In case you guys have been living under a stone these past two weeks or were simply too busy preparing for exams, here is a small recap of what has been going on in the US and has been having a huge influence on both politics and feminism worldwide:
In light of a vacancy on the US Supreme Court this year, the President was preparing a „shortlist“ of potential Supreme Court candidates in early July, including 53-year old Judge Brett Kavanaugh. Such a position is not only a lifetime appointment, but also highly regarded and treated with the utmost respect. Nominees get vetted by the FBI and should not under any circumstances be involved in anything contradictory to a moral, righteous and exemplary behaviour in life, reflecting that which will be expected of them in court.
During that process, 51-year old Professor of Psychology, Christine Blasey-Ford, got in touch with the Washington Post tip line and her congressional representative, mentioning for the first time to a complete stranger an assault which had happened to her during her time in high-school. Just after Judge Kavanaugh had become the official nominee, she relayed the information, that while she and he had been going to closely connected high schools in Maryland in the 1980s, he had sexually assaulted her at a party to an extent at which she feared for her life and was only by miracle able to escape.
Speaking out was no easy choice knowing that it would alter her life forever, but she decided to come forward due to one simple consideration and in hope that her wish to stay anonymous would be respected: Dr. Blasey-Ford believed it was her civic duty to communicate what had happened to her to the Senate and the President in order to allow them to make an informed decision about the nominee.
Due to still unresolved circumstances, Blasey-Ford’s name was not kept confidential. While a letter stating the nominee’s serious misconduct moved up the ranks to the Senate, Christine Blasey-Ford and her family, friends and colleagues were facing mounting pressure and she eventually spoke out publicly in an article in the Washington Post. This did not only result in support, but also in harassment, death threats and insults which forced her family to move out of their home.
To put it simply: Along with 33% of women in the US, Christine Blasey-Ford experienced a traumatic sexual assault at a young age, which altered her life tremendously and lead to frequent therapy sessions, feelings of shame, anxiety and powerlessness; all of which she now relived in order to tell the truth.
On September 27, 2018, Prof. Blasey-Ford appeared in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee and gave a detailed and emotional account of the events of that night1. So did Brett Kavanaugh, denying all of the allegations2.
Republican senators refused to interview Blasey-Ford directly and instead had her cross-examined by sex crimes prosecutor Rachel Mitchell. On the contrary, the democratic senators on the other side of the aisle expressed their strong support and confidence in her story (Cory Booker has to be named at this point due to his memorable speech of non-partisanship), many of them leaving the room in demonstration of their disapproval of the court proceedings.
Despite Blasey-Ford’s polygraph (lie detector) examination concluding that she was being truthful, two other sexual assault victims of Kavanaugh having stepped forward (Deborah Ramirez and Julie Swetnick), her complete willingness to cooperate with the Senate and facts as well as other witness statements corresponding with her own; there was strong skepticism from the Republicans and no indication of an ordered FBI investigation into the events (which can only be set in motion by the White House). Many were shocked by the devastating parallelity to the Anita Hill case in 1991. Under increasing pressure and uncertainty if Kavanaugh would have enough votes for confirmation, the Senate eventually halted the process to allow a limited, week-long FBI investigation3.
The end was short and devastating: A week later, the Republican dominated Senate came to vote on October 6, winning with a simple majority of 50 to 48 votes. Brett Kavanaugh was appointed as a federal judge on the Supreme Court for life.
The hope of millions of sexual assault survivors and supporters were crushed as the American Senate failed its citizens in the defining moment, demonstrating yet another regressive step towards inequality, conservative views of women and understating sexual harassment.
Within America, it is a dismay to allow oneself to think that partisanship, and the possibility of a Republican run Supreme Court, outweighed the truth and victim’s experiences in importance. But Kavanaugh’s appointment had a larger influence than that: A different decision would have shown other survivors, that their stories will be believed and will have an impact. That they do not need to feel powerless anymore.
Despite the outcome, Blasey-Ford’s bravery and honesty were not pointless. She inspired world-wide solidarity through social media movements (#CancelKavanaugh, #BelieveSurvivors and #WhyIDidntReport), demonstrations (Women’s March Rally, Washington D.C.) as well as a strengthened unity of feminists.
Kavanaugh’s confirmation as Supreme Court Judge showed us that we had not come as far as we thought we had. That the differentiation of genders still exists all around us. It woke us up. So do not despair about the past, but let us work harder on improving the society we live in, because we do not only hope that the next Anita Hill or Christine Blasey-Ford will be heard.
Lia Laureen Schulz – Politiqu’elles, groupe local de Reims