Look at Us

October 3rd, 2018

Content Warning(s): Sexual assault, survivors not being believed.

When Christine Blasey Ford testified to the US Senate Committee about Brett Kavanaugh, the prosecutor who the Republicans hired to question her seemed to want to know if she had been coached, advised what to say or how to say it.

I have no doubt that she was.

Because as a woman whose private pain and trauma was being exposed to the world, her lawyers would have been remiss in their duty if they didn't give her advice. She was probably told to be straightforward and to the point. To only answer the question asked, without getting off-topic. Look at the people asking the questions. And it's highly likely she was told to try to achieve some "Goldilocks" level of emotion while she spoke.

If she was too emotional, she'd be accused of being hysterical.

Not emotional enough, she'd be accused of lying about the whole thing.

Even before she began her opening statement, social media was flooded with both support and condemnation. As soon as she opened her mouth, sure enough, people (who had already made up their minds) said she wasn't credible because her voice was too "soft" or too "childlike" or because she was crying too much, not enough, because she cracked a smile, because she seemed scared, because she seemed calm.

It didn't matter that her story never changed—no matter how many times the prosecutor classifed her clarifications as "corrections." It didn't matter that she had a background in science that allowed her to explain exactly why she could remember certain things (their laughter haunted her) but not others (how exactly she got home that day). She answered every question posed to her to the best of her ability. She spoke clearly and plainly. She was maybe one of the best witnesses anyone could ask for. It didn't matter.

But it struck a chord with so many of us. The woman who knows the deck is stacked against her but came to speak anyway. The survivor doing her best to present her story in a way that would get people to listen, who apologized repeatedly, who promised she could "read fast," who tried to be "helpful." The person being browbeaten and re-traumatized because they knew it was the right thing to do. We had never met Blasey Ford before, but we knew her. She was our sibling. Our friend. Our coworker. She was us.

Then Kavanaugh arrived to speak. And we knew him, too.

We recognized the pattern of behavior that Jennifer J. Freyd coined "DARVO" - Deny, Attack, Reverse Victim and Offender. Denials would be expected of the innocent as well as the guilty trying to avoid punishment, but Kavanaugh didn't just deny the accusation; from his opening statement, he went off on a clearly partisan rant claiming Blasey Ford was part of a vast liberal conspiracy to keep him off the bench. He became rude and belligerent whenever the Democratic Senators had the floor, refusing to provide answers and turning questions back around on those asking them. He portrayed himself as a victim, a poor, innocent man whose life was being ruined by accusations that were a "joke," even as he blatantly lied about everything from his drinking to sexual terms in his yearbook.

Blasey Ford said that she was terrified, that she feared she was "jumping in front of train that was headed to where it was headed anyway," and she may very well be right. Because ultimately, the divide in this country isn't between men and women, or liberals and conservatives, but between those people who had already made up their minds and those of us who are willing to adapt our beliefs based on evidence.

If the situation had been reversed, if Kavanaugh had been upset but calm, answering all queries given to him, while Blasey Ford had been shouting and challenging Senators and evading questions, lying repeatedly, even the most liberal feminist among us would have questioned what exactly was going on. And if witnesses continued to come out corroborating what he had said and invalidating what she had said, we would have turned on her as a traitor. One of the very, very small number of false accusers who make it harder for the rest of us.

It didn't matter what Kavanaugh said in that hearing. It was a dog and pony show that the Senators put on to give the illusion of legitimacy. It was only thanks to Maria Gallagher and Ana Maria Archila, the brave activists who confronted Jeff Flake in an elevator, and Chris Coons, who played some role in talking Flake into agreeing to an FBI investigation, that we even have this reprieve. And that may all be for naught.

Because there are some very angry Old White Men who think it's time to put us uppity women in our place. Because there are those in the patriarchy who fear equality knowing how they've treated those beneath them. Because those who felt they had a right to use women however they wanted are afraid it's going to come back and haunt them like the memories and dreams that haunt their victims.

When Kavanaugh spoke, we heard the words of our abusers, harassers, and rapists. We flinched. We cried. We went numb. We screamed.

Regardless of what happens (there is no cloture vote as of the time of this posting), those in power who seek to deny us our rights need to know that we will never, ever stop screaming. Not until true strides are made for equality, for justice.

As Maria Gallagher said, look at me.

Look at us.


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