On Tuesday afternoon, President Donald Trump expressed his sympathy for young men in America while speaking to reporters outside the White House. In his words: “It is a very scary time for young men in America, where you can be guilty of something you may not be guilty of.” His view represents a wider concern among some conservative Americans in light of the accusations against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh and the #MeToo movement at large. They are concerned with due process and fear the rights of the accused are being undermined in cases of sexual assault. However, these worries are largely unfounded, as study after study has confirmed that false accusations are incredibly uncommon. Thus, this line of backlash was predictable coming from Trump. He concluded his statements with a starkly less familiar sentiment; when asked if he had any words for young American women, he responded, “Women are doing great.”
Maybe all of the women around me and I are anomalies, but it does not quite seem that women are doing great. On the contrary, the Kavanaugh hearings have brought back memories of sexual trauma for many victims, who are mostly women. I did not plan on writing about Kavanaugh (again) this week. I had hoped my column this semester would be centered around a topic of pure intellectual curiosity and not my own experiences with gender-based violence and sexual trauma. Unfortunately, I have not gone an hour — waking or sleeping — since last Thursday morning without reliving those experiences. Last Thursday morning is when Stanford University psychologist Christine Blasey Ford sat in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee to provide testimony about her assault at the hands of Brett Kavanaugh.
I had a class with a no-screen policy for the first hour of the hearings, so I sat in blissful ignorance of the texts flying into my phone about the heartbreak that each of my loved ones felt watching Ford speak. Then I watched the committee question her throughout my stats lecture, with the screen split on my laptop between notes and C-SPAN. I expected to feel empathy for her — I was too a victim of sexual assault and I feel quite strongly about keeping abusers away from power. I did not expect to leave the lecture hall in a panic, heart pounding and tears forming. I had forgotten what a panic attack felt like. It had been a year or so since I experienced one. But I sat on some concrete ledge outside the Modern Languages Building and that once familiar feeling of tightness in the chest, shortness of breath and desperate desire to escape overwhelmed me. I could only think, “I was 15 too,” and about how infantile my 15-year-old self seems now. Ford’s testimony forced me to relive that experience in a new way. Yes — I’d thought about my assaults, I’d written about them, assessed them, but it was always from a numbed distance provided by the passed time. I had dealt with those experiences more as an onlooker. But her words broke through that numbness, and as she described the night from her own point of view, I became able to access my own younger self’s point of view.
My friends expressed similar accounts of watching the hearings — that they were surprised by their own reactions. It led one friend to stay away from campus all day due to anxiety, and another friend to come to terms with her own experience — admitting to herself that she too had been assaulted. A close friend revealed how similar Kavanaugh was to her own abuser — a privileged, white, private school boy. My friends and I were not an anomaly, though. Rape, Incest and Abuse National Network had its busiest day on record last Thursday. Survivors across the country were shaken by Ford’s tragedy, and by Kavanaugh’s vehement denial of it. Watching her brokenness so clearly juxtaposed with his indignant rage was simply too close to home.
So, on Thursday, and in the days to follow, American women have not been gloating in our vengeful attempted takedown of a powerful man. We have been mourning for Ford, both now and at age 15, for each other and for ourselves. Once again, we have been forced to wring out our trauma in the public sphere in a hopeless effort to stop our political institutions from further demise.
Margot Libertini can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.