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

Staci Michelle Yandle, the first African-American lesbian federal judge

Staci Michelle Yandle, the first African-American lesbian federal judge

  • Dear Jan Brewer and all the other ridiculous Republicans in this state: Your attempts to thwart the reproductive rights of Arizona women WILL NOT STAND! You have no business trying to dictate when a fetus is viable. None of you are ob/gyns. Just give it up already. You have lost the battle and the war. #Booya (AZ Central)
  • OK, so, remember how the Repubs came up with the astronomically stupid idea to force women to see or have doctors describe the contents of their uterus via ultrasound before they could undergo an abortion? Well, the studies on the impact of this practice are in, and guess what? It turns out women already know what’s in their uteruses! A whopping 98.4 percent of those women went on to undergo their abortions anyway. What they saw wasn’t a shocking revelation! Those who thought women were too stupid to make an informed choice without seeing the embryo or fetus occupying their body were totally wrong. Shocker. (Slate)
  • President Obama is taking an unprecedented step in judicial history by nominating the first black lesbian federal judge, who will preside in the 7th Circuit, covering Illinois, Indiana, and Wisconsin. (The Root)
  • There’s a pretty active debate on whether or not MTV’s “16 and Pregnant” has had a direct effect on the downturn in teenage pregnancy rates. Speaking from a personal standpoint, it sure helped cement my commitment to staying childfree! (Time)
  • In related news, it ain’t cheap to have a baby. And after that, guess what? You have to spend money on it for at least 19 to 20 years. Minimum! (NBC News)
  • Further evidence that the health and wishes of a pregnant woman are trumped by the “rights” of a fetus: Marlise Munoz, a 33-year-old woman in Texas, suffered a tragic fall that resulted in her being on life support and clinically brain dead. Under Texas law, brain dead individuals are considered deceased. Unfortunately, that hasn’t stopped John Peter Hospital in Fort Worth from refusing to act in accordance with her personal end-of-life directive. Instead, they have forced her to remain on life support. Why? Because of the 19-week-old fetus still occupying her womb. Her family is suffering and understandably distressed. Her husband Erick is determined to fight this out in court. We’ll be watching and hoping. (RH Reality Check)
  • Just so you know, abortion is just like slavery! This message was brought to you by complete idiot Gov. Sam Brownback of Kansas. Who should be ashamed for equating hundreds of years of brutal whippings, back-breaking and unrelenting labor, rape, lynching, and all of the other unspeakable acts of cruelty inflicted upon blacks in this country to a woman exercising her right not to be forced to give birth and choosing not to carry a non-viable, non human being in her body. (Politico)
  • Is it a coincidence that the anti-contraception movement wasn’t on the radar of evangelicals until 2011, after Obama took office? HELL NO. (Salon)