On 27 September, many American women watched Christine Blasey Ford recount her vivid memories of her alleged sexual assault by Brett Kavanaugh to the white, male-dominated, Republican-controlled judiciary committee in the US Senate. Later that afternoon, Kavanaugh asserted his innocence, through outbursts of anger, tears of rageful indignity, and vituperative attacks on Democratic members. The circus taught American women of all demographics an important lesson: Our bodies, our lives, and our dignity will not stand in the way of the aspirations of the powerful men who harm us or the men who protect them.
For Indian women, in the midst of their own struggle against sexual harassment by powerful men, the lessons may be important. The outcome was a foregone conclusion. Republican men signaled before, during and after Ford’s testimony, that the truth was irrelevant. Republican Orin Hatch (a senator from Utah) opined that even if the allegations of a foiled rape attempt were true “I think it would be hard for senators to not consider who the judge is today.” He then asked and answered a rhetorical question: “Is this judge a really good man? And he is. And by any measure he is.”
Mitch McConnell, the Republican majority leader in the Senate, whose anti-democratic efforts to stack the US judiciary with partisan apparatchiks is now legendary, repeatedly said Kavanaugh will be confirmed no matter what.
As the November 2018 mid-term elections near, Republicans wanted to avoid the image of white men attacking a victim of assault. They outsourced their constitutional duty in the hearing by hiring Rachel Mitchell, a female prosecutor specialising in sex crimes from Maricopa County, Arizona to question Ford in effort to poke holes in her story. The optics of a special prosecutor of sexual predators interrogating Ford was jolting. They abandoned using Mitchell to question Kavanaugh and opted instead to make indignant speeches about the horrors besetting Kavanaugh and his family.
The charade taught us that a man’s word will always trump those of a woman no matter how credible we are, and how credible our accounts are. Ford, after all cleared a polygraph exam and called for an FBI investigation. Kavanaugh repeatedly refused to be similarly accommodating, which is odd if he were innocent as he alleged.
Before, during and after her testimony, the chorus of rape-shamers began heaping their opprobrium upon Ford and attributing her coming forward as evidence of a deep, Left-wing conspiracy to undermine the judge. (I wish half of those conspiracies were true because it would suggest a degree of efficacy I’ve never seen in the pusillanimous Democratic Party.) Many questioned her delay in reporting the attack, even though she reported it to her health-care provider in 2012. To other women out there hiding their attacks in shame, this was yet another lesson: You come forward and name your assailant at your own peril. You—not your attacker—will be blamed for myriad, maddening reasons.
But for me, the most rage-making aspect of this spectacle was the constant reassertion of the privilege of elite masculinity. Kavanaugh made frequent references to his tenure at Yale when questioned. (former president Bill Clinton also went to Yale and is notorious for exploiting his positions of power to extract sex from subordinate women.) Kavanaugh referred to the elite circle of preparatory school students in which he socialised. We learned of his excessive, under-age drinking and country-club escapades. We also saw him cry, stammer, engage in fits of rage when questioned. Men can behave in any way they want without consequence, even when seeking to be a justice on the United States Supreme Court. While women must discipline our bodies and our voice, no such requirements are placed upon men.
What became terribly clear was that the Republican Party had thrown its weight behind a man who dissembled repeatedly, refused to answer simple questions, and became combative when questioned. His noxious behaviour rendered him ill-suited to be a reality television judge. Surely the Republicans could have found another judge who would advance their agenda of stacking the court to roll back the rights of women, minorities and LGBTQI while expanding the voice of big business in American politics who is not accused of being a serial sexual assailant? (since Ford came forward, two other women made similar claims about Kavanaugh.)
I suspect that the reason for the intransigence of Republican men defending this indefensible man is simple: What was on trial was not the veracity of Ford’s claims; rather the inherent male privileges that women like Ford and others in the #MeToo movement are fighting to destabilise. And for that these men in power will fight until the end.
For women, the path forward is clear. White men are only 30 percent of the United States and yet they dominate federal and local offices. We need to stop voting for men thinking that they will serve our interests. They will not. Progressive women need to run for office. They are fighting for their privileges they did nothing to earn. We are fighting for our lives. And to paraphrase Midy Aponte, if they won’t give us a seat at the table, then we are going to bring our own chair.
This originally appeared in First Post on 18 October.