The US Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh snarled, sniffled, raged and cried through testimony that is now the stuff of memes, mashups, a Saturday Night Live comedy sketch — and that ought to inspire a couple of beer brands for the alt-right. But the joke, ultimately, is on the millions of American women who watched Kavanaugh defend himself against allegations of sexual assault with bluster, anger and inaccuracies. With the President of the United States himself being accused of numerous sexual assault cases, without any dent to his political career, it has never been clearer: Boys will be boys, and men will get away.
In contrast, Kavanaugh’s accuser Christine Blasey Ford, a college professor, began her testimony by admitting, “I am terrified.” Ford, one of three women to accuse Kavanaugh of sexual misconduct, has alleged the judge and his friend physically sexually assaulted her while they were in high school. In her testimony, Ford was calm, measured and careful not to express anger or rage, even as she recounted her trauma. To the question — why now? — Ford reasoned that she chose to speak about these allegations from a feeling of “civic duty”, to warn against the nomination of a sexual offender to the high office of a Supreme Court justice. Kavanaugh has denied the allegations and the Republicans have persisted in backing him and stalling claims for an FBI investigation. The hearing by the Senate Judiciary Committee was also an illustration of the complete disjunction between how men and women negotiate public life in America — and anywhere else in the world. While Ford has passed a polygraph test and demanded an FBI investigation, Kavanaugh has agreed to neither. While Kavanaugh’s shouty, seething testimony did nothing to shake the Republicans’ faith in him, it was not lost on any woman, white or coloured, that such emotional behaviour would have completely different consequences for her.
Years of research into sexual assault has proven that its trauma lives on in survivors. Data also bears out that powerful men are notoriously difficult to convict because we do not believe women, or because we believe their violations pale against the feats of successful men. Whatever be the truth of her charges, the avalanche of shame, ridicule and hostility that Ford faces is the measure of the consequences in store for women who choose to speak out. But as the #MeToo upsurge has shown, more women, even at the cost of self-harm, will step out to identify the predators in their midst. How will society, judiciary, police and families respond to them? Unless they address the structural skew in the way men and women explain sexual trauma, justice will not be done.