The Ford-Kavanaugh hearings were a reminder that credibility is a performance

Dr Christine Blasey Ford became a figurehead for women last week. She testified that Justice and Supreme Court nominee, Brett Kavanaugh, sexually assaulted her when they were in high school. In front of the Senate Judiciary Committee Christine Blasey Ford gave an affecting testimony about her experience with Brett Kavanaugh. With strength and struggle Christine opened up her trauma for comment.

Christine Blasey Ford was, in her own words, terrified, and admitted she was there because she had to be, not to ruin his life or garner attention, as she been accused of. Her nerves were indisputable and understandable. The most poignant and dispiriting part of Christine’s testimony, for me, was when she said the part of the assault she most vividly remembers “indelible in the hippocampus is the laughter, the uproarious laughter between the two … I was underneath one of them while the two laughed, two friends having a really good time with one another.” Most, if not all women, know this laughter. The kind of laughter that reminds you, you are an object.

But Christine stood her ground before one of the oldest and most influential committees in US Congress and her lived experience was judged. But the commentators judged her the typical victim. Christine has been pitched in comparison to Anita Hill, who in 1991 accused a Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas of sexual harassment. Anita Hill was “cool and unflappable”. On the contrary, Christine Blasey Hill was apologetic, anxious, and repeatedly wished to be more helpful. Her courtesy, Emma Gray writes for the Huffington Post was “out of a desire to make other people, not ourselves [women], feel comfortable at all costs”. It has been suggested that her behaviour makes her a credible witness. If Christine Blasey Ford had acted like Brett Kavanaugh did in his testimony, outraged, irate and irritated, she would have been called emotional or hysterical. The version of assertiveness that is applied to women.

It’s brutally clear that these white privileged men who have spent their lives writing the rules, either truly don’t understand or do not want to understand the nuanced and multifaceted experience of sexual assault. These men are working exceptionally hard to push the myth that if you are assaulted, you should report it and you will be believed. This is why they focused on why Christine Blasey Ford was silent for 30 years. They seem to be blinkered to the reality of the justice system of which they are part, that does not appear all that just.

The ignorance is palpable. If Christine had reported the assault when she says it happened, would she have been believed? Would Kavanaugh have been punished? Would he not have become a Judge? I think his life’s course would have run pretty much the same as it has now. Why, because as someone tweeted this week; “Brock Turners grow up to be Brett Kavanaugh’s who make the rules for Brock Turners.” Ignoring the names of those included, this tweet summarises a failing of the US justice system, rape culture and misogyny all in less than 240 characters. Lauren Collins explores this further in her piece for the New Yorker discussing Kavanaugh’s reliance on the perceived innocence of white jocks.

But why is it up to everyone else to decide if, how and when someone displays their trauma? How Christine Blasey Ford presented her terrifying lived experience to the world was dissected. It was about the optics, not the truth. As Alexandra Schwartz writes for the New Yorker Christine had to be above all one thing: poised.  If Christine had shown her victimhood by being aggressive and to the point, that would have been wrong.

Brett Kavanaugh was voted in. Christine Blasey Ford may not have been the wave that changed the tide but the ripples she made are irreversible. Women are outraged and crowds of them are on a warpath to hold abusers accountable and, with the November midterms rapidly approaching, ready to struggle for a system that fights for them not against them.

Photo credit: SAUL LOEB / POOL / AFP