With the lifetime appointment of Judge Brett Kavanaugh to the highest court in the United States, we can no longer deny the deeply entrenched patriarchy in the US and around the world. The case had eerie resemblances to the Anita Hill case (1991). Many may have assumed that several decades later there would be a different outcome. But that was not the case.
On Sept. 28, the Cynic published an op-ed piece titled “Kavanaugh should be confirmed to Supreme Court,” by a student named James Simpson. This piece generated quite a bit of outrage from the UVM community, and came up in our Ecofeminism class with professor Annika Ljung-Baruth. The students in the class found the opinion piece to be offensive, in poor taste, and badly written. The article is written from the perspective of a man who is looking at the testimony through his own lens of privilege, patriarchy and whiteness. We understand the Cynic’s obligation to publish opinion pieces that differ from the newspaper’s own values, and to uphold a free-speech platform for students. We also understand that it is likely that the piece was edited to make it suitable for publishing. Regardless, we think it is critical to explain our outrage at the author’s point of view, and the Cynic’s subsequent publishing of such a piece. This letter focuses on two primary issues: specific statements made by Simpson and the nature of his piece as whole.
Within the first few sentences of his piece, Simpson states, “Democrats have seized on these allegations in the hopes of either stopping or delaying Kavanaugh’s confirmation…However, these allegations are entirely unsubstantiated, as shown by the lack of corroboration on the accusers’ parts, and it’s clear that the Democrats are using Kavanaugh’s accusers as pawns in their political game.” By making this statement, Simpson implicitly ignores the fact that women’s health and safety are viewed as political issues. The politicization of women’s rights undermines our basic rights as human beings (along with the rights of POC, LGBTQ+ individuals, etc). We shouldn’t be divided by political party affiliations when it comes to believing a person who has been sexually assaulted.
In addition, Simpson fails to see that corroboration is not inherently necessary for a confirmation hearing regarding a nomination; it was not a trial, it was a job interview. The mere fact that Kavanaugh was accused of sexual assault should disqualify him from holding one of the most powerful positions in the United States government. Corroboration is not undeniable, irrefutable proof, and corroboration for sexual assault is extremely difficult to prove. For most cases of sexual assault, there are no witnesses present. Simpson has proved himself to have no real knowledge about how corroboration works in cases such as these. To conflate Ford and Ramirez with ‘pawns’ in a political game devalues these women and their statements, and the claims of survivors around the world.
Simpson also remarks that, “Each person Ford alleged to be at the party had no knowledge of the attempted assault, nor had knowledge of the party even taking place, according to a September 22 Politico article.” No one else needs to remember the party, as most people would not be able to identify parties that they went to during their high school and college career, unless something significant enough happened for them to remember it, like being sexually assaulted. Our peers will not have the same lasting memory of a party, as this was not the party in which they themselves were assaulted.
Further, Simpson mimics his conservative idols when he erroneously claims that, “There is simply nothing that supports the accusation, as demonstrated in Ford’s testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee when Republican-appointed questioner Rachel Mitchell questioned her on her named witnesses’ refutations of her story.” It is blatantly not true that there is “nothing that supports the accusation,” as Simpson has stated. To refute this, we would like to offer some evidence to to Simpson and his fellow Kavanaugh-sympathizers:
Ford was able to name people who were at the party who ran in the same social circle as Kavanaugh during that summer.
Ford and Kavanaugh knew each other in high school, which Kavanaugh has admitted, and Ford dated one of Kavanaugh’s friends in high school.
One of Kavanaugh’s friends, Mark Judge, wrote a memoir in which he details Kavanaugh as being a heavy drinker, consistent with the drinking habits of Kavanaugh that Ford has detailed.
Judge’s girlfriend at that time stated that Judge has made claims to her when they were dating that he participated in the type of sexual misconduct which Ford has accused Kavanaugh of.
Several of his high school and college classmates have confirmed Kavanaugh’s excessive drinking habits.
His calendar describes him going out and partying in July of 1982 with the boy Ford was seeing (Garrett/Squi).
Many crucial details about her sexual assault are consistent with statements made years earlier in therapy, including the addition of a second boy present during the assault.
Kavanaugh lived in and frequented the spaces that Ford accuses him of being in in 1982. He was in the area in July of 1982 (the time of the assault).
Simpson, as well as the GOP, is calling upon us to value a man’s testimony over a woman’s, not based on merit, or any reason other than male privilege. Apparently, men should be believed over women, no matter how inconsistent, evasive and discourteous the man is acting. The question is, why do we value male testimony over female testimony? The hypocrisy present in the case is far reaching. From Kavanaugh’s tears and erratic behavior being interpreted as emotion-filled and proof of innocence, while Dr. Ford’s composure was seen as cold, calculated and proof that she was lying. Dr. Ford explained her case, showed enormous strength, and even explained the psychology of why she could remember the assault itself so clearly. In the end, it doesn’t matter how well you demonstrate your claim, because the decision has already been made. Judge Kavanaugh will be Trump’s pawn, to use Simpson’s words, voting conservatively on cases that benefit the Trump White House.
Simpson makes the most drastic and disastrous claim in his piece when he writes, “To tarnish someone’s reputation and professional life in the total absence of such evidence would be a terrible and cruel mistake…As it stands right now, Kavanaugh should be confirmed to the Supreme Court as soon as possible.” Let’s talk about the idea of “tarnishing someone’s reputation and professional life.” What about Ford’s life as a victim of sexual assault who has to live with what Kavanaugh did to her every day, and the retraumatization of presenting that assault to the entire country and the whole world? The confirmation of Kavanaugh has further proved that such accusations won’t even hurt a man’s reputation. Ford knew that she was going to be destroyed and she told her story anyway because she wanted to protect women. She is the one who put her career and reputation on the line, and her abuser is being rewarded. Letting Kavanaugh off the hook is not only deeply harmful to Ford and his other accusers, but it also does him a disservice. He will not be held accountable for his actions, or encouraged to reflect and make amends. The toxic harm of sexual assault will just be buried again, instead of being allowed to heal. Hiding the past helps no one. The most compassionate response for all of us is also what is best for our culture: to make Kavanaugh face what he has done, not out of any hatred or spite, but because taking responsibility is the only way to improve oneself, heal, and truly move forward.
There are many problems with the nature of Simpson’s piece. Simpson engages in victim blaming, and does not address his privilege as a white male writing on such a topic. The Cynic, in publishing this piece, has incidentally given rape-apologists a platform, whether that was their goal or not. Without a refutation piece or at least some kind of clarification from the newspaper itself, publishing such articles in a college newspaper may have the effect of encouraging or supporting abusers.
At its core, this story is about sexual assault, not politics. This event is a result of a deeply flawed system which harms all involved. Women are encouraged to stay silent, and that silence is later used against them to discredit any allegations they come forward with. They are forced to not only relive those experiences, but to open themselves up to public scrutiny in a system which is rigged against them. Men are taught and expected to be dominant and sexually aggressive. This conception of masculinity perpetuates these patterns of sexual violence. Furthermore, it makes it more socially acceptable for men to disrespect, objectify, and ignore women.
Ford was incredibly poised, beautiful, graceful, intelligent and strong during her testimony. She literally had to use her own background in psychology to defend the experience of her trauma. When people at the hearing were trying to use the way she remembers the incident as evidence for their belief that she is lying, she was able to explain to them the psychology of her own trauma. For those of us who have not experienced sexual assault, and the many of us who have and have not taken it to court, it is impossible to imagine what it must be like to have to analyze your own trauma while on the stand, in a hearing where you are being treated more like the accused than the accuser.
Simpson also fails to note how the sexual assault allegations will have a major impact on Kavanaugh’s ability to act as a justice. Kavanaugh comes from a position of extreme power and privilege as an upper class, white, cisgender, heterosexual man. The allegations against him show that he has used that privilege to remain ignorant to the issues oppressed groups face and the confirmation to the Supreme Court gives him power over these groups. The rights of oppressed groups are seriously threatened by a justice who will not recognize or respect the struggles they face.
Further, Kavanaugh’s confirmation has huge implications for the current state of women’s issues in politics. Despite the credible allegations from Dr. Ford, as well as Kavanaugh’s other accusers, those in power saw him as suitable for the highest court in the country. Allegations of sexual assault were not considered disqualifying and in many cases those in power degraded those allegations to support Kavanaugh. Basic human rights must take precedence over politics. This is not about conservative or liberal policies. It is about the basic right for women to exist without fear of violence, to be heard and judged fairly, and to be recognized as fully human.
It is evident how Simpson’s reactions to Dr. Ford and Kavanaugh’s testimonies reflect a gendered double standard. Dr. Ford was professional, composed, and genuine. She had to present herself in a very specific way to be viewed as a credible source instead of a hysterical woman. Despite this, she has been ignored, attacked, and discredited. On the other hand, Kavanaugh was extremely emotional. Despite his obvious anger, and his pattern of evading questions, and despite partisan attacks, his denial has been viewed as credible. For a man, acting emotional makes him more credible in the eyes of many, not less.
Kavanaugh’s confirmation is going to have a major impact on the rest of our lives and how we see the world. This is not only a women’s issue, and it is not a fight women will win alone. Other oppressed groups need to recognize the shared threat to their rights and find ways to come together. Privileged individuals need to recognize that privilege and engage with these issues instead of remaining detached. The personhood of all of us who are threatened because of our gender, sexual orientation, race, class, ethnic belonging or ability has been put in jeopardy. Despite the supposed progress we’ve made, our voices are still not heard.
We are so grateful for Dr. Ford’s bravery. There is an emergent need for us to speak out for Dr. Ford, survivors, women, and all oppressed people. The kind of support for Kavanaugh expressed in the Cynic article reinforces the harmful system and the dangerous perception of masculinity it promotes. Those who have been harmed by oppressive systems in the past, especially victims of violence, deserve our respect and support. These events have been extremely painful for many. It is just as important for us to support those who have been harmed as it is to continue the fight against systems of oppression. We cannot ignore the presence of the patriarchy in the US. It has cost all of us too much. We cannot continue to validate ignorance and entitlement.
Statement by: Linnea Johnson, Kayley Dillon, Dani Dolphin, Casey Henehan, Finn Brokaw, Nell Carpenter, Kenzie Hines, Ariane Goldsmith, Ella Mighell, Harper Simpson, Katie Cohen and Clare Abbatiello