Close Readings: Ginni Thomas on Anita Hill’s voicemail

In our rapture over Christine O’Donnell’s last throe of national-profile insanity, we missed the other transcendently awesome thing that happened Tuesday. At approximately 7:30am on October 9, Virginia Thomas—wife of Supreme Court justice and Coke drinker Clarence Thomas—left the following message on Anita Hill’s voicemail:

Good morning, Anita Hill, it’s Ginni Thomas. I just wanted to reach across the airwaves and the years and ask you to consider something. I would love you to consider an apology sometime and some full explanation of why you did what you did with my husband. So give it some thought. And certainly pray about this and hope that one day you will help us understand why you did what you did. O.K., have a good day.

Anita Hill did not go on to have a good day. The former metonym for sexual harassment and current Brandeis professor sat on the message for a while before turning it over to Brandeis campus police and, eventually, the FBI. Seriously, Anita Hill: stop snitching. More importantly, Ginni Thomas: stop being a crazy person. Your voice message is so creepy and weasel-worded that you are subject of today’s Close Reading.

Let’s start with the greeting, “Good morning, Anita Hill.” Already we have left the realm of friendliness—”good morning, Anita”—or even professionalism (“good morning, Ms. Hill.”) To address someone by their first and last name is to evoke their public stature, as when Wayne and Garth meet Alice Cooper and can’t stop addressing him as “Alice Cooper” in their fandom. Ginni Thomas is, presumably, not a fan of Anita Hill. By addressing her as such, she addresses herself to the public image: Anita Hill the thing that happened to her husband, not Anita Hill the person.

Ms. Thomas’s previous remarks have made it clear that she believes Hill happened to him and not the other way around. During the confirmation hearings, Ginni publicly opined that Hill’s testimony was motivated by her unrequited love for Clarence. This theory provided the occasion for perhaps one of the most deft remarks in the history of I-don’t-find-your-partner-attractive. I quote Hill:

Virginia Thomas and I have never met, and one can imagine that she is guided by her own romantic interest in her husband when she assumes that other women find him attractive as well.

That’s much nicer than pointing out that Thomas’s stiffness and constant grimacing make him look like he’s wearing a Clarence Thomas suit. Given that, twenty years ago, Ginni had to decide whether A) her husband spent all day at work describing pornography and his own genitals to a female coworker or B) said coworker was fabricating (A) before Congress because she was obsessed with him, her continued embrace of this narrative is understandable.

As much as it may have saved her marriage, though, that line of thinking is also the first step toward rivalry. That might explain why Ms. Thomas placed this phone call 19 years after the fact, and why she uses the construction, “some full explanation of why you did what you did with my husband” [emphasis mine.] Presumably, a completely made-up story would be what Hill did to her husband. Like the call itself, the preposition implies that Hill and Justice Thomas still share some bond in Ginni’s understanding.

This sense that whatever happened is unresolved also explains why Ginni opens her message by saying she’s calling to “ask you to consider something.” Nah, I’m messing with you—that’s just pure passive aggression, right there. Presumably, a guilty Anita Hill would already have “consider[ed] an apology sometime” and weighed the value in “one day” helping the Thomases understand “why [she] did what [she] did.” Even Ginni Hill, who is clearly a little batty, must recognize that this sort of phrasing is not going to fool anybody. She later described the call as “extending an olive branch,” but she is obviously trying to start some shit.

Perhaps that’s why she closes with the ironclad defense of the passive-aggressive instigator: she asks Hill to pray about it. Such an appeal implies that Ginni isn’t acting out of self-interest, but rather recognizes a clear-cut situation of right and wrong in which God is the adjudicating party and she just happens to be implicated.

Of course, Ginni’s instruction to pray is totally self-serving. You can tell because she takes advantage of the imperative in that sentence to tack on another instruction: “And certainly pray about this and hope that one day you will help us understand why you did what you did.” Thomas is just calling to politely suggest that Hill do two things: pray, and hope that one day she can help people understand what a horrible thing she did. Also, have a good day.

Ginni’s barely-plausible tone of high-mindedness is a victory lap. Twenty years after the Clarence Thomas/Anita Hill scandal, Thomas is a justice on the Supreme Court, Ginni is married to him, and Anita Hill is a single law professor at Brandeis. It also happens that Ginni’s party is ascendant right now, and the 501(c)4 organization she runs has become a magnet for anonymous donations and a pump for funding of Tea Party causes. She isn’t calling to take revenge on Anita Hill for either lying about her husband or being the object of his creepy advances. She just wants her to consider that.

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  1. “Stop snitching.” made me laugh really hard, but I’m pretty sure it was the Brandeis police who handed it over to the FBI.

    There’s some good one-liners to be made on this subject. (1) that Clarence has, on this issue, been silent (ha! SCOTUS! He never talks!) and (2) when this all blows over, and we’re on to the next lunacy, he’ll be a Supreme Court Justice for the rest of his life.

    Great job, Senate Democrats.

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