11/18/2010 10:49 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Play Nice!! A Primer for Ginny Thomas and Mean Girls Everywhere

My opening caveat: Barbara Boxer served on the high school board when I was in high school (1974-78). Fyi, my own mother would have been shocked by a female State Senator. A year before she died, my mother overheard a woman at the LA Gift Mart say to her child, "Let me show you mommy's office." My mom said something about it being a 'new world.' This was 1987, folks, not ancient history. She had my father's name, something I ribbed her about, mercilessly. "You are Dad's chattel!" I'd say.>

She didn't live to see the Anita Hill hearings. I had a vague and mistaken idea of when they happened, which was wrong. They were in 1991, and she had died, two years earlier. She did not die a feminist, but maybe she would have turned into one.

I almost never write anything on Facebook -- too old -- I was moved enough by an ad Carly Fiorina (female) ran against Barbara Boxer for California State Senator to write: "Carly Fiorina, who apparently was too busy to watch the Anita Hill/Clarence Thomas hearings, decrying Barbara Boxer's request to be called 'Senator'." In the ad, Carly Fiorina showed testimony of Senator Barbara Boxer requesting of a witness, "You know, do me a favor. Could you say 'Senator' instead of 'Ma'am'? It's just a thing. I worked so hard to get that title, so I'd appreciate it."

What was Fiorina's video-ed response to that simple request? A tag in which she says into the camera: "I'll really go to work -- to end the arrogance in Washington."

What's interesting to me, in this newly quickened-up passage of time that is life, is that I'd have sworn those Hill/Thomas hearings happened when I was in high school. When my mom was alive. What's crazy hard to believe -- what with Elena Kagan and so many other women ensconced on the Supreme Court and all -- is that in my own lifetime I'd have lived through such enormous changes. Like black people who remember when they couldn't drink at a water fountain, it's hard for me to fathom that my own mother, who died when I was 29, which is not YOUNG, did not actually have any female Senators to represent her, when she passed (1989).

I was thinking about this during Elena Kagan's hearings. Ms. Kagan, who is exactly my age, would understand the 'hard-to-imagine', almost blink-of-an-eye feeling, how -- in a lightning flash -- the role of women in these Supreme Court hearings almost has gone from the Clarence Thomas/Anita Hill hearings, to her. There was, during Anita Hill's time, no person of color to raise an eye at Clarence Thomas's declaration of those hearings being a "high-tech lynching". No woman to nod at Anita Hill's claims about Clarence Thomas's proclivities, "Yeah, you know guys and porn". Indeed, Senators waved telegrams AND The Exorcist in an attempt to impugn Anita Hill's character and claim that she simply wanted fame. (There happened to be no black person on the Senate Committee when Elena Kagan testified, by the way, but nine women).

For those too young to remember this scandal, let me just say that Anita Hill, whose family of farm people were splayed in the rows behind her, couldn't have looked less like she intended for any of this to happen. She looked ashamed. She looked dignified. And indeed, though it was predicted she was looking for fame, we've never heard from her in these intervening years (although Clarence Thomas and his wife, Ginny, were featured on the cover of People Magazine, the week after). (Don't get me started with Ginny Thomas calling Anita Hill and asking for an apology recently).

Clarence Thomas said during his own portion of testimony, "Well, this is what happens to uppity blacks", as well as the "lynching" comment. His point made no sense, however, because Anita Hill was also black. Had there been even one person of color -- any color, in fact -- on that Senate panel, they could have shaken their fingers at him, with shared history. But there was none. Even poor lascivious -- at that time -- Ted Kennedy, who was usually a champion of minorities, seemed like he wanted to crawl under that Senate tabula and simply disappear.

Indeed, they used Anita Hill's talking to Clarence Thomas in intervening years as evidence against her.

Things change systemically. Anita Hill's necessity to stay in touch with Clarence Thomas in order to get along is something other women understand -- Elena Kagan seems a negotiator, most especially. But there was no one to explain that.

What DID happen, was that six women (including then-Congressperson Barbara Boxer) marched up the steps of the Capitol to demand that Ms. Hill's testimony be taken seriously. In fact, 1992 was dubbed the "Year of the Woman." Many women were enraged. The addition of four new female Senators in that next election doubled the number. I remember that Capitol Hill photo-op, very well. In fact, I left a pretty-defunct NOW and joined Emily's List, whose title is, "Early Money Is Like Yeast,' which means, 'it takes dough to get a woman elected'.

What I didn't know at the time, is that when those six women House members got inside the Senate Hall, they were refused entry by their fellow Senators. "You can't come inside," our female House members were told. "It's a closed-door meeting."

I guess that's why I find it hard to bear when women are mean to each other. I mean, seriously. Did Ginny Thomas really call Anita Hill, stirring up a hornet's-nest, after a 10-year respite of peace? She left a message saying, "I would love you to consider an apology sometime and some full explanation of why you did what you did with [sic] my husband." (The same week an ex-girlfriend of Clarence Thomas came out and validated Professor Hill's claims). Did she want publicity for her Tea Party party? (Or weapons for some later divorce)? And Carly Fiorina! You should be kissing Barbara Boxer's well-tailored Senate robes in thanks!

That week-long testimony turned out to be one of TV's first real-life soap operas. A starring role for Joe Biden. A mini-series of fabulous proportions.

The game-changer of Anita Hill's testimony came when she accused the Hon. Clarence Thomas of specific advances, such as asking if she saw "a pubic hair on a Coke can". Now, if you've been to college and/or even one frat party, you've heard worse or the same. But again, there was no one to point that out. In fact, some of the Senators waved actual Telegrams into the air -- okay, it was a WHILE ago -- maligning her very reputation.

Some of the major bullet points:

  • Sen. Alan Simpson -- "we have stuff coming over the transom about this woman, Anita Hill, saying to watch out for her."
  • Anita Hill -- claiming that Clarence Thomas, the abuser, wanted to date her. She also testified that she didn't know why this entire investigation hadn't been handled, in private. (It had been discovered by Nina Totenberg, of NPR). Still, Arlen Spector followed up her testimony by telling her, "I am a former prosecutor, and I think you are committing 'flat-out perjury.'" (Although he did claim to be disappointed that Clarence Thomas declared he was not watching the testimony of Anita Hill).
  • Orrin Hatch, reading "there's a pubic hair on my gin glass" from The Exorcist.

If it looked like anyone in the room had NOT read The Exorcist, by the way, it would be Anita Hill. I'm just saying. In fact, I am still assuming that Professor Hill didn't. She requested privacy and they were waving telegrams. No wonder people stay quiet.

Shock and awe also from this gang, not understanding the fact that she was a careerist, like all of them. Her maintaining contact with Thomas -- well, really, how many places were there for an educated black woman -- especially in 1991 -- to go? Even Clarence Thomas wrote in his autobiography, "The only reason why she'd held a job in the Reagan administration was because I'd given it to her."

Amazingly, in a move straight out of Central Casting, some of the same people who had faced Anita Hill now squared off against Elena Kagan. It was almost like watching The Revenge! When Sen. Orrin Hatch started in on one particularly nasty line of questioning of Gen. Kagan, I actually find myself thinking, "Is he crazy? Doesn't he have a PR person? Does no one else remember him waving The Exorcist at Anita Hill?"

But, still, even though Elena Kagan is called a "lib-er-al," by a very white man (Sen. Sessions), in the end, Elena Kagan is triumphant, and now sits on the same Supreme Court with Clarence Thomas -- and two other women, as well!

Perhaps my own mother would have eventually become used to all of this. I do know she'd have 'kvelled' over Elena Kagan. And she would have, without-a-doubt, 'gotten the number' of Sarah Palin and all the other mean chicks down that very mean dynastic line. But if there's one and only one thing I do know -- but this one thing I know for sure -- it's what my mom would have said to the Carly Fiorinas, et. al., that ilk, even way, way back then:

Girls. Be nice. Play nice!