This week, Joe Biden told “Good Morning America” what we’ve all known for 27 years: that Anita HillAnita Faye HillJoe Biden's surprising presidency Gloria Steinem: 'International Women's Day means we are still in trouble' 'Lucky': Kerry Washington got a last-minute switch in DNC lineup MORE did not get a fair hearing.
We know a little bit about unfair hearings in this country. I saw it up close and personal almost eight months ago, when I listened to Dr. Christine Blasey Ford give our country a master class on courage and civic duty. She sat there in front of people who didn’t want to question her, didn’t want to hear her, didn’t want to believe her. Through her terror, she told her story anyway.
As I watched her name her truth, one thing struck me over and over again: In the nearly three decades since Anita Hill sat in a similar hearing room sharing her truth, one of our oldest of institutions had not meaningfully changed.
On the other side of the lights that shined so brightly on Dr. Blasey Ford were some of the very same Senate players, the same theatrics, and the same, flawed process set up to undermine survivors. Even amid the dramatic cultural awakening that has been the #MeToo movement, the Senate remained ill-equipped to treat sexual harassment and violence with the seriousness and dignity it deserves.
But we should be even more concerned that the Senate does not stand alone. Our workplaces are still catching up, as are our schools and houses of worship. Our culture is simply outpacing our institutions. I see it every day in my work as the president and CEO of the National Women’s Law Center. The public shift we’ve seen — the accountability that has been demanded — has been shouldered almost solely by survivors and organizations dedicated to fighting on their behalf.
But what about everyone else? Survivors who have so generously donated their stories to the public discourse deserve meaningful leadership. Indeed, this cultural moment has created a state of play where any serious leader must be prepared to name and explain their plans to deal with sexual harassment and violence.
The good news is that there are clear, survivor-led and informed proposals that could be implemented across our institutions. In fact, we are faced with one at this very moment: the BE HEARD in the Workplace Act, which was introduced just a few weeks ago in Congress by Sen. Patty MurrayPatricia (Patty) Lynn MurrayOn The Money — Biden sticks with Powell despite pressure Senators call for Smithsonian Latino, women's museums to be built on National Mall The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by ExxonMobil - Arbery case, Biden spending bill each test views of justice MORE and Congresswomen Katherine ClarkKatherine Marlea ClarkBiden employs flurry of meetings to unite warring factions Pelosi, moderates inch closer to infrastructure, budget deal House Democrats return to advance Biden's agenda in face of crises MORE and Ayanna PressleyAyanna PressleyGOP eyes booting Democrats from seats if House flips Will media portrayals of Rittenhouse lead to another day in court? Evidence for a GOP takeover mounts — Democrats must act fast MORE.
As the first comprehensive federal legislative solution for the workplace proposed in the wake of #MeToo going viral, it offers a groundbreaking set of reforms that respond to the demands for change that have reverberated across this country. It’s shocking that our federal nondiscrimination laws leave out entire categories of working people — failing freelancers, most domestic workers, unpaid interns and more.
The BE HEARD in the Workplace Act would end that practice, extending protections against harassment to working people no matter what their job title or where they work. And if we’ve learned anything over the last few years, it is that the cloak of silence and darkness has allowed harassment and violence to thrive. This bill would stop the practice of forced secrecy so commonly used by employers to keep harassment in the shadows. And it would provide more robust protection from harassment than that in place today.
But the BE HEARD in the Workplace Act is just one example of the lasting change and accountability that is sorely needed across sectors and across leadership in our country right now. State governments, too, are responding to this moment and answering the #20StatesBy2020 challenge, transforming their laws and better protecting survivors.
Make no mistake. Society’s amplification of this issue is not because sexual harassment is a topic du jour or a trend. Gender-based violence is a national and global epidemic that has ripple effects throughout families, communities and countries. This last year of shared stories and lived experiences have added up to a giant wake-up call that cannot be talked away with fluffy rhetoric and apologies. We are at a moment of reckoning, and if we do not meet this moment with action, we will have failed everyone.
Our country is at a tipping point. We have the critical mass, we have the plans, and now we need to implement change that is lasting, so that women and girls can actually — not hypothetically — live, learn, and work with safety, dignity and equality.
Fatima Goss Graves is president and CEO of the National Women’s Law Center, a gender justice nonprofit founded in 1972 to advocate for women's rights through law, policy, and culture change. Follow her @FGossGraves.