anita hill: the vocabulary of art, the vocabulary of legality

i left class early last week to hear anita hill speak at a fundraiser for the ywca. she was quite impressive. she said a bunch of powerful things, but what was most striking was her reference to the breakdown of complaints filed to the eoc last year: 17 percent of the sexual misconduct allegations were filed by heterosexual men. this interested me, in part, because it contradicts the basic assumption that victims of sexual misconduct are exclusively female and the perpetrators are always male.

it’s also interesting to be exposed to legal vocabulary that surrounds sexual misconduct and the wide spectrum of terms – and the many degrees of subtlety – that such vocabulary includes: sexual misconduct versus sexual harassment versus sexual abuse versus sexual assault. the legalistic vocabulary that we use greatly impacts how we conceive of such actions: the choice of “victim versus survivor” or “perpetrator versus participant” are moral claims, as much as they are legalistic ones.

as an artist who delves into the murky terrain of sexual abuse, i’ve often considered the realm of the moral to be creatively stifling. yet, i want to be responsible and i want to be real. to approach my characters and my poems with humanity, it has seemed important for me to ignore the moral and legalistic vocabulary that hill employed. as an artist, i ignore such language, but as a citizen, i can champion it.

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