Not every man has committed sexual assault or harassment—but, in my opinion, every man has witnessed it and stayed silent because he benefitted from that silence. I’m not jumping to conclusions or making sweeping statements, either. This stems from living in a rape culture—a culture in which sexual violence is normalized to the point where people don’t speak up when they witness it.
These stories of sexual violence have been hidden in the shadows of our society because living in a patriarchy means that women and LGBTQ people are to be silenced and not believed. But just because our stories don’t get publicity doesn’t mean every single man in power doesn’t know what’s going on. They do. They refuse to make a change or speak up because that might mean they’d lose their position of power (or the chance at attaining it).
In fact, it’s been reported that 1 in 3 men (30-35 percent) would rape if they knew they’d get away with it—a staggering number that has been recounted over the past 11 years and has remained the same.
But the storm of #MeToo that’s been brewing over the past year has begun to shift things, inch by inch. The parallels between Clarence Thomas, who was confirmed to serve on the Supreme Court in 1991, despite Anita Hill’s case of sexual harassment against him, and the current allegations against Brett Kavanaugh, a SCOTUS nominee, are too stark to ignore. And we can only hope that Christine Blasey Ford‘s allegations are taken more seriously than those of Anita Hill 27 years ago.
While his friend watched, she said, Kavanaugh pinned her to a bed on her back and groped her over her clothes, grinding his body against hers and clumsily attempting to pull off her one-piece bathing suit and the clothing she wore over it. When she tried to scream, she said, he put his hand over her mouth.
“I thought he might inadvertently kill me,” said Ford, 51, a research psychologist based in northern California. “He was trying to attack me and remove my clothing,” she told the Washington Post in an exclusive interview.
I see a genuine connection between what it takes to become powerful in a capitalist patriarchy and the traits of people who are continually able to perpetuate sexual violence. Men who rise to a position of extreme power in our country need a very specific skill set, though I’m not sure I’d call them skills so much as they are workplace “codes.” Powerful men either embody feelings of entitlement—to the money they make (often at the expense of others), the cars they own, the privilege they wield, and the women they abuse—or they are complicit in their silence and lack of support for victims of sexual violence. Kavanaugh is simply the latest embodiment of this; he is by no means an outlier or exception to any rule.
The industries they exist in, which are not limited to politics or entertainment, lack any real accountability system to hold people responsible for their actions or the harm they cause. This means that men who are just starting out in their respective working industries quickly learn that it is the basic “code of conduct” to harass women verbally, grope them when no one else is in the room, or even get people drunk at happy hour so they can assault them. These actions become the norm when the men in power (read: CEOs, governors, producers, investors) give their subordinates a pat on the back or promotion for a “job well done.”
“It is upsetting to discuss sexual assault and its repercussions, yet I felt guilty and compelled as a citizen about the idea of not saying anything,” said Ford in a letter she first sent anonymously to Senator Dianne Feinstein about Kavanaugh’s attempted sexual assault while they were in high school.
“Very often the responsibility for ending discriminatory behavior, in whatever form,” wrote Anita Hill in her memoir, “is placed on the target of the discrimination, rather than the person who carries it out or those in a position of authority to stop it.”
I identify with Ford’s experience, as I’m sure so many women do. When I was in high school, I attended many a drunken party when boys would shove their hands up my skirt or get physically aggressive with me. In fact, such occurrences were so common that I mirrored Ford’s exact thoughts she had after the incident: “This is nothing, it didn’t happen, and he didn’t rape me.” But the later ramifications of Kavanaugh’s attempted assault on Ford’s life were stark. She’s spoken publicly about how the trauma of this incident inflicted her with anxiety and PTSD that has continued for decades.
“If somebody can be brought down by accusations like this, then you, me, every man certainly should be worried,” said an attorney close to the White House. “We can all be accused of something,” he added, further demonstrating how pervasive rape culture is. His statement suggests that more men than not have perpetrated sexual abuse in some way, shape, or form.
Nearly 600 women who are also alumnae of Ford’s high school, the prestigious all-girls Holton-Arms School in Bethesda, Maryland, have signed a letter in her support. In turn, Senator Chuck Grassley released a letter signed by 65 women who said they went to high school with Kavanaugh, and that in the 35 years they’ve known him, he has “behaved honorably and treated women with respect.” However, since more information has been revealed, only two of those 65 women are still willing to stand by those words.
Some question why Ford is coming out with this allegation now, over 30 years later. In response, she told the Post, “I feel like my civic responsibility is outweighing my anguish and terror about retaliation.”
Rape culture is “a setting in which rape is pervasive and normalized due to societal attitudes about gender and sexuality.” In America, we live in a rape culture. Sexual violence has become so normalized that people hardly flinch or are surprised when an allegation of sexual violence comes out. And who are the people who continue to perpetuate and uphold rape culture? Powerful men. Mostly powerful white men. Sexual violence is a tool used by powerful men to keep marginalized people oppressed. It is a perfect marriage, really: a marriage of rape culture and power in the patriarchy. And until we see the demise of powerful men wielding rape culture to maintain their position of power, we won’t be able to see a real change in the normalization of sexual violence.
Unfortunately, my thesis has only been further proven by the fact that during Ford’s upcoming questioning on Monday with the Senate Judiciary Committee, all 11 Republicans on the committee are men. Only 4 of the 10 Democrats are women. The Senate Judiciary Committee has never been chaired by a woman. Ever.
Ford will take the stand on Monday—after experiencing death threats, having to move her family away from their home, and receiving messages saying “6 months to live, you disgusting slime”—but she will not back down. She is doing everything in her power to protect us from putting an alleged sexual abuser on the Supreme Court, a position that could alter the future of this country in very serious ways. We shouldn’t have needed her public allegations of sexual abuse. Kavanaugh’s track record as a judge shows that he is a serious threat to LGBTQ rights, reproductive health for women, net neutrality, and healthcare for all. But Ford saw how close this country was to confirming this man to one of the highest seats in our judicial system. And she couldn’t stand by, even though she knew it could be her demise.