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Kavanaugh as History: For Women, the Past Is the Present

The hurt many women have felt after the Kavanaugh hearings goes well beyond the confirmation process of a Supreme Court nominee.

Vivian Rothstein

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The clear message to women is: You can vote — but you still can’t be heard.


 

Women make up half the human race but the lived reality of women’s lives often feels completely invisible in American society. When Judge Brett Kavanaugh claimed unequivocally at last week’s Senate Judiciary Committee hearing that he hadn’t molested Dr. Christine Ford, he may have stated what he felt is true. His abuse of her, or any other woman that he may have violated, isn’t “imprinted on his hippocampus,” as it was on Dr. Ford’s, because it was insignificant to him. And that reality, on display and validated by members of the highest level of our government, is what was so painful to be reminded of last week. Even the compromise FBI investigation of Kavanaugh apparently involves the silencing of voices with something important to say.

The clear message to women is: You can vote — but you still can’t be heard.

When I became a feminist in the 1970s, having my consciousness raised about sexism and the structural disempowerment of women was a mixed bag. I started to see and deeply feel the many large and small ways women are disrespected, degraded, ignored and patronized all around me. Reading a popular magazine, watching television, attending a party, listening to pop music all became assaults on my sense of self as a thinking, effective member of this society. It was hard to bear and difficult to avoid becoming an angry, raging “femi-Nazi,” as the political right likes to call outspoken feminists. How could it be that more men, living with and beside women, having been birthed and raised by them, don’t see those assaults too and stand up against them? Or stop committing them?

On the contrary, as we’ve learned from the controversy surrounding Brett Kavanaugh, in the 1980s — well after the birth of second-wave feminism — serial gang rape, sex with blacked-out, intoxicated women, the waving of genitals in “party” settings apparently emerged in the social settings of some of the most privileged, educated and religious young American Brahmins. These behaviors have little to do with sex and a lot to do with exerting power and control over women, and sometimes other men too.

The hurt many women are feeling after the Kavanaugh hearing goes well beyond the confirmation process of this man for the Supreme Court. The courageousness of Dr. Ford and the brutish response by Kavanaugh and some Republican senators dramatically opened a window on the invisibility and powerlessness of women and girls to this day. We’ve known it in our bones from our own experience, but now degrading women’s lives may be given official government approval.


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