Another imaginary exercise: Imagine if Christine Blasey Ford would have come out yesterday not only trembling as she was, but yelling, her forehead in an angry furrow, her neck cords straining:
“This hearing is a SHAM! None of you Republican senators are interested in the truth!! You’re just going through the motions here so you can get to vote your man in and say you’ve given me a fair hearing. The behavior of several of you on this committee who have already made clear how you will vote is an embarrassment. But at least it was just a good old-fashioned attempt at keeping women down. We all know about that; it has a long and dismal history in this country. But I reject this entire charade, this revenge of the Trumps, fueled by millions of dollars in money from outside right-wing opposition groups. It is a national disgrace, but you won’t silence me. You may defeat me in the final vote, but you’ll never get me to quit. Never.”
And so on…and on…equaling in both length and emphatic, accusatory outrage the 5,251 words spoken yesterday by Brett Kavanaugh in his opening statement.
What would have been the reaction of the 11 male Republican senators who comprise the committee’s majority? And of the vast, not-so-silent minority of American voters who managed to put Donald Trump in the White House two years ago and thus paved the way for the elevation of, attempted rape allegation aside, a longtime right-wing apparatchik to the highest court in the land? I think the answer to that question is obvious.
“Shrill.” “Nutcase.” “Unhinged.” “Crazy.” “So emotional.” “Disturbed.” “Delusionary.” “Radical feminist.” “Overt political agenda.”
I don’t know what actually happened, or didn’t happen, in that upstairs bedroom Blasey Ford says she got pushed into some 36 yers ago. We have been presented with two radically conflicting accounts of “100 percent certainty.” The “truth” will likely never be “proven” to any legal standard.
The issue before us is that women are required, most emphatically in the public square at peril of their very careers but in the private sphere too, to hold or mute their fire and never, ever go ballistic as Kavanaugh did yesterday.
Considering what each witness stood to gain or lose from sharing their account in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee and the world yesterday, it seems incomprehensible that Blasey Ford was fabricating the entire incident out of whole cloth for the sole purpose of torpedoing a Supreme Court nominee whose politics she doesn’t agree with.
Exactly zero in her personal history or demeanor yesterday would suggest such a dark motive, and if she had pulled off such a feat, it would have entailed an acting performance far exceeding in quality the very best work of Meryl Streep and Sir Laurence Olivier combined.
But the question of guilt or innocence aside, perhaps the most striking feature, because it so depressingly represents the same ol’ same ol’, is the radically divergent demeanor of the two protagonists who raised their right hand to tell the “whole truth and nothing but the truth” yesterday, and what those respective demeanors tell us about gender roles and oppressions in today’s world.
Blasey Ford: soft-spoken, struggling, apologetic, wondering if she was being “helpful” enough in answering her interlocutors. One could even use the word “meek,” though that belies the quiet dignity with which she asserted her certainty of what she claimed did happen while also admitting her uncertainty or simple unremembrance of many of the details surrounding that memory.
Kavanaugh: outraged, bellowing, dismissive, sneering and bellicose in his first minutes, then struggling, his voice breaking, momentarily weeping, before resuming his combativeness in the questioning that followed his opening statement.
“Senator, what do YOU like to drink?” he retorted to Rhode Island Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse in response to a question about Kavanaugh’s high school drinking habits.
“You’re asking about — blackout? I don’t know, have you?” That was his response to a similar question from Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota.
Once again: Imagine.
Imagine Blasey Ford addressing Republican senators in similar fashion.
But of course, it is unimaginable, because women in the public sphere—and still all too frequently in the private one as well—are simply not allowed to be as hostile and aggressive as Kavanaugh was (and Clarence Thomas before him, and Robert Bork before him…) throughout yesterday’s tortuous, emotionally exhausting hearing.
The simple truth is that women who yell and bluster and come on like Kavanaugh did yesterday, no matter what they have been accused of and what their past accomplishments might have been, would last about two minutes in public life before being dismissed as overly emotional nutcases.
Men, on the other hand, use such behavior to show their strength and fitness for important jobs like Supreme Court Justice.
I want to explore this, too: I became a big fan of Senator Klobuchar yesterday. Gentle, even-tempered, polite, dignified but resolute and persistent, trying to get to the bottom of things. So very midwestern.
And I found myself recoiling a bit from the far more aggressive postures of both Kamala Harris and Mazie Hirono. Their minds so much more made up, acting and sounding like prosecutors rather than listeners at a “hearing.”
But then I wonder: Is that just more built-in male antipathy to “aggressive” women who are simply tired of being under the male yolk and are just not in the mood to take it anymore and play “nice?”
After all, they might say: Look how Kavanaugh unleashed yesterday, abjuring “niceness” and any semblance of “judicial demeanor” with a slashing partisan attack that was applauded all the way by none other than the president and virtually every Republican legislator and voter who was watching.
And to the question, “Well how would YOU feel if you were falsely accused of something so horrible; wouldn’t you lash out, too?” one could fathom an answer from Harris and Hirona times the millions of women they finally get to represent: “How would YOU feel (I am borrowing from reader Jeanette Millard’s comment on last week’s post) if you had been:
“…raped, molested, mauled, murdered, groped, grabbed, gagged. dragged, burned, hit, cut, scarred, mutilated—without ANY recourse for MOST OF HISTORY. Men have done what they wanted to women at all levels of society, and not only gotten away with it—but *bragged* about it (as we saw from our current national leader, with the Access Hollywood tape, not so long ago).
Perhaps if I had been one of those women Jeanette references, I would sound far more like Harris and Hirono than Klobuchar, I don’t know.
But then I also think: I just don’t much cotton to aggressive, sharp-worded people in general, male or female, so maybe it’s not a gender thing with me, but simply a non-gendered sensibility thing. Not sure.
All of us have the capacity, when pushed, for sharp, wounding words, but by cultivating patience and restraint (in other words: Klobuchar’s midwestern politeness), we learn the virtues of respectful dialogue, civility, and even empathy.
The issue before us, however, is that women are required, most emphatically in the public square at peril of their very careers but in the private sphere too, to hold or mute their fire and never, ever go ballistic as Kavanaugh did yesterday.
If any woman had dared to sound one-tenth as vitriolic as Kavanaugh did, standing up on his hind legs and letting out a dominant male roar that looks likely to land him on the famously non-partisan, above-the-fray (and if you believe that, I know this bridge…) Supreme Court, she’d have immediately lost any respect she may have earned from her entire professional life beforehand.
And if she had been in the docket for a Supreme Court seat, observers from the other side of the aisle would have been twirling their fingers at their temples in that “”Whoa, crazy woman!” gesture we are all familiar with.
Men can yell, women must plead and cajole.
Men can overpower, women must seduce. (And run, if the overpowering one aggresses toward them in unwanted fashion).
That chasm—between what males and females are respectively allowed in their expressions of concern, frustration, anger, desperation, desire, rebellion, and would-be dominance—was in some ways the most troubling feature of yesterday’s hearing. It revealed yet again, in the starkest, and now historically far-reaching terms as Brett Kavanaugh, He Who Roared, prepares to assume his rare privilege of a lifetime appointment to the Supreme Court, what a long, long way we still have to go.
One can only hope that the way is being paved for future generation(s)…
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I so agree about what is acceptable in male and female public (and private) expression. I winced to hear Ford and Kavanaugh occupy the two poles of tolerable language. He was over the top, and it does—or should—throw his candidacy into question. She, in turn, was almost meek, as you say; desperate to please, I have seen others write.
There was another element, though: she’s a scientist. As such, you do not or should not overstate your findings, but always hedge them somewhat. Causation is never absolute. So when Dr. Ford described the experience as having “contributed to” her PTSD, the prosecutor (coming from the black/white legal mindset) pounced: were there undisclosed experiences that could be blamed? Dr. Ford parsed it carefully—meekly, if you will. There could by myriad variables—age, genetics, unknowns—that could probably also make one vulnerable to PTSD, she claimed. For a scientist, that would be the responsible claim.
I was fascinated to see, again and again, that she pulled back from the most sensational (and possibly effective) characterization of what had happened to her. Her caution made her doubly credible to me. She said she was afraid when BK put his hand over her mouth that he might accidentally kill her. The word “accidentally” amazed and touched me. She did not attribute intention to him. She was tormented by the memory of the two young men laughing hilariously, but resisted when she was encouraged to say that they were laughing *at* her. They were, according to her, just laughing, enjoying themselves.
Elsewhere, I have described her as a minimalist when it came to her testimony. Observers have called her “guileless,” because she seemed not to react to the prosecutor’s innuendos. Maybe so. But I also saw a mind at home in the sciences, where you shouldn’t overplay your research, you cite your references, and are ready for the next finding to challenge your results.
Thanks, as always for sharing your thoughts, Andrew.
Julie Johnson, Durham, NC
Acute observations, Julie. She was like no other “witness” I had ever heard—at least in this kind of setting. I got the sense her careful word choice and making certain she understood the questions wasn’t the usual political gamesmanship (of the kind Kavanaugh displayed earlier in his hearings) but just fundamental to who she is; she wouldn’t know any other way to do it. And that adverb “accidentally”—such odd usage in that sentence, given the violence of the act. I’m so glad you mentioned it. One certainly wouldn’t think of it in the middle of the encounter—”He’s gonna kill me!” is what the adrenaline would be pumping out—but in the light of later analysis and review, for her to parse it that way was, indeed, touching, if a bit strange. Thanks for bringing these matters to light!
So well spoken, Drew! Thanks for putting into word and articulating so well the sentiments–anger, frustration, disillusionment, you name it–that so many of us are feeling right now. Keep writing :-)
Recognizing as you wrote “the chasm” between how men and women express emotion, Dr. Richard McNally, Director of Clinical Training at Harvard’s psychology department, commented yesterday on the veracity of Dr. Ford’s testimony. The focus of his three-decade research has been how adults recall memories of childhood sexual abuse. He stated that misidentification of an abuser almost never occurs when the abuser was previously known to the victim. He felt that Christine Ford’s quiet but certain identification that her abuser was Brett Kavanaugh left little room for error. He added further that memories of the trauma’s periphery (how she got home, etc.) are usually cloudy due to the overwhelming horror of the abuse itself. Nevertheless, I feel Kavanaugh may likely be our next Supreme Court justice. One week is a short investigative window, and 36 years isn’t last weekend. Actually, Drew, prior to Flake’s demand, I was personally more depressed about this hearing than I was Trump’s victory. Flake’s strand at least provided a little ray of hope that our country can pull out of this deadly state of partisanship. Problem is he’s gone in January.
Susan, thanks so much, I’m gonna try!
Robert, I too maintain only slim hope that Kavanaugh will be derailed on his way to the position he seems to think, in all his irateness, is his birthright. But we have at least inched into “AnythingCanHappenLand” now, which is further along than we were a few days ago, so we shall see! The more I digest that quite amazing and unsettling hearing the other day, the more convinced I have become that the man is either lying through his teeth (or through that angry furrowed brow!), or simply—and this is a possibility, I think—was drunk enough and/or didn’t care about enough Blasey Ford that night for the event even to register in his long-term memory. I feel like a followup to all this would be along the lines of “Top 10 Reasons Why Kavanaugh Obviously Did It,” a prime one being that remarkable, nasty anger he unleashed on people who were tasked with questioning him. Mean streak, much? His revealing that part of himself—which accords with various peers’ reports from the time of him being a “mean drunk”—was profoundly unsettling to me. It made me fear his future decisions being heavily influenced by his feelings of victimhood and the resultant aggression he unleashed on a huge swath of country the other day who are decidedly not aligned either with his views or his now very public persona. Wow!
Barack Obama’s election seemed proof at the time that we were about to enter a more post-racial America. A culminating event of the Civil Rights Movement. But almost 10 years hence the country seems as racially divided as ever. Trump’s election showed that Newtonian law applies to politics and social science as well as physics. For every action, there is a equal and opposite reaction. The last several years of #metoo was a hopeful sign we could enter a period of reckoning and atonement for the wrongs women have suffered due to gender inequality. But that beast is not going to die any easier than racial prejudice. Things always seem most difficult, challenging, and dangerous at a transition point. I’m afraid the Kavanaugh hearings are just a sign of some very difficult times ahead.
Dennis, I tend to agree with you. In many ways this feels to me like a backlash to progress made in racial and gender equality over the years. People get defensive when they feel like they are losing ground and that turns to anger. To me, the outrage and yelling at the hearing seemed staged and scripted. It was playing to the base of Trump supporters who respond well to the emotion and certainty of that approach. I think that lots of people feel scared that the old order is showing cracks.
My consolation is that real change is painful, and both sides (in different ways) are experiencing that pain now.
Dennis & Joan, I read somewhere that Kavanaugh’s intended audience consisted of one person—the president—both to ensure that Trump would stay with him and to then have Trump help fire up the base on his behalf. May have been effective for that purpose, but at almost incalculable damage to Kavanaugh’s reputation and to what is left of the integrity and dignity of the court now that one of its members (assuming he is confirmed) has been seen, in probably the most visible public way imaginable, acting like a petulant, mean-spirited, raving madman. God help us if he is confirmed, and, I am almost afraid to say, God help us if he isn’t…
I am in the same camp as Dennis and Joan. This backlash to #MeToo has just begun. Now we have Don Jr. saying he holds more fear for his sons than his daughters. Those who support moving our country way back in time and attitudes will raise up strongly and loudly. As an aside (of sorts), would anyone even consider hiring a person demonstrating Kavanaugh’s attitude and demeanor, irrespective of whether he is guilty or not guilty? Matt Damon nailed it on SNL. This is an angry and dangerous man.
Such turbulent, game-changing times, Jay; the cultural ferment & roiling seem on a par with the ’60s, with all its antiwar & racial conflicts. Now #MeToo, cutting across racial lines and at least to a degree, gender lines as well. So times are different, too, and Lord knows where this will turn out in both the short and long run. Do we finally bend the arc toward justice and accountability, our better angels ascending, or descend into angry camps, torching all the territory between us? One thing I do know is that as much as I loathe the president, I don’t want to live and think in anger like some crazed Fox News opinionator & conspiracy-monger. On that path lies madness! (Of all types…)
I too am working daily on curbing my anger and being ever vigilant in not devolving into an ideologue in my own right. While serving as a College President I was often vilified by the left and the right (many times simultaneously), which kept me pretty well centered in terms of recognizing the radical ends coming at me, and needing to make some semblance of peace and appearance of balance to both extreme sides. Now, as an older, retired guy, I must pay heed to not becoming an angry old guy steeped in an ideological fraternity of like-minded codgers!
Jay, I am liking the sound, at least, of “Ideological Fraternity of Like-Minded Codgers.” A group that maybe meets at McDonald’s every Tuesday morning for cheap coffee & kvetching about the state of things. Only thing is it’s going to be very hard to fit it on a hat or T-shirt!
To say that Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court nomination raises more questions than it answers would be an understatement; here we go!
• Who is telling the truth–Christine Ford or Brett Kavanaugh?
• Will there be hard evidence proving the allegation one way or another?
• Is Matt Damon a Democrat?
• Did Kavanaugh lie to Congress or merely omit embarrassing details?
• Was he aware before his exchange with Sen. Klobuchar that her father was an alcoholic?
• Should Kavanaugh send his “calendar” to the Smithsonian?
• Can any FBI investigation be thoroughly completed in less than a week?
• When Kavanaugh got into that barroom brawl, was his partner in crime Jack Daniel’s or Jim Beam?
• Will Flake, Collins, and Murkowski support the nomination even if they feel Kavanaugh is flawed?
• Is Kavanaugh a privileged, spoiled, prep school brat?
• Is Rachel Mitchell really an attorney?
• Do Dems oppose Kavanaugh because they just hate Trump?
• Should hero worshipping a 46% free thrower (Dudley) be an automatic disqualifier?
• Why do Republicans want to ram rod this nomination?
• Did Ford, Ramirez, or Swetnick all vote for Trump?
• Is 293 days too long a time to postpone a vote on a Presidential nomination?
• Why doesn’t the White House just withdraw his name?
• Considering all his baggage, should Samsonite put Kavanaugh on their board of directors?
• Was Kavanaugh a virgin at Yale?
• Given the fact that Kavanaugh’s Catholic, is it time to perform “last rites”?
• If he was a wide receiver in high school, did his team ever win a game?
• Why are there no Republican women on the judicial committee?
• Has “advise and consent” become a bad joke?
• Will Nike replace its “I like Mike” slogan with “I like Beer”?
• Is Jeff Flake a hero or a traitor?
• Is Christine Ford a “fear of flying” feminist?
• Will 22% of our Supreme Court have justices accused of sexual misconduct?
• Can Kavanaugh be an impartial justice after unleashing an attack on fellow Eli’s Hillary and Bill?
• Does Kavanaugh legally prefer the rhythm method over birth control?