Sandra Fluke Is Our Generation’s Anita Hill
Once upon a time, at a hearing in Congress, a young woman came to testify about her experience as a woman. But some people running the hearing did not think the woman had anything useful to add to the conversation, so they did everything in their power to silence her.
When people around the land heard the news, they did not agree on what should be done. Some joined in and attacked the young woman’s character, while others ran to her side and defended her. Yet through it all, the woman stood firm. She would not be silenced.
When you hear this story, does Sandra Fluke come to mind? Or Anita Hill?
The two women are a generation apart, but the similarities of their stories were on full display at the National Women’s Law Center’s 40th anniversary gala in Washington, D.C., where, alongside “Doonesbury” cartoonist Garry Trudeau, they were honored as champions for women.
After dinner, NPR host Michel Martin’s intimate group interview with the three honorees brought out surprising, warm moments of solidarity. The two women swapped stories on what it was like to be thrust into a harsh public spotlight, how their families dealt with the negative attention, and what support they found to keep moving forward.
Beyond the personal stories of Hill and Fluke lingers a hard question: How is it that 21 years after Hill was attacked for her testimony at the 1991 Senate confirmation hearings for U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, Fluke had an eerily similar experience? It’s clear that despite all the progress we’ve made, some still attempt to silence women’s voices.
With help from people like Hill and Fluke, women and their allies are fighting back and making progress. Thanks to these women, a painful but productive debate around the difficult issues of sexual harassment and access to birth control is happening.
What’s more, we’ve pulled up some new chairs for women at the national table. The 2012 election ushered into Congress a historic number of women — and not coincidentally, the election after Hill’s testimony saw a similar bump for women’s representation in Congress.
Any time women’s representation goes up like this, we should celebrate. But we should do it cautiously. To simply put a big “W” on our scorecard and go home would be a mistake. Hard work lies ahead, and a future generation of activists must also be heard. Let’s get it done together.