I have felt really hollow this week.
Listening to the discourse on Christine Blasey Ford and Brett Kavanaugh has affected me in ways I didn’t really anticipate. I feel at my wits end. And not even a year into this administration, I am starting to feel hopeless. Truly, tiringly hopeless. And I’m exhausted.
I’m exhausted by the familiar tinge each of these stories bring up, all these women telling stories of high school horrors that they were told to accept as inconsequential indiscretions.
Exhausted by the way men rise up in indignation to say “he was just a boy,” “you’re destroying his good name,” “you can’t ruin his life over this.”
I’m so exhausted of women’s feelings coming last. Women’s stories coming last. Support and belief and empathy for women always coming last.
I’m exhausted by women discounting these stories as not enough, not important. It’s infuriating to not only combat men but to have my own gender think “Well, it’s not like it’s actual rape.” “She didn’t tell anyone.” “Why would such a little thing affect her so long?”
I am lucky. Lucky that I’ve never had a story like that of my own. But I’m so monumentally sad for my friends and family and strangers and women and boys who carry these stories in silence, who feel so trapped by this language we’ve perpetuated:
Boys will be boys.
Oh, the thought exhausts me. Because it’s not just that Kavanaugh stands to be on the highest court for a lifetime appointment. It’s not just the stories of Dr. Ford or Julie Swetnick or Deborah Ramirez.
It’s the boys club rallying behind Kavanaugh, championing his good name while ignoring hers.
I’m so tired. I’m so sad. I’m so hurt and bothered and angry and frustrated and exhausted.
Have I mentioned I’m exhausted?
So many conversations derailed by “not all men.” So many thoughts interrupted by “well, actually.” So many people shouting about due process and innocent-until-proven-guilty and yet not willing to believe her innocence, to support her process. So many blase and infuriated remarks on “Why did she wait this long?” “What is she so mad about?” “This is obviously a liberal attack.” So many tweets from the President and congressmen who don’t even pretend to hide their biases.
And so many women screaming on the sidelines to be heard and never being enough.
I have had so many conversations about toxic masculinity, catcalling, gendered power dynamics. I have talked so often of rape culture and victim blaming. I have tried so hard to educate people in my tiny reach, my little circle, to just believe women. And yet we’re watching this perfect storm play out on a national stand and the ugliness is seeping out.
Women around the country wept as they listened to Dr. Ford’s testimony because it was so familiar. Even though I’ve never been in such a situation, it was still one that was immediately tangible to me. Knowing what we teach boys — that they are good; that they are entitled to things; that they are sexual creatures that cannot be helped, not when there are girls asking for it even when they’re not saying anything at all, even when they’re saying no — and knowing how we silence girls — always saying, “oh, he doesn’t mean anything by it; you should be flattered, I’ve had it worse, that’s really not so bad, do you really want to ruin his life over that? Do you think anyone will believe you?”
Knowing all that, it was familiar. It was easy to imagine a pretty boy confident and reassured that he was good, he was valuable, he was desirable, he was powerful — that he could push around a girl and not feel bad about it.
And I think that’s what’s most depressing: I don’t doubt that Kavanaugh believes himself when he says he’s a good man; I don’t find it hard to believe that he wouldn’t remember this event or the others mentioned: because it had no effect on him.
He was drunk, he was young. I am absolutely sure he forgot about this incident entirely and I would even believe him if he said he didn’t remember Dr. Ford. Because what he did was inconsequential to him. All these stories of a power dynamic protected by a drunk excuse — he is the very embodiment of a toxic culture that expects nothing for his sins, nothing over his indiscretions.
And you watch Dr. Ford — her clear testimony, her soft voice, her polite composure — and you compare it to Kavanaugh’s ranting and wailings and gnashing. He was belligerent in ways a woman never could be; he was emotional in ways that would label a woman hysterical. He was unhinged and yet the men across from him rallied around his good name.
And it’s exhausting.
Most women felt something when Dr. Ford spoke. They felt something when the yearbook was released, when the other women came forward, when whispers came out about Kavanaugh’s drunk college years. Renate Alumnus? It’s sickening because it’s so familiar. We are all of us creatures of a culture that champions the male bravado. Women made to be jokes to inflate a male’s ego.
So it wasn’t surprise; it was the cold clench of reality.
“I was calculating daily the risk benefit for me of coming forward, and wondering whether I would just be jumping in front of a train that was headed to where it was headed anyway and that I would just be personally annihilated.”
Not all men, they clamor, even as they rush to excuse bad behavior by saying boys will be boys. “Who hasn’t done this?” “If this is rape we’re all in trouble.” Do they not see the problem there? The implicit nature of, well, maybe it is all men actually? They are scared that these types of claims can ruin a man’s life, a man’s career, a man’s good name because they seem themselves there, too. They see themselves in a boy who acted as boys can and feel they should. They align themselves behind Kavanaugh because this isn’t fair, to be held accountable for things so long past. It is a boys club — the same one that protected Trump even after his pussy-grabbing comment; the same one that gave the Stanford rapist mere months because prison would have an ill effect on him; the same one that took years to charge Crosby and even then only afforded him a few years sentence. We live in a #MeToo era and men are terrified — and yet they keep winning.
Louis CK is back and insisting he’s worth hearing, presenting his stand up to people who didn’t even have a choice to listen or not. Donald Trump has been disgustingly perverse in his marriages, his extramarital affairs, his “locker room talk” and he won an election.
So I think that’s why I’m tired. Because all this #MeToo, this change in tide still isn’t enough. Women are told not only “I don’t believe you,” but worse still: “It doesn’t matter.”
Dr. Ford knew exactly what she was up against. Towards the end of her testimony she said, “I was calculating daily the risk benefit for me of coming forward, and wondering whether I would just be jumping in front of a train that was headed to where it was headed anyway and that I would just be personally annihilated.”
It’s a sobering thought. And it chokes me with a warm familiarity. Because women are constantly annihilated for a man’s sake. Women’s characters are questioned while men’s characters are applauded. Women are forced to calculate the risk of coming forward — because there is always risk in coming forward.
What were you wearing? What were you drinking? Why did you wait so long? Why didn’t you tell someone? What do you hope to gain from it now?
The questions thrum through my heart like a sad warning.
I empathize with these women.
Not because I’ve been through something similar.
But because I know one day I could.
Growing up hearing stories of rape, of assault, I started to play this perverse game with myself:
Any time I entered a room of only men, any time I went on a date with a man, any time I found myself on a street alone with a man, I would start to recite a little mantra to myself:
“If he rapes you, you’ll tell someone.”
I was on a first date with someone — he was nice enough, he was polite enough — but he asked me if we could run back to his apartment to grab something; he had forgotten the tickets. I had no reason to think he was a monster except that I have been trained since birth to be on edge around men, so sure the responsibility of not being raped rested squarely on my shoulders.
And I got nervous going into the elevator. A million scenarios ran through my head and I felt myself keeping my distance, folding my arms, not laughing or smiling too much. He opened the door and I kept my hand on the knob, waiting for him to grab the tickets from his desk.
I will tell someone. I will tell someone. I will tell someone.
I remember thinking how sad it was that I was on this date with someone I thought could be capable of hurting me and that I would need this pep talk before an assault. But it wasn’t him, not exactly. I carried on with the date and it was fine. We flirted, life went on. But that was a normal part of my interactions. A desperate reassurance that, should anything happen, I would have at least prepared mentally.
I will tell someone. I will tell someone. I will tell someone.
It’s something I still think sometimes. When a man walks too close on an unfamiliar street. When I’m going to my car in a dark parking garage. It’s an imperceptible whisper in the back of my mind. But it’s there.
Because it has to be.
Because we’ve been trained to keep quiet. We’ve been trained to think of their lives, their names, their futures. Countless bad stories and sad twists have shown us not to trust the law to be on our side. And it’s all I can do to make myself feel in control of a situation I know I couldn’t control.
I empathize with these women. Not because I’ve been through something similar. But because I know one day I could.
And that’s exhausting.
It’s terrifying to face a world where the idea of just finding a new nominee — one who hasn’t been accused of attempted rape — is unfair, unnecessary, unimportant. Because his good name. Reading Trump’s tweets, seeing senators’ statements, watching them unbothered at Dr. Ford’s hearing but seeing them become emotional at Kavanaugh’s — it’s been so isolating.
Maybe it’s from watching The Handmaid’s Tale. Maybe it’s thinking of the inevitability of a ruined world. But I feel sort of trapped in this sinking ship.
I wish I had some game plan to change the world. But hoping for a generational shift in the social politics of our culture seems unlikely. Just teaching the next generation to be better seems like too slow an option. Our politics are being decided by men who have revealed their hand — and they don’t care about women or rape culture or toxic masculinity; they care about the bro code and their supposed righteous indignation over these ruinous claims.
People call Dr. Ford an actress, a liberal chess piece. They think she’s a victim of her own making, that she must remember it wrong or be making it up. Innocent until proven guilty doesn’t apply to her. This must be a political move, a calculated attack. She is overreacting, she is misremembering, she is lying. But look at what she’s up against?
She has no reason to do this. No woman would just do this. We’ve been trained not to do this. We’ve been shown again and again there is no point to doing this.
So I believe her. It’s just too bad that that doesn’t seem important to anyone there.