The Senate hearing of Dr. Christine Blasey Ford testifying against Judge Brett Kavanaugh has been underway today, and beyond the specific stakes of whether Kavanaugh will be confirmed to the Supreme Court, the proceedings have prompted us to reflect on the way survivors are asked to present and perform their trauma for our consumption in order to be believed.
Women (and some men) on Twitter have been expressing their support, anger and recognition of Dr. Ford, and the senate's questioning of her was more respectful than the hell Anita Hill went through 27 years ago when she was one of several who accused then Supreme Court Justice nominee of sexual harassment in the workplace, the heavy shadow of America's historical treatment of assault survivors hung over the proceedings.
As Kavanaugh testifies and gives his own—tearful, argumentative—version of events, we are left thinking about Ford's example as a woman who is speaking out and having to keep her cool while testifying against her alleged perpetrator. (Imagine the sideshow that would occur if she broke out into hysterics or became argumentative at any point of these proceedings.) No, Ford acts on behalf of herself and as someone carrying the burden that all survivors of reported and unreported sexual violence carry: the burden of proving herself by presenting, for dissection and judgment, her trauma.
Not only herself (her entire self), but her credibility, her career, her livelihood, her family, her faith or lack thereof, her "purity." When a woman is brave enough to accuse a man of rape or sexual assault in public, everything about them must be spoken for and approved of, most of all, by and for men. What if all of the above are not spoken for and approved of? Then what? When a woman is brave enough to accuse a man of rape in public, everything they will do or has ever done is held up to unflinching public scrutiny. (Now: Imagine if the person coming forward were a woman of color without nearly Ford's amount of privilege or resources, but that's a whole other piece.)
Sure, 1600 men have signed a declaration of belief in support of Ford. That's big. But there's obviously a shadow of doubt and a circus and a destruction of one's reputation always when it comes to a woman brave enough to accuse a man of rape or sexual assault in public. But all of that still begs the million-dollar question: Why can't society just believe survivors?
What will it take?
Photo via Getty