Identity / all

[Opinion] The Power of a Woman’s Voice and Other Lessons I Missed in High School: A Reflection on the Kavanaugh Hearings

by share

The rundown:

In July, President Trump nominated Judge Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court to fill the space left by Justice Anthony Kennedy. Twenty-one days later, a psychology professor from California, Christine Blasey Ford, Ph.D., wrote a letter to a democrat on the judiciary committee in charge of deciding whether the nominee was good to pass through to a full Senate vote.

Ford’s letter claimed that Kavanaugh had sexually assaulted her in high school. Ford requested that her identity be kept anonymous. The senator who got the letter, Dianne Feinstein, forwarded it to the FBI, but they said they couldn’t do anything because there’s a statute of limitations for rape. (That means a certain amount of years after you committed a crime, you can no longer get prosecuted for it — like, usually you can’t get arrested at 53 for something you did when you were 17).

But then, in September, the Washington Post published an interview with Dr. Ford. A couple of other women also came out with allegations of sexual assault at the hands of Kavanaugh.

Last Thursday, Ford and Kavanaugh both testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee. They told radically different stories about what Kavanaugh was like in high school. There was an outpouring of support for Ford on GoFundMe, through women calling in to C-SPAN, and those posting to social media with the hashtag #WhyIDidn’tReport. But she’s also getting death threats.

Friday afternoon, the committee voted along party lines, as predicted, pushing through Kavanaugh’s nomination to a full Senate vote, which is the final step before sitting on the Supreme Court. Activists flooded the streets outside the Supreme Court in protest, including two sexual assault survivors who confronted Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Arizona) in an elevator, in tears, to say, “You’re telling me that my assault doesn’t matter.” Moments later, Flake (R-Arizona) said if they did not delay the full senate vote for a week so the FBI can investigate the claims against Kavanaugh, he would not vote for confirmation when it comes to the full Senate.

That’s the latest. But you should totally also read this article that runs through a  “timeline of allegations.”

My take:

When I was 15 and a junior in high school, I didn’t say much. It’s not that I was stupid — because if there’s anything I can claim in life, it’s that I’m really smart. And it’s not that I didn’t like people — I adored anyone who had the tenacity to speak more than two words per hour. It’s just that my shell, which encompassed me and a couple of friends, was a safe space away from the real social consequences of drawing attention to oneself, and I simply didn’t respond well to high school’s cliquey and forced atmosphere.

You can probably guess that the teachers adored me. Every other day, someone was saying something about how the most beautiful quality for a woman in my religion is shyness.

I would have challenged the claim if I weren’t so scared of speaking above a whisper.

Why is shyness beautiful in a girl in particular? I would have demanded.

And don’t you know how much is at stake?

One out of every six women has been the victim of an attempted or completed rape in her lifetime, according to RAINN. As a woman between ages 16 and 19, I am four times more likely than the general population to fall victim to rape, attempted rape or sexual assault, but my disabled and transgender peers have it far worse.

That fact alone gets me furious — furious that when I’m walking through Peachtree Center in downtown Atlanta alone and a grown man wants to shake my hand and tell me I’m beautiful, I have to ask myself: Is this how it happens? I am furious that when I get a note in my windshield saying “thanks for parking like a f-cking asshole,” I have to spend the rest of the day wondering if that violent language could become physical.

We are living in a country where out of 1000 rapes that happen, 994 perpetrators walk free. So even if a survivor has the courage to speak out and spend sometimes years reliving her trauma in the courtroom, success is not guaranteed.

But then Thursday I watched a California psychology professor stand in the flames, voice shaking, eyes closed in serenity, hand on a man’s bible, before the people who would get to decide the value of her truth, and all the fury I have held for powerful men who think they can do whatever they want with a woman’s body came bubbling up to the surface.

One of the senators on the judiciary committee called Ford “attractive” and “pleasing.” Another called it a sham. Yet another was downright embarrassed. I saw Kavanaugh’s personality change on a dime when he was challenged, and I recognized in him every abusive man I’ve come across in my life whose charming facade melted into unjustified rage. Kavanaugh and those who stand with him through it all hope to send the same message: How dare you? How dare you challenge my white male privilege? I deserve this. Shut the hell up.

Kavanaugh and his supporters know this is so much bigger than the story of one drunk young man and his friend pinning down a young woman and trying to rape her in the summer of 1982. This is the story of every man who ever made the mistake of thinking that a woman’s body was his possession. This is the story of every woman in high school who has ever been told that quiet is beautiful. It’s the story of anyone who ever told a survivor “he was only 17,” or “why did you wait so long?”

It’s bigger than the story of a couple of survivors confronting a man in a position of power in an elevator in tears to say, why do I not matter to you? I matter. It’s everyone who speaks up against rape and rape culture. And make no mistake: Whether Kavanaugh makes it to the highest system of justice in the United States is going to set a precedent one way or the other.

I believe survivors, and my personal experience of living as a young woman in a culture where rape exists as a systematic weapon of power and control is all the evidence I need. I know in my gut that Ford would not put her sanity, reputation, and life on the line unless it were true. I also know it’s reported that only 2 to 8 percent of sexual assault accusations turn out to be false.

I am brimming with fury and I won’t — can’t — be quiet about it.

Friday, we got a week for the FBI to investigate, and it’s not enough, but it’s something.

Today, we shut it down.

So man, woman, non-binary folk, teenager, republican, democrat, whatever— for the love of God, get angry. Get furious. Get enraged. Speak.

Ford refused to be silenced. We saw Thursday that a woman’s voice can reverberate around the world, change our government’s systems, and enable so many other survivors to shout their stories out loud.

I stand with you, Dr. Ford. All the way.

Maya, 18, gets down on her knees every night and prays that you will ask her how to register to vote.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *