What We Owe Christine Blasey Ford
Reprinted with permission from MediaMatters.
Professor Christine Blasey Ford had originally chosen not to publicly share her account of sexual assault by Brett Kavanaugh because of the onslaught of harassment she would undoubtedly face. “I was … wondering whether I would just be jumping in front of a train that was headed to where it was headed anyway, and that I would just be personally annihilated,” she explained during her testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee. “Why suffer through the annihilation if it’s not going to matter?” she told The Washington Post when she decided to come forward.
Tomorrow, 20 days after Ford first shared her account publicly in the Post (and just nine since she movingly recounted her story before millions of Americans), 13 days since Deborah Ramirez’s account was published, and 10 days from when Julie Swetnick spoke out, senators will vote to send Kavanaugh to the United States Supreme Court. He was ushered there by dozens of representative leaders who long ago abdicated their sworn responsibilities both to represent and to lead. The whole farce was cheered on by a pundit class that’s far removed from the brutal realities of American life, and unjustifiably ignorant about interpersonal violence that directly harms another American every 98 seconds.
Christine Blasey Ford stepped in front of that moving train, and it kept moving. Her personal trauma is now public text, and her courage and grace will leave an indelible mark on us all. And make no mistake about it: She has shown us a way forward.
The first thing Ford taught us is that it’s OK to share your story when you don’t remember every detail, because it’s fundamentally your own. You will always remember the most important parts. Indelible in the hippocampus will be what happened to you in that moment. It’s your story to tell, if you choose. And people — the good ones — will remember it, and believe you.
She has also taught us what is broken in our common language, our media ecosystem, our politics and institutions. If you were lucky — or ignorant — enough to not have realized this before September 16, you may now know just how far gone we are.
We do not know, for example, how to talk about the harm we experience at the hands of others. Tragically common forms of interpersonal violence still have no consensus-driven label in the English language. This is how an attempted rape — a hand over a mouth, a feeling like you are going to die, uproarious laughter as your humanity is diminished — can so easily vanish into nothing in another person’s eyes.
And we have a better approximation of the twisted depths to which the conservative political and media ecosystem will go in their attempt to discredit, diminish, and disappear a survivor’s story. They will call you a slut, and question your mental fitness, and speculate about your political motivations, and blame you for ruining your alleged assailant’s career, and simply make things up about you. They will hear you explain that the worst part was the laughter and the humiliation, and then they will mock you for it in front of a laughing audience. Even worse, in its own way: They will say that they do believe you, they just don’t care.
We have also seen how irreparably broken our public news and information systems have become, even in just the two years since the last presidential election. All manner of false information is encouraged to spread, and private information is subject to the often stupid and sometimes violent whims of the internet.
And we know now, if we didn’t before, that our institutions will not save us. Instead, they will close ranks. The academy, the court, the presidency, the legislature, the FBI, and the media have always been fundamentally tainted by the same poisonous cornerstone of violent patriarchy. They do not deserve our faith, and the people who work within them do not automatically deserve our respect. Almost none of them have done anything to earn it.
Christine Blasey Ford showed us once and for all that if we are to be saved, it will be only because of moments when individuals directly challenge these systems, or work to tear them down. It will be in the moments of rage, when we stick our feet in the elevator door.
Thank you, Christine Blasey Ford. Thank you, Deborah Ramirez. Thank you, Julie Swetnick. Thank you, reporters and activists who tried against all odds to give them a voice. Thank you, protesters gathered outside the Supreme Court and senators’ offices at this moment, and yesterday, and last week, and at all the other times when righteous outrage has countered with equal force a willful injustice.
Because of you, millions of people will never forget what happened here. And that’s a threat.
Header image by Melissa Joskow / Media Matters