Completing the Rape Three Decades Later
Christine Blasey Ford before the Senate
As I read the news this past weekend, I tried to imagine the flurry of negotiations taking place before this Thursday’s Senate hearing regarding Brett Kavanaugh’s suitability for one of the most important positions in our country: Justice of the Supreme Court. I imagined Chuck Grassley talking with his Iowa constituency that was just weeks ago enraged about the rape and murder of a college student. I imagined Orin Hatch thinking back on his own, by turns absurd and cruel, performance in the Anita Hill interrogation 27 years ago. I imagined Brett Kavanaugh sitting with his daughters as they asked him whether what their friends are saying is true. And I imagined Christine Blasey Ford confronting, in the silence of her own mind, the demon that has been chasing her for over 35 years.
Then a thought came over me: on Thursday she will be facing 21 people. Of them, the 11 Republicans represent near replicas of the man she has been trying to get away from for all of those 35 years: white men of privilege who would never hesitate to defend a bro. She will have to sit in front of Senator Grassley, who apparently learned from the Anita Hill hearings that berating the witness and dehumanizing her is a way to preserve the power of the GOP, so he is feeling empowered to treat the current situation with the same cavalier manner as 27 years ago. And she will have to sit in front of Ben Sasse, who has had nothing to say about this scandal, though he supposedly wakes up every morning thinking about quitting the GOP and wants to be a hero to his children. From the sidelines, we have Mitch McConnell the enabler, who is telling his bros to just “plow through.” (If you don’t know what the significance of “plowing through” in sexual lingo is, please look it up.)
On Thursday, Christine Blasey Ford will be made to relive, in front of millions of people including her children, a trauma she endured as a child and that shaped much of her life. She will be dressed, but these 11 white men will attempt to dress her down — to rip off all the protective gear, mental and emotional, that she has for years so carefully built and shored up. And we will all be watching. This high-tech rape will be broadcast worldwide on TV and on the internet. The voyeuristic gaze of the whole globe will be focused on her.
If she walks away from this trauma with her armor intact, Christine Blasey Ford will indeed be a phenomenal success story. She will be an icon of a woman’s ability to overcome sexual violence. But it is very possible that she will walk away further damaged by this event. All the more so because it is entirely possible that the man who allegedly tried to rape her will subsequently, for the rest of her life, be able to make life and death decisions for millions of her fellow citizens. If that is not the worst nightmare of any sexual violence survivor, I don’t know what is.
In order to prevent this event from being seen as the obvious outrage it is, Republicans are suggesting they want to have females interrogate Blasey Ford. While that may be the wet dream of a very ambitious female misogynist intent on rising to the top (because Ruth Bader Ginsburg will eventually step down, right?), I really do wonder: what sort of naked ambition must be present in a woman to make her want to debase herself so thoroughly? But of course we have the answer in classrooms run by equally ambitious and misogynistic female professors — like those at Yale, for instance. It wouldn’t be the first time that a gang rape is facilitated by the presence of women. Whether they strap on actual or virtual dildos, these women would be performing roles similar to other women throughout history who so desperately want to have a piece of the pie that they became inured to the personal cost endured by them, their families, and anyone else who comes in their way. After all, what are Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski doing now?
Twenty-seven years ago Clarence Thomas won the seat on the Supreme Court by cowing his white male interrogators into submission with two words: “high-tech lynching.” It was the most brilliant and brazen performance of his career. Christine Blasey Ford has the power to turn the tide by confronting her perpetrator and his backers by reclaiming and repurposing those same words. She can state unambiguously that she is being forced to undergo a “high-tech rape,” — the traumatizing completion of a sexual assault she got away from 35 years ago. The difference is that this time, instead of facing only one, or possibly two, perpetrators, this Thursday she’ll be facing a gang of eleven. Two of them repeat offenders, since Anita Hill suffered a similar fate 27 years ago.
Anita Hill brought about “the year of the woman” in the 1992 electoral cycle. I don’t want Christine Blasey Ford to pay for the rest of her life, as Hill has done, for such an outcome. But without a doubt, how she is treated on Thursday will impact an entire generation of women — especially the one in six women who are victims of sexual violence.
So, to all the U.S. Senators out there: this is on you, unambiguously. Whether you have daughters or nieces, young women you consider your mentees or just mothers and wives, explaining your vote on the confirmation of a man like Kavanaugh and the performance of the Republicans on the Judiciary committee is on you. Of one thing you can be sure, the sort of memories you are creating during this nomination process will not go away soon, they will become your own demons. Just ask Joe Biden.
Maria Bucur is an American-Romanian historian of modern Eastern Europe and gender in the twentieth century. She has written on the history of eugenics in Eastern Europe, memory and war in twentieth-century Romania, gender and modernism, and gender and citizenship. Her book, The Century of Women. How Women Have Transformed the World since 1990, is forthcoming from Rowman and Littlefield in May 2018. She teaches history and gender studies at Indiana University, Bloomington, where she holds the John W. Hill Professorship.