Opinion

The horror of the Brett Kavanaugh case proves women can’t afford to stop fighting

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Elle Griffiths
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After the strides of the #MeToo movement over the last year, a push back from regressive forces was inevitable…

Two stories dominated my social media newsfeed this weekend. The first was the devastating confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh to the US Supreme Court and the second was Banksy’s prank on the artworld; setting a piece of work to self-destruct by shredder as soon as it was sold. 

Then someone managed to amalgamate the two, mocking up the US constitution being shredded the second Kavanaugh was confirmed. It brought me the closest thing to a laugh I’d had all week, after the relentless gloom of Trump’s Supreme Court coup…

Let me explain. I’m a pessimist by nature. It’s a defence mechanism that means I rarely experience any unpleasant surprises. It prepares me for the worst. So when people (mainly white men) told me in 2016 that the election of Donald Trump might actually not be that bad for women and minorities, I rolled my eyes and buckled in.

But since the advent of the #MeToo movement almost a year ago, I must have accidentally let myself experience some optimism. When the allegations against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh emerged last month , I truly believed they might be enough to stop his ascension to the highest court in the United States.

Sure, there was a long way to go, but after watching powerful, privileged men like Harvey Weinstein and Bill Cosby buckle under the weight of womens’ testimonies, I felt like change was in the air. 

Bill Cosby metoo movement sexual assault and harassment

“After watching powerful, privileged men like Bill Cosby buckle under the weight of womens’ testimonies, I felt like change was in the air”

Well, more fool me. Twenty-two allegations against Donald Trump weren’t enough to stop him from becoming President of the United States, so why would a mere three be enough to halt his choice for the Supreme Court?

Yet Dr Christine Blasey Ford’s testimony was as harrowing as it was credible. She described being trapped in a dark bedroom at a high school party, as a then-teenage Brett Kavanaugh and a friend sexually assaulted her. Her overriding memory of the night was of him pressing his hand over her mouth to muffle her screams, as they both laughed riotously.

Less than a week later, Trump mocked Ford’s testimony at a rally in Mississippi. A braying crowd of supporters whooped and laughed, lapping it up. 

The word ‘triggered’ has been largely co-opted by the far right as a way to mock the people they accuse of being easily offended ‘snowflakes’. But it originates as a medical term, used to describe a symptom of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. And it’s the only word I can think of to describe how it must have felt for Ford to hear the sound of that laughter at the expense of her most painful memory. In an era marred by political nastiness, this was a new low.

Of course, decent people pushed back. They argued that memory loss was common in trauma and that false reports of sexual assault were incredibly rare and did not fit the profile of Dr Ford’s account. But it didn’t matter. Those of us on the right side of history have been engaging these people in good faith, when they never had any intention of doing the same. All this time, the #MeToo movement has been focused on the idea of ‘believing’ women and survivors, when this clearly wasn’t the issue.

They seemed to believe her. They just didn’t care. They didn’t care because they didn’t see what Kavanaugh was accused of doing as wrong. They didn’t see it as wrong because they don’t see women as fully human. 

Brett Kavanaugh US supreme court protest

Women protest at the Supreme Court on 6 October

It’s no coincidence that a man accused of sexual assault is also vehemently anti-choice. His confirmation to the Supreme Court is an existential threat to Roe v. Wade and a huge blow to reproductive rights in the US. These attitudes are two sides of a misogynistic coin, one that seeks to control women’s sexuality and autonomy in every conceivable way.

It’s a mindset we’ve seen taken to its most extreme conclusion on our TV screens in The Handmaid’s Tale. But if it was ever funny to make the comparison between the current state of US politics and that fictional dystopia, the joke has well and truly wore thin. Now, the show is fast becoming a disturbing parable. 

Even the most optimistic among us must now be struggling not to feel utter despair on behalf of American women. And as the news plays out on phone screens across the globe, it’s hard not to fear for women everywhere. Despite any gains the Democrats may make in the upcoming midterm elections, impeaching a sitting Supreme Court judge is out of the question. Kavanaugh has a seat for life and campaigners are now resignedly talking about ‘when not if’ Roe v. Wade is repealed. 

There’s no sugar-coating it. Things are bleak.

Yet there is still hope. For one, there is a strange power to be had in knowing the true battle you are fighting. For years, the religious right of the US, knowing they lacked the ability to overturn Roe v. Wade, chipped away insidiously at abortion rights at the state level. This has gone largely unnoticed by anyone except pro-choice activists, leaving abortion all but illegal and inaccessible in seven states, anyway. And now, emboldened by their brazen president and the coup they have pulled off with Kavanaugh, they are not afraid to show their true colours and be unabashedly anti-woman out in the open.

It’s deeply harrowing to witness, but it has existed for a long time and its culmination in this latest circus has thankfully awoken a segment of decent people in the US. Now they’re awake, and they’re going to fight.

After the strides of the #MeToo movement over the last year, a push back from regressive forces was inevitable. This is what we’re witnessing now, and the tiny optimist in me has to believe it is simply misogyny’s death rattle.  

From across the Atlantic in the UK, we cannot vote or donate to political campaigns, but you can show our support in other ways if you wish. If you have the means, consider donating to an organisation like Planned Parenthood or the ACLU.

Images: Getty

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Elle Griffiths

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