Cover Image: Christine Blasey Ford, with lawyers Debra S. Katz (L) and Michael R. Bromwich. Photo: Melina Mara-Pool/Getty Images
Journalists and political analysts often remark that a partisan split drove the confirmation of Justice Brett Kavanaugh. Party loyalty seems to have been the driving force in the confirmation of Judge Kavanaugh, and most Senators voted in line with their own party, with the exceptions of Manchin and Murkowski. This almost exact partisan split reflects the politicization of Dr. Christine Blasey Ford and her testimony as a victim of sexual assault by Kavanaugh. Despite her claims that she did not testify on behalf of party politics, Congress and other analysts have made her testimony political in character.
Dr. Blasey Ford made public her accusations of Judge Kavanaugh without partisan motivation. She even directly addressed speculation that she came forward specifically for political reasons, saying in her opening statement:
“I have been accused of acting out of partisan political motives. Those who say that do not know me. I am a fiercely independent person and I am no one's pawn. My motivation in coming forward was to provide the facts about how Mr. Kavanaugh's actions have damaged my life, so that you can take that into serious consideration as you make your decision about how to proceed. It is not my responsibility to determine whether Mr. Kavanaugh deserves to sit on the Supreme Court. My responsibility is to tell the truth.”
Dr. Blasey Ford’s concerns for Kavanaugh’s fitness for the Supreme Court are justified. In order to pass the bar in any state, an applicant must list references of those who can endorse their character to the state bar. The judicial system in the US expects a standard of integrity in the professional and personal lives of even lawyers – let alone Supreme Court Justices. Since the purpose of Senate hearings is to gain information, and be “exploratory in nature” about the subjects of these hearings, her coming forward was, in her own words, her “civic duty.”
Nevertheless, many politicians interpreted her testimony as political in nature. Even Kavanaugh claimed that this “attack” was “revenge on the behalf of the Clintons.” Republican Senator Lindsey Graham passionately proclaimed, “to my Republican colleagues, if you vote no, you're legitimizing the most despicable thing I have seen in my time in politics." Political analysts make many assertions about how the hearings will affect midterm elections and even President Trump’s potential reelection in 2020. For example, political analysts are speculating that Kavanaugh’s confirmation could be the catalyst for voting many Republican congressmen out of office. This distracts from the strength of Dr. Blasey Ford’s coming forward, and undermines the very real issues of misogyny and male entitlement her story brings up.
Discourse on her testimony fails to address the issue of believing women. This moral issue should not be reduced to partisan motivations and should instead create a shift in cultural paradigms regarding women. It is time to begin listening to women’s stories, just as the #MeToo movement has already begun to encourage. Even though many conservatives are not denying that Dr. Blasey Ford was sexually assaulted, they claim that she was confused and mistook another attacker for Brett Kavanaugh. This has been referred to as the “mistaken identity” theory. Despite denying that they disbelieve Dr. Blasey Ford, conservatives are refuting the most important part of her testimony: the identification of Brett Kavanaugh as the attempted rapist. Memory science does support Dr. Blasey Ford’s ability to remember – or not remember – specific details from that night. Therefore, this denial of Ford’s assertion was created without any real evidence, other than Kavanaugh’s denial of the accusations. Conservatives in the Senate were attempting to protect Kavanaugh in light of Ford’s sincere and emotional testimony.
Dr. Blasey Ford has faced death threats after making her story public and speaking out against this injustice. She and her family moved from their home and even hired security. Still, she claims that this backlash is not the most damaging experience of her life; it is second only to the events that occured on the night she described in her testimony. Thus, many believing the claim that she is ruining Judge Kavanaugh’s life are willing to put Dr. Blasey Ford and her family in danger. These claims of character assassination are simply a distraction from Dr. Blasey Ford’s claims. If Senatorial Republicans were truly interested in clearing Kavanaugh’s name, they would have demanded an FBI investigation from the start. Instead, Senator Hatch referred to a potential investigation as an, “excuse to call for further delay.” Moreover, Trump only called for an investigation once a few key Republican Senators demanded one.
To many survivors of sexual assault, Dr. Blasey Ford is a hero: a symbol of resilience and female empowerment. To others, however, she is a politically-driven villain seeking revenge on behalf of her partisan beliefs. Perhaps the anger portrayed by both Kavanaugh’s testimony and Senator Graham’s comments illustrates the misogynistic foundations of this dispute. Democrats will likely use the support for Dr. Ford to mobilize voters, especially women. Republicans will continue to celebrate the additional conservative justice on the Supreme Court. Believing women has regrettably become a Republican/Democrat split.
Stop thinking about how the Senate hearings will mobilize voters. Start thinking about cultural views of women and how they have created a toxic environment for survivors of sexual assault. There should not have been doubt on whether or not Dr. Blasey Ford’s accusations necessitated an FBI investigation. The shortcomings of the investigation have brought no certainty about the actual events that occured on the night that Dr. Blasey Ford described. Women deserve to be taken seriously, especially when it comes to such sensitive and traumatic subjects. One in three women are victims of sexual assault at some point in their lifetime, and one in four women are victims of sexual assault before the age of 18. Few women come forward because they believe that sexual assault is a normal occurrence, or that they would face some sort of humiliation or social repercussions. In fact, the number of false reports are largely overestimated and psychologists have determined that people may not be “psychologically prepared” to accept how rampant sexual assault is in our society, and often find reasons to disbelieve victims. In order to fix this societal problem, people need to understand the reality of the prevalence of sexual assault. However, this can only occur if we examine societal assumptions about women and male entitlement and start a serious conversation about remedy this issue and prevent it from remaining such a common occurrence.
It is absolutely true that certain politics, typically those associated with the Democratic party, will benefit women’s issues more than others. Democrats are often more vocal about women’s issues such as prevention of and protections of violence against women and are committed to “confronting violence against women.” Nevertheless, sexual assault remains an internal problem amongst politicians of both parties, as many representatives of both parties have been accused of sexual misconduct. Therefore, policies about sexual assault and aid for victims only remedy the symptoms of a culture that allows predatory men to act without having to think about their actions or face repercussions — not the cause.
To many women, the issue of sexual misconduct is not a political conversation, but rather a fear that consumes their interactions with men in the workplace and in their social lives. This makes the midterms-centered rhetoric surrounding Dr. Blasey Ford somewhat unsettling to many women – particularly survivors. Perhaps the issue has already become too politicized and too many will see women’s issues as an agenda reserved for the Democrats. Nevertheless, the popular support that Dr. Christine Blasey Ford received in spite of threats against her has given many women hope for the future.