TV

John Oliver Deftly Illuminates America’s Chronic Issues With Workplace Sexual Harassment, With Some Help From Anita Hill

On the heels of Ronan Farrow’s report that CBS Corporation CEO Leslie Moonves had been accused of sexual misconduct, Last Week Tonight host John Oliver and his team dedicated Sunday’s episode to the subject of “workplace sexual harassment.” Considering the fact that Moonves’ former employee, Charlie Rose, had been accused of harassment by dozens of women previously, the comedian’s address was definitely timely. Even so, Oliver — who joked he was a man “in the broadest possible sense of the word” — felt the issue required a different perspective, so he enlisted Anita Hill‘s help in the matter.

Hill, a Brandeis University professor and attorney, famously accused then-U.S. Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas (whose story was recently turned into an HBO film) of sexual harassment. As Oliver recounts, she “testified for eight hours in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee, enduring humiliating questions from a panel of world-class assholes.” When he asks Hill if she thinks anything has changed since 1991, she says change has occurred:

“There has been a tremendous amount of change. There has been a change in public attitude and there has been a change in the information 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 is behaving incredibly badly and abusing people in the workplace.”


Yet Oliver can’t shake the same cynicism he previously shared during the opening segment, when he remarked on the seemingly cyclical nature of sexual harassment’s public vilification and supposed defeat, only to rise again unchecked after the dust had settled. Hill agrees, noting that “much of the approach that we’ve had is to put all of the burden on women.” As she reminds Oliver and his audience, though, all women — and not just those exposed to situations involving sexual harassment — are “not the problem.”

“You are needed,” Hill continues, talking specifically about the role of men in standing against sexual harassment. “We need you to step up. You realize at this point in time that there are no innocent bystanders. If you are aware of something — you acknowledge it, you know it’s wrong — but you don’t do anything about it, then it’s the same as participating.” The 62-year-old public figure’s comments here are striking, though the entirety of her 10+ minute interview with Oliver is worth the watch.

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