In 1991, Anita Hill detailed the sexual harassment she endured by Associate Supreme Court Justice nominee Clarence Thomas in an eight-hour testimony before Senate that was broadcast throughout the country. During the inquiry, her male colleagues brought up their concerns over what precedence this would set with questions like "where do we draw the line?" and "what's to stop others from coming forward and destroying men's lives with false accusations?" As John Oliver pointed out Sunday during a brutally honest segment for Last Week Tonight, it's something that sounds all too familiar today, even as the #MeToo movement, which seeks to hold harassers accountable for their actions, continues to resonate through every corner of the cultural zeitgeist.
During the episode, Oliver sat down with Hill to discuss the #MeToo movement and whether or not she's seen a difference in the way that sexual harassment in the workplace is handled since testifying before the Senate 27 years ago.
"There's been a tremendous amount of change," she said. "There's been a change in public attitude and there's been a change in the amount of information that we have about sexual harassment. There's certainly more awareness after the #MeToo movement. Even a few years ago, people were ambivalent about what the consequences should be if someone id behaving incredibly badly and abusing people they work with."
We've seen this change with the handling of Harvey Weinstein, who was ousted from his company and now faces criminal prosecution in New York City after Ronan Farrow's New Yorker expose that featured several of Weinstein's alleged victims detailing decades of assault. The news coming out about Weinstein and several other powerful figures, like Matt Lauer, CW producer Andrew Kreisberg and recently CBS head honcho Leslie Moonves, have made the public aware that sexual harassment is a serious issue in dire need of real consequences. But as Oliver pointed out, awareness doesn't always lead to action. "I guess the problem there is that awareness of a problem doesn't necessarily make something better," he said.
Although Hill agreed with Oliver's sentiments, Hill also had a few suggestions for men in particular on what they can do to help stop that behavior. "We need you to step up and to realize there are no innocent bystanders. If you are aware of something, you acknowledge it, you know it's wrong and you don't do anything about it, then it's the same as participating at it," she said.
Even with change still moving slowly, Hill admitted she maintains a hopeful outlook for the future. "I'm certainly more optimistic than I was 27 years ago. That's a pretty low bar. But even then, I was somewhat optimistic because I have seen people step up. I've heard from women whose lives were changed because things happened differently when they went forward with their complaint than they would have expected it to happen years before. So I am hopeful."
Last Week with John Oliver airs Sundays at 11:10/10:10c on HBO.