Will the Reaction to Hermain Cain Show We've Made Progress Since Anita Hill?

The XX Factor
What Women Really Think
Oct. 31 2011 3:21 PM

Will the Reaction to Hermain Cain Show We've Made Progress Since Anita Hill?

Anita Hill arrives for the The White House Projects 2006 EPIC Awards.

Photo by Scott Wintrow/Getty Images

Last night, shortly after the news of sexual harassment claims againt GOP presidential hopeful Hermain Cain broke, journalist Zerlina Maxwell tweeted, "We will be able to see how far we've come since 1991 by how the media treats these women." She's referring, of course, to the allegations Anita Hill made against current Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. The 20th anniversary of the Thomas hearings has just passed, and as Slate's David Weigel points out, the Cain campaign is already dog whistling references to those proceedings, with the statement, "Sadly, we’ve seen this movie played out before–a prominent Conservative targeted by liberals simply because they disagree with his politics." [emphasis Weigel's]

There's already evidence that we have evolved somewhat since the Hill/Thomas frenzy.The women who accused Hermain Cain of sexual harassment back in the '90s when he was the head of the National Restaurant Association say his behavior toward them was sexually suggestive and it made them uncomfortable, and some conservative women are already sympathizing with these women. The president of Concerned Women for America, Penny Nance, told Politico, "I think Herman Cain needs to directly answer the question." Nance even admits to Politico that she experienced sexual harassment earlier in her career:


"I resigned from a trade association for the exact same reason and with no financial settlement. I simply found another job. ...Therefore, I know in a very personal way that sexual harassment exists and that it's demeaning and painful. It should never be tolerated in the workforce and certainly not the White House."

Though Nance also adds that she's never observed Cain behaving in an innappropriate manner, this reaction is light years ahead of the way conservative women reacted publicly to Anita Hill's claims. Back then, conservative pundit Phyllis Schlafly called Hill a "phony," adding:

Jessica Grose Jessica Grose

Jessica Grose is a frequent Slate contributor and the author of the novel Sad Desk Salad. Follow her on Twitter.

"Anita Hill whined about being the victim 10 years ago of a 'hostile environment' created by words allegedly spoken by a man. How could anybody take her seriously? The very nature of being a lawyer is to thrive in a hostile environment. A lawyer complaining about this is as ridiculous as a doctor complaining about working in a 'bloody environment.'"

It's unclear whether these allegations will hurt Cain's poll numbers overall. He was unpopular with women before this scandal broke, which means they weren't his base in the first place. As others have pointed out, Bill Clinton overcame even worse PR when it came to women and sexual harassment. Though there are many who are already dismissing the claims these women are making as a liberal media plot, it's heartening that that view isn't the dominant one so far.



The Irritating Confidante

John Dickerson on Ben Bradlee’s fascinating relationship with John F. Kennedy.

My Father Invented Social Networking at a Girls’ Reform School in the 1930s

Renée Zellweger’s New Face Is Too Real

Sleater-Kinney Was Once America’s Best Rock Band

Can it be again?

The All The President’s Men Scene That Captured Ben Bradlee

Medical Examiner

Is It Better to Be a Hero Like Batman?

Or an altruist like Bruce Wayne?


Driving in Circles

The autonomous Google car may never actually happen.

The World’s Human Rights Violators Are Signatories on the World’s Human Rights Treaties

How Punctual Are Germans?

  News & Politics
The World
Oct. 21 2014 11:40 AM The U.S. Has Spent $7 Billion Fighting the War on Drugs in Afghanistan. It Hasn’t Worked. 
Oct. 21 2014 5:57 PM Soda and Fries Have Lost Their Charm for Both Consumers and Investors
The Vault
Oct. 21 2014 2:23 PM A Data-Packed Map of American Immigration in 1903
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 21 2014 1:12 PM George Tiller’s Murderer Threatens Another Abortion Provider, Claims Right of Free Speech
  Slate Plus
Behind the Scenes
Oct. 21 2014 1:02 PM Where Are Slate Plus Members From? This Weird Cartogram Explains. A weird-looking cartogram of Slate Plus memberships by state.
Oct. 21 2014 12:05 PM Same-Sex Couples at Home With Themselves in 1980s America
Future Tense
Oct. 21 2014 4:14 PM Planet Money Uncovers One Surprising Reason the Internet Is Sexist
  Health & Science
Climate Desk
Oct. 21 2014 11:53 AM Taking Research for Granted Texas Republican Lamar Smith continues his crusade against independence in science.
Sports Nut
Oct. 20 2014 5:09 PM Keepaway, on Three. Ready—Break! On his record-breaking touchdown pass, Peyton Manning couldn’t even leave the celebration to chance.