What It Means to ‘Believe Women’: The Kavanaugh Choice

Take a look at Lindsey Graham’s snarling mug. What would inspire such a mild-mannered, effeminate dandy to such heights of outrage? A woman came forward with credible sexual assault allegations against a Supreme Court nominee, claims that did no harm to Graham other than to complicate one of his minor ambitions. That is a picture of what women expect if they dare to come forward with their rape experiences.

Victims are inconvenient. They complicate plans, throwing the mud of cognitive dissonance into our otherwise comfortable assumptions about the world. Unless their narrative somehow fits our own goals, our instinct is to shut them down. When their suffering threatens our ambitions, we abuse them over again until they retreat back into silence. We face a deep, internal urge to punish victims for the crime of making us see.

Like “Black Lives Matter,” the slogan “Believe Women” can be judged by the opposition it inspires. Both have been carefully misconstrued by those with the strongest personal investment in continuing a culture of abuse and exploitation. The point of the “Black Lives Matter” hashtag is that black lives do not matter in our culture. Likewise, the point of “Believe Women” is that we don’t believe women. In a healthy civilization, neither claim would be controversial enough to earn either support or resistance. The heat they inspire should be a guide, helping us identify the wounds and illnesses most in need of attention.

To believe women means to do the opposite of our ordinary reflex. The mere fact of their experience is treated as a burden on those around them. If their perpetrator is powerful or respected, they are greeted with hostility. Almost every victim of assault faces a choice we impose on them, whether to be assaulted just once and go heal in silence, or to be assaulted repeatedly in the pursuit of justice. Most remain silent.

Believing women does not mean setting aside critical thought. It means confronting our own inconvenience. Believing women means responding to allegations with a mind open to facts rather than automatically treating claimants as a threat to our comfort, joining their abusers in repeating their assault.

Believing women means taking their stories seriously from the outset, resisting our innate temptation to torment them into silence. We don’t believe victims of sexual assault, especially if their perpetrators are powerful. We place evidentiary burdens on them that render most sexual assault perpetrators untouchable. The abuse continues as we punish assault victims for raising their voices.

Courage displayed by women and men who have come forward to face their accusers offers us an opportunity. If they succeed, they will create a safer environment for all of us. A culture that resists the urge to punish victims has far more room for intelligent truth-gathering than what we saw from Republicans in the misogynistic spectacle of the Kavanaugh hearings. Anyone with an authentic concern about the rights of the accused should be a champion of “believe women.” Sincere inquiry begins by gathering information, not filtering it out. Those wrongly accused would benefit from honest inquiry. Those hiding their crimes benefit far more from a pattern of intimidation and repeated secondary abuse.

As demonstrated in the Kavanaugh hearings, many men will go to unholy lengths to protect their relative impunity from scrutiny. Judge Kavanaugh put on a live demonstration of the power of rape denial, with his patterns of rage and weeping. Believe women doesn’t mean uncritical credulity, it means shutting down the intimidation machine that forces sexual assault victims into the Kavanaugh Choice: Do you want be assaulted just once, or do you want us all to repeat it over and over.

27 Comments

  1. Off topic for this post, but very much on topic for Chris’ “What’s Next” series of posts, I found myself agreeing strongly with the author interviewed in the following piece:

    “Giridharadas persuasively argues that when they adopt pressing social and economic issues as causes, plutocrats simply reinforce their position atop the hierarchy.”

    https://www.citylab.com/equity/2018/09/why-real-change-wont-come-billionaire-philanthropists/571354/

    1. A better pull-quote might have been

      “Again, that’s the idea: that the arsonists should be the firefighters, that the people who caused the problem are in the best position to solve it. That’s the same notion as Goldman Sachs partners are the best at sitting on anti-poverty organization boards. Donald Trump rode in on the coattails of the philanthro-capitalists, partly by borrowing their intellectual maneuvers, and partly by exploiting the very real problems that they fake-solved.”

      1. Holy crap indeed! Any tax reduction dependent on stock market returns from an endowment has got to include a provision for automatic roll-back of the reduction if the market performs poorly. Unfortunately that would be pro-cyclical rather than counter-cyclical.

      2. At least these two philanthropists are up front. Most politicians take control of government through surreptitious power grabs and outright extortion. Time will tell if these two donors have an ulterior motive. City leaders need to build in leagalese to protect the taxpayers and programs important to residents. The quid pro quo commitment to lower taxes is interesting but I hope they hav crunched the numbers far into the future.

  2. I’m a little surprised this hasn’t been posted here:

    https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2018/10/02/us/politics/donald-trump-tax-schemes-fred-trump.html

    I’m a lot surprised that it hasn’t seemed to have really taken off among my friends on Facebook.

    I guess the news that 45 committed fraud isn’t new. But what’s different here is that The New York Times article doesn’t say things like “alleged fraud” or “could be considered fraud” or “possible fraud”, they say “outright fraud.” And they don’t just hand wave emolument clause speak and questions about Russian connections, they just talk about what they found in Daddy Fred’s books.

    Instead everyone’s talking about whether the FBI’s Kavanaugh investigation was really investigative, and whether FEMA’s presidential alert system is the same thing as giving 45 a no-opt-out Twitter.

  3. i just read this incredibly long but also incredibly interesting article by Anne Applebaum (American journalist and wife of former Polish Foreign Minister) in the Atlantic: It is a very detailed explanation on how Poland is moving toward a one-party government where the thing that determines your political success is LOYALTY. Many of the things mentioned are similar to things Chris has been writing about.

    https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2018/10/poland-polarization/568324/

    I don’t think that Lindsay Graham would let himself be blackmailed. I think he simply wants to be the next AG in November when Trump fires sessions. And it is exactly the LOYALTY that is discussed in the article above, that he demonstrated. He got shoutouts from the full trump clan (family and supporters), all the people that just a year ago were blasting him when he said something critical.

    If you have time, go read that article. It was eye opening and also scary … shows where we are heading …

  4. What shocks me about this whole fiasco is how myopic the Republicans are acting.

    I mean fine, Trump picks a terrible nominee. It would be shocking if Trump had picked a good nominee from the start. Run said terrible nominee through the normal process. Do a full FBI background check and gathering of all prior documents. If said nominee has a really questionable record (hint, record is questionable), hold the vote and kill the nomination in committee. Finally, force Trump to pick someone who can actually survive the nomination process and has a much more sterling record.

    But Republicans aren’t doing any of that. They are backing a guy with a damaged reputation who has lied under oath in the past. Republicans have turned the process into a sham by blocking an FBI background check and not seeking documents from the the George W. Bush administration. Even if they succeed in getting Kavanaugh on the Supreme Court and even if Kavanaugh acts as the fifth vote to kill Roe v Wade, I just can’t believe that Republicans can’t see that the backlash on this will break our culture beyond repair, that there really will be no way back and everything will only go forward. It’s like they can’t see that a victory won this dirty will be reversed and everything they have worked for will be for naught. They will end up not only with nothing to show, but also a reputation that will be damaged for at least a generation.

    1. The GOP does this because they have been getting away with behavior like this for years. And it works! Simple as that.
      People do not vote!
      53% of white women voted for Trump!
      Blacks stayed home!
      People who had their food stamps cut were too busy to vote!
      And, I bet virtually every Fox News voter voted!

  5. The bigger issue is he could do it because he represents a state that comes in at #39 for states with a population holding a college degree. There was no political threat on the home front while scoring points with POTUS and Fox News Nation. What his reasons are for his rant are immaterial. His risk is minimal while people like Dr. Ford have to risk it all to come forward and be heard.

    I wonder if the dynamics of the game would change if every wife, daughter or niece told their stories to their fathers, brothers and uncles. How brave would Lindsey Graham be then? My hunch is he would STFU and sip his mint julep.

      1. Let me add that despite the dimwit’s tweet stating that the FBI investigation is not being limited, I give far more credence to the reports from the “fake news” media cited above. But I have not drank the “WH Koolaid.”

    1. DO NOT get your hopes up! With the reports from the Wall Street Journal and WA Post on Saturday being confirmed today, Sunday, by the NY Times, linked below, and other sources, the FBI investigation is being severely limited in scope by the WH, with Swetnick not being interviewed and Kavanaugh’s HS and College drinking also off limits, there FBI report will not likely show any confirmable inexcusable behavior. The report in the NY Times stated the following:

      “The four witnesses were Mr. Judge; Leland Keyser, a high school friend of Dr. Blasey’s whom she said attended the party but was not told of the assault; P.J. Smyth, another party guest; and Ms. Ramirez, the Yale accuser.”

      I have also gathered that McConnell in consultation with other Republicans, prepared this list with no input from the D’s. To me this FBI investigation seems to be designed to avoid finding any significant issues with Kavanaugh and thereby give Collins and Murkowski, the cover they need to vote for the confirmation. It will give them an excuse for their constituents. Collins is up for reelection in 2020 and Murkowski in 2022.

      https://www.nytimes.com/2018/09/29/us/politics/kavanaugh-fbi-inquiry.html?action=click&module=Top%20Stories&pgtype=Homepage

  6. My favorite gif from this is Graham’s face superimposed over Aunt PittyPat’s having an attack of the vapors.

    I’ve been readings some recent articles and theses having to do with rape as a male bonding ritual. It’s not sex, it’s comraderie and machismo, which I find more disgusting.

    Oh, and Graham is totally being blackmailed. Someone has some racy pics of him. Come out of the closet, honey, and be free.

      1. I’m very uncomfortable with that. On the one hand it almost seems like by holding back from stating that fact, we’re almost enabling the blackmail. On the other hand, it’s just such a no-go area.

        He came back from a golf outing with Trump on 8/5 singing a whole new song. he even looks different, kind of wild-eyed and scared.

      2. If Graham is indeed being blackmailed (and, let’s be real, no one can know for sure), it stopped being a “no-go area” the minute he bent his knee to the Altar of Trump and abandoned every pretense of moderation and constitutional obligation that he, as a United States Senator, swore to uphold.

        He could be having a secret affair with Tim Scott for all I care (and I honestly, truly don’t), and it wouldn’t make a lick of difference. If he’s chosen self-preservation before his country, it’s to the proverbial wolves with him. Sayonara, Graham.

      1. By the numbers, Graham really isn’t that strong. Even in a whopping Republican wave year like ’14, he only took a little over 55% of the vote. If SC Dems had some decent organization, a favorable environment, and a solid candidate, it’s not hard to see him being toppled.

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