Like many in the United States and around the world, I’ve been gripped these past two weeks by the confirmation hearings for Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh. And I, like many, was utterly devastated to see him confirmed as a Supreme Court Justice over the weekend despite credible evidence publicly shared of a history of sexual violence and a general disregard and disrespect for women.
Key decisions about women’s bodily autonomy and many other important issues that affect the lives of diverse individuals who do not occupy the white, male privileged preserves that Kavanaugh has now clearly demonstrated he is a creature of, now rest in his hands.
The events of the last few weeks have made me feel hopeless in a number of different ways and for a number of different reasons.
Firstly, as we approached the first anniversary of #MeToo, I looked at the responses to Dr Christine Blasey Ford’s testimony as a kind of litmus test to judge what impact, if any, this massive outpouring of women’s experiences of violence was having.
I found the “reviews” offered by many columnists, particularly male columnists, of Blasey Ford’s testimony telling. Too many, in my view, were judging her credibility, to a large extent, on whether she met their criteria for what those of us in the violence against women sector call “the perfect victim”.
In many ways she did meet their “perfect victim” criteria. She was softly spoken, deferential, keen to help and a white, blond woman who was married with children. (She did not, however, report the crime right away which “perfect victim” adherents insist all should, despite considerable evidence to the contrary on why women don’t report.)
Indeed, President Donald Trump, the man whose favoured put down for women who don’t conform to those narrow stereotypes is to call them “nasty”, gave her his “seal” of womanhood approval.
“I thought her testimony was compelling and she looks a very fine woman to me, very fine indeed,” he said.
Secondly, I watched the vitriolic response of some, again many men, who were shocked and furious that a woman’s demands to have her experience of sexual assault heard might interrupt the glide path of yet another white male to high office.
Trump’s mocking of Blasey Ford at a campaign rally last Tuesday night, shortly after he offered his view on her “fine” womanhood, was, as his interventions so often are, the low water mark of this phenomenon.
The continued peddling of narrow acceptable notions of femininity, rape culture myths and the vitriolic response to women’s trauma, at times, left me feeling a bit hopeless.
Has Blasey Ford’s brave willingness to speak out, and the millions around the world who preceded her as part of #MeToo, counted for nothing? Please let it not be so.
But after giving it more thought, I concluded that the reflexive return to rape myths and vitriol hurled at those who demand change, all the hallmarks of backlash, was entirely predictable. I kind of expected it. And, to be honest, it has had the effect of making me, and many other women, extremely angry – even furious.
I know we will tap into that anger and double down in our efforts to create change, as the writer Rebecca Traister so brilliantly outlines in her new book Good and Mad.
Upon further reflection, I realised that it was the silence, the silence of the so-called (or sometimes self-appointed) “good men” that was leaving me with a true feeling of hopelessness. And this is the moment in the last two weeks when that became clear.
I grew up in a small town in the United States with a small high school that had many of the features of the “culture” described in the Kavanaugh confirmation hearings: the football team, the cheerleaders, the sense that some and the elevation of a particular form of masculinity was more important than the humanity of others.
So much of what was described at the hearings was painfully familiar to me.
The hearings triggered memories of those days and particular experiences, like they did for many other women in the country. My mind kept returning to one particular rumour of a party I had heard about.
Without going into too much detail so as not to violate the privacy of any one individual, I will say in the words of Blasey Ford that I am quite certain the rumoured events of the night are “indelible on the hippocampus” of some of my former classmates.
I felt shame that I hadn’t reached out to those affected then, or since. And I felt shame that, to my knowledge, they were not supported by our community, with the perpetrators protected and excused.
Then this happened: Having grown up in a small town, many of us from high school are still friends on social media and someone recently mentioned it, referring to “that thing that happened” which “as a community we never addressed”.
The post prompted an outpouring of memories from other women I went to school with, naming their experiences: the “pervy” teachers and coaches, the other assaults…the list went on.
However, as this mini, intensely personal, #MeToo phenomenon unfolded, the men in our community who must have been watching — they can usually muster a like when someone announces a new baby or posts that they’ve lost a few pounds — remained largely silent. Just a few weighed in. One man remarked on the relative silence of the others, calling it “unacceptable”.
The few who commented offered words along the lines of: I hear you, I am sorry this happened to you, and we need to do our bit to help change this.
Those few men understood, without it having to be spelled out to them, that we were not talking about them but the actions of a few and a broader culture that enabled and excused their behaviour.
And those few men understood that men must play their part by listening, truly listening, to the words of women and indicating in some small way that they hear what is being said and are thinking deeply about what they can do to help.
If, at this stage in the game, that’s not where we’re at, then I really do feel hopeless.
Posts like the below from the Young Liberal Movement of Australia certainly don’t help.
Last week in a piece for Daily Life, writer Jane Gilmore characterised men’s responses to Blasey Ford’s testimony as a “barrage of vitriol or silence that meets every plea for understanding”.
I have been asking myself these last two weeks what’s worse, the vitriol or the silence?
I have now firmly concluded that it’s the silence. The silence of the “good men” works in common cause with the vitriol of the truly bad. Please good men, speak out, join the conversation, and be an active bystander. Give women something to believe in and some assurance that you’ve got our back.
This isn’t women’s problem alone to fix. We’re going to need to hear more loudly and proudly from the “good men” in the days that lie ahead.
The moment these heroes were arrested. They were warned but did not move.
Chanting “Believe Survivors”
RETWEET THIS! pic.twitter.com/um4Xvi985D
— StanceGrounded (@_SJPeace_) October 5, 2018
Kristine Ziwica is currently the Interim Executive Director of NOW Australia. She tweets @KZiwica.