Women, men di­vided

Hear­ing on Ka­vanaugh stirs mixed emo­tions

USA TODAY Weekend Extra - - FRONT PAGE - Mon­ica Rhor

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.


Fran Scott

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