Sunday, October 24, 2010

Questionable Conduct

As the saying goes, as everything changes everything seems to stay the same. Thus, while it may come as a shock to hear about the story Virginia Thomas, Justice Clarence Thomas’ wife, leaving a voice mail for Anita Hill, the fact is that this is not unexpected. Thomas’ exact statement on the voice mail said, “I would love you to consider an apology sometime and some full explanation of why you did what you did with my husband.”

Anita Hill, now a law professor at Brandeis University, is of course well known for her testimony during Justice Clarence Thomas’ confirmation hearings. Specifically, Hill testified that during her time working with Justice Thomas at both the US Department of Education and at the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, Justice Thomas subjected Hill to inappropriate language that amounted to sexual harassment. Hill’s testimony, however, was viewed rather suspiciously because of the timing, contested events, and the inherent nature of sexual harassment claims – the stated reliance on “he said, she said” evidence. Hill, because of her decision to bring these claims at this time was subjected to a polygraph test, which found her to be telling the truth. Justice Thomas, however refused to take a polygraph test, stating that this was a form of “high tech lynching.” Justice Thomas was subsequently confirmed to the Supreme Court.

Recently, the New York Times ran a piece related to Virginia Thomas and her work as a Tea Party Activist. Particularly, the article stated that Thomas’ presence as part of Liberty Central, a group dedicated to “protecting the core founding principles” of the nation, posed a concern related to judicial ethics. The principle concern rests on the fact that Thomas’ activism has raised questions of large, unidentified contributions and whether this has some impact upon Justice Thomas’ activities as a Supreme Court Justice.

The ramifications of Hill’s testimony may include a public awareness of work place harassment, but perhaps a more concrete assessment of the impact of her testimony is the voice it gave to Black feminists. What is clear, however, from Virginia Thomas’ telephone call is that Hill’s testimony and its effects still exist. Moreover, the issues of recusal and Thomas’ activism pose questions not only in a political sense, but also in a feminist sense.

First, it is disconcerting to hear that Virginia Thomas still holds resentment over Anita Hill’s accusations. Despite evidence confirming the story, and the time that has elapsed since the testimony – the question remains, why did she choose to leave that voicemail? Of course, this cannot be answered. But the grave concern here the dynamics of power at play in this context. Virginia Thomas is married to man who is incredibly powerful. She also holds power both as her voice for the Liberty Council and as a Tea Party activist. Regardless of whether Hill’s sexual harassment did exist or not, the fact is that by rehashing her testimony, Thomas has now set a precedent that such harassment can continue years later – through books and voice mails. This undermines any woman’s right to step forward, without the threat that she or he would be subject to ridicule years later. Whether this power dynamic is seen through the annals of Washington or in the frame of a room, it is evidence that power can silence opposition and make it part of the law itself.

Second, as stated in the New York Times article (which features Deborah Rhode), two career families are now the norm and this results in no constraints on the political activities of judicial spouses – specifically in this case. This statement packs in a variety of different concerns, but perhaps it is also goes to show how influential family dynamics can be upon women and men in the larger political sphere. We have discussed this concept of the two career families, and how these dynamics work within the family, but perhaps larger considerations are valid as well. In this case, our judicial system and potential ethical considerations are here. While a woman’s career choice should be considered valid and legitimate regardless of the considerations at play, the choice in this case is dangerous. The danger is the fact that the people (the citizens of the US) have no idea who is donating, the amount that is being donated, and more importantly whether Justice Thomas is being influenced. A two career family may be the norm, and a woman should have the choice to have a career, but not if it means sacrificing ethics to pursue an agenda – especially one that stigmatizes women.

Despite the Thomas’ bitterness, Hill has demonstrated resolute integrity and grace. In this context, perhaps the ultimate losers of this whole ordeal are the women who want to achieve the power that the Thomas’ have, as well as the women who seek to have a voice when such power is overwhelming.


Rebecca said...

This story has been sticking in my craw along with the use of “female leaders” to undermine gains for women on the national front.

It seems to me that Mrs. Clarence Thomas is openly attempting to rewrite more than a little history to fit the preferred narrative of the Tea Party, just in time for the mid-term elections. She may say that she is trying to extend the proverbial “olive branch” to Anita Hill, but I am not buying it. Anita Hill does not need an Olive Branch she needs the apology.

As Mrs. Thomas provides another high profile female face to the tea party with this latest ridiculous media stunt of revisionist history at least the Tea Party is consistent. - After all, they have a revisionist view of the original Boston Tea party where they derive their name.

The Original Boston Tea Party was actually a protest about tax cuts, not a tax increase. The British government, back in the late 1700’s, was giving what we would refer to today as subsidies to the East India Company, making it very difficult for colonies to sell tea abroad. This was the premise behind the Boston Tea Party. I find this highly ironic because the Tea Party runs on a platform of less government influence and less taxes. This is precisely the opposite of what the Boston Tea Party was all about.

While the worship of ilk like Glenn Beck and the celebration of ignorance and revisionist history by the Tea Party’s newest female voice, Mrs. Clarence Thomas, present great news stories, I fear that the likelihood of an anti-feminist Tea Party-backed candidates like Sharron Angle getting elected is a cause for genuine worry.

Betsy Reed, in How Conservative Women Politicians Make Life Harder for Working Moms," in The Nation says:
"It's insidious how Republicans are deploying women candidates to pitch government belt-tightening to women as the 'keepers of the family budget,' as if the stresses of working families are increased by childcare, healthcare, eldercare, after-school and other social programs."

Sharron Angle insists that young rape and incest victims be forced to carry their assailant's baby, she's targeting one of the very things that can make it easier for a woman to choose to continue her pregnancy: maternity leave.

She is a proud member of Concerned Women for America who are against ratifying CEDAW.

This same organization is against the I-VAWA: The problems with I-VAWA are hidden in the fine print under the lofty rhetoric; the agenda is predictable: anything promoting so-called "women's rights" is a thinly-veiled push for anti-family policies, gender quotas, and, of course, abortion-on-demand, all on a global scale.
They promote films like Priceless Value- promoting the notion that only “chaste” young girls are “priceless” or of value.

To belong to an organization that thinks that Sarah Palin illustrates that a woman can be feminine while being a strong smart leader and at the same time denigrates other accomplished women leaders in the process, just scares the daylights out of me.
Concerned Women for America is the Tea Party’s version of Republican Feminism. They said, “Sarah Palin’s feminine appearance, charm, and rhetoric transformed the dowdy image of female leadership a la Betty Friedan, Bella Abzug, Madeline Albright, or Janet Reno”

So while I am outraged that Mrs. Clarence Thomas called Anita Hill to ask for an apology after 19 years of her husband suffering with it. I am not surprised, just disgusted.

Chez Marta said...

Virginia Thomas made the P.R. move of controlling the narrative. She acted as if she was trained by the father of all P.R. gurus: Herr Goebbels himself. Goebbels said that if you repeat a lie enough times, it will become the truth. That Anita Hill did ANYTHING to her husband is the lie, and she is perpetuating this lie by acting as an inept housewife and telephoning the "other woman" demanding an apology.