This morning I’m thinking back to a fantastic conference that took place at Hunter College Saturday April 25, 1992, “Women Tell the Truth: A Conference on Parity, Power and Sexual Harassment,” speakers included Liz Holztman, Geraldine Ferraro –those were the two names I wrote in my brief diary entry for the event–but there were many other feminist luminaries and radical thinkers. Anita Hill gave the keynote address–the conference took place in the immediate aftermath of the October 1991 Senate Judiciary Committee’s confirmation hearings for Clarence Thomas .
There were 2100 people in the audience, mainly women, and as many others were turned away for lack of space. I’m thinking about it today because one of the speakers, possibly Catharine MacKinnon, a leading feminist activist, lawyer, and legal expert on sexual harassment, spoke of the difficulty that women who have been the victims of sexual harassment or assault have, in that when they retell what happened they not only relive what happened and are revictimized by that memory but they become the sign of the violation, of the body, they are the crime on the body in a sense, they become the crime not the victim, I don’t remember exactly how she worded it and my notes are buried in a box someplace, but at the time her description or interpretation of the displacement of the criminal act onto the victim perfectly described the situation.
Just FYI, this conference took place at a time when the US Congress had actively attacking abortion and other human rights in the United States–thus a time not unlike our own and facing the same threats and it took place before the 1992 election, over six months before President Bill Clinton was elected (and one year before he nominated Ruth Bader Ginsburg to the Supreme Court, on June 14, 1993–by the way Ginsburg was confirmed that same summer, taking the oath August 10, 1993). At that time in New York City there was a lot of activism, including the activist group WAC (Women’s Action Coalition) which had been founded in January 1992 in the aftermath of the Thomas hearings.
This event was brought to mind by Van Jones’s fantastic rant about the hypocritical focus on Donald Trump’s recently revealed language instead of his actions, and on the racial inequity of responses to the kind of sexual crimes Trump was describing, which Jones posted on Facebook live yesterday evening. I highly recommend watching it if you can. Jones gloriously blasted Trump for engaging not in “lewd language” as it is being decried by Republican politicians and media but in criminal behavior which would land any black guy in jail. I relished every outraged word he uttered, but it occurred to me that the one thing perhaps that he left out is that many women experience some version of that kind of gross sexual harassment at some point in their lives–the link here is to a story about the thousands of such stories which have been posted on Twitter since Friday night with the hashtag #NotOkay and for the most part there is not much they can do about it or even think about doing about it (this in addition to the constant other kinds of less sexually overt undermining and mansplaining that take place all the time). As one example, Canadian writer Kelly Oxford wrote: “Women: tweet me your first assaults. they aren’t just stats. I’ll go first: Old man on city bus grabs my ‘p—y’ and smiles at me, I’m 12.”
Yesterday Oxford reported on Twitter that she was “receiving 2 sex assault stories per second.”
So that discussion from the 1992 conference of the dilemma of the victim of sexual harassment came back to me this morning and I wanted to share it today.
This whole election or rather the Trump candidacy has been a violation of the country, all of us have been violated by the level of violence and indecency. The racism and the hatred were there. The Southern Poverty Law Center has posted a “Hate Map” of the United States. It is chilling. But they have been ignited and valorized to an extraordinary degree. No matter what happens, we will be an even more damaged and divided nation than we already were, replaying the Civil War for another generation.
And if/WHEN Hillary Clinton wins the election, her victory will have an asterisk* next to it for having had the most shameful opponent in American history so it will be possible to say, and it’s already being said, that the first woman President will have won only because she had the worst opponent ever put forward by a major political party (as if the policies of the others were any better). And the negative views many people are said to have about Hillary Clinton not only from the right but also from the left are a product of exactly the same misogyny reflected in Trump’s words. I should say that I am writing this as a supporter of Clinton now, but also as a person who both sees clearly her political faults yet who identifies with the difficulty of being her and doing what she is trying to do.
Tonight is the second debate. I was terrified for her before the first debate, because I saw her as being thrown into a pit with a monster. I thought, he’s going to call her a cunt on TV. What will she do? What can you do? Yet she managed something quite astounding, she ending up pinning the tail back on the donkey, and he got stuck with “Miss Piggy” and “Miss Housekeeping.” Now what will happen tonight, after his boasts about grabbing pussy has been broadcast into every home in the world?
These statistics were compiled in 1992.