Pain and Privilege: A Look at the Kavanaugh Hearing

MacKenzie Rumage discusses the aftermath of the Kavanaugh hearing, and the global impact it had in this #MeToo era. She highlights the deep frustration and anger it has caused, especially for survivors of sexual assault.

It was the story nobody could stop talking about just a matter of weeks ago: a psychologist from California had taken a seat in a US Senate hearing, faced the Senators and the world, and told her story about how the next candidate to advance to the highest court in the country had assaulted her.

The path to confirmation for any US Supreme Court justice candidate poses its own set of questions and potential issues: can they be trusted to be impartial? Will they favour one type of case over others? Will they try to roll back ‘Roe v. Wade’, the seminal case regarding abortion?

Confirmation hearings are required for all Supreme Court nominees, and they are largely ceremonial. Justice Neil Gorsuch had such an uneventful, routine set of hearings that I could not even tell you when they happened. But the Kavanaugh hearings were different from the beginning. Firstly, because the seat Kavanaugh was nominated to fill would be a tiebreaker between the more left-leaning justices and the right-leaning. The man who had filled the seat before, Justice Kennedy, was a moderate, and Justice Antonin Scalia (whose seat was filled by Neil Gorsuch) was more right-wing.

In this day and age, topics such as abortion, LGBTQ+ rights and immigration would be more topical than they have been in decades, and they could make or break the confirmation of whoever would succeed Kennedy, which is why Kavanaugh’s impartiality was even more integral to his confirmation.

Kavanaugh was a controversial choice — mainly because it was President Trump who nominated him. Many Democrats were still bitter over the Senate for not confirming Obama’s choice, Merrick Garland, before he left the Office. Instead, they allowed Trump to nominate Neil Gorsuch at that time. And yet, he gained support from both Democrats and Republicans, and he had carefully built a calm, cool persona that curried more public favour. I thought, “Maybe he won’t be so bad. Maybe this could actually work. This has to work. What happens if it doesn’t work?”

 Then the allegations came out. Dr Christine Blasey-Ford reported to The Washington Post and Senator Diane Feinstein, that a teenage Brett Kavanaugh attempted to rape her at a house party thirty-five years ago. Two other accusations of sexual misconduct against Kavanaugh were reported as well, but Dr Blasey-Ford was the only one called to testify in front of the Senate.

 I was not surprised when some Conservatives flocked to Kavanaugh’s defence, calling Dr Blasey-Ford a Democratic pawn, even in a post-#MeToo era. I was not surprised some Conservatives reacted the way they did even after they heard Dr Blasey-Ford’s testimony, wherein she represented what so many women have felt: the struggle to be heard and be taken seriously.

 That struggle is even harder for female sexual assault survivors (not to mention those who are transgender, people of colour, or other minorities). If you do not identify as a woman, it is incredibly difficult to understand the obstacles women face every day.

 I am not a sexual assault survivor, so I realise that I can only speak so much on the hurdles that survivors face in being heard. But I am still a woman, and I — like so many other women — have faced harassment and discrimination because of my gender. And, seeing how Dr Blasey-Ford was treated, I did not have to imagine too much about what that discrimination would look like if I were a sexual assault survivor.

 There has been discussion about a statute of limitations on sexual misconduct. Many Kavanaugh supporters were saying that even if the allegation was true, he was in high school — can’t we forgive him for a teenage mistake? But trauma does not have an expiration date. Those feelings do not hit all at once then vanish. Dr Blasey-Ford is a psychologist — she knows the facts of this well, and she explained them to the senators and the entire world during her testimony. Yet, the Senate confirmed Kavanaugh. The message felt by women across America and across the world was this: the American government does not care about sexual assault survivors.

 We still live in a victim-blaming era, especially if that victim is not male. The Kavanaugh hearings go to show that we, as a society, would rather believe the accused than the victim, and deny them their pain. This victim blaming is at the heart of our society’s rape culture, and the reason why so many women do not report sexual misconduct. Instead of providing help, we pointedly question them about everything from their clothes to their alcohol intake, even though we don’t ask the same questions to the perpetrator.

 We saw this play out with Dr Blasey-Ford. Many thought she was less credible because she did not say anything earlier. But why would she feel like she would ever be listened to, when all society has ever told women about sexual assault is that it is their fault? If there is any way to put even an ounce of blame on the woman, we will do it.

 Our society does not like angry women. Women are supposed to be seen as quiet and demure. And yet, these perverted offenders have pinned all of us into a corner where we have no choice but to react outwardly. Still, we as women are expected to be composed. Even though we must confront our own fear and trauma — from catcalls to inappropriate touching to near-death experiences — we must keep our cool. Because we are women, and our society doesn’t want to hear about it. Even when it comes to women’s issues, women’s voices still come second to men’s. It is still a man’s world, and women just get to live in it.

 When discussing this article with a friend of mine, I told her that it was frustrating “to find the right balance of anger and repressing it.” She responded, “Get upset. Right now I think that we need to be angrier than they are. Our pain needs to be louder than their privilege.” And she is right. If we continue to silence women and other sexual assault survivors, these issues will never be resolved. We as women have to take our pain and frustration and turn them into something good and sustainable — something that ensures that we do not see another Brett Kavanaugh on the Supreme Court or anywhere else ever again.

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