Humankind has a sickening track record of treating anyone who isn’t a cisgender white man, atrociously. To say that our history hasn’t been kind to women is an understatement. We were treated like property, sold for sex, objectified, boxed into social categories within an inch of our lives, mutilated, murdered at birth, enslaved, gaslighted, and discriminated against in an abundance of ways. What’s shocking is that “were” isn’t the right tense for these grotesque abuses; all of these things continue to exist in our world.
Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s experience testifying against U.S. Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh is a pivotal global event. It allows us the opportunity to surface the common experience women face – that of being Le Deuxième Sexe. Even as we women shudder from the insult that we’re even having to articulate and experience this in 2018, it lets us examine just how deep the patriarchy goes on the global public stage, even in relatively equal and privileged societies. Experiencing utter diminishment and abuse at the hands of institutions, policies, and culture as a whole, is a reality even for privileged white women like Dr. Ford.
We’ve been witnessing a strong public reaction to women’s abuses, with prominent movements like #MeToo and #TimesUp arising on the global scene. At a time when technology enables unprecedented communication and connection, these movements are causing more conversation and action than many before them. #NotAllMen, a retort against women speaking about discrimination or abuses, appears frequently on the scene.
It is a purposeful distraction and appears petulantly defensive even though the finger hasn’t been pointed at all men in any case. What we are seeing in the Kavanaugh hearing takes it beyond that. Here we have a man who has a legitimate finger pointed at him (several times over), who has taken it to #HowDareYou.
Kavanaugh’s obstreperous demeanour and immature fury at the possibility of opportunities being denied to him because of a woman saying he abused her, would be funny if it weren’t still so tragically capable of taking him to the Supreme Court. We are watching a woman come forward with a horrible, private experience of abuse because she thinks its her civic duty to speak up, before the abuser becomes one of the most powerful people in the world, with the power to rule on cases that impact millions of women. We are watching a man stamp his feet, with other men admiringly watching him stamp his feet, denigrating the woman’s experience, and legitimising abuses. We are being asked to empathise with the man, and disbelieve the woman. How else could the patriarchy survive?
These types of abuses against women happen all the time. They happen in companies, in colleges, on the streets, even inside homes, and they are perpetrated by people in power. They exist in forms all the way from rape and murder, to catcalls, interruptions, and lower pay. What’s violently shocking about seeing this performance, is that all those systemic abuses and efforts to maintain the patriarchy are on full unapologetic display. Melpomene and Thalia can’t keep up with the theatrics.
Someone remarked to me recently that they are exhausted by think pieces on these topics. I get it. We want change, but a lot of us feel like we don’t know what to do when the problem is writ into the fabric of our lives like this, whether we are in Hong Kong or Washington today. But, act we must.
Rally around these causes, folks. Pay women properly. Create reporting mechanisms and safe spaces. Audit your own privilege, your own social sphere around you, your actions, your institutional powers, and your behavioural patterns and biases. Take a hard look at the culture you propagate, in your teams, in your families, in your slice of the world. Listen. Believe. That’s a start.