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Voices / Column

We are speaking up, crying out, and refusing to be silenced

The sham, the shame, and the real purpose of the Kavanaugh hearings

Elayne Clift (elayne-clift.com) writes about women, politics and social justice issues.

Saxtons River

In the end, it wasn’t what “she said, he said.” It was what she did, what he did.

She gave moving, credible testimony. He rambled and raged.

She was composed and coherent. He was defiant and disrespectful.

She was polite and dignified. He was rude and belligerent.

She was calm. He dissembled, putting to rest the myth of female hysteria.

She was quietly self-assured. He threw a self-pitying, tearful tantrum.

She told the truth. He lied.

* * *

The world watched as Dr. Christine Blasey Ford told her riveting and difficult story with grace and courage. Then it watched, cringing, as Judge Brett Kavanaugh stumbled his way to self-aggrandizement and entitlement, unleashing a dangerous temper unsuited to service on the Supreme Court.

They witnessed a Senate Judiciary Committee in shambles as Republican members, all white men, reprised behavior familiar from the vile verbiage visited upon Anita Hill in 1991, including by two senators who served on the committee when she testified.

The contrast between the morning hearings when Ford gave her difficult opening statement and the afternoon when Kavanaugh simpered his Trumpian opening remarks couldn’t have been starker.

The morning was civil and respectful. The female prosecutor hired to ask Republicans’ questions, while interrogating Ford as if it were a trial, said nothing overtly offensive.

Later, the civility ended when Republican committee members reverted to form, Senator Lindsay Graham spewing invectives at his Democratic colleagues while exonerating Kavanaugh.

It was then that the prosecutor, who’d been assigned to ask Republicans’ questions, disappeared — fired midstream when she asked something Republicans found dangerous.

* * *

Could anything make clearer what Republican men on the committee think of women? Could they have treated Ford, Senator Dianne Feinstein, or the prosecutor with more contempt?

What was happening as we watched the fiasco? What is the real issue?

It’s sexism. Misogyny. Male privilege and male sense of entitlement.

It’s the patriarchal power struggle grounded in robbing women of agency, autonomy — even over their own bodies — and a place in the public square. And it’s gone on forever.

Aristophanes understood that in 411 BC when he wrote Lysistrata, a play about women using their sexual power to stop war.

Susan B. Anthony and the women at the 1848 Seneca Falls Convention faced it when they fought for women’s suffrage.

Contemporary women recognized it in 1991 when Anita Hill was trashed.

We know it now as we continue to fight for ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment and the right to privacy and decision-making in our reproductive lives.

* * *

We live in a culture where male privilege and power are embedded, entrenched in every sector of society, from corporations and churches to academia, entertainment and news organizations, sports, science, and medicine.

It’s a culture in which we females are admonished to nurture and ensure the comfort of males, while at the same time we are reminded to protect ourselves from the uncontrollable sexual excesses of males because they can’t help themselves and can’t take responsibility for their behavior.

We are taught to be good girls who dress properly, who remain abstinent and restrained, who never go anywhere alone — not even the bathroom. We are trained to be silent.

When women found the courage to tell Sigmund Freud about their sexual abuse, he labeled their stories fantasies. Anita Hill was told that, too.

That’s why women don’t tell their stories. “No one will believe me,” they say.

* * *

Now that’s changing. In the last month, calls to sexual-abuse hotlines have spiked by 200 percent. Friends are telling friends. Wives are telling husbands and partners. Girls are telling parents.

And women like Ana Maria Archilla and Maria Gallagher, the two brave women who demanded that Senator Jeff Flake look at them when they were talking to him, are putting politicians on notice: We are not going to be invisible or quiet or silent any longer. We matter!

As Rebecca Traister wrote in a New York Times editorial, and as poet Audre Lorde, feminist writer Carolyn Heilbrun, and activists like Tarana Burke, founder of the Me Too Movement, recognize, what has been denied to women until now is anger and expressions of anger.

That stops now.

We are speaking up, crying out, and refusing to be silenced any longer.

* * *

So, as I write this commentary, a cursory, controlled FBI investigation aimed at appeasement is occurring. What will then happen as a result of the outcome of that investigation will carry deep significance for our political future.

But it doesn’t match the importance of what is happening in our culture as we make change and see it coming, however slowly.

It is coming because of courageous women like Anita Hill, Christine Blasey Ford, Ana Maria Archilla, Maria Gallagher, and the multitudes of others who will not be silent anymore in the face of violence perpetrated against them.

We will no longer defer to malicious men. We will no longer suffer political rape symbolized by the cry to “plow through” uttered by men in power.

We will fight with everything we’ve got until men are crawling, kicking and screaming toward seeing, hearing, believing, and respecting women.

It begins with three simple words: “I believe her.”

And: “Thank you, Christine.”

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Originally published in The Commons issue #479 (Wednesday, October 3, 2018). This story appeared on page F1.

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