Apparently there’s no statute of limitation on scandals. Nineteen years after Anita Hill testified before the U.S. Senate that Clarence Thomas sexually harassed her, the Supreme Court Justice Thomas’s wife wants Hill to apologize.
As has been widely reported, Ginni Thomas left a voicemail at Hill’s Brandeis University office:
I just wanted to reach across the airwaves and the years and ask you to consider something. I would love you to consider an apology sometime and some full explanation of why you did what you did with my husband.
I was on the cusp of puberty when the Anita Hill story broke, and I distinctly recall the strong impression it left on me. I was too young then to realize that the allegations were not to be taken lightly. But as a tween — to use today’s parlance — I was titillated by all this sex talk among the adults. I even got yelled at by one of my teachers at Jewish day school for disturbing class by talking about sexual harassment. And now, we’re revisiting the scandal again. This time I don’t feel so cavalier about it.
There’s speculation about why Ginni Thomas would leave a voicemail — audio evidence of her bizarre request — that could be (and did become) — news. However, we don’t have access to the “airwaves” between Thomas’s ears that could shed light on her motives.
What we do know nearly 20 years after Hill’s riveting testimony is that Ginni Thomas is still haunted by it. And Anita Hill can’t escape it. The scandal has tarnished them both. Ari Adut, sociology professor at University of Texas at Austin and author of “On Scandal: Moral Disturbances in Society, Politics, and Art,” uses the word “contamination” to explain the effects of scandal on society. It’s true that both women remain contaminated by the event. And we, as news consumers, are contaminated by extension. It’s that “ick” factor of sadness, confusion, fear, titillation and bewilderment that scandals make us feel. But where is Clarence Thomas’ voice in this story?
Here is a rare event where two women’s voices are dissected by the news media while the man’s voice is unusually silent. When I read about Ginni Thomas’ voicemail, I thought she sounded self-righteous. She feels deserving of an apology and clearly needs some sort of validation that her husband did nothing wrong. Perhaps it’s an effort to clean up the contamination.