Carolyn Fenerty ’20
For women watching last week’s Senate hearing on Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s allegations that Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her when the two were in high school, there was plenty to be angry about.
Dr. Ford, who had wanted to remain anonymous, was dragged in front of the Senate and the country to recount in detail what she claims was one of the most traumatic events of her life. The all-male Republican majority of the Senate Judiciary Committee – on which a Republican woman has never served – hired a “female assistant” (a sex crimes prosecutor named Rachel Mitchell) to question Dr. Ford on their behalf because they feared the optics of questioning her themselves. Only Dr. Ford and Judge Kavanaugh – the accuser and the accused – testified, creating a “he said, she said” dynamic in the absence of any corroborating witnesses, undermining claims that the committee actually sought the truth.
One woman who was not angry, however, was Dr. Ford, who more than almost anyone would seem to have reason to be. Despite facing national scrutiny and threats to herself and her family, Dr. Ford was careful, composed, and often deferential to senators.
Contrast this with Judge Kavanaugh, who alternately yelled, angry and indignant, and cried because of the injustice he perceived being done to him. He decried the revenge of the Clinton’s for his role in the Starr investigation and the influence of outside left wing groups opposing his nomination. He snapped at Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-) in response to her questioning if he had ever blacked out from drinking, “I don’t know. Have you?” (Judge Kavanaugh later apologized for the remark).
Republicans praised Judge Kavanaugh’s righteous anger in response to what they described as a smear campaign and character assassination. Women rarely have the luxury of such anger. A woman acting as Judge Kavanaugh did – resentful, spiteful, partisan, defiant – would not have been praised or vindicated. A righteously angry Dr. Ford would not have even been considered credible.
A woman as openly, vocally angry as Judge Kavanaugh would have been questioned as unstable, dismissed as emotional, maligned as hysterical.
Judge Kavanaugh’s ability to express his anger is a privilege which, like many others in his life, he take for granted. He felt he had been treated unjustly, and so responded with indignation. Beyond raising questions about his capability for evenhandedness and fair-mindedness should be eventually be confirmed to the Supreme Court, Judge Kavanaugh’s public anger exposed the sort of arrogant confidence that only powerful men can have. Women who express their anger at injustice are treated as unserious and overdramatic. Men like Judge Kavanaugh, ensconced in privilege all their lives, have never had question their right to be angry.
I don’t know if Judge Kavanaugh is guilty. The Senate hearing wasn’t a trial, or even designed as anything more than political cover for Republicans to claim that they had listened to Dr. Ford before they would, as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) described, “plow right through it and confirm Judge Kavanaugh. This, regardless of Judge Kavanaugh’s guilt or innocence, honesty or dishonesty, is a gross, incredibly unjust dismissal of both Dr. Ford, and of the seriousness of sexual assault. But I have noticed that instinct hammered into women – to reign in my anger, to mask it and water it down – in myself this week.
When I watched the video of a sexual assault victim demanding that potential swing vote Senator Jeff Flake (R-AZ) “Look at me and tell me it doesn’t matter what happened to me,” I had to brush aware tears – of empathy and sadness, of frustration, of hopelessness, and check the mirror to make sure my mascara hadn’t run in public.
I felt uncomfortable thinking about meeting with Justice Clarence Thomas, a Holy Cross alum who faced sexual harassment allegations from Anita Hill during his own confirmation hearing and who sometimes meets with Holy Cross students in the Washington, D.C., semester program. But I have largely kept such reservations to myself, scared, maybe, that I would be seen as overreacting. As a shrill, angry feminist.
One in six American women has been the victim of an attempted or completed sexual assault. Around two thirds of sexual assaults go unreported. The president bragged on tape about sexually assaulting women. And now the Senate wants to force through the confirmation of a nominee credibly accused of sexual assault with as little honest scrutiny as possible. So maybe being an “angry feminist” is necessary right now.
If women are entitled to anything, it’s anger.
Photo Courtesy of NBC News