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The Kavanaugh Hearings: Text and Subtext

When OJ was acquitted the reactions of white Americans and black Americans illustrated how divergent our world views were. White America was appalled that someone who seemed so obviously to be guilty had gotten off, where black America saw an African-American finally beating a justice system that was rigged against them. The Kavanaugh hearings provided us with a similar experience. We saw two much different views and sets of values on display. On one side were all the women who had been victims of sexual assault and other expressions of misogyny along with the liberal men who sympathized with them. On the other side were all those white males who may or may not have abused women but who identified with someone they saw as unjustly accused, and with them were wives and mothers who sided with them. Underlying those reactions was a subtext on abortion and the Supreme Court. Those on the right who had voted for Trump did so in part to get a conservative judge appointed who would support their anti-abortion views. They saw the Democrats engaging in stealth by using Dr. Blasey Ford as a pawn to prevent Kavanaugh from being appointed because of how views on abortion.

Since abortion is such a divisive issue in America, Republican Senators shifted the focus to a defense of Kavanaugh by framing the narrative as an attack on him and his family over what they termed a questionable case of sexual assault. Republican Senators allowed Blasey Ford to tell her story, but because they controlled the event, they were able to frame her story in a way that lessoned its impact. And since the other parties who were willing to appear and who would have substantiated her accusations were not invited, Americans had to base their reactions on Blasey Ford’s account alone when, in fact, the other accusations along with Ford’s, create a compelling case against Kavanaugh’s character.In addition, Blasey Ford’s story includes sexual assault, but that is just part of the story. She was actually, for a short period of time, abducted by two older boys who pulled her into a room and locked the door. One looked on while the other, Kavanaugh, climbed on top of her and covered her mouth. The fact that Judge and Kavanaugh locked the door and in essence, gagged Ford, shows they knew that what they were doing was wrong. To a fifteen-year- old girl, this must have been terrifying. She was taken, silenced, pinned and attacked. This is sexual assault as an expression of power. Yet supporters of Kavanaugh didn’t really consider what happened to Blasey Ford. It’s as if they compartmentalized Blasey Ford’s story, dismissing the objectionable elements and reducing it to “horseplay” and “boys being boys.”

The mistake the Democrats made was in not framing Ford’s story as more than that and in not having the other victims: Swetnick and Ramirez come forward as well. If all three women, along with Kavanaugh’s freshman roommate (James Roche), had appeared on The View, The Today Show, etc., Kavanaugh would have been toast. It’s obvious that the Democrats on the Judiciary Committee did not think this through. Of course, Kavanaugh should not have been confirmed on the basis of the plethora of lies he told in the hearings. Not to mention the partisan nature of his remarks and the disrespect he showed Democratic Senators.

Whether Feinstein and company were intentionally using Blasey Ford as a proxy to attack a pro-life candidate or not, it wasn’t a great idea. The hearings clearly demonstrated the continuing sexist nature of a country where victimized women are ignored or attacked (Blasey Ford is still being threatened and is unable to return to work) and dismissed by men in power.Republicans and Trump managed to tap into a fear that American males, and some of their wives, have of women who attempt to confront their attackers.

It is true that the law is not very good at dealing with sexual assault since there is often little evidence to support a victim’s accusations. It may be necessary for a cultural shift to take place through changes in policies at work and in schools to foment the type of changes in attitude that have occurred in regard to homosexuality. That shift is happening, but our government, run by old white males, hasn’t quite caught up to it.

 

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