I shushed my daughter on the drive home from school yesterday. Nina Totenberg was reporting on the weird, WTF news that Virginia Thomas was asking Anita Hill for an apology.
"Who's Anita Hill?" my daughter asked.
"Let me listen to this and I'll tell you later."
There's no reason why my 14-year-old would recognize Hill or understand why she was in the news. The world she lives in is very different from the one nearly two decades ago, when the young law professor was called to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee about her experience working with Clarence Thomas, who was nominated to succeed Thurgood Marshall on the Supreme Court.
Working women in 1991 lived in a world where few had heard the term "sexual harassment," and fewer companies had any kind of policy for dealing with it -- but most of us had experienced it.
If you've watched Mad Men, you know what I'm talking about. Even though the women's movement was in full swing by the time I entered the job market as a teenager (in the early 1970's), it was obvious that the men who worked in management had not yet received the memo.
And then there was my time in 1980's Hollywood: The pitch meeting that concluded with the producer telling me how great he was in bed... or the writers' room where the executive producer announced that it was his right to touch the women on staff, whether we liked it or not.
There was one series I worked on that taped before a live audience, and on show days, the (male) writers would stop work promptly at 3:00 so they could align themselves against a second-floor window, which gave them a terrific view down the tops of the women in line for the taping.
I never complained to anyone; that simply wasn't done. I don't know how others handled this sort of thing. I was just good at avoidance; doing whatever I could to never be alone in a room with the men I worked for (and in one case, I quit the job).
And then came Anita Hill; the soft-spoken, conservatively dressed law professor, who claimed to have endured a pattern of sexual abuse while working for the government under Clarence Thomas. She was questioned brutally by the all-male panel of Senators. She did not waver. It was an act of bravery that few women at the time would have ventured.
Thomas denied all the charges and as we all know, his nomination was confirmed.
The country was divided over who to believe -- but the division was mostly by gender. Regardless of their political beliefs, the women understood. The following year, sexual harassment claims shot up by 50%.
I'm not saying that these kind of offenses don't occur any longer -- but most people today do know what sexual harassment is, and supervisors understand that there are real consequences for making inappropriate advances or allowing an environment that could be described as a "hostile workplace." My daughter will start her career with the knowledge that should an employer make sexual advances towards her, she has recourse.
And for that, I thank Anita Hill.
Donna Schwartz Mills is a mother and a writer in Southern California. Read more of her work on her personal blog, SoCal Mom.