Coverage of the Judicial Committee hearings provided a window into the critical differences between “acceptable” expressions for men and women. More than that, it ignited countless discussions on inherent social power and the pervasiveness of sexual assault. Men everywhere were suddenly confronted by the magnitude of women in their circles who are survivors.
Angry outbursts and indignant rage were on full display by older white men; behaviors that are available to them and later described as ‘impassioned’. These spectacles are used to intimidate and prevent others from having an equal voice. They are not available to women, people of color, or other marginalized populations. When these groups display anger or refuse to be silenced, they are framed as ’hysterical’ and of questionable stability. Dangerous.
If you have any questions about entitlement and privilege, it was demonstrated in Judge Kavanaugh’s opening statement. She is/they are trying to ruin me. Look what you did to me. Look what you made me do. I am not answerable to you. You are answerable to me.
The telling smile on Kavanaugh’s face during Senator Graham’s angry outburst; an act of solidarity between two members of the protected class. He is safe because they have the power.
Dr. Ford stayed composed and focused because she had to in order to be heard. The credibility of a woman’s message is evaluated on how closely she aligns to an acceptable range of behaviors. Slamming fists, belligerence, and thinly contained rage all discredit women as volatile. Vindictive. Scorned. Not to be trusted.
When a woman is attempting to exert power, stop her by shaming her expression as a loss of control. She’s lying.
Our motives are questioned, as are our memories and lived experiences. Women are assigned responsibility for the violence committed against women’s bodies. Biases prevent women from being listened to and believed. Reported incidents go unreviewed. Cases that are investigated somehow manage to be explained away without charges.
Then the inevitable question arises: Why didn’t she report it (sooner, differently, the first time)?
The “why” question is a deflection.
To ask “why?” shifts the burden of justification to the survivor. The answers:
- Because they were in shock.
- Because they had no resources.
- Because culturally, we’ve conditioned them to believe it was their fault.
- Because women and girls are socialized to be polite. Don’t make a scene. Don’t impose on others or cause trouble.
- Because women are conditioned to question ourselves and internalize responsibility for other people’s actions against us.
- Because . . . shut up.
Ultimately, they don’t care why the survivor didn’t report; they want to ensure that future survivors are too afraid to report. They want to delegitimize each reason one by one, while ignoring thousands of untested rape kits.
Survivors have experienced a horrific trauma; they owe you nothing, least of which justifications for their decisions in coping.
You become ‘that girl who was raped’. This is how people refer to you. Forever.
Dr. Ford demonstrated tremendous courage and integrity to come forward. Sharing her experience on a national stage, while remaining calm and focused, is strength beyond what I can imagine.
The unfortunate reality is that if Dr. Ford were a person of color who worked at Home Depot, we wouldn’t even be talking about this case. Being white, upper class, and an established professional changed the lens through which people evaluated her story. Nonetheless, she was vilified, called a political pawn, and either “mixed up” or a liar. All for the audacity of speaking her truth again and again. Without shouting vitriol, and without the incredible anger that is well justified, given what she has lived through.
While survivors are struggling to heal—to reintegrate their lives, bodies, and identities—they are also called to account for how the events may have impacted others. Futures of the accused are now uncertain, because a survivor reported their attacker. How could you ruin his life like that? Are you sure?
Earlier this year, during the investigation of multiple sexual assaults committed by a physician at a training facility, media coverage speculated how the families of these female athletes must feel. Directly or indirectly, expressions like these apply shame and guilt to the women who were exploited.
Intrusive thoughts of “how could I have prevented this happening to me?” now extend to somehow failing their families. She should have told someone – now she did and look how her family suffers. These are diametrically opposed expectations, none of which at lost to future survivors who will be less likely to report.
The social alternatives are to stay away out of fear or resign ourselves to the probability of violent sexual assault. Women unequivocally reject both options. We have a right to be here. We are the ones who aren’t going away.
What’s your take on what you just read? Comment below or write a response and submit to us your own point of view or reaction here at the red box, below, which links to our submissions portal.
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