We’re thinking it, Lucy Mangan’s saying it.
A male friend of mine – not a close friend, and a lot less close now – asked me the other day why I was so ready to believe Dr Christine Blasey Ford over Supreme Court Justice nominee Brett Kavanaugh, who denies her accusation that he sexually assaulted her at a party 30 years ago.
The rush of reasons nearly choked me.
There’s… the chain of evidence, from the time of the party, through to her therapist later, then the confidential letter she sent to her senator in July about it when Kavanaugh was first nominated, and then the polygraph test she passed. And, hopefully, by the time you read this there will also be the testimony she has given, despite death threats to her and her family, to a Senate committee at an open hearing.
There are the other women coming forward.
There’s the Senate’s refusal to allow an FBI investigation or to subpoena witnesses.
There are the multiple unconvincing defences from Kavanaugh’s supporters – ranging from the standard, “She’s lying”, “If he did do it, he was drunk and not responsible for his actions” (though if she was drunk, she was responsible, obviously…) all the way through to the lesser-spotted “It was his ‘evil twin’” (a classmate who looked a bit like Kavanaugh).
As I attempted to marshal my responses, I noticed that my friend(ish) wasn’t looking belligerent, hostile or arrogant – he was mostly just looking scared. And I suddenly thought that perhaps I’d understood something about the unwillingness – even among non-insane Republican Party members – to believe victims. The willingness to credit evil twin theories before they will the word of a woman with nothing to gain and much to lose. It may be an impulse that both bystanders and survivors of sexual violence share; the impulse to protect yourself and your world view.
Survivors – I speak as one (and, incidentally, though my own experience was 20 years ago I can remember every detail of it as if it were yesterday, so don’t ever bother me with any ‘faulty memory’ defence for anyone either) – do it all the time. What just happened can’t have happened, we say. We minimise, we try and reinterpret, normalise and deny, push it down inside us, try and squash it into different shapes so we can fit it in with what we thought we knew about the person, about people, about the world. We don’t want this new and awful knowledge about how things are raining down upon us. It hurts. So we duck, we cover, we try to hide.
We do that as individuals directly affected, but society does it collectively too. It tries to protect its worldview. It tries to protect itself against letting in new knowledge that, if accepted all at once, would overwhelm it.
And it doesn’t work. It doesn’t work with individuals: sooner or later, that experience, that knowledge reasserts itself, resumes its rightful size and shape. And you must admit and accommodate it, deal with the fact that your life will forever be a different shape because of it, or go mad.
And so must society. Everyone must stop being in denial. Assault, rape, every kind of sexual violence against women is real, is endemic and the truth of that must – sooner or later – be faced. My friend and the millions like him must admit the size and scale of the problem – and start to deal with it. And it will hurt. It will hurt a lot. But the alternative is that we all go mad.