Blasey Ford/Kavanaugh Testimony Exposes Deep Misogyny and Political Divides
An emotional day of testimony by Dr. Christine Blasey Ford and Judge Brett Kavanaugh displayed our political partisanship while exposing the raw nerve of sexual assault
MARC STEINER: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Marc Steiner. Great to have you all with us.
Today the hearings took place where the Republican appointed questioner- a former sexual assault prosecutor, who is a Republican- and Judiciary Committee Senators questioned Christine Blasey Ford and Judge Brett Kavanaugh, who has been accused of sexually assaulting her when they were in high school. Two of the women have come forward to accuse him. Others have defended him. This has become a political circus that will change no one’s mind in this partisan political world we live in. Dr. Ford’s testimony was deeply powerful.
CHRISTINE BLASEY FORD: I was pushed onto the bed, and Brett got on top of me. He began running his hands over my body and grinding into me. I yelled, hoping that someone downstairs might hear me, and I tried to get away from him, but his weight was heavy. Brett groped me and tried to take off my clothes. He had a hard time because he was very inebriated, and because I was wearing a one-piece bathing suit underneath my clothing. I believed he was going to rape me. I tried to yell for help. When I did, Brett put his hand over my mouth to stop me from yelling. This is what terrified me the most and has had the most lasting impact on my life.
MARC STEINER: And Judge Kavanaugh’s was emotionally wrought.
BRETT KAVANAUGH: I love coaching more than anything I’ve ever done in my whole life. But thanks to what some of you on this side of the committee have unleashed, I may never be able to coach again. I’ve been a judge for 12 years. I have a long record of service to America and to the Constitution. I revere the Constitution. I am deeply grateful to President Trump for nominating me. When I accepted the President’s nomination, Ashley and I knew this process would be challenging. We never expected that it would devolve into this.
MARC STEINER: What are we to make of all of this? What does this say about testimonies and the realities of women who have been sexually assaulted? What happens when it becomes politicized, so what we see is not what we think we see?
To begin our conversations about these hearings, we welcome Leigh Goodmark, who is a professor of law and director of the Gender Violence Clinic at the University of Maryland’s Frances King Carey School of Law. She’s also the author of Decriminalizing Domestic Violence: A Balanced Approach to Intimate Partner Violence that has just been released by UC Press. So welcome to The Real News, Leigh. Good To have you with us.
LEIGH GOODMARK: Thanks so much for having me, Marc.
MARC STEINER: So let me ask the question I posed at the very top, here; what do you make of this. You have two people who gave these extremely emotional testimonies, powerful testimonies. And I think- well, let me stop there. You know, as someone who’s been involved in this for a long time legally, as a lawyer, and looking at this and working with women, what do we make of this?
LEIGH GOODMARK: I thought that Dr. Ford’s testimony was deeply affecting. I thought that it was detailed in ways that you might expect it to be detailed, but also affected by time and trauma in ways that you might expect to be affected by time and trauma. It’s clear that Judge Kavanaugh feels deeply wronged by all of this. But It also wasn’t terribly hard to see him as an angry and aggressive man, given the way that he responded to questioning.
MARC STEINER: That’s an interesting point you just made. Elaborate a bit more on that last comment you made.
LEIGH GOODMARK: Sure. In looking at his responses to Senator Leahy and to others this afternoon, certainly much will be made of how emotional he was; crying, for example, during his own testimony. But when he was confronted by people who didn’t agree with him, he grew sarcastic. He was aggressive, he refused to answer questions, he was bullying in ways that are not inconsistent with what Dr. Ford has described and others have described with his behavior during that time when these events are alleged to have taken place.
MARC STEINER: One of the things I said to some people today watching this testimony, and having covered this trial- things like this before, I remember when I covered … And this is sort of a comparison, but not completely. But just in terms of the emotionality of the moment and the partisanship of the moment, and what this country has created when you look at racism in America and you look at how deep misogyny is in our culture. I thought of the OJ Simpson trial, where the majority of African Americans were saying, were backing OJ Simpson. And majority of white Americans were saying he’s guilty, put him in jail. There were some people in between who said many things. But no matter what you- our reality is tempered by what our experiences are, what our politics are. And right now what I’m seeing when you watch Graham’s testimony, which we may see today- not testimony, what he was saying in defense of Kavanaugh. If you believed that the Democrats are just there to go get Kavanaugh, you’re not going to believe what she said.
LEIGH GOODMARK: That’s absolutely true. You know, Marc, I’d love to believe that the Democrats are so organized that they were able to assemble this long con, collecting evidence back in 2012 so that they’d have to refer to now. But I think Gorsuch is the answer to that. Democrats were opposed to Judge Gorsuch becoming a justice. But there were no allegations about sexual assault. And that’s because there weren’t any. Dr Ford has given up her life, essentially. She’s gotten death threats, she’s had to move her family. No one comes forward to do that on a whim. It’s not as though she was a woman scorned, in the traditional parlance. They weren’t dating in any way. She has no motivation to do this other than what she called her civic duty. And I have to say that I think there are very few people out there who, if this is what their civic duty entailed, would actually do it.
MARC STEINER: There’s nothing to say- there’s nothing has been said about her as being a Democratic operative, or active the Democrat Party, who she’s ever voted for, what he’s fought for politically. That means a lot in this, is what you’re saying?
LEIGH GOODMARK: Well, I do think that. And I think that that’s the case the Republicans were trying to make today by using the prosecutor Rachel Mitchell to go at her about who paid for her lie detector test, and who paid for various- who chose her lawyer, who did she reach out to. It’s very clear that that’s the case the Republicans are trying to make. But that does not make any sense, to be perfectly honest. There’s no reason to believe that that’s true. And you know, the Republicans are making much of the fact that Senator Feinstein didn’t release the letter that Dr. Ford originally wrote for two months. I think that is worthy of the highest praise. So often people disregard what victims of violence ask them to do because they think that they know better, and they have a better plan for dealing with that violence. Senator Feinstein did exactly what the victim of violence asked her to do. She held onto that information until such time that the victim was ready to come forward. That is not a reason to condemn either Dr. Ford or Senator Feinstein. That’s the best practices in the world in which I practice.
MARC STEINER: You know, when you talk about the world in which you practice, before we play this next clip- I mean, this is really important. I think that- and I’ve said this over and over again, and I’ve said in public, so I can say it again here- that very few women in my family have not been sexually assaulted at some level, at some point in their lives. This is not the one out of four, or that statistic that people throw around. I think it’s much deeper and greater than that in our society, and in every society when it comes to what-.
LEIGH GOODMARK: I think that’s right.
MARC STEINER: So when I heard what she said, I mean, my tendency- especially when I watched her testimony … The depth of this is important. And his anger in response was also important, I think. He … Because when I watched his testimony, it was almost as if … I felt he believed he was telling us the truth. So how do we- go ahead, I’m sorry.
MARC STEINER: He may well believe that he’s telling us the truth. I think there’s significant evidence out there about Judge Kavanaugh’s drinking habits as a young man, not all that dissimilar from lots of people’s drinking habits as a young man, that suggests that it is possible that maybe he thinks he’s telling the truth, and at the same time maybe he’s not. I started at Yale the fall after Judge Kavanaugh graduated, and I can tell you that the culture that’s been described by the second woman who came forward, Ms. Ramirez, is entirely consistent with what I experienced at Yale, as well. And the people with whom Judge Kavanaugh was hanging out, I would not have been the least bit surprised to hear that he was blackout drunk on more than one occasion.
So it’s possible that he doesn’t think that he did it, and he did. I think that’s less likely than that he is in denial, or that for whatever reason he’s decided that the way to deal with this is to continue to deny it, and deny it as angrily as possible, a la Clarence Thomas, who used that same strategy so successfully back in 1991.
MARC STEINER: So I want to play this clip. This is the clip of Senator Leahy questioning Dr. Ford. And let’s just play this for all of us, and then we can talk about this.
PATRICK LEAHY: What is the strongest memory you have? The strongest memory of the incident, something you cannot forget? Take whatever time you need.
CHRISTINE BLASEY FORD: Indelible in the hippocampus is the laughter. The uproarious laughter between the two, and their having fun at my expense.
PATRICK LEAHY: You’ve never forgotten that laughter. Never forgotten them laughing at you.
CHRISTINE BLASEY FORD: They were laughing with each other.
MARC STEINER: That was, to me, some of the most powerful testimony, just because of- I mean, you could feel it. It’s different than raging anger.
LEIGH GOODMARK: Absolutely.
MARC STEINER: Sitting here, you know, doing this for a living for 25 years or more, and I get myself at a loss for words about how to dive into a subject like this, because it’s so full of … fraught with kind of political holes, and the emotions both of these people put out there. But I think, you know, it goes to the heart of something where we are in this country now, which is to really begin to wrestle with the depth of misogyny that exists in this culture, and exists among us all, and among all men and all people, in many ways. You know, and I think that’s, that’s really what is coming to the fore here more than any time in American history.
LEIGH GOODMARK: I think that’s true, although we kind of say this every time that something like this happens. So we had a similar conversation in 1991 around Anita Hill. We had a similar conversation- about domestic violence, anyway- around OJ Simpson. And nonetheless, we have yet to really solve any of these problems.
I will say that I think the conversation that we’re having now is different in that we’re talking about trauma and we’re talking about the impact of trauma on memory. And we’re talking about intersectionality, and we’re talking about the ways in which privilege allows people like Judge Kavanaugh to think that they can do, they can get blackout drunk without consequences, and they can treat people however they want to treat people with without suffering the consequences. You know, one of the really interesting dialogue that’s going on today is about how Dr. Ford’s emotionality makes her more relatable than, say, Anita Hill was. Well, then you get, you know, Anita Hill as a strong black woman. That’s a strike against her, a strike against her credibility. If she had been an angry black woman that would have been a strike against her, too.
I think the dialogue is richer in a lot of ways, but we’re also so much more polarized. I don’t think that- hardcore Trump supporters are going to love, they’re going to love what Judge Kavanaugh had to say today. They’re not going to change their minds. And hardcore anti-Trump people are going to hate Judge Kavanaugh more than they already did, and believe strongly that Dr. Ford is telling the truth.
I’m not sure the current generation is the one with whom we solve this problem. We do a lot of work with younger kids with middle schoolers, trying to get to them about misogyny, about sexual harassment and sexual violence, about what is and isn’t appropriate behavior and how we go about resolving conflict, about masculinities and what it means to be a boy and what it means to be a man, and how violence doesn’t have to be part of that equation. And what I see with the students that I teach is that they understand these things differently than the students I taught 15 years ago. So my hope is with them more than with the men sitting on the Senate Judiciary Committee or people like Judge Kavanaugh.
MARC STEINER: I’d love to see- I’d love to see a conversation with the students you talk to in middle school, watching this testimony, Anita Hill’s testimony, and these two periods, and hear what they have to say how they would analyze what we’re all watching as adults.
LEIGH GOODMARK: I think that would be fascinating. I can only tell you- I was a law student in the fall of 1991, a first year law student. I remember watching Anita Hill’s testimony. And I wasn’t, I would say, overtly identifying as a feminist then, but I remember thinking, why, why do they hate us so much? And why can’t they hear what she’s saying, and why don’t we get to hear her corroborating witness?
What’s so dispiriting for me about the hearing today is that we’re asking all those same questions. It feels as though we’ve learned nothing, despite the fact that we’ve done 25 years of really important work on this. And I think my kids, when they look at it, say why are we even having this conversation? In what world does anyone think that this is OK?
MARC STEINER: So you know- and we talk about the politicization of all of this. This is anger coming forth not from the judge, but from Lindsey Graham, the senator from North Carolina. And I was really taken aback when I watched this, this anger, the level of, the role in all of this. Let’s watch this together for a moment, then Leigh Goodmark and I will comment and analyze it.
LINDSAY GRAHAM: If this becomes the new standard, where you have an accusation for weeks, you drop it right before the hearing, you withhold from the committee a chance to do this in a professional, timely fashion, when they publicly say that their goal is to delay the vote, get the Senate back in 2018 to make sure he can’t fill the seat- they’re publicly saying that. I don’t want to reward that kind of behavior. I think we’ve been very fair. And to my Republican colleagues, if you can ignore everything in this record looking at an allegation that’s 35 years old, that’s uncertain in time, place, date, and no corroboration, and that’s enough for you, God help us all as Republicans.
MARC STEINER: So as we said, this is a very politicized moment. So no matter where you stand, obviously, you listen to Lindsey Graham, and we’ll play some more testimony of his tomorrow when he railed against the committee and railed everybody on the committee, that you’re going to believe him. And you’re going to believe the righteous anger of Senator Graham, and you’re going to believe the righteous anger of the judge himself. And that’s what you’re talking about earlier, Leigh.
LEIGH GOODMARK: I think so. I think people who are predisposed to believe him will believe him. An interesting story about Senator Graham today on social media. Apparently a woman came up to Senator Graham as he was leaving the committee room and said to him, Senator Graham, I was raped and I didn’t report it. And his response was, call the police.
Now, that may be an apocryphal story. But if it’s true, what I think it points to is this continued belief that what you’re supposed to do as a victim is call the police, and if you don’t do that, you’re somehow not credible. There are lots of reasons people choose not to call the police. When you’re a 15-year-old who was caught at a party where she’s not supposed to be where people are drinking, you don’t call the police. When you’re an African-American woman in a city where African-American people are targeted by police, you don’t call the police. You don’t call police if you’re a trans woman, when rates of abuse and harassment by police of trans people are sky high. There are lots of reasons why people choose not to report and this belief that the only way to have accountability is by the victim taking a step and calling the police, and making all accountability hinge on that one choice by the victim, I think is ludicrous. We need to think differently about accountability. And I think that could be one of the things that comes out of this process.
As for Senator Graham, I think Senator Graham looks at Judge Kavanaugh and says, there but for the grace of God. I have no idea whether Senator Graham has ever been accused of anything like that. My point is I am looking at a man of my class, of my race, of my socioeconomic and educational background, and my power, and my privilege, and I am afraid.
MARC STEINER: Very powerfully said. Let me just conclude with this. You, as an attorney, as a law professor, when you see people talking about whether or not there should be an FBI investigation, and then Judge Kavanaugh, Republicans saying, well, look, there’s already sworn testimony, we don’t need that. And the Democrats saying, but we need everyone to take this polygraph test, not just Dr. Ford. So talk a bit about that in terms of how you get to the bottom of the truth of an issue.
LEIGH GOODMARK: So the polygraph test for me is a bit of a red herring. There’s enough science out there that suggests that polygraph tests aren’t that great that that for me doesn’t sway me one way or the other. What does is the continuing argument that you’re hearing that there is no corroboration. There’s no corroboration. Well, there could be corroboration if the committee took the time to call in the witnesses who would corroborate it, to give the FBI the time to assemble the evidence, to do its job, and then to hear everything fully and fairly and not rush this thing through.
As a lawyer, we’re talking about due process. He is not on trial. As much as the Republicans want to make this a criminal trial, it is not a criminal trial. It is a job interview. And he is not entitled to any particular level of process. But as a process matter, if you want something to look like you have fully and fairly investigated what that means is to bring in as witnesses, to bring in the documents, to give people time to assemble the information so that the process appears to be fair. That really matters to people. As a lawyer, it matters to me. And as a matter of fact, you know, we have a letter that we drafted from 250 law professors, saying please, take the time. As people who are experts in gender violence, we think you’ve prejudged. We think you’re basing your determinations on stereotypes of victims. Please take the time to investigate. That’s what people are asking for. That’s what the Senate ought to do.
MARC STEINER: Professor Leigh Goodmark, thank you so much for joining us. A pleasure to have you with us. Really enlightening.
LEIGH GOODMARK: Thanks for having me.
MARC STEINER: And I’m Marc Steiner here for The Real News Network. Tomorrow we’ll be covering this in depth again, and we’ll be covering these hearings until they’re done, until this decision is made. Thank you all for joining us here. I’m Marc Steiner for The Real News Network. Take care.