Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s allegations of sexual assault against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh have illuminated something we’ve all known for quite some time–to many, women’s lives don’t matter as much as men’s. Despite Dr. Ford’s recollection of an attempted rape so traumatizing it colored her life, relationships, and therapy sessions for decades after, Republican men have come out en masse to send one clear message: they don’t care. From suggesting that not having attempted rape is a standard that will bar too many men from ascending in government or the judiciary, to comparing Dr. Ford’s experience of being held down and groped, but not penetrated, to ‘being respected’, they’ve illustrated the cultural ideas that result in impunity for the vast majority of perpetrators of sexual violence.
The Senate Judiciary Committee and Dr. Ford’s lawyers have now agreed to a hearing to go into her allegations. But even with emerging news that Kavanaugh may have sexually assaulted other women, the likelihood that this will result in a shelving of his nomination is far from certain. After all, Senate majority leader Mitch Mcconnell has spoken confidently of plowing through the judge’s confirmation to the Supreme Court. And this weekend, Judiciary Committee member Lindsay Graham indicated just how little consideration he’d give to Dr. Ford’s testimony—saying he can’t be expected to ruin a guy’s life based on an accusation.
It’s plain that the pain Dr. Ford has suffered comes nowhere into the equation, and the myriad of dismissals that have sprouted in response to her allegations—it didn’t happen, all teenage boys attempt sexual assault, she didn’t report it immediately so it wasn’t that bad—serve to underscore some fundamental reasons for why that is. Our immediate default is not to trust women, despite the numbers showing how very many of them have suffered sexual violence and how minimal the cases of false claims are. But under that is a truer, more insidious belief: whatever horror has happened to women doesn’t really matter that much. Like childbirth and unequal wages, it seems wide swaths of society—even women themselves—have decided that the pain and injustice that comes with sexual assault is our lot in life and we shouldn’t make that much noise about it. It’s all just collateral damage to the ascension of a man, any man, who we’ve already decided to value more.
Those damages and how little we care about them have been on my mind ever since reading Elizabeth Bruening’s searing deep-dive into the 2006 rape of Amber Wyatt, a high school teenager who was ostracized by her classmates and town after being brutally attacked by two football players at 16 years old. The high-profile revisit of Amber’s story, which details the incredibly cruel treatment she received from everyone including the adult she immediately reported the incident to, led one of her classmates to reach out to and say ‘I’m sorry we all thought 6 months of sports was more important than your livelihood’. And isn’t that just the best summary of where we stand, a year after the #MeToo movement launched in earnest? No reward is too small for men to be entitled to or for women’s well-being to be sacrificed for.
That’s why, to me, the recent explanations of #WhyIDidntReport feel like catharsis for the women bravely sharing stories of (and reliving) their trauma, but not something that will motivate the empathy needed to dismantle those barriers to reporting. At this point, there can be no pretending that we don’t know just how widespread sexual assault is or how many victims it’s left to pick up the pieces of their splintered lives. We’d just rather not hear about it. If forced to acknowledge those who’ve been violated, we’re more than ready to chalk their trauma up as something that can be borne—and then dismiss it. Our unwillingness to see perpetrators experience any corresponding loss—like the ability to play a high school football game, make more millions, or serve for life on the highest court in the land—remains the most enduring roadblock to overcome.