“these are not men who are scared in the way that we are scared”
By CHARLOTTE FRANKEL
When I came up with the idea for this column, my hope was to create a space for rather banal silliness to exist outside of the relative garbage can fire that is today’s political climate. I still hold true to this intention and will continue to hold fast to this mission in the coming weeks. However, I have also been gifted with a platform, and I would be remiss if I didn’t use it this week to write on the Brett Kavanaugh hearings and the subsequent responses I’ve seen from the media to friends’ deeply personal reflections.
I am a woman. I know, big shocker! Alert the presses (which I am doing right now!) Anything I write here about watching Dr. Christine Blasey Ford testify in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee has probably already been said or written by the various women in your lives. The lack of originality in what I’m about to say shouldn’t make you feel anything other than angry and sad. To watch Dr. Ford testify about her experiences of assault and have her testimony essentially summarily dismissed in favor of political gain was more than disheartening. It was heartbreaking.
To be frank, I didn’t expect to have such an emotionally visceral reaction to the hearing. The end result was exactly what I had expected. I had prepared myself for the outcome. But to actually see Dr. Ford sit in front of those men and watch them disregard her account of her assault broke me. Furthermore, it forced me to once again consider the ways in which I, a woman, and others like me, have been taught to accept some behavior from men as normal, or just par for the course of existing in the world as a woman. This was further cemented by the numerous posts on Facebook by my female friends reacting to the decision by the Committee and Dr. Ford’s testimony, recounting their own stories of abuse.
I am a woman, and I have been followed for blocks by a man on a bicycle in New York City. I have been asked lewd questions by multiple male taxi drivers, forcing me to throw whatever cash I had at them and run out of the car at a stop, praying they wouldn’t follow me in anger. I have been followed down Main Street in Middlebury by a man who continually confronted me and a friend for some perceived slight. When I was 16, a drunk boy walked up to me at a party and took his time clawing his hand across my chest. No words were exchanged. He walked away as if nothing had happened.
Each of these stories I have told and retold; I don’t think I have ever once told them seriously. This is to say, I treated them all as a joke. These things happen every day to women just like me, so why should I consider my experiences anything special? It was funny. It was funny that some man with control of the locks on the car thought it was appropriate to ask me whether or not I had a boyfriend and what his penis looked like. It was funny that this strange boy thought it was OK to touch me in a possessive, frightening way without my consent. And it was so funny that every woman I told the story to could relate in some way. We’d all laugh and move on with our lives in the shadows of these ‘everyday assaults.’
I usually think that almost anything can be made funny. After all, as the classic formula states, tragedy + time = comedy. There was nothing funny about Dr. Ford’s testimony. There was nothing funny about the complete lack of care expressed by some members of the Senate Judiciary Committee to her testimony. And I can’t help but feel that there was really nothing funny about Judge Kavanaugh’s testimony as well, which was mined for jokes by every late night talk show out there.
Humor is often used as a coping mechanism. But as I looked at the men who dominate late night give monologues about Judge Kavanaugh’s overuse of the word “beer,” his almost-crazed demeanor and his detailed calendars, I couldn’t help but think that these are not men who are scared in the way that we are scared. This is not to say that they are not empathetic or understanding of what Dr. Ford and many women have gone through. This is to say that they are limited in what they can joke about, and we are forced to hear the same recycled lines over and over again, because, where are we?
Shows like The Rundown with Robin Thede and The Break with Michelle Wolf, both showcases for female comedians of color, have been cancelled by their respective networks/streaming services. The only female late night talk show host currently on air is Samantha Bee, whose show has a shorter runtime than her compatriots. Seth Meyers often allows his female writers (of whom Wolf was one) tell jokes that he “can’t” tell, which is a step, but there is a complete lack of visibility when it comes to women in late night, where many of my friends actually gather their news from.
I guess I’m just angry. I’m angry that Dr. Ford’s testimony wasn’t enough to convince some senators to cross party lines and delay the nomination process, and I’m angry that I was in no way surprised by this. I’m angry that it feels like women are constantly shut down for telling their stories. This is not a commentary at all on the merits of these late night talk show hosts or their humor. Rather it is a statement of anger against women being systematically denied a platform to tell these kinds of jokes and cope with abuses of power through humor.
Well, that’s all for now. Tune in next week when I genuinely will get smushed between the stacks in the bowels of the Davis “FAMILY” Library (I still have yet to see a ‘family’ studying together).
“they waited until she was gone to open their mouths”
By LUCY GRINDON
In 1982, Brett Kavanaugh sexually assaulted Dr. Christine Blasey Ford. I believe it, and if you watched her testify last Thursday before the Senate Judiciary Committee, it’s difficult for me to imagine you don’t believe it too.
Her voice sometimes shook, often she held back tears, but the truth of her words was as clear as water. So many women have opened up and written about their long-hidden traumas over the course of the #MeToo movement; watching Dr. Ford recount her assault in her own voice, in real time, she seemed to be the ultimate embodiment of this era.
I wonder if any Republican senators could have been moved had they actually spoken with her. Instead, they waited until she was gone to open their mouths. They claimed to have hired outside prosecutor Rachel Mitchell to question Dr. Ford because they wanted the hearing to be coherent and methodical. Of course, we know the real reason — they wanted to avoid looking aggressive and disrespectful towards women before the upcoming midterm elections. The most depressing and grave reality, however, is not their implied inability to treat a woman with respect, but their collective refusal to engage with anyone who might disrupt their view of Brett Kavanaugh as a victim.
Many men in our society, including some of the affluent, white, educated men who occupy government positions, can’t seem to imagine any greater suffering than to be denied something they see as rightfully theirs, whether it’s sex, a gun, or a seat on the Supreme Court. Our culture of entitlement can turn male-female friendships into the “friend zone,” young men into violent “incels,” and freedom of speech into a prerogative to spread racism, sexism, or incitements to violence without facing opposition or criticism.
The stories of those who have suffered at the hands of entitled men are the strongest challenge to the dangerous idea that men who don’t get what they want are victims. Dr. Ford told powerful men how one of their own had hurt her, and the only way they could reassert Kavanaugh’s victimhood was by undermining her legitimacy as a witness.
During the latter half of the hearings, South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham did not question Dr. Ford’s honesty or the strength of her memory. Instead, he tried to delegitimize her by casting her as nothing more than a political tool. In a furious tirade accusing senate Democrats of power-hungry political maneuverings, he said to Kavanaugh, “She’s as much of a victim [of the Democrats] as you are.”
Dr. Ford has certainly suffered. She has sacrificed her anonymity, her privacy and even her family’s safety. But she was no one’s victim in that hearing room. Everything she has said and done over the past several weeks has been her choice. “I am a fiercely independent person. I am no one’s pawn,” she declared in her opening testimony.
Brett Kavanaugh already made Dr. Ford into a victim once, when she was 15. Graham’s effort to re-victimize her in the eyes of the country was a despicable attack on her personal agency and a denial of her heroism.
Despite intense fear, she stood up for the sake of truth, justice and duty, inspiring more people to come forward and hold sexual abusers accountable. Perhaps equally heroic was the way her testimony exposed the fraudulence of privileged men’s victimization masks — the ones they accessorize with dramatic pauses and tears and indignant shouting.
On Friday, Ana Maria Archila and Maria Gallagher, two survivors of sexual abuse, confronted Arizona Senator Jeff Flake with their pain in an elevator. “Don’t look away from me,” Gallagher demanded as she spoke. Injustice, abuse, and exploitation are too common, and one person’s emotional trauma is not more significant than anyone else’s, but U.S. senators and men who are nominated to the Supreme Court are not typically the world’s great sufferers. When people in positions of power and privilege are faced with that truth, they must not be allowed to turn away.
“Dr. Ford made those watching her want to be better people,
to emulate her bravery”
By MATT SMITH
Last Thursday, Dr. Christine Blasey Ford sat in front of some of the most powerful people in our country — the Senate Judiciary Committee — and she spoke her truth plainly.
She was honest when she could not remember something; she was “terrified” to be there and yet she felt it was her “civic duty” to testify. She spoke with such honesty and eloquence that it was hard to watch at times. Quite simply, Dr. Ford made those watching her want to be better people, to emulate her bravery.
This, contrasted with Judge Brett Kavanaugh’s visceral anger and belligerence in his opening statement and in his answers to the Democratic members of the committee, displays the ridiculous double-standards that were evident in Thursday’s hearing.
Speaking first, Dr. Ford was questioned by the Republican majority’s prosecutor (hired so they wouldn’t accidentally say something misogynistic) and by Democrats about the specifics of her story and the strongest memories of the night.
She did her best to answer every question directly and honestly, admitting when there were lapses in her memory. Conversely, Judge Kavanaugh spent his time denouncing the hearing as “revenge on behalf of the Clintons” and avoided answering nearly every question posed to him.
The Republican majority, after a tirade by Senator Lindsey Graham, a Republican from South Carolina, spent their time attacking both the Democrats on the committee and the hearing itself as being unjust.
Indeed, what they thought was unjust was the “good man” being made to go through the “most unethical sham in politics.”
Imagine for a moment that Dr. Ford yelled at the committee members (which her emotions must have compelled her to do) and Judge Kavanaugh had stayed quiet, calm, and tried to be as helpful and honest as possible, in keeping with the behavior of a Supreme Court justice. There would be no question of his confirmation.
And so, I watched a hearing that started as a profound moment for the #MeToo movement disintegrate into a bitter partisan fight, led by an all-male group of senators. While criticizing the Democrats for not joining their investigations, they refused to call further witnesses, subpoena documents, or ask for further FBI investigation.
And yet while Republicans repeatedly avoided doing their job Thursday, it’s hard not to acknowledge that both parties have larger motives: Democrats want to delay until the midterms, Republicans want to push this nominee through as quickly as possible.
Our Senate now lives by an “eye for an eye” doctrine. Republicans filibuster President Barack Obama’s Federal Court nominees, so now-retired Senator Harry Reid reduces the vote requirement to confirm those nominees.
Then Republicans refuse to speak to former Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland, so Democrats withhold Dr. Ford’s letter until the last moment to try and derail a nominee.
And now Republicans refuse Dr. Ford and the other accusers a proper investigation, and so the cycle continues. At what point do we say, “Enough. What’s right is right”?
Even the successful and admirable attempts of Senator Jeff Flake, a Republican from Arizona, to have the FBI investigate have been constrained by an arbitrary one-week time limit and a narrow scope. Doesn’t Dr. Ford deserve more than that? Don’t we deserve more than that?
In just the past few days, three women whom I am close to have spoken for the first time about assaults in their pasts. They volunteered their stories when asked about their opinion on Judge Kavanaugh’s confirmation.
One said this: “the person who assaulted me would not remember my name or what happened – it meant nothing to him and forever changed me.”
Judge Kavanaugh has issued a categorical denial of all accusations directed at him of ever being blackout drunk, all the while admitting that there were times when he “drank too much.”
I ask then, is it not possible that Judge Kavanaugh did not remember this event because it meant nothing to him, because he was drunk at the time? Is it not possible that “it meant nothing to him and forever changed” her? In light of Dr. Ford’s extremely compelling testimony, that seems the most likely outcome.
We can hope that this week’s FBI investigation will shed more light on the allegations, we can hope that a man who has caused lifelong suffering will never sit in judgement of others.
Yet, we have a responsibility to do more than hope; we have a responsibility to vote for candidates who will believe and respect survivors. We deserve senators who won’t congratulate themselves on giving Dr. Ford a fair hearing and call her testimony “the most unethical sham in politics” not an hour later.
It is very, very easy to fall into a partisan vortex. It’s easy to fight with each other until we forget how much we have in common. Yet we all deserve a Supreme Court, conservative or liberal, that has members of sound moral integrity, who have led lives of virtue.
Can we not, at this moment in history, say to each other simply “What’s right is right, and we all deserve better than this?”
“why am I even here?”
By SOPHIE CLARK
On Friday I had a fully-fledged, borderline comical, breakdown. Swollen red face, giant tears, the whole deal.
All over a Supreme Court nominee.
Because it was not just a nomination process. It was a blatant, full bodied, laugh in the face to any woman who is trying to accomplish anything in her life. Dr. Christine Blasey Ford is everything Trump’s America could possibly want in a woman. From the outside, she is white, upper-middle class, non-threateningly middle-aged. From the inside, she has worked her entire life to receive an education, to earn a PhD and to become a professor.
And she wasn’t believed.
She wasn’t taken seriously. What does that mean for the rest of us? I went through the rest of that day feeling like a zombie. Passing from class to class questioning at every moment, “Why am I even here?”
Twenty-seven years ago, Anita Hill was hauled up in front of the same panel and treated with the utmost disrespect for all of the world to see. Treated so disturbingly in fact that it inspired a new generation of female candidates to run for office — to change things. It’s been 27 years, however, and what has changed? Why should we even bother?
To me, this hearing screamed: what is the point of getting a Middlebury education when in the eyes of this country, no matter what I do, I will never be enough?
I’m lucky my attacker is not a particularly ambitious guy, but many attackers are. And in twenty years when those men are up for promotions that they are seen as “entitled” to, will their victims be taken seriously? Will anything change?
Other generations are quick to criticize millennials for being overly emotional, too attached to issues — but this is not just an emotional response to the pain of survivors (although I am perfectly entitled to that). This is an objective understanding that those in power shunt half of its population to the side with ease. So why should we bother? Why should we contribute? Why should we get educated, or speak up?
What pushed me out of this rut was the enormous strength I witnessed in other people. I saw the two women who confronted Arizona Senator Jeff Flake bare everything I was feeling and too scared to show to the world. I saw my own peers grapple with their pasts and chose to fight back against what I chose to bury. It gave me hope that there is still a force for change, that women are told “No” time and time again and that we are not giving in until we are given a chance to speak up and be listened to.
Emotional responses matter. Feeling utterly despondent and alone matters. Because I will never forget feeling that way and will forever look for ways to stop it from ever happening again.