“Now, in trying to determine whether you are telling falsehoods or not, I have got to determine what your motivation might be. Are you a scorned woman?”
That question was asked of Anita Hill at the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing for Clarence Thomas in 1991 by Sen. Howell Heflin (R-Alabama). He asked it because he assumed women liked the kind of attention Clarence Thomas gave his employee – talking about porn films and sexual positions – and would react angrily if such attention wasn’t given.
Ms. Hill responded, “No.”
Back in 1991 I was a 34-year-old, married mother of seven-year-old twin daughters. I had moved from working in an academic environment, which tended to be more liberal and egalitarian, but still had its own issues of inequality, to the corporate sector, which felt rife with inequality. I ran the corporate library, and, when one patron said he couldn’t come to the library during the day, I offered to stay after work hours if needed, and he sidled up beside me and said he hoped I would. I didn’t.
I watched the Thomas/Hill hearings closely, my outrage at the ignorance of the all-white-male committee exploding at the television. Not only were the questions sexist, they were racist, too. Senators are supposed to represent all Americans, but I didn’t feel represented.
Fast forward to 2018. The GOP members of the current Senate Judiciary Committee decided not to question Christine Blasey Ford directly. Instead they hired a female prosecutor to ask questions. They didn’t want sound bites of the kind that came out of the Clarence Thomas hearing. The prosecutor was at a disadvantage, because no FBI investigation had been conducted, as was the case when Hill testified in 1991, when the FBI interviewed twenty-two witnesses. Therefore, she had very little to base her questions on. In fact the committee had little to base their questions on, because they only had what the two people involved had to say.
However, Blasey Ford, admittedly terrified, was compelling. At one point I watched her as her breath became shallow, her voice quivered, as she said, “"Indelible in the hippocampus is the laughter. The uproarious laughter between the two. They’re having fun at my expense." She was reliving the assault, in real time.
How awful that sex assault victims live with the assault for the rest of their lives in dreams, in perceived new threats which might be prompted by a comment or someone who inadvertently gets too close, in noises in the dark of night, or when alone in a parking lot.
Kavanaugh, on the other hand, was unhinged. He displayed anger, arrogance, self-pity and manipulation. He tried to sound empathetic a couple of times when he said he believed Dr. Ford had been assaulted but she was mistaken when she identified him as the assaulter. Then he tried to best Senators Durbin and Klobuchar during their exchanges. He refused to answer a direct question from Sen. Durbin about whether he supported an FBI investigation. Then he engaged in a chicken fight with Sen. Klobuchar when she asked him if he got so drunk he suffered blackouts. He turned it around and asked if she liked to drink and if she ever had a blackout. It was a particularly insidious moment for me.
Klobuchar explained her 90-year-old father was a recovering alcoholic who suffered the consequences of his drinking and Kavanaugh used that to try to knock her off her questioning. I grew up in an alcoholic home. The smell of beer, my mother’s choice of drink, still turns my stomach today because it was so pervasive in my chaotic home. I binge drank from the age of sixteen through eighteen, not every day or every week, maybe four or five times in those two years, but it was still terrible. I got alcohol poisoning when I returned home from college one weekend to visit friends, during a game of Chug-a-lug (a friend gave me straight alcohol since I didn’t drink beer, and I believed it was a mixed drink). I blacked out, and still felt drunken and nauseous two days later back at school. I clearly saw the path I was traveling, the one my mother had surely taken, would lead to a life not well-lived but tolerated by blurring my emotions. I was in the top of my class. I received a scholarship to attend Syracuse University. But alcohol made my life precarious and dangerous.
I stopped drinking cold turkey after the alcohol-poisoning episode until I was in my late forties, thirty years later. Now I drink a glass of red wine at dinner a couple times a week, more for heart health than love of alcohol, and an occasional gin and tonic or margarita.
But did Kavanaugh ever stop drinking? “I like beer. I still like beer,” he testified, “but,” he continued, “I did not drink beer to the point of blacking out and I never sexually assaulted anyone." Since I am intimate with alcoholics, I think Kavanaugh is one, and not in recovery, but actively still drinking to excess. He is what I would call a functional drunk.
Then he lied about the meaning of certain comments in his yearbook. “Boofing” was flatulence and “the Devil’s triangle” was a drinking game with coins. His reference to being a “Renate alumnius” was because he had taken her to dances, as had many of his friends, and he thought so highly of her. Renate Dolphin, the Renate referred to by several football players, had this to say: “I can’t begin to comprehend what goes through the minds of 17-year-old boys who write such things, but the insinuation is horrible, hurtful and simply untrue. I pray their daughters are never treated this way.”
Kavanaugh claimed his detailed calendar proved he was never at a party with Blasey Ford. Yet there is an entry on July 1, 1982 that says, “Timmy’s for skis with Judge, Tom, P.J. Bernie and ... Squi.” The term skis is short for brewskis, or beers. No further questioning about the calendar entry ensued, because Sen. Graham launched into his audition for the position of Attorney General (My interpretation of why this usually rational senator jumped over the edge of decency. I believe he would like to step into Sessions’ shoes after the mid-term election.) He shouted about the unfair treatment of Kavanaugh and slammed his hand on the table for emphasis.
Two more credible women came forward with their stories about Kavanaugh and his friends. Debbie Ramirez said he exposed himself and pushed his penis toward her face at Yale during a dorm room party. Julie Swetnick, who grew up near Kavanaugh, claimed she “observed the future Supreme Court nominee at parties where women were verbally abused, inappropriately touched, made ‘disoriented’ with alcohol or drugs and ‘gang raped.’” She said she was raped at one such party, but did not name Kavanaugh as the rapist (or one of the rapists).
I’ve been posting a lot about white male privilege on FB and Twitter. We have to understand the power of privilege in all of this. Kavanaugh carried a golden ticket to success because of his family’s status and the schools he attended –it’s a perverse kind of affirmative action. He was also an athlete and that comes with some privileges and status, too. He may have lied during a previous confirmation to federal judge. Sen. Leahy tweeted the following: “We have discovered evidence that Judge Kavanaugh misled the Senate during his 2004 and 2006 hearings. Truthfulness under oath is not an optional qualification for a Supreme Court nominee.” Yet Kavanaugh’s career continued on an upward projection all the way to being nominated to the Supreme Court of the United States.
What did Kavanaugh think of Blasey Ford’s allegations? They incensed him. He isn’t used to being told no or to adversity of any kind. He perversely decided Blasey Ford was part of a leftwing conspiracy that the Clinton’s waged to exact revenge for the time he served under Ken Starr, the special investigator who investigated the allegations against Bill Clinton that lead to his impeachment. His rage was real, and certainly not demonstrative of the kind of measured temperament expected of a Supreme Court justice.
Did Kavanaugh ignore Blasey Ford’s cries of no when he and Mark Judge pushed her into a room and then onto a bed? Did Kavanaugh continue to ignore her terror, as he climbed on top of her, ground himself against her, and tried to remove her clothes? Did he put his hand over her mouth, not just so the people downstairs wouldn’t hear her scream, but also so that he wouldn’t have to hear it? Did her fear and humiliation entertain him?
Privilege doesn’t make every white man a sexual predator, a racist, or a terrible person. But it does give them the power to deny or diminish inequality and behaviors such as sexual assault. It can lead some men to believe that women are objects to be used for sexual pleasure. It can cause them to believe that their bad behavior should not be punished, because it might keep them from reaching their full potential. They don’t care if they hurt, abuse, or otherwise impact others, because they do not value others who are not white, male, and in the same tribes (Georgetown Prep and Yale, for example).
It is particularly insidious when those in privilege protect one another. Two unnamed men came forward to claim they were the assailants. Their story didn’t go anywhere because there are no follow-up news stories after their admission. The GOP is guilty of protecting Kavanaugh, too, as they diminished Blasey Ford’s testimony by saying while they believed she was sexually assaulted; she was mistaken in her allegation that Kavanaugh was the one who assaulted her. Many of these men are the same men who ignored allegations of sexual harassment against Clarence Thomas and sexual assault against Trump. They’ve continued to protect Trump even as more and more evidence emerges that he was a coconspirator with a foreign dictator. And they are protecting Kavanaugh, first, by keeping tens of thousands of documents from the Judiciary Committee, and, now, by making him the victim of the left and of Blasey Ford.
Sen. Flake, who was ready to advance Kavanaugh to the Senate floor vote, only changed his mind after Maria Gallagher and Ana Maria Archila broke through a group of reporters and cornered Flake in an elevator.
“Don’t look away from me,” Maria Gallagher said to Flake. “Look at me and tell me that it doesn’t matter what happened to me, that you will let people like that go into the highest court of the land and tell everyone what they can do to their bodies.”
Back in session, Flake announced he would vote yes in Committee, but he didn’t feel comfortable voting yes on the Senate floor unless the FBI investigation was reopened.
Is that the only way we can dismantle white privilege? By cornering men and forcing them to listen to the millions of women and girls who have been sexually assaulted?
The FBI has one week to investigate the allegations made by Blasey Ford and Ramirez, but it appears the White House limited the investigation and they cannot investigate Swetnick’s allegations. Why did the White House limit the investigation? Is it another personal vendetta of Trump’s against attorney Michael Avenatti who represents Stormy Daniels and now Julie Swetnick? What will the Judiciary Committee do with the data collected by the FBI? Will they still confirm the man, or will they deny him? Either way will be met with resistance, but I am almost sure that they will do everything in their power and privilege to confirm him. There may be occasional cracks in the lens of privilege that cause temporary responses that seem reasonable, but soon the lens is repaired, and we are back to the original view that white men are better than the rest of us and are entitled to do whatever they please at another’s expense. It is the uproarious laughter of those who refuse to hear no.
There is one way to stop privilege in its tracks, and that is to vote more women and minorities into elected positions. Only then can we begin to push back against systemic privilege and have the number of votes required to disqualify an appointee for credible allegations of sexual assault, for perjuring himself during the hearing, or for demonstrating his temperament is unfit for a position on the highest court in the land. But in the case of Kavanaugh’s confirmation, we have to rely on white men who are used to getting their way. So we need to start now.
Remember, when you go to vote in November, because we MUST vote in the midterm election, Christine Blasey Ford’s voice as she described Kavanaugh sexually assaulting her:
When I got to the top of the stairs, I was pushed from behind into a bedroom. I couldn’t see who pushed me. Brett and Mark came into the bedroom and locked the door behind them. There was music already playing in the bedroom. It was turned up louder by either Brett or Mark once we were in the room. I was pushed onto the bed and Brett got on top of me. He began running his hands over my body and grinding his hips into me. I yelled, hoping someone downstairs might hear me, and tried to get away from him, but his weight was heavy. Brett groped me and tried to take off my clothes. He had a hard time because he was so drunk, and because I was wearing a one-piece bathing suit under my clothes. I believed he was going to rape me. I tried to yell for help. When I did, Brett put his hand over my mouth to stop me from screaming. This was what terrified me the most, and has had the most lasting impact on my life. It was hard for me to breathe, and I thought that Brett was accidentally going to kill me. Both Brett and Mark were drunkenly laughing during the attack. They both seemed to be having a good time. Mark was urging Brett on, although at times he told Brett to stop. A couple of times I made eye contact with Mark and thought he might try to help me, but he did not.
During this assault, Mark came over and jumped on the bed twice while Brett was on top of me. The last time he did this, we toppled over and Brett was no longer on top of me. I was able to get up and run out of the room.
Vote in November for all the women, children, and men who were victims of sexual assault. Vote as if our lives, our equality, and our democracy depend on it. They do.