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

Pro-Choice Friday News Rundown

  • pillVICTORY! The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has sided with Planned Parenthood (and common sense) with regard to medication abortion. If you recall, back in 2012, our Republican-led legislature passed a law trying to restrict its usage to the seventh week (or less) of pregnancy — despite the fact that it’s been safely used into the ninth week for more than a decade. The court has rightfully decided this restriction causes an undue burden for women. (AZ Central)
  • The withdrawal method is more popular than many of us thought! (Guttmacher)
  • TRAP laws (Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers) have the power to completely eradicate women’s access to abortion. And without even overturning Roe. (Slate)
  • Four of Louisiana’s five abortion clinics could be shutting down thanks to Gov. Bobby Jindal signing a TRAP bill into law. (MSNBC)
  • Birth control pills are terrific for treating problematic acne. (Time)
  • You may have heard that evangelicals, Christian fundamentalists, the “religious right” — whatever you wanna call them — originally banded together to fight against abortion. Well, In actuality, it was segregation that united this self-righteous bunch of clowns. (Politico)
  • Anti-abortion zealots are trying to threaten hospitals over abortion access now. (Think Progress)
  • There’s a pretty big disconnect between women and their doctors when it comes to conversations about contraceptives. (NPR)
  • Can Melinda Gates be a genuine advocate/champion for women’s reproductive health while completely ignoring the subject of abortion? (RH Reality Check)