Women, men divided
Hearing on Kavanaugh stirs mixed emotions
The image, for so many women across the country, was searing – a mirror reflection of long-hidden pain, of memories that still cut to the bone, of wounds that sometimes feel like they will never fully heal.
There was Christine Blasey Ford, voice trembling, eager to appear pleasant and collegial before the panel of stern men staring back at her. Terrified, as she told the members of the Senate Judiciary Committee considering the confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court.
For hours Thursday, she recounted one of the most traumatic events of her life, even as she knew the likely outcome: “I wondered if I would just be jumping in front of a train that was going where it was going anyway, and I would just be personally annihilated.”
The next day, Fran Scott, a 65-yearold retiree, sat in a food court in a suburban Houston mall and predicted the same. Scott had no doubt that Kavanaugh, despite the allegations that he sexually assaulted three women, will
“He just cared about clearing his name. I felt like he was fighting for his life. That gave me more sympathy for him. He didn’t come across as begging.” Cameron Nessmith, 29, an internal auditor, on watching Brett Kavanaugh testify
“We think we have come far, but nothing has changed. We are not believed when we say we are abused.” Fran Scott, 65, a retiree, on the challenges still facing women
eventually be confirmed to the court. She had no doubt that his angry, tearful tirade before the judiciary committee would be perceived more sympathetically than Ford’s restrained and stricken demeanor.
“We think we have come far, but nothing has changed. We are not believed when we say we are abused,” said Scott, who described herself as “defeated, deflated and numb” but determined to press forward.
But while many women said Ford’s experiences echoed their own, and they were appalled at Kavanaugh’s anger, many men saw his indignation during the hearing Thursday as justified – a reflection of the gender divide stoked by the nomination.
Cameron Nessmith, 29, an internal auditor in the Houston area, said he admired the fire and fury of Kavanaugh’s appearance. During his testimony, the Supreme Court nominee veered between outrage and tears and, at times, was combative with the Democrats questioning him.
“He just cared about clearing his name,” Nessmith said. “I felt like he was fighting for his life. That gave me more sympathy for him. He didn’t come across as begging.”
Across the country, women who watched Ford’s testimony saw glimpses of their own stories, eliciting a mix of anger, resignation and frustration.
For some, the hearing excavated long-buried trauma, prompting a huge spike in calls to the National Sexual Assault Hotline.
Other survivors flooded the C-SPAN phone lines to share their experiences of sexual abuse and assault. One 76-yearold woman described being sexually molested as a second-grader; a 26-yearold talked – through tears – of being assaulted in college.
On social media, many shared wrenching stories of sexual and family violence and commented on the difference between Ford’s and Kavanaugh’s testimony, noting how their markedly different demeanors reinforced what is considered socially acceptable for men and women.
“What’s breaking my heart right now is Ford’s desperate and quite earnest desire to please,” posted writer Jennifer Senior.
While women and girls are often socialized to be polite and smile through pain, Kavanaugh “comes and starts yelling that he has been treated unfairly, and everyone sympathizes. Why does he feel free to get indignant and yell at senators?” asked Elizabeth Gregory, director of the Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies program at the University of Houston.
The outpouring of emotional response to the hearing reveals how pervasive sexual violence is in society, Gregory said, noting that “violence is all around us. It occurs all the time. It is the premise of every TV show, where we know women will be killed.”
For women, the possibility of sexual violence is a constant in a way that it is not for most men, she said. That may be one reason why the Kavanaugh allegations have resonated differently along gender lines.
According to a recent USA TODAY/ Ipsos Public Affairs Poll, 35 percent of women said they believe Ford’s accusations, compared to 21 percent of men. Men said by 9 percentage points that they believe Kavanaugh’s denials, 37 to 28 percent.
In addition, women oppose him by 20 points, 43 to 23 percent; men support him by 4 points, 40 to 36 percent.
Nessmith, the Houston auditor, said he understands why the allegations and the graphic testimony would trigger such personal and emotional reactions in women, and he admitted that a double standard exists in the way men and women are treated.
Yet even though he found Ford’s testimony credible and compelling, Nessmith felt there was not enough proof to derail Kavanaugh’s life and career.
Anna Nunez, by contrast, found herself shaken and unsettled, as Thursday’s testimony unearthed her own experience of sexual harassment.
“We all have #MeToo stories that we don’t want to talk about,” said Nunez, 51, coordinator of special programs at the University of Texas Health Science Center School of Public Health in Houston. “A lot of women will wake up with the same shame. Dr. Ford spoke out, but how many of us have remained silent?”
For Christina Doan, 40, a stay-athome mom of two toddler daughters, the outcome is not as important as Ford’s willingness to speak out.
Pretty much every woman has gone through some kind of sexual harassment or assault, Doan said matter-offactly. She has. More than once.
“Males think they can treat you any old way. They think no one will believe you,” she said, as her little girls played on rides at a Houston mall. “More women need to speak out like she has.”
Jane Huhn, 72, of Denver, protests outside the offices of Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Colo., on Friday.