In the aftermath of the Brett Kavanaugh confirmation, I feel like I can sense the collective pain of women swirling around me. This is a traumatic moment, but it is also an educational one. It has taken me some time, but I have found perspective and, yes – hope.
I think it’s really important to remember that we tested #MeToo in one of the most politicized moments in our nation’s history and the fight was over a Supreme Court seat. Mitch McConnell already broke this process in 2016 when he refused to hold a hearing for President Obama’s nominee, Merrick Garland. At the time, this breakage of the norm was unprecedented, and Democrats didn’t know how to push back. We still don’t. Now it’s 2018, and any sense of “normal” is long gone.
We can’t dismiss this context. If Kavanaugh had been nominated for a different powerful position, I believe that we might have won. We didn’t and it’s enraging and now we are stuck with Kavanaugh ruling over our bodies for a generation. The analogy writes itself.
Some Powerful Women Are Getting it Right
In searching for something to hold onto, I have watched videos of Democratic female elected officials speak about Kavanaugh and what strikes me most is their passion and their anger. More than almost any other political issue, apart from the internment of immigrant children, I can see fire in their eyes. They are finally expressing the solidarity and rage and understanding that I have wanted to see from powerful women since I was a teenager. They are not doing this because it is necessarily politically expedient — just ask Heidi Heitcamp. They are doing this because #MeToo is working.
Lessons from the Hearings
The Kavanaugh story reveals what I see as some of the necessary next steps for #MeToo. First, it highlights that we do not have a collective understanding about what trauma does to the brain. If we did, the story of Dr. Ford’s testimony would be a different one. Her gaps in memory would not be a reason to doubt her; they would be evidence of her trauma. To many Americans, though, this leads to one, simple conclusion: She’s lying.
This leads me to my second point. Though I have tried to insulate myself from the hate being spewed from the right, one thing I can’t let go of is the charge that Dr. Ford should have provided evidence to prove her accusations. On a very basic level, we need to understand that in most sexual assault and rape cases, there isn’t any evidence.
More importantly, though, Dr. Ford is the evidence. This is a truth that all survivors have to reckon with: Their bodies became a crime scene and their reaction to the trauma is the evidence. The symptoms are different for everyone, but it tells the story. My fears and triggers are specific to what has happened to me. Dr. Ford’s are, too.
In her questioning of Dr. Ford, Rachel Mitchell seemed to understand this. When she asked Dr. Ford about her fear of flying, she was recognizing that she has psychological damage as a result of what Kavanaugh did to her. By the end of that line of questioning, Dr. Ford testified that she flew to Washington for the hearing and that she has flown a lot in her life. The implication, and conclusion for many, was that this isn’t a real symptom of trauma. That conclusion is wrong. Everyday in a survivor’s life, there is a moment of overcoming a symptom. Dr. Ford flying to Washington to testify was just that. An overcoming.
This story also reveals that the onus for tearing down the oppression of sexual violence is still on the oppressed. Dr. Ford had to bare her soul in front of the entire country, the world, and relive the worst moment of her life. She said that the second most traumatic was that moment — when she had to testify about what happened to her.
This needs to change. Survivors should not be required to relive every violent detail of their violation for the correct course of action to take place.
Finally: White women. You believe that your proximity to white men serves you. It gives you more money. It gives you more safety. It gives more power. You also see your husbands and your sons in the eyes of Brett Kavanaugh. Here’s the thing, though. Most men are not predators. If you admit that Dr. Ford’s testimony was credible, you are not condemning your husband or your father or your son. You are condemning Brett Kavanaugh. Period. We need you in this fight.
This is a Bend in the Story
Kavanaugh didn’t ruin #MeToo. This is a really dark moment in what will be a generation-long fight. Remember that without the women who told their stories about Bill Cosby and Donald Trump and Harvey Weinstein, we wouldn’t have a Dr. Ford and a Brett Kavanaugh. We lost this one, and it hurts. A whole fucking lot. But we can ground ourselves in the fact that the majority of the country still believes us and thinks that what happened to us matters. Stay mad. Stay loud. Keep fighting.