Like many women, I found Christine Blasey Ford’s testimony all too familiar, bringing up deeply buried events I’d experienced in the past. This is why I want to step back from the specifics of the allegations against Judge Brett Kavanaugh, and the partisan political implications of his confirmation hearings, to instead focus on why so many women (and anyone else who does not present to the world as a cis-man) are so deeply invested in these conversations.
Women shouldn’t have to publicly hemorrhage their trauma in order for Ford to be taken seriously. Some decided to share their stories — ranging from date rape to sexual assault to work-place harassment and discrimination to sexist micro-aggression. Lost in the public discourse surrounding these hearings is the fact that these stories point to something much larger, more systemic.
My rage, and the rage of those in my community, is about rape and assault. It is about campaigns such as #whyididnotreport demonstrating that most women we know quietly harbor these stories until their collective outrage makes remaining silent impossible.
When I was 17, my ex-boyfriend at the time held me down in a fit of rage because I refused his sexual advances. At 19, my boss sexualized every single one of our interactions until I quit. At 23, my theology master’s degree advisor would show up at my house, often flirting inappropriately and touching my legs. At 27, I was told upon graduating with an MA that my success surprised a faculty member because I was “so pretty.” At 30, I was denied a job because I was told that the work is too time-consuming for a mother. At 33, my academic seriousness was questioned when my philosophy department chair found out I was bringing my child with me on grant-funded travel, even though my male colleagues regularly brought significant others. At 35, my boss made my co-workers resentful by revoking their telecommuting privileges because he felt it too risky to be in the office alone with me.
I count myself among the very lucky to have never endured violent sexual assault. But the constant discrimination, subtle intimidation, and harassment has frequently made me feel unsafe. Part of my professional training was learning to dodge advances, playing a complicated game of managing the emotions of these men in positions of power and attempting to redirect them or pretend that I did not know what they wanted. I always knew. But I played dumb in order to avoid retaliation for rejecting them outright.
What’s important to recognize — and what so many men seem to be missing — is that women are not merely angry because of Kavanaugh’s views or how the hearings have proceeded. We are angry because this is the world that we are forced to navigate. We swim in a sea of misogyny that impacts all aspects of our lives.
#listentowomen isn’t a polite request. It shines a light on the social inequality and violence woven into the deepest fabric of society. I hope we haven’t painfully exposed our traumas in vain — that instead, this moment begins a deep collective reflection.