If Brett Kavanaugh makes it through the nomination process and takes his place on the Supreme Court despite being accused of sexual assault, the message to the country will be clear: Women don’t matter quite as much as men.
It’s not supposed to be like this. The Me Too movement is in full swing. Many powerful men have been brought down in the face of credible accusations of sexual misconduct.
“Women are being believed, for the first time ever,” Gloria Steinem told HuffPost earlier this year.
Are they? Steinem added a huge caveat back then ― one that is painfully relevant at this moment, as the Senate weighs the allegations against Kavanaugh: It typically takes more than one woman for an accusation to stick.
In campus sexual assault cases, for example, Steinem said, “It takes four or five women accusing the same guy before it’s believed.”
Indeed, in almost all the most high-profile Me Too cases ― Harvey Weinstein, Les Moonves, Charlie Rose, Matt Lauer ― it took more than one woman to bring down a single man, no matter how credible the accusation.
In other words, yes, women are being believed ― but it’s not entirely clear that a woman will be found credible. Particularly when she’s going up against the pinnacle of American male power ― a prep school and Ivy League-educated lawyer with immense political connections.
One woman, Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, has accused Kavanaugh of sexual assault. The incident took place decades ago, when they were in high school. She was 15 and he was 17. She may testify about the incident before the Senate Judiciary Committee, a disturbing echo of what happened to Anita Hill during the Clarence Thomas hearings in 1991.
Back then, an all-male Senate panel questioned Hill, and her accusations ultimately didn’t matter. Thomas has been sitting on the Supreme Court, signing on to rulings hostile to women’s rights, ever since.
“It was a travesty,” said Nan Aron, the president for Alliance for Justice, a progressive group, on a conference call on Monday.
Progressive women’s groups are urging the Senate to slow down the nomination process and at least give a full hearing to Ford’s allegation, or to withdraw Kavanaugh’s nomination entirely.
It’s important to note that no one is arguing that Kavanaugh should be criminally punished for his behavior long ago when he was still a minor ― just that a woman’s accusations be given a full hearing, not diminished or swept under the rug. The fallout for the judge would, at most, be that he doesn’t get to serve on the high court.
It’s not clear yet what will happen. Pressure is mounting on Senate Republicans to postpone a vote on Kavanaugh scheduled for Thursday. President Donald Trump acknowledged on Monday that there might be a “delay” in confirming Kavanaugh. “We want to go through the process,” he said, according to a pool report. Trump also called Kavanaugh “one of the finest people.”
Kavanaugh’s supporters were out in full force on Monday attacking Blasey Ford’s credibility, just as Hill was attacked decades ago.
Thomas’ ascension to the court triggered a wave of women running for office. Just as pussy-grabber-in-chief Trump’s election spurred women’s marches, inspired more women to run for office and, arguably, galvanized the Me Too movement.
And yet, for all that, we’re somehow back to a 1990s-style moment. What happens next will be a test to see how far we’ve come ― have women gained real credibility? Will the Senate treat Christine Blasey Ford with the respect it never gave to Anita Hill?
Or are women still, for all our efforts, just a little less equal?
This story has been updated with comment from Donald Trump.