A tale of two testimonies

October 1, 2018

The contrast between how Brett Kavanaugh and Dr. Christine Blasey Ford were treated reveals a lot about how women are expected to act, writes Nicole Colson.

IT WAS a case of “she said, he yelled,” as Saturday Night Live put it.

Watching the Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearings of Brett Kavanaugh and the testimony of Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, who is now just one of several women who have accused him of sexual misconduct, the contrast in their demeanors could not have been more stark.

Blasey, who did not seek the spotlight, was expected to be, no matter what, the “perfect” victim — emotions in check and under control, with perfect memory and the precise words to convey a horrific experience as she was essentially put on trial, cast by many as part of a liberal plot to smear a good man’s name.

Dr. Christine Blasey Ford; Brett Kavanaugh
Dr. Christine Blasey Ford; Brett Kavanaugh

If Blasey had showed a fraction of seething anger and self-righteous indignation that Kavanaugh did — and Sen. Lindsey Graham as well, for that matter — she would have been condemned as hysterical and out of control, and doubt cast on her recounting of her assault by Kavanaugh. As Rebecca Traister noted in the New York Times:

[Blasey Ford] described a past sexual assault and the more recent media assault on her in excruciating and vulnerable detail, but did not yell, did not betray a hint of the fury she had every reason to feel as she was forced to put her pain on display for the nation.

That is how women have been told to behave when they are angry: to not let anyone know, and to joke and to be sweet and rational and vulnerable.

When asked by Rachel Mitchell — the prosecutor hired by Republicans to lead the inquisition of Ford because the GOP was obviously worried about the spectacle of 11 old white men doing it — about the experience of taking a polygraph test on the same day that she attended her grandmother’s funeral, Blasey replied, “I endured it...It was fine.”

“Endured” is a pretty good word to describe the Senate Judiciary hearing for Blasey. She was expected to endure it, no matter how degrading, stupid or useless the questions asked of her. Expected to endure, no matter the insincere platitudes from Republicans like committee Chair Chuck Grassley, who dimly understood that attacking the victim wouldn’t help him.

Expected to endure because she had the nerve to detail how a powerful man once assaulted her — and raise a question about whether he is fit for a job in which he will get to make decisions that impact the lives and bodies of tens of millions of women.

BRETT KAVANAUGH’S own endurance was...lacking, to put it mildly.

Kavanaugh took a page out of the Trump playbook: attack, attack, attack — and then claim that you are the real victim

Like when Kavanaugh was asked by Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar if he had experienced any alcoholic blackouts, and he asked Klobuchar with a sneer if she had experienced any herself.

Imagine, for one second, if Blasey had responded with the same snide sarcasm.

In between talking (again and again) about his fondness for beer, Kavanaugh angrily went through his accomplishments as the captain of his high school football team and his admission to a top law school.

No wonder so many media pundits — even those on the GOP-vision known as Fox News — were left shaking their heads in utter disbelief that Kavanaugh’s performance could be so very bad.

Kavanaugh wasn’t just unbelievable in the outrageous and obvious lies he told, he was deeply unlikeable, alternating between entitled rage and sniveling about how hard the process has been...for him.

Poor Brett thinks it’s terrible that his appalling behavior from so long ago has become an issue as part of a confirmation hearing for a lifetime appointment to the Supreme Court. And also, did you know, he has female friends and family members that he’s never assaulted? That proves the Democrats — and maybe George Soros too! — are out to get him.

Nor was Kavanaugh alone in his play-acted victimhood. Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham gave a master class in how it’s done, nearly foaming at the mouth.

“I know I am a single white male from South Carolina, and I am told I should shut up,” Graham said, addressing his colleagues. “I hope the American people can see through this sham...If you vote no, you’re legitimizing the most despicable thing I have seen in my time in politics.”

Graham also went out of his way to claim that Kavanaugh isn’t a “stumbling, bumbling drunk” or a real rapist like Bill Cosby.

Is it too much to wonder why Graham was so quick to invoke Cosby — whose well-deserved prison sentence for multiple rapes in no way precludes any crimes Kavanaugh might have committed back in high school or after.

Kavanaugh and Graham were both following the Trumpian model: When in doubt, deny, rage, downplay and then attack your accusers as partisan plants. As Rebecca Traister wrote:

Fury was a tool to be marshaled by men like Judge Kavanaugh and Senator Graham, in defense of their own claims to political, legal, public power. Fury was a weapon that had not been made available to the woman who had reason to question those claims.

What happened inside the room was an exceptionally clear distillation of who has historically been allowed to be angry on their own behalf, and who has not.

MILLIONS OF women — and men, too — watching the Kavanaugh hearings last week felt their own rage.

Not the rage of a petulant, entitled frat boy, or the anger of America’s dinosaur elder statesmen facing a hiccup in what they thought was a slam-dunk nomination.

In workplaces, schools and homes, you could feel the anger percolating as so many survivors recognized themselves in Christine Blasey Ford, who was essentially put on trial for daring to say that a man once tried to assault her.

Millions were moved by Blasey and sickened by Kavanaugh. And some are being moved literally in this moment — to protest and say “no more.”

Kavanaugh’s nomination has not been confirmed because Republican leaders agreed to a last-minute call by Republican Sen. Jeff Flake to have a limited FBI investigation into the allegations against Kavanaugh.

But Flake didn’t decide on his own to push for the investigation. Right before, he was confronted by two assault survivors, Ana Maria Archila and Maria Gallagher. Gallagher wept as she yelled at Flake:

I was sexually assaulted and nobody believed me. I didn’t tell anyone, and you’re telling all women that they don’t matter, that they should just stay quiet because if they tell you what happened to them, you are going to ignore them. That’s what happened to me, and that’s what you are telling all women in America — that they don’t matter.”

CNN reporter Suzanne Malveaux, who witnessed the exchange, wrote: “What I heard, and what the world would see live on CNN, was rage and pain. Pain on Flake’s face, and pain in the voices of the women who needed him to hear their stories.”

SUCH STORIES are becoming common — of survivors moved by the Kavanaugh hearings to tell what happened to them — some for the first time, some for the tenth or hundredth time — in an effort to make those in the corridors of power listen and understand the stakes.

Many more have come forward since the #MeToo movement began a year ago, demanding recognition of sexual assault and justice for its survivors.

The fact that they are speaking out, getting mad and talking about the need for change is a debt owed to the #MeToo movement, which has opened up space for survivors of sexual assault and their supporters to begin a larger conversation about sexism and violence against women.

As reporter Glenn Greenwald once said in a very different context, “Courage is contagious.”

The right will attempt to push back, as it already has, by trying to discredit survivors or by downplaying the seriousness of crimes with “boys will be boys” or “teenage roughhousing” explanations that shouldn’t “ruin a good man’s life.”

It was apparent in the sickening way Fox News’ Laura Ingraham and contributor Raymond Arroyo mocked Gallagher and Archilla on air after the women’s courageous confrontation of Flake.

“What are we teaching kids?” Arroyo asked. “Throw a temper tantrum, you get what you want.”

Ordinary people — especially women — should be throwing “temper tantrums,” as Arroyo calls it, in such demeaning, sexist language.

We are right to be angry. We are right to be loud. And right now, we have a chance to mobilize on our campuses and workplaces and communities, in the corridors of power and on the streets, to stop Kavanaugh’s appointment.

Being quiet and allowing the political process to proceed as normal will only get an anti-woman, attempted rapist on the Supreme Court.

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