Christine Blasey Ford & the #MeToo Movement (An Update)

Maia Baker ‘19, Opinion Writer

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 In the first week of Brett Kavanaugh’s time on the Supreme Court, it’s time to examine the Kavanaugh case for what it is: a representation of #MeToo movement’s potential power.

Three women have accused Brett Kavanaugh of sexually assaulting them. The first, Christine Blasey Ford, a research psychologist and psychology professor, testified for the Senate Judiciary Committee last week. I am not only comfortable believing Christine Blasey Ford; I am also comfortable calling for Kavanaugh’s impeachment or resignation. We are at a crossroads and it’s time, finally, to do the right thing.

For centuries, we lived in a world where white men could do almost literally anything to women. Think of Napoleon’s Civil Code of 1804, which established that a man who found his wife with her lover in the conjugal house could legally kill both wife and lover without consequence; the law wasn’t repealed until 1975. Think of how many men have been exposed in #MeToo. Think of the statistics: between 1989 and today, Sandra Newman reports that only 52 men convicted of rape have later been exonerated because of false accusations – out of over 300,000 estimated cases of rape every year in those 29 years (US Department of Justice). We know, from countless studies, that rape accusations are overwhelmingly not falsified. With #MeToo, women and people everywhere are speaking and we are beginning to learn how to hear them. With the Kavanaugh hearings and confirmation, we should take this lesson to heart. If we have learned anything from #MeToo, from the thousands of people who’ve spoken about their experiences, we must apply this knowledge to the case of Brett Kavanaugh and Christine Blasey Ford. We must understand Ford’s testimony as a human experience narrated under extreme pressure not to speak, and we must understand Kavanaugh’s response as that of a man whose fury and fear resulted from the possibility that his speech, life history, and privilege would not automatically overrule those of his accuser. We are watching #MeToo play out in real time. A woman has spoken against a man with all kinds of power – upper-class; Ivy League-educated; wealthy; white. She has spoken in the face of massive pressure not to do so and frightening consequences for having done so – exhaustive public scrutiny, negative press, death threats. Reactions to her words represent more than an individual reaction to this particular case; when we react to Christine Blasey Ford, that reaction manifests our beliefs about women, about whether or not we believe women should speak and whether or not we think men should be held accountable and punished for their actions.But let’s not forget: in calling for the withdrawal of Kavanaugh’s nomination and now his resignation, we’re not actually talking about punishment. We’re not talking about a criminal conviction, a sentence, jail time. We are talking about not being appointed to the highest court in the country. That isn’t a punishment: that is what happens when the candidate doesn’t fulfill an exacting set of requirements, meant to ensure that the people who do end up on the bench are the best people for the job. We are talking about the possibility that Brett Kavanaugh does not belong on the Supreme Court, based not only on the strong possibility that he has assaulted women and thereby shown a lack of understanding of other humans’ rights, but the actual fact of his furious, evasive, and turbulent testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee. A person with so little composure and emotional stability does not belong on a court whose decisions have huge influence on laws, policies, and the country. Your life isn’t ruined if you don’t get a job you applied for, and not getting hired isn’t a punishment. By discrediting or disbelieving Christine Blasey Ford before the confirmation, Kavanaugh’s supporters imply that the possibility of this hypothetical future job outweighed both the statements in Ford’s testimony and Kavanaugh’s own behavior, meaning that this mere possibility eclipsed any value of Ford’s story and the recorded fact of Kavanaugh’s inappropriate testimony.In other words, by choosing to disbelieve Christine Blasey Ford and support Kavanaugh, those skeptics reinforced an insidious cultural pattern that devalues women and nonbinary people and their voices while privileging men and the power structures that perpetuate abuse. This case isn’t just this case: this is #MeToo happening before our very eyes, and we can choose to believe women and nonbinary people, to hear them, to support and succor and strengthen them – or we can fail to do all those things and let the damaging power of men like Kavanaugh reign uncontested.

I am aware that of those reading this article, I’m likely to convince only those readers who already agree with me. The Kavanaugh confirmation was inflammatory and divisive, especially along partisan lines. But foundationally, I don’t believe that #MeToo, sexual assault, or rape allegations are partisan issues. What we are talking about when we talk about Christine Blasey Ford is whether we can transcend partisan squabbling and accept the fact that women are human, that people who are not men should speak. I believe that Brett Kavanaugh should never have been confirmed to the Supreme Court because he has demonstrated an inability to respond civilly or maturely to a divisive issue. But I also believe that Christine Blasey Ford deserves our attention, our support, and our trust: she has done nothing to forego those rights. We know better than to dismiss a woman simply for speaking out; we all need to know better than to accept less than we should. We do not have to accept a man like Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court. In the sense of this case as representative of #MeToo, potentially constitutive of how we value testimony and voice, if we are setting a standard through this case, let it be one where women count as fully human.

In Rebecca Solnit’s words, in a cultural reckoning like this one, some men will not get to maintain their power over everyone else; some men will even be punished; and some men will not get to stay on the Supreme Court. And I am happy to look those men in the eye.

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