5 Questions for . . .
For more than a year now, the #MeToo Movement has been a powerful social force in the U.S. and internationally. While the phrase "MeToo" was coined in 2006 by social activist Tarana Burke as a way to help victims of sexual abuse, actress Alyssa Milano's urging people to use "#MeToo" to show the depth of the problem — brought into sharp focus by the accusations of sexual assault against Harvey Weinstein — has lead to a social phenomenon that has had a profound effect on social norms and institutions in the U.S. As with any powerful movement, criticism has followed in the wake of the wave. The high drama of the testimony of Justice Brett Kavanaugh and Professor Christine Blasey Ford crystallized the hopes and tensions surrounding the movement. I asked four writers who have previously published in The Courtship of Winds how they see the movement currently
Here is who is sitting at the digital table:
1. What did the Kavanaugh hearing show you about where we are now with regard to gender issues?
That we are still mired in the old frat boy homoerotic fear and hatred of women.
I think that the Kavanaugh hearing showed more about the state of national politics than about gender issues. Almost all of the reactions of participants were based on their political affiliations rather than on convictions concerning gender. That said, there were stereotypes involving gender bandied about: the image of the hysterical female coming up with unreliable accusations, and the “boys will be boys” acceptance of heavy drinking and raucous partying especially among young men.
The Kavanaugh hearings proved to me that we haven’t come far in gender issues. Many of the same Senators who were on the Judiciary Committee during the Kavanaugh hearings also questioned Anita Hill in 1991 during the Clarence Thomas confirmation process. My hope was that the ensuing twenty-seven years had made the Senate more receptive to the gravity of credible sexual misconduct accusations made, particularly, against a candidate for the highest court in the land. Instead, the Republicans on the Judiciary Committee decided to ask their questions, at least for a time, through Rachel Mitchell, an Arizona prosecutor specializing in sex crimes. Perhaps they thought Dr. Christine Blasey Ford would be more at ease, if this was even possible, talking to a woman. What I deduced from their decision was that the Republicans were uncertain about their ability to question Dr. Blasey Ford or, worse, wanted to distance themselves from her. Dr. Blasey Ford showed tremendous courage in recounting one of the most terrifying, if not the most terrifying, event of her life and deserved the respect to be questioned one on one by each Senator. And the end result of the hearing was Dr. Blasey Ford’s credible accusation did not convince enough Senators to reject Judge Kavanaugh. There were surely many candidates for the Supreme Court who did not bring the turmoil, rage and doubt that Judge Kavanaugh brought. Yet, he is now on the Supreme Court.
This is my image of the hearing itself: The accuser, a psychologist who actually possesses both the personal and professional vocabulary to describe, in equally emotional and clinical terms, her own experience. She has more verbal and scientific tools at her disposal than most in this position, yet I observe that she still deeply struggled with her decision to testify both before and during the process. And the fallout continues. The defender proved equally steadfast in his denials and who, if innocent of the charges, still conducted himself as a combative, argumentative and partisan witness. I noted, as we all did, the optics of an all-male panel of senators choosing a female prosecutor to do the actual questioning, who then undermine that prosecutor’s power to question Dr. Blasey with the depth of understanding that this proceeding deserved. I saw truncated allotments, I saw five-minute chunks of time for someone to tell her story and respond to probings.
This was the spectacle, the headline, the gripping news cycle. I watched the edited summaries, the medium-length clips – for my own reasons, I could not sit through the entire proceedings but I read through great lengths of the transcripts.
But what I learned most about where we are is from the subsequent discourse and conversation that spiraled outward from the eye of this particular storm. No matter what side, if any, someone comes down on, the persistent implied question from all sides seems to be some variant of Why are we still having this conversation? or I can’t believe we still have to explain this. And even though the initial furor has given way to fresh new indignities, scandals and outrageousness, I still hear iterations of these questions being asked in the context of other issues: economic, social, generational. That I didn’t hear them before now reflects as much on me as it does the deep political divide thrown into looming focus since 2016.
My takeaway: We are still having this conversation because it is still a conversation that needs to be had. Where it will or will not ultimately nudge things in right directions depends on the collective emotional maturity of our country.