These days, in America a judge of theirs who has been nominated for a Supreme Court seat is under investigation. His name is Brett Kavanaugh, and he has been accused of assault by Dr Christine Blasey Ford, a psychologist and researcher. He assaulted her with a friend when they were all teenagers; Dr Ford came forward with her story after all these years when she learned that Kavanaugh had been nominated for a Supreme Court seat. She did the right thing, because being a justice of the highest court in any country is a grave responsibility, and people with compromised integrity should not be allowed to take on such positions. The United States Senate had a hearing last week, during which Kavanaugh and Dr Ford testified and answered questions.

It has been a tense week for everyone following these events, because it is another example of how, world-over, change is creeping ahead: women are speaking out about the abuse, terror and trauma they have suffered at the hands of men, and everyone else is learning the reality of what safety means for women. How the American senate responds to this case will send ripples through the country and forward into the entire conversation about assault and its reporting. Hearing Dr Ford speak of her assault is a terrible moment of shame that she should have to tear her trauma open in front of the world in order to be heard, of empathy and of sadness. One is witnessing, yet again, how much courage it takes to come forward with one’s story, even decades after it has happened. The incident Dr Ford alleges happened in 1982, and even today it is clear as day how much speaking of it affects her still. She is a university professor of psychology who was not famous until a few weeks ago. She has no interest in being famous, or starting some kind of overthrow of the Republican establishment. But she is a woman to whom Brett Kavanaugh did something unforgivable, and that makes him a problematic and unwise person to have a life-long seat at the Supreme Court table.

What is most pertinent here is how Kavanaugh has responded. His own testimony to the Senate was loud and indignant. He screamed, blustered, wept—and refused to back down. He insists he does not remember the incident Dr Ford describes. He insists that he is a decent man because he has a wife, daughters, female employees. He has not uttered a single word that might betray any empathy or understanding of what is happening. Perhaps he is a decent husband and a good father. That does not mean that he has not been a decent man outside of those roles. Being good in one situation does not mean one is good in all others. This is basic logic, and yet it is perpetually held up as flimsy proof when men’s crimes are exposed. By that logic, Dr Ford is an academic and a teacher. She is a mother and a wife, with two sons. She comes from an elite, well-off background. How is it possible that such a wholesome sounding woman be a liar? Why would someone who has always had a comfortable, privileged life suddenly start to defame a random judge? What reason could she have, other than wanting to tell the truth?

Because no matter how you slice it, no woman who has come forward with allegations of assault has ever benefited from it. The consequences of her courage may be beneficial for others—it could help change laws, it could inspire other women to join in with their stories and lend each other support, it could help bring people to justice or victims to closure. But the woman herself will have a life that is forevermore associated with her story. Dr Ford, Anita Hill—who also came forward with her own allegations against another Supreme Court nominee, in 1991—Rose McGowan who exposed Harvey Weinstein, Meesha Shafi; the list goes on. No woman has anything to gain by exposing her pain to others, except hope for justice, and hoping that other women will be protected from the same. Because whenever women speak of their assault, there is a chorus of affirmation from other women—me too, me too, me too—and deafening silence from most men. Women are not believed. Women are not given credibility the same way men are automatically granted it. In a perspicacious tweet, someone wrote of how the men who have come forward with their allegations of assault in the Catholic church have never been second-guessed. Nobody has picked their stories apart to determine how much of it is truth and how much could possibly be fiction, or misremembered, or misrepresented. Nobody seems to ask men what reason they have to come forward at this time, and not others; why they seem like they actually have a hidden agenda to destabilise the church. No, the Pope apologises on behalf of the Church because that is the decent, kind thing to do. Harvey Weinstein, on the other hand, sues the New York Times for carrying the article that exposed him, Dr Blasey Ford has to go into protective custody, Meesha Shafi has to quit social media because of threats to her family. Remind us again of what the decent thing to do is? Or do only male victims deserve that treatment? Would it have taken so much from Kavanaugh to have said I don’t remember this incident, most likely because I had a troubled youth, and I apologise for the hurt I have caused? He has caused it, for certain—Dr Ford has taken a polygraph test, and it confirms that she is not lying. What is telling is how accused men will do anything but take responsibility for their actions, even though others have borne the consequences of them for years. The question now is, how long will we allow this? How long will other men stay silent, while the women push their Sisyphean boulder?

 

The writer is a feminist based in Lahore.

m.malikhussain@gmail.com