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Campus Safety Book Review: Believing: Our Thirty-Year Journey to End Gender Violence

Health, Safety, and Well-being Campus Safety and Violence Prevention Center for Women Sexual and Relationship Violence Prevention, Education, and Response
December 18, 2021 Will Bowlin Northeast Mississippi Community College

Believing: Our Thirty-Year Journey to End Gender Violence
By Anita Hill
2021, Viking
334 pages
ISBN-13: 978-0-593-29829-9

Over the thirty years that followed Anita Hill’s 1991 testimony during Clarence Thomas’ Supreme Court confirmation hearing, she has listened to other victims’ accounts of sexual misconduct. Consequently, Mrs. Hill has become “increasingly aware of the gravity of gender-based violence.” She identifies the problem to be much more endemic than what may have once been perceived as an individual behavioral problem that involves “a few bad apples.” In her view, narrow attempts at resolution will only continue the systemic denials that have persisted for decades. While she admits there is no easy fix to gender-based violence, Hill’s self-identified “unique perspective to speak from” in Believing: Our Thirty-Year Journey to End Gender Violence adds interesting nuances to the topic of gender-based violence.

Throughout the book, Hill pinpoints the need to change the cultures that accept misogynistic practices and perpetuate gender violence. Clear examples are broadly applied to the entertainment industry and more specifically to Harvey Weinstein’s astonishing conduct. She asserts that gender-based violence serves as “a conduit through which biases based on race, sexual orientation, and class get channeled and heaped on women and girls.” Yet, further assessments of the American workforce reveal that inaction (or leadership denials) is more likely a reflection of self-preservation mindsets that supersede any genuine move toward corrective action. Additionally, Hill points out the inadequacy of the legal system and its own historical and contemporary biases in addressing this far-reaching problem, “showing that legal systems alone are not the whole of the solution.” Thus, rather than equating the race toward gender equality to a sprint, she likens it to a marathon and relays. This marathon analogy is generated by the sense that gender-based violence persists largely due to the systemic nature that encompasses the judicial system, schools, the workforce, and politics.

Outside of the entertainment industry and legal system, Hill’s Believing spotlights two prevailing American institutions. First, concerning higher education, she identifies the matter that nearly all contemporary freshman classes experience or observe some variation of sexual harassment, with first-year students being more vulnerable than other students to sexual harassment and assault. When dismissing such wrongdoing as merely a part of “college life,” Hill states that the “failures to respond to past abuses can set young people up to expect that institutions will do nothing to stop gender-based violence.” Moreover, symbolic and check-the-box compliance with Title IX policies that many colleges employ is nothing more than a means of protecting institutional liability. In her view, bystander and implicit bias training – rather than basic compliance training – provides the qualities of a community-based (culture changing) approach that “might help plant the seeds of change among a population poised to enter our workplaces.”

Second, Hill goes after the political tendencies that impede the progress for gender equality. The most interesting elements of the book – at least to this reader – include the comparisons between the 1991 (Clarence Thomas) and 2018 (Brett Kavanaugh) Senate confirmation hearings. She asserts that procedural maneuvers during both occasions kept the facts from coming out while at the same time subjecting Mrs. Hill (Thomas’ accuser) and Dr. Christine Blasey Ford (Kavanaugh’s accuser) to intense scrutiny and partisan shrapnel. Hill strongly contends that,

“Denial was a constant theme in Thomas’s confirmation hearing. It would continue in

Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court confirmation hearing as reactionary comments and

pretense made in 1991 were reprised and repurposed in 2018. Victim blaming, flat-out

denials, mansplaining, and gaslighting were plentiful. What was missing was

accountability for the hearings’ failures.”

In an interesting segment of reflection, Hill questions whether more women in political office would have mattered (the 1991 committee consisted entirely white men), or would political theater have continued to intervene and discount her claims of sexual abuse?

The relay analogy used for the race to gender equality, according to Hill, is based on the notion that gender-based violence “won’t magically disappear any more than pollution or poverty or racism or hunger or any of the other evils that are recurring features of our human experience.” In fact, she argues that waiting on a new generation to fix it is a “complicit” action.  Accordingly, we need industry leaders, advocates, and policymakers to take the lead in addressing modern societal intricacies such as the following:

  •       Intimate partner violence and the complicated choices (emotional, financial, and/or social) faced by women and LGBTQ+ individuals.
  •       The heightened risk of abuse among black, Hispanic, and Native American women, along with the racial stereotypes they confront.

Overall, Believing focuses on the degrees of individual, institutional, and structural accountability that have often been lacking toward this subject. However, a source of criticism toward the book is directed at its closing chapter. Within these last few pages, Hill outlines the many gender-based actions and priorities that President Joe Biden should endorse. Yet, based on her own acknowledgement of the structural and institutional issues that persist – along with other content that preceded the book’s conclusion – these are not simple actions that swiftly remediate the problem. While executive-level prioritization would be a positive step in the direction of gender equality, this reader cannot help but wonder if Hill’s petition for presidential action (particularly this president) is somewhat rooted in her estimation of Biden’s role as chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee during the 1991 Thomas confirmation. After all, Hill includes within the same chapter her recount of Biden’s 2019 phone call apology for the treatment she experienced during the event. Aside from this, Believing offers interesting perspectives on both the broad and specific details of gender violence from someone who holds her own distinctive viewpoint.

 

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