When I first heard about the accusations being levied against Brett Kavanaugh I wasn’t shocked.
I wish I were.
I wish a Supreme Court nominee being accused of sexual assault was surprising.
I wish that I were shaken by the fact that he was being defended by the GOP.
But I’m jaded. This is just another Wednesday. Just another abuser in a position of power defended by other abusers in positions of power.
Throughout this whole ordeal the phrase “those who don’t learn from history are doomed to repeat it” has been playing on repeat in my mind. This happened before with Justice Clarence Thomas and Anita Hill, in 1991, and it is happening again, now. In both instances the outcome was the same: the abuser wins.
Anita Hill was humiliated during questioning as she was forced to repeat the embarrassing details of her encounters with Justice Thomas. She was asked mortifying questions and had multiple witnesses to back up her statements. She never wavered in her responses and refused to back down. Despite it all, Judge Thomas was confirmed and women everywhere were implicitly told that a man’s career, safety, and dignity—his life in general, is more important than theirs.
The Supreme Court is the highest court in the United States and its members hold a tremendous amount of power. Every single one of them should be beyond reproach. Yet we have two men accused of sexual misconduct and abuse sitting at the heart of the American justice system.
Unexpectedly, while watching Kavanaugh’s opening remarks at the hearings, I almost felt bad for him. He spoke of his family and his friends and the toll this “media circus” is having on his life and his career. But I very quickly reminded myself: he is not the victim here. He is finally being forced to confront his past and face the consequences of his actions. Being held responsible does not make him or his family victims. Dr. Ford is the victim. And we owe her a tremendous debt for coming forward. Her life has been turned upside down. She’s been the target of harassment, death threats, and her family has been forced to leave their home.
She knew this would happen. In cases of sexual assault, victims are often attacked for standing up for themselves. Their lives and reputations are often torn apart. She even told the committee that she was terrified, but she felt that it was her civic duty to come forward.
Despite the harassment she has been experiencing she sat before the Senate committee and was the perfect picture of grace under pressure. She spoke eloquently and credibly. Brett Kavanaugh, on the other hand, did not. During his opening remarks he cried, and, at various points throughout his speech, became visibly angry. He was aggressive when being questioned and often chose to dodge questions rather than answer them. Senator Lindsey Graham became enraged and raised his voice to defend Kavanaugh. Had Dr. Ford, or any woman for that matter, acted in such a manner she would have been painted as “over-emotional,” “not credible,” or “crazy”.
For Dr. Ford, it was a catch-22. Had she cried, or shown any hint of distress she would have been deemed “unstable.” Since she did her best to hold her emotions in check she is being called a liar by Kavanaugh’s defenders.
There was no way for her to win in this situation and the hypocrisy is astounding. Kavanaugh was belligerent and yet he now gets to sit on the Supreme Court, a position that requires one to be tolerant and even-tempered. Ford actually was even-tempered, and this composure got her nowhere. She was treated unfairly and did not get the justice she deserves.
What’s even scarier is that Kavanaugh’s confirmation continued to be pushed and was eventually passed. Not because the senators don’t believe Dr. Ford, some of them said they did, but because they just didn’t care. To them, credible accusations of sexual assault are not vile enough to disqualify someone from being on the Supreme Court. And once again the message that was sent in 1991 is being sent to girls and women throughout America: A man’s career is more important than your safety.
But what’s done is done. Kavanaugh gets to sit on the Supreme Court for the next thirty-plus years and make important decisions that will affect the lives of women everywhere. As much as I wish I could go back in time and somehow change what happened we need to move forward. This doesn’t have to be the status quo. We don’t have to accept his behavior as normal. We don’t have to let our elected officials suppress the role they played in this, as they will inevitably try to pass off his confirmation as normal or okay. We know it isn’t. So we will work towards change in any way we can. Whether it’s through voting, marching, writing, protest, or education. We will do whatever we can to make sure abusers don’t stay in power.
We might be jaded. But we still have the power to effect change.