What a crazy couple of weeks with the Kavanaugh SCOTUS thing. What was a growing concern blew up into a full-fledged social movement of #metoo proportions.
The news and social media have been loaded with stories from Kavanaugh’s past, accusations from women who knew Kavanaugh, women coming forward to confess their painful experiences with sexual assault (and why they didn’t report), discussions of legal matters such as “innocent until proven guilty,” quotables from powerful government leaders… and, most of all, anger from all sides.
It’s been a stressful period, and other than a few tweets, I’ve kept my mouth shut and focused on reading, listening, and learning. Because this right here has more lessons in it than a college degree program.
It’s a lot to unpack, but I’m going to (try to) summarize what I’ve learned, and why this situation with Brett Kavanaugh is one of the most important events that has happened in a long time.
You know the situation: the Republican leadership wants Kavanaugh appointed to the Supreme Court, the Democrats do not. Nothing groundbreaking there. But when Kavanaugh was accused of sexual assault by Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, it brought up a host of important issues. Issues that go WAY beyond politics and the Supreme Court. Let’s tackle them one by one:
“It was so long ago.”
This argument about Kavanaugh’s behavior came from as many women as men, suggesting that anything Kavanaugh allegedly did back then somehow doesn’t matter anymore. This follows the (false) belief people have that those who do evil deeds, especially in youth, somehow “outgrow” vile behavior like they outgrow their clothing. If we were dealing with immature behavior, I might buy this, but we aren’t. This is SEXUAL ASSAULT, and it takes a special kind of person to engage in it.
“What teenage boy hasn’t done this?”
Um, a lot of boys don’t assault girls, actually. Most boys don’t. Because they know it’s wrong, even if they aren’t old enough to know why. This applies to groping, and it definitely applies to dragging a girl into a room, forcing her onto a bed, trying to yank off her clothing, and covering her mouth so she can’t call for help. While another boy stands by and watches. This belief that teenage boys are “trouble,” again heard from both sexes, pushes the “boys will be boys” thing, that hallmark of sexism that seems to believe that boys are naughty by nature, like it’s bred into their DNA. It’s this insidious (and false) belief that contributes to and maintains the “normality” of sexual assault. The truth is, sexual assault and disrespect of girls is a LEARNED behavior, not something inherent in manhood, which is why most men don’t do it.
“He was drunk.”
Come on. We all know alcohol lowers inhibitions, and that it magnifies who we really are without them. Take away those inhibitions, and Kavanaugh was a guy who tried to rape someone.
“Times have changed.”
They have. Standards for consent are clearer and stricter now. But that doesn’t change the fact that Kavanaugh’s behavior, assuming it’s true (keep reading), by any standards then and now was illegal, immoral, and not befitting of a man we want in any kind of power, much less sitting on the Supreme Court.
A lot of people don’t believe Dr. Ford. They didn’t believe her before her testimony, or after. They think she’s lying in order to ruin Kavanaugh’s chances to gain the SCOTUS seat. They believe this despite her testifying under oath and plenty of statistics. For example:
- Between two and ten percent of sexual assault accusations are false, at most. That means, 90-98% of accusations are true, and that doesn’t include the countless victims who never come forward (we’ll get to this later).
- False accusation rates for sexual assault are the same as with other crimes, yet unlike other crimes people are quick to doubt any sexual assault accusation. (we’ll get to this later too)
- Those who do falsely accuse tend to have criminal histories, they tend to do so quickly after the “attack,” tend to have very specific types of mental illness, and they confabulate outlandish stories around the accusation. Dr. Ford fits none of these categories.
- One in five women are raped at some point in their lives.
- One in three women will experience some form of contact sexual violence in their lifetime.
Do the math. The likelihood that Dr. Ford is telling the truth is FAR greater than the likelihood that she’s lying. But in my experience, rape deniers don’t care about numbers. They care about preserving their distorted beliefs about women, a reflection of the deeply embedded sexism in our world. More on that later.
“It’s a political ploy.” “It’s a smear campaign.”
This is a special type of “she’s lying.” Not only would Dr. Ford lie about a trauma that happened to her all those years ago, but she’s doing it to push some political agenda or to ruin Kavanaugh’s name. Because it’s that easy to lie to the government and the entire country, to face death threats and intense public scrutiny, to sit there while being questioned by some of the most powerful people in the country (who don’t respect you), to face your assailant and watch him lie, to dredge up what most would rather never think about again, to face being called a liar or not taken seriously by the very people we put our trust in to run our country. All that, just to ensure the liberals get their way or that poor Brett suffers by not getting the SCOTUS seat.
Many times, when we accuse someone of doing something, it’s because it’s something we would do (or have done). Cheaters will accuse their spouses of cheating. Liars accuse others of lying. I once had a friend accuse me of sharing an embarrassing secret about her with others. I never did, but she assumed I did because it was the sort of thing she would do (and did). You can’t help but wonder if these deniers refuse to take Dr. Ford seriously because they’re pushing their own political and personal agendas. In other words, are they accusing her of doing what they’re doing?
“Innocent until proven guilty.”
This is the battlecry of all kinds of men, from your average Twitter troll to the President of the United States. It’s a sad state of affairs in this great nation of ours when a mere woman can accuse a man and ruin his wonderful life just like that, right? What about “innocent until proven guilty”? Well, if you haven’t heard, Kavanaugh isn’t being charged with a crime. He isn’t facing prison time or the stamp of “criminal.” He’s attempting a LIFETIME appointment to one of the most powerful jobs in the land, one that will directly impact the very laws he’s potentially guilty of breaking, one that impacts the very fabric of our society. We want someone squeaky clean, not some angry, entitled jerk who may also be a misogynist.
Moreover, the idea of “innocent until proven guilty” isn’t the all-encompassing thing these men — including Trump — have pulled out to defend Kavanaugh and discredit Dr. Ford. It’s far more specific, as explained by this legal expert, and it’s been misused time and time again in this case and others like it.
“Why didn’t she report sooner?”
This one seems to stump people whose lives have been gloriously free of sexual abuse or assault, because they haven’t experienced it and/or because they’ve kept their heads buried in the fucking sand for so long that they don’t realize sexual assault is all around them. Mostly men are guilty of this one. In their lack of empathy and understanding, they don’t realize that:
- Sexual assault is so horrible that many survivors can’t stomach the idea of reopening those gaping wounds by facing the cops, the courts, their families, the legal system, or their attacker.
- The sense of shame and self-blame is intense with sexual crimes, and talking about it can be excruciating.
- They run the risk of being belittled, blamed, or not believed, traumatizing them all over again.
A lesson in irony: these powerful men in government questioned why Dr. Ford didn’t speak up sooner while simultaneously disregarding her testimony entirely. Think on that one for a moment.
Also, as one man pointed out, when kids (boys) attacked by priests in the Catholic church finally spoke up decades later, nobody questioned why they waited so long to speak up.
“It’s not fair that one woman can ruin a man’s life, just like that.”
Even if you ignore the likelihood that she’s telling the truth and the relatively small number of false accusations (see above), it’s astounding that these men — leaders in our country — focus on how HIS life could be ruined by her accusations, rather than how HER life could be impacted by his actions. The number of women who’ve been sexually assaulted and raped is fucking staggering, but the first thing many men grab onto is “she’s lying.” If this isn’t a testament to sexism and misogyny being alive and well in the USA, I don’t know what is.
Related to this is the testimony of Kavanaugh and Dr. Ford. She was poised, calm, and vulnerable. He was angry, entitled, and skilled at avoiding questions. Why the difference? Women HAVE to be calm and poised just to be taken seriously, whereas men (especially white, privileged men) can act like angry jerks and still garner respect and power. Another huge double standard that lights a neon sign that sexism and male privilege are very real things.
White men groomed for power.
The idea of men being “groomed” for power via East Coast private schools, fraternity organizations, and Ivy League universities is so ingrained in our world that it’s become a cliche. You’ve seen and read this in books and movies, where the privileged white boys get together with their pastel sweaters tied around their necks and plot which girls they’re going to nail, how much they’re going to drink, and which dorks they’re going to bully, all before they grow up and take the most powerful jobs in the world, bequeathed to them by the privileged assholes who came before them. Our government has been filled with these douchebags over the years (in both parties), and Kavanaugh is living proof that this system still has influence. Blue or red, are these the kind of people we want representing us in government?
What I find most appalling about of all of this is that Donald Trump and several other leaders, including Lindsey Graham, Orrin Hatch, and Mitch McConnell, utterly disregarded Dr. Ford’s accusations and accused her of lying and/or using smear tactics. These are powerful leaders in a country that’s comprised of 50% women, ignoring all the stats and all the signs, throwing a woman under a bus in order to garner more power for themselves. Are you telling me these men can’t even acknowledge that she “could” be telling the truth and find some other conservative nominee who’s not an asshole? It’s so unbelievably disheartening to watch leaders given the privilege of running this country show how little regard they have for women and their words.
And if you think I’m being partisan, I’ll tell you something else. If I were queen of this world, men like Bill Clinton and John F. Kennedy would have no place in elected office. Yeah, I’m a liberal (obviously), but I’m not interested in Democratic leaders who don’t respect women.
This is why we need more women in power. Women comprise 50% of the population but hold few seats of power in the U.S., a country that’s supposedly a world leader. Sexist men are afraid of losing their power and that women will take over the world and treat men the way they’ve been treated. But that’s not how we do things. We want a just world where we’re treated as equals, where our words and contributions have value, where we feel safe and respected… where we share power with men, like equals.
Women: speak up about your experiences and step into your power. Guys: believe women and stop voting for and supporting the Biffs of the world.
Rant over. For now.