The Irony of Brett Kavanaugh's #MeToo Moment | Opinion

An allegation of sexual assault has rocked the already contentious confirmation hearing of Donald Trump’s Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh. Palo Alto University professor Christine Blasey Ford says she was a high school student when Kavanaugh pinned her to a bed and tried to force himself on her in front of one of his friends at a party in the 1980s. Kavanaugh has described the allegations as “completely false.”

Since the accusation became public, it has been suggested that it should be taken into account when assessing Kavanaugh’s fitness for the Supreme Court. But many people have cast doubt on the allegation, sought to undermine Blasey Ford’s credibility, or suggested that the historic nature of the case renders it irrelevant to the current proceedings.

In the wake of the #MeToo movement and the context of the current highly-charged atmosphere surrounding sexual assault allegations, it is perhaps unsurprising that many have tried to use this case to attack the very notion of women speaking out about their experiences.

One lawyer close to the White House suggested to Politico that the allegations should be seen as a threat to all men, saying: “If somebody can be brought down by accusations like this, then you, me, every man certainly should be worried. We can all be accused of something.” 

Some commentators have sought to undermine the allegations by describing them as “horseplay” or “stupid, bad or drunken behaviour.” 

Others have openly argued that committing such offences in high school shouldn’t “deny [men] chances later in life.” 

Wall Street Journal editorial entitled “The #MeToo Kavanaugh Ambush” claims that “a story this old and unprovable can’t be allowed to delay a Supreme Court confirmation vote.”

The editorial takes a number of angles of attack, suggesting that it is impossible to discover the full facts of a historic allegation, describing Blasey Ford’s decision to come forward as a “calculated political ambush” and suggesting that she may well have forgotten or misremembered the facts. It also issues a veiled threat to GOP Senators, warning them that “the political cost of defeating Mr. Kavanaugh will likely include the loss of the Senate.”

But the notion that we should simply not bother trying to investigate an allegation because it is difficult to find evidence seems particularly ironic in the context of the appointment of a judge to the highest court in the country. Surely in this case, above all others, the pursuit of justice and truth should the the utmost priority?

But, of course, women’s historic experiences of abuse are not a priority. This is what so many recent comments and think pieces have implied. Why should a woman’s negative experience decades ago be allowed to ruin a poor man’s life today? She might be confused or outright lying anyway, some argue. The smooth running of proceedings is more important.

This is what women have been told for decades. We’re sorry these things happen, but they are not the priority. We’re sorry this man has been caught on a microphone discussing grabbing women “by the pussy,” but should it really stand in the way of his ascent to the presidency? Rest assured, we take these things seriously, just not that seriously.

Is it any wonder that Kavanaugh has received immediate support from President Trump himself? Trump told a news conference: “I feel so badly for him. This is not a man who deserves this."

GettyImages-1027118304 Supreme Court nominee Judge Brett Kavanaugh answers questions during the second day of his confirmation hearing on Capitol Hill September 5, 2018 in Washington, D.C. Win McNamee/Getty Images

All this is subtly hinted at by the language the Wall Street Journal editorial uses to describe the allegations, from the description of a “drunken assault” and the euphemistic term “pawed her,” to the patronising assertion that Blasey Ford “believes the story she is telling,” while it suggests she is likely to be misremembering facts. Then there’s language like the “#MeToo political furies” and the “ambush” of the title, suggesting a mob of deranged and vindictive women.

The idea that women who speak out about sexual assault are politically or financially motivated, which has been used again and again to attack and discredit #MeToo stories, betrays a shocking lack of understanding of the impact of sexual violence. The shame and silencing that surrounds it. The sheer courage it takes to speak out. The terror of the backlash that will follow. And the ways in which some women have found the strength to speak only after witnessing the bravery of others, or reaching a point at which they felt the stakes were so high that the wider responsibility outweighed the personal cost.

All these reasons, which help to explain the length of time elapsed between some assaults and the survivors’ testimonies, have been weaponized and turned against women to undermine their credibility based on the timing of their accusations. Indeed, since coming forward with her story, Blasey Ford has experienced so much harassment, including death threats, that she and her family have been forced to move out of their home.

There is also a breathtaking lack of understanding about perpetrators betrayed by arguments like that of the Wall Street Journal editorial, which cooly states with no evidence that: “Every #MeToo miscreant is a repeat offender.” It goes on to use this ‘fact’ to defend Kavanaugh, on the basis that [this kind of] “behavior manifested nowhere else in his life.” Yet this kind of defence would stand up in no other kind of crime. A man does not try to prove his innocence of a murder charge by producing a list of 65 people willing to testify that he did not kill them. But once again, women’s stories are simply not considered reliable enough. Not unless somebody else says the same thing.

This argument would be a lot more convincing if it seemed to have a moral position, rather than throwing a bunch of different arguments at the case in the hope that one might stick. Any argument about the legal intricacies of determining proof in a historic case is utterly undermined by the subsequent warning about the potential political impact of a Kavanaugh defeat. This is either a matter of what is right, or a political fight. It can’t be both.

For women, whose lives, reproductive rights and freedoms might be substantially impacted by Kavanaugh’s appointment, this nonchalant willingness to dismiss our experiences for the sake of procedural ease and political expediency is devastating.

Laura Bates is the founder of the Everyday Sexism Project. On Twitter @everydaysexism.

The views expressed in this article are the author's own.​

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