Tomorrow, all eyes will be on Washington. There, before the Senate Judiciary Committee, occupied by eleven Republicans and ten Democrats, but only four women, Christine Blasey Ford will explain what happened that night 36 years ago between herself and the candidate nominated to the Supreme Court, Brett Kavanaugh. When they were both adolescents, Ford was brought to a room, pinned to a bed and sexually assaulted, her assailant’s hand firmly over her mouth. “I thought that Brett was accidentally going to kill me,” she said. Brett Kavanaugh categorically denies all these allegations.
This wrestling match between a man of power and a woman that ten days ago was unknown to the public is instructive in so many ways. Watching this from the small end of a spyglass, we see another example of the ruthless battle between Republicans and Democrats, a fierce partisanship that has been made fiercer since the election of Donald Trump. The ascent of Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court would ensure a preponderance of conservative votes for years to come and would threaten, it is believed, the right to abortion, as well as the rights of sexual minorities and others. Hence the Democrats’ willingness to put Ford’s grief on display, and from the Republicans’ side, there is nothing but fire.
But the spectacle of this woman summoning all her courage – Ford has received multiple death threats and has had to move – has also had an entirely other significance. It represents the most recent confrontation between women, furious and tired of being shamelessly pawed and outraged at not being taken seriously, and a patriarchal system that has clearly not had its final say, if the man currently sitting at the head of the United States is any indicator, let alone the sexual assaults that persist. This unprecedented wave of denunciations is known by the name #MeToo.
Since the accusations against Harvey Weinstein one year ago, this movement has become global and has brought about the dismissal of everyone from chefs to orchestra conductors, actors, animators, journalists and businessmen, here as well as elsewhere. But this confrontation is nowhere more significant nor more important than in Washington, where the male-female polarization started, well before the denunciations of the celebrity producer. In 1991, in fact, another woman, Anita Hill, worked up the courage to denounce another Supreme Court candidate, Clarence Thomas, for sexual harassment.
We know what ensued. The Senate committee, composed at the time exclusively of white men, gave Hill, a black woman described as “a little bit nutty and a little bit slutty,” a verbal flaying, while Thomas ascended to one of the most prestigious positions in the country without problem. That said, the public humiliation of the young jurist had an unanticipated effect on women, who showed up in great numbers in the midterm elections the following year.
In 2016, Hillary Clinton’s defeat at the hands of Donald Trump had the same effect on women – but multiplied by 10. After taking to the streets in the thousands, today women are organizing the “resistance” to the Pussy Grabber-in-Chief by means of the ballot box. In November’s midterm elections, they are two times more likely to be running for office in the U.S. Congress. The wave of denunciations in the aftermath of the Weinstein affair in October 2016* will cement this headache among women seeking to be heard now more than ever.
Tomorrow, then, Ford’s testimony before the Senate committee has the potential to mark a turning point for American politics and, above all else, the equality of women. “This is a distillation of the entire two years’ trajectory for women in this country,” said Dawn Laguens, executive director of Planned Parenthood. “Are we respected? Are we believed? Are we equal?”
Unlike with Hill in 1991, it is no longer just one woman thrown to the lions; it is a woman behind whom thousands of other women stand today. Ford also has the support of public opinion, a sign of the growing credibility of women in the public sphere. (Not to mention that another woman is now denouncing Kavanaugh for sexual assault.)
Will it be enough to influence the political establishment, still primarily masculine? We’re taking bets.
*Editor’s note: News of the Weinstein affair actually broke in October 2017.
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