Ivanka Trump and Anita Hill were photographed backstage Wednesday at Fortune’s Most Powerful Women Summit in what appeared to be a face-off: Trump mid-sentence and unsmiling, her right arm cocked and palm facing the ceiling in a “listen here” or “the bottom line…” gesture; Hill, also talking, with both hands up as though she’d had enough of Trump’s bullshit.
Patricia Sellers (she interviewed Trump at last year’s summit), executive director of Fortune MPW Summits and Live Content, hovered close behind them, hands clasped together like an anxious peacemaker.
The image was first tweeted by Fortune’s Nina Easton on Wednesday morning from the summit in southern California.
Twitter went into a tailspin over the delicious irony of Trump and Hill running into each other in what looked like the ultimate showdown. Trump, after all, has continued to be a devoted daughter and campaigner for her father in the wake of the GOP nominee’s leaked “grab ’em by the pussy” tape, and as 10 women have subsequently come forward to accuse him of sexual assault.
Then there’s Hill, who famously testified in 1991 before the Senate Judiciary Committee that Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas had sexually harassed her.
Naturally, imaginations ran wild when they were fed that image of Ivanka Trump and Anita Hill locked in what looked like a heated exchange. Which of these two Most Powerful Women started it? Who won the smackdown?
Yet things were not as sensational as they seemed, according to Sellers. “It was very friendly,” Sellers told The Daily Beast. “I introduced Anita to Ivanka in the green room. They’re both class acts and seemed genuinely happy to meet each other.”
Sellers said she did not hear the substance of the exchange between Hill and Trump. “I walked away; I didn’t feel like it was appropriate for me to stand there and listen.”
A source close to Ivanka Trump told The Daily Beast: “It was a quick conversation and she [Hill] was very nice.” Trump had just arrived and only saw a small portion of Hill’s presentation, “but she mentioned that it was a great group and Pattie told her the audience feedback [had] been really positive. It was a very nice, quick chat.”
Trump was then called away to put her mic on.
Hill did not return a Daily Beast request for comment.
Visually at least, the encounter remains an arresting meeting of feminist flashpoints.
Hill claimed that Thomas had made lewd comments (she alleged he referred to his penis as “Long Dong Silver”) and unwanted sexual advances toward her when he was her boss at the Department of Education and, later, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
The Senate’s all-white male committee members were hostile toward her, with one senator suggesting she had a psychiatric condition wherein a woman fantasizes that a powerful, prominent man is in love with her. Others criticized her for staying at her job despite the harassment and for taking so long to report it.
Thomas was confirmed to the court on a 52-48 vote, while Hill was blamed, shamed, and threatened with death threats and sexual violence after the hearing.
She became a feminist heroine, though, and is still credited with inspiring other women, like Trump’s accusers, to come forward. Hill herself responded to news of the Access Hollywood tape in a recent Boston Globe op-ed, describing Trump’s language as “predatory and hostile.”
“Missing from the conversation this weekend, which focused almost exclusively on the character of the offender, was concern about the victims of sexual violence,” she wrote. “At virtually every dinner table this weekend… little consideration was given to what impact the brutish behavior he claimed to have had on the women he victimized.”
When Donald Trump was asked whether he believed Thomas or Hill during an August 2015 interview with Bloomberg TV, the then-presidential candidate replied, “I really have a lot of respect—I like Clarence Thomas a lot, and I will go with Clarence Thomas.”
Before Trump’s sexual assault controversy engulfed him, responding to sexual harassment claims against ex-Fox News boss Roger Ailes in August, Trump all but dismissed them, saying he felt “very badly” for Ailes, who had just resigned, but not the women.
“I can tell you that some of the women that are complaining, I know how much he’s helped them,” he told NBC News’ Meet the Press. (Today, it was reported, the men no longer speak.)
In a fantastic moment of ignorance, Trump claimed Ivanka “wouldn’t allow herself” to be subjected to sexual harassment because she’s a “strong, powerful woman.”