#MeToo versus the Senate

September 21, 2018

Nicole Colson reports on the backlash directed at a woman accusing a Supreme Court nominee of attempted rape — and what the reaction says about the political climate.

WILL THE U.S. Senate let another man with a history of sexual harassment or assault take a seat on the nation’s highest court? If Republicans get their way, the answer is yes.

If Judge Brett Kavanaugh is confirmed to be a U.S. Supreme Court justice, the percentage of known sexual harassers/assaulters on America’s highest court will jump to 22 percent.

We already know about Clarence Thomas — who was confirmed in 1991 after hearings that included disgusting smears and slanders against Anita Hill, who came forward to testify about how Thomas had sexually harassed her.

During the process, politicians of both parties attacked her credibility and painted her as a vengeful woman making up stories to victimize Thomas.

Today, with Dr. Christine Blasey Ford coming forward to accuse Kavanaugh of attempted rape at a party when she was 15 years old and he was 17, conservatives want to take a page out of the same playbook of attacks once used against Hill — and many other times before and since against women alleging sexual assault against men in positions of power.

Protesters stand up to Brett Kavanaugh during his Senate confirmation hearing
Protesters stand up to Brett Kavanaugh during his Senate confirmation hearing

Blasey says that Kavanaugh held her down, covered her mouth so she could not scream, and attempted to remove her clothing. She was able to escape when a friend and possible accomplice of Kavanaugh’s jumped on the two. “I thought he might inadvertently kill me,” the Washington Post quoted her as saying about Kavanaugh.

Blasey, who is now a professor and research psychologist, didn’t seek the intense scrutiny and character assassination that she is now being subjected to after revealing her identity in the Washington Post.

Her accusation was made public by the left-wing Intercept website after she had sent a letter to her congressional representative detailing Kavanaugh’s alleged actions. The representative then sent the letter to Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Conservatives had been celebrating an easy confirmation process for Kavanaugh and looking forward to the crowning victory in their strategy to stack the Supreme Court with enough reactionary justices to possibly overturn Roe. v. Wade.

That changed with the revelations from Blasey, and the right wing’s response was as predictable as it was sickening: claims that Blasey is a Democratic plant who’s making her story up; that Kavanaugh should be forgiven for attempted rape because he was only 17; that what Blasey remembers wasn’t really attempted rape at all, just some “horseplay.”

Right-wing media outlets like the Drudge Report outright lied, reporting multiple false rumors smearing Blasey.

The Groper-in-Chief — who famously bragged about grabbing women’s genitals and stands accused of assaulting multiple women — told reporters that it was “very hard to imagine that anything happened,” and later said the accusations against Kavanaugh were “very unfair.”

If some of the charges against Blasey and the excuses for Kavanaugh sound similar to those trotted out against Anita Hill, it’s because they fit a pattern — of institutional sexism used as a weapon against a woman coming forward to challenge a powerful man.

But there is one major difference: Kavanaugh isn’t being confirmed in 1991.

Despite the retrograde sexism still on display, today’s political and cultural landscape is different, largely thanks to the activism of women and others who have come forward, particularly in the past year, to shed light on the scope of sexual assault in our society and to demand justice for survivors.

More than a quarter century after Thomas was confirmed and Hill was pilloried, there has been a tremendous transformation in public consciousness over questions of sexual assault — especially in the past year as a result of the #MeToo and Time’s Up movements.

The courageous wave of women and others who have come forward to tell their stories and demand justice against often powerful abusers in Hollywood, at their workplaces, in schools and universities, and elsewhere has begun to reshape opinion and draw attention to how commonplace sexual assault and harassment are.

When Blasey’s accusation came to light, many women recognized themselves in her story. That the man she has accused could still become one of the most powerful judges in the nation — with the ability to shape laws for decades to come, including laws that govern a woman’s right to control her own body — made that recognition all the more important and urgent.

That’s a real threat to more than just one Supreme Court nominee, which is why the response of the right wing has been so frantic. Blasey’s e-mail has been hacked, her address was released by right-wing trolls, and she has had so many death threats that she and her family fled their home.

Meanwhile, Kavanaugh has remained at his home, with his wife handing out cupcakes to reporters.

KAVANAUGH IS strongly denying the accusations against him and hoping that “he said/she said” logic will be enough to allow his nomination to proceed.

But a window into his own thinking can be seen in his joke during a 2015 speech at the Catholic University’s Columbus School of Law. His high school’s motto was “Be men for others,” he noted, before adding, “But fortunately, we had a good saying that we’ve held firm to, to this day, as the dean was reminding me before the talk, which is, ‘What happens at Georgetown Prep, stays at Georgetown Prep.’”

He made a similar joke about his drunken partying in a Yale Law School speech in 2014.

And while Kavanaugh’s friend Mark Judge has denied the allegation that he was in the room when Kavanaugh committed sexual assault, he himself has a long history of despicable comments, including calling gay people “perverts” and promoting ridiculous, retrograde notions of sexuality that wouldn’t be out of place among the misogynist so-called “incels”:

Of course, a man must be able to read a woman’s signals, and it’s a good thing that feminism is teaching young men that no means no and yes means yes. But there’s also that ambiguous middle ground, where the woman seems interested and indicates, whether verbally or not, that the man needs to prove himself to her. And if that man is any kind of man, he’ll allow himself to feel the awesome power, the wonderful beauty, of uncontrollable male passion.

That’s Brett Kavanaugh’s friend talking.

Meanwhile, at least one former classmate of Kavanaugh’s and Judge’s at Georgetown Prep, Eric Ruyak, has said that Judge labelled him a pervert him for being gay after Ruyak came forward with accusations of sexual abuse by a priest.

According to Ruyak, Blasey’s story of the alleged assault “is one that I know was repeated dozens of times in my 4 years at Prep.” Another classmate, Cristina Miranda King, also says she remembers hearing the story discussed.

ANOTHER CHARGE against Blasey is that she didn’t come forward when the assault occurred.

Typical was conservative talk show host Tucker Carlson, who blamed the then-15-year-old Blasey for not going to the police: “It’s pretty straightforward. If you believe a crime has been committed against you, you report it. Go to the police. It’s not always easy, obviously, but it’s still your obligation as a citizen.”

This is exactly one of the main issues that the #MeToo moment has focused attention on: Survivors of sexual abuse and assault are often placed in a terrible, no-win situation.

If they come forward immediately, they are scrutinized, degraded and blamed for their choices for everything from what they wore to what they had to drink, from their sexual histories to whether they “allowed” themselves to be alone with their assailants or “led them on.”

As we’ve seen with several women who came forward to accuse powerful men like Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein of assault, standing up to an attacker can often derail careers.

But if women don’t come forward immediately — and remember, Blasey was just 15 when the incident took place — they are accused of fabricating stories after the fact to wage vendettas against innocent men or subjected to the kind of harassment and shaming Blasey is now experiencing.

Is it any wonder that many women choose to never come forward about sexual assault?

If Republicans have their way, Blasey will be forced to testify, opening up the possibility of the spectacle of old white men questioning a woman about a traumatic attempted rape.

Knowing that this might look bad, some Republicans are floating the idea of allowing Republican senators’ female staffers to question Blasey.

There’s even a proposal, backed by Maine Republican Sen. Susan Collins, to allow Kavanaugh’s lawyer to question Blasey during the hearings — literally putting the victim on trial.

Ultraviolet founder Shaunna Thomas called the idea “beyond shameful” in a statement. “This is not a trial. It is Brett Kavanaugh’s sexual assault hearing and a job interview for the highest court in the land, and the burden of proof is solely on Brett Kavanaugh,” she wrote.

If Blasey refuses to testify at the command of Republicans on Monday, there is a growing likelihood that GOP senators will push forward with a party line committee vote, and Kavanaugh’s nomination will proceed to a full Senate debate and vote.

The die would be cast — unless a groundswell of activism pressured enough senators like Collins to back down from confirming Kavanaugh.

FROM THE response in some corners, you would think that men — especially powerful, older, white men — are being systematically persecuted and punished by vengeful women.

As an unnamed White House lawyer told Politico, “If somebody can be brought down by accusations like this, then you, me, every man certainly should be worried.”

One can only hope.

Trump ally and conservative political operator Roger Stone declared, “This is a woman looking for her Anita Hill moment. This is her 15 minutes.”

It’s typical of reactionaries like Stone to forget that Anita Hill’s “moment” involved being smeared and slandered before a national media and television audience by some of the most powerful men in the country — from both the Republican and Democratic Parties, chief among them former Vice President Joe Biden. And Clarence Thomas was still confirmed to become a Supreme Court justice for life.

Then there was the media drumbeat about whether Kavanaugh could be held responsible for behavior when he was “just a kid” — a clear message that the trauma suffered by the 15-year-old Blasey was less important, and simultaneously one to young men that they can assault a woman and get away with it.

All this would be shocking if the double standard wasn’t so obvious. Those saying that Kavanaugh shouldn’t be held accountable for something that happened when he was in high school are frequently the same ones who advocate harsh prison sentences for Black teens. That includes Donald Trump, who once advocated the death penalty for the Central Park 5 — a group of Black and Latino young men who were all under the age of 17 when they were falsely accused of rape in 1989.

Meanwhile, Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley, the chairman of the Judiciary Committee where the Kavanaugh hearings are being held, managed to claim that the real victim in all this has been...him — because “very insensitive” journalists refer to the 84-year-old as the “aging” chairman of the committee.

As Lili Loofbourow commented at Slate:

It’s useful to have naked misogyny out in the open. It is now clear, and no exaggeration at all, that a significant percentage of men — most of them Republicans — believe that a guy’s right to a few minutes of “action” justifies causing people who happen to be women physical pain, lifelong trauma, or any combination of the two...

Their logic could not be more naked or more self-serving: Men should get to escape consequences for youthful “indiscretions” like assault, but women should not — especially if the consequence is a pregnancy. And this perspective extends 100 percent to the way they wish the legal system to work: Harms suffered by women do not rate consideration, much less punishment.

While the ugly response from conservatives — and the muted one from Democrats — might be all too predictable, there are millions of women and men who believe Christine Blasey Ford, often because they themselves suffered something similar.

Their outrage at the victim-blaming and the shaming of Blasey has already shaped public opinion, and it needs to be mobilized in whatever way possible to oppose the drive to put another sexual assaulter on the Supreme Court.

We should take a page from the #MeToo movement and declare that we believe Christine Blasey Ford now, we believed Anita Hill then — and we’ll fight like hell to keep Kavanaugh off the Court.

Further Reading

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