Judge Kavanaugh in the #MeToo Era
by Lindsey Abston Painter | 25 September 2018 |
My phone’s news notifications are all a-buzz this week about .Judge Brett Kavanaugh. Will he be confirmed as a Supreme Court Judge? Are the accusations against him by Dr. Christine Blasey Ford (and maybe others) true? And if they are, will it stop him from being confirmed? News stories followed by op ed pieces followed by more news stories. Late night comedians joke about it, while Twitter melts down in a litany of never-ending rage.
I am not debating whether Kavanaugh assaulted a woman (or several) when he was 17. I’ll leave that to the investigators and the many talking heads debating the subject. If you want a hot take, turn your television to literally any news channel and you’ll get your wish.
What I am interested in discussing is the reaction to Dr. Christine Blasey Ford and her account of her experience. Let’s take a critical look at the reactions we’ve heard when a woman accuses a famous man of assaulting her.
This experience will ruin his future
That could be true. Though when you think about it, men who have been accused of sexual assault are actually pretty successful. They are at the top tiers of Hollywood. One of them already sits on the Supreme Court. One of them is the president of the United States. Men who have been accused of sexual assault are lawyers and doctors and pastors and priests. Sometimes there are consequences for them. But most of the time they seem to do just fine.
But the question that follows this argument is: what about her future? Dr. Ford seems to have done well. What we don’t know is what kind of lasting harm an assault may have had on her. I don’t know her. But I know many women who have been assaulted. So do you. Everyone does, even if they don’t know it. I hear their stories. Some of them have PTSD. Some of them relive their trauma in dreams. Some of them have trouble forming trust in relationships.
And this affects her whole life. The woman who just quit her job. Never called back that editor. Didn’t get the promotion. Stayed quiet in that meeting. For every successful man whose career is in danger because of an accusation of sexual assault, there is at least one woman whose career never even got started. Or maybe it got started and just never progressed.
So what about her future? Even aside from the emotional consequences of assault, the consequences professionally are devastating, especially when the assault is workplace related. So “What about his future?” is the wrong question.
Is his future the only one that matters? The question should be, “What kind of future would she have had if he had showed her even the most basic of respect?”
It happened so long ago. Why should he be held accountable for something that happened when he was only 17?
This one keeps popping up in my twitter feed, and it’s a head scratcher. Young mothers are terrified that their sweet boys will make a mistake and ruin their entire future because of unreasonable #MeToo women.
Honestly, as adults we talk about a lot of things young people might be tempted to do that would ruin their futures forever. “Don’t drink and drive” we tell them. “Don’t get hooked on cigarettes.” “Don’t have sex, and if you’re going to have sex, use protection so you don’t get pregnant or get a disease” we tell them. “Don’t get a face tattoo.”
When we tell them these things, we add, “I know it doesn’t seem like a big deal now, but I promise you will live to regret it. Something terrible could happen. This mistake would haunt you for the rest of your life.”
Is it so bad that we instill a little fear about this, too? “Don’t assault a woman. Don’t put your hand over her mouth so she can’t scream. Don’t hold her down. Don’t take advantage of her when she’s drunk or incapacitated. I promise you that you will live to regret it.”
I, for one, as the mother of both a boy and a girl would be delighted to see a little healthy fear put into both my children that there will be dire consequences for them if they should choose to assault someone.
The consequences are dire for the victim of assault. Why shouldn’t they be dire for the perpetrator?
What man hasn’t done this a time or two when he was young?
This whimsical tune was sung by five women on CNN this week. And the implications to it are frankly staggering. All men have assaulted a woman at some point? You men reading this article: have you assaulted a woman? Are you not insulted?
You who make this argument: are you ready for this to be considered normal male behavior from now on?
Once again, as the mother of a boy and a girl, I have to protest. At no point will I be okay with my boy assaulting a woman. At no point will I be okay with my girl being assaulted as a normal part of growing up.
Can we please stop pretending that this behavior is normal? And if we discover that it is normal, can we be outraged about it? Can we take steps to solve the root problem and proclaim in our loudest voices that we will not stand for it any longer? Being violently overpowered for the gratification of a man is not something to be shrugged off.
Why didn’t she report it at the time?
I’ve seen men talk about how scary it is to be a man in the age of #MeToo. Let me clue you in here, men: it’s not a cake walk for us women either.
Sure, right now we’re gratified that our pain is finally getting some traction in popular culture. But it is also opening up old wounds. Women have shared with me that the denial, shame and blame of the woman that happens every time one of these famous cases hits the news reminds them of the shame and blame and denial they faced.
And that’s if they even reported their assault. Many of them never told anyone. As women we are expected to report our assault—but then are shamed and blamed for it.
We are expected to showcase our pain. “Pay attention!” the #MeToo movement screams. “We are sharing literally millions of stories of our pain.” But every woman’s tweet or status update on these painful topics is a public risk. We are showing you our wounds.
When we hear accusation that all we want is fame or money, or that we asked for it, or that we’re liars, or that our lasting, bleeding emotional wound might ruin our attacker’s future, how do you think that makes us feel? When we hear of the millions of rape kits left untested in police evidence—you think that makes us want to report?
Every woman who reports deserves a medal of bravery. And every woman who doesn’t report is protecting herself. She is doing what she feels she must do to survive.
What if these accusations are true?
If these accusations turn out to be true about Brett Kavanaugh, should he be drawn and quartered? Hung at dawn? Should he be stabbed in the back by all the women making the accusations? Or perhaps something involving honey and fire ants?
Or course not. But maybe—just maybe—we should think twice about appointing him to the highest court of the land.
If he has no other consequence other than that, he should consider himself lucky.
And, his punishment would serve as a cautionary example to lots of other young men about how to behave toward women. That could be a very good outcome.
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Lindsey Painter is a writer, teacher, and mother of two. She enjoys reading, playing with her cat, writing about feminism, and strawberry pie.