What was it all for? Dr. Blasey Ford and the fight for our truths
After thousands of phone calls were made to senators, dozens of activists arrested for civil disobedience, and countless tears were shed, Brett Kavanaugh, a man accused of sexual assault, was appointed to the Supreme Court of the United States on October 6. Despite the havoc wreaked on the psyches of countless women across the country who witnessed the treatment to which Dr. Christine Blasey Ford was subjected in order to tell her truth, Kavanaugh was not defeated. So, we cannot help but ask: What was it all for?
By telling her #MeToo truth, Dr. Blasey never stood to personally gain anything from this process in the first place, nor was her decision to speak out tied to a partisan political agenda. In fact, the professor stood to lose quite a lot, and in many ways she has. She received “unending” death threats that prompted her and her husband to plan a “second front door” installation in their home as a preventative protective measure — a home that Dr. Blasey Ford was forced to flee due to threats and still has not felt comfortable returning to.
When Dr. Blasey told her story about her perpetrator, who happened to be nominated for the Supreme Court, survivors worldwide related to a woman forced to tell her story not necessarily out of personal desire, but out of obligation — out of the hope that doing so will inspire others to come forward and that strength in numbers will lead to progress. And survivors ultimately also related to the sacrifices Dr. Blasey Ford made — of sleep, sanity, and even safety — to defend her truth to those who would rather not hear it, only for those sacrifices, and that truth, to be taken for granted and even ignored.
Kavanaugh, on the other hand, risked only a job he wanted and perhaps some reputation points should he lose the nomination. It became clear during his testimony that Kavanaugh’s sense of entitlement to both of these things, no matter the accusations at hand, were of utmost importance to him. Kavanaugh repeated how the “evil” characterizations of his character — based on the credible accusations of Dr. Blasey Ford, not complete myth, by the way — could impede his personal life. “Thanks to what some of you on this side of the committee have unleashed, I may never be able to coach [his daughter’s basketball team] again,” Kavanaugh said during his testimony. Most people would agree losing a hobby hardly compares to the enduring trauma of being a sexual assault survivor, especially one who has come forward so publicly.
But beyond the meaning of these events for the individuals directly involved, this process was meant to ensure that a judge nominated for the Supreme Court was fit for and worthy of the high honor. In reality, most senators seemed more concerned with protecting a seat responsible for determining the Supreme Court’s dominant ideological makeup than they were with the potential justice himself. This battle of petty partisan politics, however, was never evenly matched; the conservative Senate had the advantage of numbers, and with it the overwhelming power to appoint a conservative judge no matter the outcome of Kavanaugh’s nomination specifically. Now, Democrats are being blamed for attempted political sabotage by trying to fight for the seat — even if that “fight” merely involved believing a survivor.
And in the end, party allegiance proved to matter above all else, trumping several senators’ faith in Dr. Blasey Ford’s story. Senator Susan Collins (R - Maine), who sat on the judiciary committee responsible for deciding whether or not to advance Kavanaugh’s nomination to a full-Senate vote, played a decisive role in the now-justice’s confirmation. In remarks made before casting her vote in the committee, Collins said that while she found Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s testimony credible, Kavanaugh’s “forceful denial” ultimately swayed the senator in his favor. Collins cited the “politically charged atmosphere surrounding this nomination” as a reason for moving forward to appoint Kavanaugh, and was congratulated by Lara Trump for standing up to the left-wing “mob.” In other words, in this case the best way to fight against “politically charged atmosphere,” was to cling to comfortable political allegiances. All female Republican senators, except Senator Lisa Murkowski (R - Alaska), fell in line with this stance and confirmed Kavanaugh’s nomination.
For all of the complaints about political correctness in our era, therefore, recent events have proven that we have a long way to go to before the rights, and even humanity, of marginalized individuals are recognized, let alone prioritized. The default reaction of our nation’s leaders to claims of sexual assault was not to trust the accuser, but to believe the accused, to grab his hand and raise it high for the whole world to see. Dr. Blasey Ford even predicted this outcome in August, when she first called her congressional representative about Kavanaugh. Nervous about coming forward, she feared that it wouldn’t matter in the end whether or not she said anything. Eventually, her name was leaked to the public, and she was forced to come forward with her story; it was stolen from her, and our Senate still elected Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court.
In the aftermath of these events, therefore, it may not seem like Dr. Blasey Ford’s actions mattered. But they did, and seeing that requires looking at the big picture. It mattered when Anita Hill came forward against her attacker, Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. The number of sexual harassment reports increased exponentially in the late 1990s, the years after Anita Hill’s testimony. Hill also received harassment and mistreatment by the public, but she also contributed to a heightened awareness of what constitutes sexual harassment. And Hill, like Dr. Blasey Ford, was supported by many; 1,600 African-American women famously took out ads in the New York Times to show their support. After Hill’s testimony, the rage women felt over her treatment mobilized women to run for office, and a record number of women — at the time, four — won Senate seats.
Dr. Blasey Ford’s story mattered to the huge number of survivors who called hotlines to share their stories to organizations like RAINN, the US’s largest anti-sexual assault nonprofit, during her testimony; one volunteer counselor reported “queues higher than I’ve ever seen.” Dr. Christine Blasey Ford and Brett Kavanaugh’s testimonies have also sparked those who feel impacted by them to become even more politically engaged — like the women in a San Francisco church who went around the room after Sunday worship to address their own status(es) as survivors.
The stories of the silenced matter, even when the outcome of sharing them are not necessarily concrete. Perhaps Dr. Blasey Ford’s ordeal was a necessary part of a greater process of achieving progress: After all, our patriarchal culture went from flatly not believing Anita Hill to at least believing Dr. Blasey Ford was attacked (albeit not by the man she said she was “100%” positive did so). This may seem like a small step, but it indicates that those in power are running out of options when it comes to silencing us; our truths are catching up to them. Dr. Blasey Ford sparred like her life depended on it, because so many of our lives did depend on it. Now we must jump into the ring with her. Our fight, our stories, matter because who knows what will ultimately shift our country towards justice?
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