The Roots of Resistance: The Social Justice Context of Sexual Harassment Law

wga_posterEarlier this year, Scandal star Kerry Washington brought sexual harassment into the spotlight with her portrayal of the embattled Anita Hill in HBO’s Confirmation. The movie dramatizes how Hill herself made sexual harassment a topic of high-profile, nationwide debate when she came forward to speak out against Clarence Thomas during his 1991 Supreme Court confirmation hearings.

Hill’s testimony gave resolve to others who had experienced similar treatment in the workplace, ushering in a 40-percent increase in the number of sexual harassment claims filed with state and federal agencies in 1991 and 1992. But as inspiring as her testimony was, Hill stood on the shoulders of brave women before her who confronted sexual harassment and helped advance a body of law that makes workplaces, schools, and other institutions safer spaces. That body of law now protects people against “unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical harassment of a sexual nature,” as the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission summarizes.


The fight against sexual harassment is closely connected to the long struggle for freedom among African Americans.


The breakthrough cases in sexual harassment law provide a revealing look at the short and surprising history of the battles, both in and out of court, that brought the issue into public consciousness. It is a history that shatters popular perceptions of feminism’s second wave and brings to light an overlooked dimension of another fight for social justice: the Civil Rights Movement.

Two Landmark Legal Decisions

When Mechelle Vinson applied for a job at Capital City Federal Savings in 1974, she was only 19 years old, but she had already had part-time jobs at several businesses around Washington, D.C., including a shoe store and an exercise club. For Vinson, lessons in supporting herself had come early. A strained relationship with her father had led her to drop out of high school and make repeated attempts to run away from home. She got married at “14 or 15,” because, as she recounted later, “I thought if I get married, I don’t have to go through problems with my father.” Continue reading

Women’s Equality Day: Vote to Ensure Your Equality Every Day

1911-SuffragettesIn 1971, Bella Abzug — U.S. Representative, leader of the Women’s Movement, co-founder of the National Women’s Political Caucus, and close friend of Gloria Steinem — introduced legislation for Women’s Equality Day to observe the ratification of the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which granted women the right to vote.


To ensure your equality is protected every single day, vote in the primary election today!


While it is important to remember that the right to vote and have an equal voice was not so easily granted, gender equality does not begin and end with one day, one amendment, or one right granted to women (only 94 years ago). The right to vote, however, is the catalyst to ensure that every day is a day of equality for women. By wielding your right to vote during primary, local, and national elections, you have the power to elect officials who will enact the legislation that protects you against inequalities including, but not limited to:

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