is deeply constrained. Just saying that angry woman is enough to discredit her. But I think also an interesting thing that Clarence Thomas and Brett Kavanaugh share in common is, as men, they do have a wider terrain upon which to express anger.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Right. Both men...

CRENSHAW: But as...

GARCIA-NAVARRO: ...Did show anger during...

CRENSHAW: They both...

GARCIA-NAVARRO: ...Their responses. Yeah, Thomas famously referred to the proceedings as a high-tech lynching. And Kavanaugh, you know, supporters, including President Trump, say that's what they wanted to see from him - this sort of angry demeanor.

CRENSHAW: However, I think that even Justice Thomas's expression of anger was mediated. There weren't the same moments of disrespect to the Senate. So I think there was a recognition that an angry black man isn't a good optic either.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: What was your takeaway from this hearing as someone who was intimately involved in Anita Hill's?

CRENSHAW: I noted that no one said after Dr. Ford testified that she was lying. She wasn't credible. There was a recognition that that is not acceptable. But what also was striking to me is that the underlying balance in which a man can simply angrily deny even if some of his denials are not credible, and a woman has to be measured and almost perfect in what she has to say before we can even get to an equal, you know, framing of it - that's still a huge difference between the credibility of a man and the credibility of a woman.

And so in that sense, I don't think we've moved much beyond where we were 27 years ago, at least when it comes to the ultimate question - will he bear any consequences from the fact that she told a credible story? And that, at least for now, it seems to be the question.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Kimberle Crenshaw assisted on Anita Hill's legal team. She's also a professor at UCLA School of Law and Columbia Law School. Thank you very much.

CRENSHAW: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.