It may come as a surprise that Anita Hill is optimistic about the future. To John Oliver, who recently interviewed the Brandeis University professor on “Last Week Tonight,” nothing seems to have changed since the 1991 confirmation hearings of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas that made Hill a household name. When Hill came forward about the sexual harassment she experienced while working for Thomas, she was undermined, attacked, and — ultimately — not believed.
Oliver opened the show with a clip of Fox News host Tucker Carlson asking, in regards to sexual harassment: “What are the rules?” He then played clips of current and former U.S. Senators Orrin Hatch and Arlen Specter attempting to discredit Hill in 1991. The rhetoric was wildly similar.
“It is depressing how many of the techniques used to undermine [Hill] are still around today, from concern over false allegations, to blaming the victim, to outright character assassination,” said Oliver. When Oliver sat down with Hill toward in the show’s final segment, however, she took a slightly different view.
“There’s been a change in public attitude, and there’s been a change in the amount of information we have about sexual harassment,” she said, later adding: “I’m certainly more optimistic than I was 27 years ago.” “That’s a very low bar,” Oliver replied.
Alluding to Carlson as well as comments made by Tony Robbins and others, Oliver then asked Hill if men should be scared to be around women. “Not if they’re not harassers,” she replied coolly.
Oliver concluded by admitting that he witnessed harassment early on in his career, lamenting that he did nothing. In a powerful exchange seems to actually catch him off guard, when Hill asks him what he would do if he could go back.
“I think probably just say, ‘That was a pretty creepy thing to do,’ right?,” asked Oliver.
“That’s a really sort of manly thing to do,” said Hill. “But might you also say to the person who’s getting the brunt of this, ‘How are you? How does this feel to you? Would you like me to say something?'”
“Right,” Oliver said, nodding his head contritely. “It’s kind of sad that that’s not the instinctive reaction, isn’t it?”
“Well there are sadder reactions,” she assured him.
Watch the full interview below.