Yesterday, Dr. Christine Blasey Ford came forward with her story about Judge Brett Kavanaugh on the eve of a vote on his appointment to the United States Supreme Court. She says that he rubbed his body on her, groped her, and she thought that she might die until someone stopped Brett. In the #MeToo era, what does this mean?
Last November, Ronan Farrow wrote the explosive expose on Harvey Weinstein. The piece outlined the ways that Weinstein used his power and his money to silence the women who said raped or assaulted them in some way. This started a slew, to say the least, of stories from women and gender non-conforming people from all over the globe about their own assault, harassment, or microaggressions targeted at them. Just search the #MeToo hashtag on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram (P.S. #MeToo was started by a black woman, but it did not gain traction until it was co-opted by a white actress). When you search the hashtag, you’ll also find a plethora of misogynistic sentiment- not just keyboard warriors but also in the media.
What makes this situation so striking is the comparison being made between Kavanaugh and Justice Clarence Thomas in 1991, when Anita Hill, who recently called on the Senate to do better this time, came forward with her story about abuse from Thomas. It is different in many ways, notably that Thomas is black and likened the allegations against him to lynching in the media and in this current situation, the Senate is delaying the vote on Kavanaugh. The intersection of race and cis-heteronormative patriarchy is ever-present whether we are talking about the survivor or the perpetrator. Even in the #MeToo era, women are still vilified, questioned, discredited, and harassed – there is no benefit to women financially, socially, or politically to come forward so why do we treat it like there are benefits to come forward?
Here in New Mexico, we have had our #MeToo moments covered by a swath of male-run political blogs, both on the left and the right. And, right on cue, many of those news outlets started covering accusations of harassment, bullying, and assault in some of the same old horrendous ways (for a different perspective, check out Brava New Mexico, which was started because New Mexico cannot always trust men to see women as equals or write about women as equals without writing about diets or appearances). Here’s a quick update on where New Mexico is nearly a year after #MeToo:
- Senator Michael Padilla was pressured to drop out of the race for Lieutenant Governor when it came to light that he created and upheld a hostile work environment for his employees.
- Laura Bonar bravely came forward with her story about Representative Carl Trujillo sexually propositioning her then subsequently politically isolating her when she lobbied for animal rights.
- Former Democratic Party Chair, Richard Ellenberg, stepped down amid his comments that a survivor who came forward with her story about Jon Hendry, who has had more allegations against him this summer, from a union did not sound credible.
- Former Doña Ana County Commissioner John Vasquez stepped down after numerous women came forward with their stories of his unwanted verbal abuse and sexual advances.
And, just to be clear, let us not assume all survivors are women and all perpetrators are men; Terry Crews came forward about another man sexually assaulting him. Asia Argento, an actress, has been named as a perpetrator by a young man and she was one of Weinstein’s most vocal adversaries.
Dr. Ford’s story about Judge Kavanaugh is not just scary – it is downright deadly. The fact she felt like she might die is a thought that passes through nearly every person’s mind who is assaulted. Should Judge Kavanaugh be confirmed, it could be the difference between life and death, justice for a survivor and their community or nothing at all – his legal opinions on abortion, access to birth control and healthcare, and the status of Native American tribes and federal protections call into question his ability to be fair. He has already been accused of lying during his confirmation hearings under oath- what else could he use influence to do? What other communities could he have a direct hand in irreparably harming? When it comes to the Supreme Court, it is not just about the opinions and rulings a judge has made – it is about one’s character.
From the top to the bottom, #MeToo has shed light on what it means and what it costs anyone who comes forward. For women of every race, it means being discredited, work history poured through and analyzed, being harassed and threatened online and at home, the loss of income, and social isolation, to name a few. For women of color and LGBTQIA+ people, so much more is at stake.
As progressives, we have a duty to believe survivors and support them. We have a duty to create safe communities for not just women, LGBTQIA+, and children but also men to come forward with their stories without being called names or have their masculinity in question- it is because of hypermasculinity that sexual assault and bullying happen. This is how we build consent culture. We can always do better.