A year ago, mere days into the #MeToo era, I wrote about my fears that it would likely only ever be a movement of tragic confessionals and not one of revolution or lasting change.
Flash forward nearly a year to the day, and Christine Blasey Ford would tell her story of sexual assault to the Senate Judicial Committee. Ford shared her pain and we watched on and wondered whether it would be harrowing enough to thwart the heir getting his crown. It wasn’t and it was never going to be.
The parallels with the 1991 Clarence Thomas hearings are obvious, down to the same why-don’t-they-have-bloody-term-limits senators sitting in the same bloody seats, and the identical trajectory of the chosen son staying chosen. The key difference of course, is that progressives are now all chanting #MeToo as some kind of magical-thinking mantra.
There might be scant tangible outcomes aside from hearty hashtag deployment, but #MeToo is now the lens, the vibe, the gossamer overlay on every issue of sexual politics. If we talk women in 2018, invariably we’re also using the slogan.
This era means that there are now new burdens on the shoulders of the political class. Not so much in terms of actually doing anything, but to at least appearing cognisant of the zeitgeist. Such awareness evidently wasn’t ever going to thwart Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation, but it slowed down his hook-or-by-crooks ascension. It led to Ford being invited to testify. It led to the staging of a cursory FBI ‘investigation’, and notably, it led to every Republican senator (and that one gun-totin’ red-state Democrat) being supremely savvy about how they presented their support for him.
It meant hearing Senator Orrin Hatch assure us that Ford was ‘pleasing’ and an ‘attractive, good witness’ and, simultaneously, claiming that ‘by any measure’ Kavanaugh is ‘a really good man’.
And it meant Senator Susan Collins declaring ‘I believe that [Ford] is a survivor of a sexual assault’ all the while casting the affirmative vote that would guarantee Kavanaugh’s ascension.
Ford might have been compelling and pleasing and totes credible as a victim-survivor, but we’re apparently completely stuck in the consciousness-raising stage of the movement whereby there’s no mandate yet to do anything.
The #MeToo era demanded that Ford’s story was heard, that we all listened and we each donned suitable expressions of sympathy and compassion. Afterwards, we didn’t go so far as to call her crazy—after all, she has a PhD and used the word hippocampus—instead we just argued around the edges. Instead of criticising her as a woman, she was just framed as an unreliable narrator of her own trauma.
By treating Ford not quite as a Fabergé egg, but at least with a modicum of decency, lawmakers got to both appear as both acceptably kindhearted but also righteous in their reservations. Ford couldn’t point to the venue of her attack on a map nor disclose the mode of transportation she used to get there. Credence was thus given to the possibility that she was somehow mistaken. Hatch, for example, suggested she might have been like ‘confused’ or ‘mixed up’.
Ford wasn’t condemned as crazy by anyone in the legitimate press, instead, it just became perfectly feasible that she might have mistaken Kavanaugh for someone else. This way Ford gets ‘believed’ as the era necessitates, but that Republicans also get their boy behind the bench. Win-win.
Listening to survivor stories is important. It was, after all, what sparked the second-wave feminist movement in the late 1960s. But such stories—even half a century on—aren’t yet enough to move the needle beyond awareness that we have a problem. Trump let’s not forget, had over a dozen sexual misconduct allegations leveled against him in advance of the 2016 election and yet just under 63 million Americans didn’t mind enough to rethink their vote.
Saying ‘I hear you’ or ‘I believe you’, but then appointing Kavanaugh anyway, told every victim that their abuse isn’t catastrophic enough to change anything.
It reminds us that #MeToo is no match for the might of the Right and their will to Make America Gilead Again.
And it says that with enough time, Jesus and white man support behind you, you too can clean your slate, be forgiven, and get your natty robe.
Lauren Rosewarne is a Senior Lecturer at the University of Melbourne and the author of nine books on gender, sexuality, politics and pop culture. She co-hosts Radio National’s ‘Stop Everything!’ pop culture show and Mamamia’s ‘Sealed Section’ podcast and can be found at: www.laurenrosewarne.com.