“Why Should We Believe Her?” Why Not?

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Brett Kavanaugh, during his Senate confirmation hearing in 2004. He can maintain his innocence amid multiple accusations of sexual misconduct while we view his accusers as credible. It’s not a zero-sum game. (Image Credit: CSPAN)

Note: This piece was written and published prior to Julie Swetnick’s allegations being made public.

As the drama surrounding Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court drags on, it unfortunately is difficult to say what has been the most disheartening aspect of this process. Certainly, for people who have lamented the partisan rancor of American politics in recent memory, calls to delay or speed up proceedings have done little to assuage their concerns. On a personal note, I consider anything that makes Mitch McConnell more relevant than he usually is a net loss as well, but that is for each of us to decide.

In all seriousness, though, probably the worst aspect of this whole affair is that it has dredged up so many awful attitudes on the subject of sexual assault, rape, and accountability for males in the #MeToo era. For those previously living under a rock, Kavanaugh has been accused by two women of some form of egregious sexual behavior, with Deborah Ramirez, board member and volunteer at Safehouse Progressive Alliance for Nonviolence and Yale University graduate, joining Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, a psychologist and professor of statistics at Palo Alto University, as an accuser. Since coming out to allege Kavanaugh of trying to force himself on her as a teenager, Blasey Ford and her family have been subject to death threats and have been forced to hire private security. For his part, Kavanaugh and his family have received threats too.

Then again, maybe the pain of hearing and reading the callous disbelief of some observers is worth exposing their misguided and outmoded ways of thinking. Still, that the tenor of arguments outside the purview of Congress and Washington, D.C. echoes that of lawmakers who divide reflexively along party lines is disturbing. In reality, regardless of whether or not Kavanaugh gets the job, the believability of Blasey Ford and other survivors should not be a partisan issue.

That opinions along gender lines might similarly be divided is likewise unsettling, albeit somewhat understandable. There’s a probable generational component, too, as well as other ways by which responses may be separated. As a white cisgender male young adult, my perspective may be indicative of this identity, so feel free to keep this context in mind as you weigh my thoughts.

With that said, let’s address some of the comments one is liable to hear leading up to a prospective vote on Brett Kavanaugh’s candidacy to be a Supreme Court Justice.

“Boys will be boys.”

Ah, yes. The old “boys will be boys” line. While keeping in mind the notion that Kavanaugh was reportedly in high school when he is alleged to have made an unwanted advance on Christine Blasey, or in college when a second instance of alleged unsolicited sexual behavior occurred with Deborah Ramirez, his relative youth or hormones doesn’t excuse the way he acted—it merely provides context. Especially considering that there is no accompanying sentiment that “girls should be girls,” if young women are expected to behave as ladies, young men should be able to comport themselves as gentlemen. Particularly if they belong to the “superior” sex, and sarcastic eye-rolls are warranted in this instance.

What’s alarming to me is how I’ve heard women defend Kavanaugh’s behavior along these lines, more so on the side of supporters of the Republican Party, and yet even so. “I mean, what hot-blooded male hasn’t acted like that?” Well, I haven’t, for one, and neither have the men who make consensual sexual acts a priority. Even if we’re grading Kavanaugh personally on a curve because “things were different then,” it’s 2018 and he will be adjudicating matters according to today’s standards. Right here and now, “boys will be boys” needs to be retired.

“They were drinking/drunk.”

Right. We know that alcohol consumption can lower inhibitions. It can make us do things we wouldn’t normally do and would be wise in avoiding, such as throwing table tennis balls in plastic cups and drinking out of them regardless of where those balls have been or, say, eating at White Castle. Nevertheless, getting inebriated does not obviate an individual’s obligation to behave responsibly, nor it does comprise consent to be violated in any way. This is akin to the notion that females dressed in a certain way are “asking for it.” It’s victim-blaming, and it’s not an acceptable defense for sexual assault or rape. End of story.

The other main reason for invoking alcohol is to cast aspersions on the veracity of the accuser’s account. Deborah Ramirez was drinking at the time of the alleged incident, and as such, there are “gaps” in her memory. This notwithstanding, she maintains she is confident enough in what she does remember about Kavanaugh’s conduct and that it warrants scrutiny. That should be enough, and if what Ramirez is saying is accurate, it makes Kavanaugh’s behavior seem that much more appalling that he would try to take advantage of the situation.

“If it really happened, she/he would’ve gone to the authorities.”

Sigh. There is any number of reasons why victims of sexual abuse, sexual assault, sexual harassment, or rape might be reluctant to file a police report or even tell people close to them about it. They might feel a sense of shame surrounding what happened, despite deserving no blame. They might be in denial or aim to minimize the gravity of it. They might be afraid of potential repercussions or simply fear they won’t be believed, especially if drugged or under the influence of alcohol. They already might suffer from low self-esteem and somehow think they deserve to be mistreated. They might feel a sense of helplessness or hopelessness about the situation. They might not even recognize what happened to them constitutes one of the above. Perhaps worst of all, they might already have been a victim, fundamentally altering their approach to future such situations.

In short, there’s plenty of legitimate reasons why an unsolicited sexual advance or encounter might go unreported. Noting this, we should afford victims understanding and the chance to come forward with their recollections when they are ready. Besides, this is before we get to the instances of victims who do come forward and still aren’t taken at their word.

“They’re just doing this to get their 15 minutes of fame.”

Yes—all that fame. Besides Anita Hill and famous victims of Harvey Weinstein et al., how many of these people who report an assault or rape do you know offhand? I’m guessing not many. Sure—we know Christine Blasey Ford and Deborah Ramirez right now. Will we remember them 10 years down the road? Five, even?

As is their misfortune, if they are remembered by the masses, they likely won’t be known for being compassionate, intelligent, proud women with college degrees and inspired careers. They’ll instead probably be known simply as accusers, their names forever tied to the man who allegedly victimized them. Depending on the audience, they also stand to be vilified for trying to bring a “good man” down, and as noted, there’s the matter of death threats and potential professional repercussions. For the supposed benefits, these accusers have that much more to lose. Courageous? Yes. Glorious? No.

“This is all just part of a Democratic smear campaign.”

You can question the timing of these revelations and whether there is any political dimension to them. Blasey Ford and Ramirez are either registered Democrats or have donated to liberal/progressive groups, though they aver that this did not factor into their decision to come forward. At the end of the day, however, if the allegations are true, does any of this matter? So what if these accounts come to light less than two months before the midterm elections? There’s never a “good” time to disclose such inconvenient truths.

Nor does it matter that these events happened years, decades ago. Regardless of whether or not the accused can still be found guilty in a court of law, victims may still live with the pain and shame of their encounter. If left untreated, these wounds will not heal. That’s not something we should encourage in the name of political expediency.

After all, in speaking of timing and political expediency, how are we to regard Kavanaugh’s letter signed by 65 women who knew him when he attended high school and attest to his honorable behavior and treatment of women with respect? How were these women found and contacted so quickly to produce this document? And what does this prove? If we can view Blasey’s and Ramirez’s past conduct through a critical lens, we can view this attempt to sway the minds of ranking congressional members similarly. Just because Brett Kavanaugh didn’t disrespect these women doesn’t mean he didn’t hurt others.


Ever since the likes of Bill Cosby and Harvey Weinstein were being brought down by accusers nowhere near as powerful or famous as they are, many observers have had a tough time reconciling apparently conflicting principles. One is that purported victims of sexual assault and other crimes should be believed, regardless of gender. Since women are disproportionately victims in this regard, this means implicitly believing women. The other principle is presumption of innocence. Until we know all “the facts,” Brett Kavanaugh shouldn’t be labeled a sexual predator.

While noting that this is more akin to a job interview than a trial for Kavanaugh and while the court of public opinion increasingly seems to eschew the need for a preponderance of evidence before assigning guilt, we would do well to remain open to the idea that both sides of the story could be true. Brett Kavanaugh claims he is innocent. That is his version of the truth. Christine Blasey Ford and Deborah Ramirez claim otherwise. That is their version of the truth. Not being in the room with them, we can’t know for sure. But without subscribing to an agenda, we can choose which of these is the best answer, so to speak. Assuming these parties testify, that is what the Senate Judicial Committee will be tasked with.

Whomever we personally believe, the important thing is that these claims be investigated. With all due respect to Kavanaugh and his family, as well as the aims of Mitch McConnell and Chuck Grassley, the veracity of the accusations supersedes their feelings. “Judge Kavanaugh’s reputation might suffer.” So? What of his accusers? If recent history is any indication, Kavanaugh might not receive enough votes to be confirmed, but it’s unlikely he will suffer serious adverse effects to his livelihood as a result of these proceedings.

For instance, for his supposed fall from grace, Louis C.K. was able to do a surprise comedy routine less than a year since he admitted wrongdoing. For men like him, it’s evidently a question of when he will come back, not if he should. For the women who were his victims, they can’t come back to prominence—and there’s a good chance they gave up on comedy because of how they were treated by him. For every James Franco starring in The Deuce, there’s an Ally Sheedy who cites Franco as a reason not to ask her why she left the television/film business. That sounds messed up to me.

As for McConnell and his Republican brethren, I have little to no sympathy for their wanting to get Brett Kavanaugh confirmed despite multiple claims of misconduct and after refusing to hear Merrick Garland’s nomination by Barack Obama following the death of Antonin Scalia. If you want a nominee for Supreme Court Justice voted on with less controversy, you and your GOP mates should do a better job of vetting one. Pick again. We’ll wait. It’s not our problem if you can’t afford to.

In the end, those of us who believe Christine Blasey Ford, Deborah Ramirez, and all purported victims of sexual assault until given a reason to doubt them do so because we simply have no reason to doubt them in the first place. If Brett Kavanaugh is innocent and telling the truth, he will likely be confirmed (and may be anyway, for that matter), and we lose nothing. It is those who reflexively question the accusers and hack away at their credibility that risk inexorable damage to their own. For their sake, I hope they like their odds.

#MeToo, Time’s Up, and White Feminism: Issues of Representation and Cultural Change

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Emma Stone has encountered a backlash for, in elevating Greta Gerwig as a female nominee and lumping together the male nominees for Best Director in her introduction, effectively minimizing the accomplishments of directors like Jordan Peele and Guillermo del Toro. This moment, as some see it, is an illustration of the divide between “white feminism” and “intersectional feminism.” (Photo Credit: Kevin Winter/Getty Images)

Emma Stone made headlines at this year’s Oscars telecast when she introduced the nominees for the award for Best Director, saying, “These four men and Greta Gerwig created their own masterpieces this year.” Not merely because she echoed the sentiments of Natalie Portman, who took a shot at the powers-that-be behind the Golden Globes when she uttered the phrase, “And here are the all-male nominees.” While Stone definitely has her share of supporters for “keeping it 100,” as the kids say, there are a number of critics online who voiced their displeasure with her remarks, specifically in light of the notion that Jordan Peele and Guillermo del Toro, also nominated for the award, are people of color.

As these critics would have it, Peele’s and del Toro’s nods are an achievement in their own right, and shouldn’t be diminished by the likes of her. Furthermore, as April Reign, founder of the #OscarsSoWhite movement suggests, not only does Stone’s criticism ring hollow given that she has worked with Woody Allen, an alleged sexual abuser, and played a character of part-Asian descent in Aloha, a roundly-derided example of whitewashing, but her angst is an illustration of white feminism’s failure to appreciate intersectionality. Emma Stone’s elevation of Greta Gerwig, because it occurred at the expense of Jordan Peele and Guillermo del Toro—not to mention Paul Thomas Anderson and Christopher Nolan, two talented directors in their own right—led people to cry foul.

While this moment and stories of Emma Watson’s grammatically incorrect “Time’s Up” tattoo may prompt jeering from those who sneer at Hollywood’s elitist celebrations and limousine liberalism—oh, the perils of missed apostrophes!—the divide that can be identified between “white feminism” and “intersectional feminism” is a concern for #MeToo, Time’s Up, and all movements of a like spirit. Back in January in 2017, when Donald Trump was being sworn in, and women were full-throated in their outrage over how a lying pussy-grabber like him could become President of the United States, Alia Dastagir, culture writer for USA Today, authored a piece concerning the buzz around use of the term intersectional feminism and how it may be defined. Dastagir notes how the Women’s March on Washington, initially organized without much, if any, representation from women of color in leadership roles, helped spark conversations about how white privilege can blind some feminists to other concerns which especially affect women of color.

Intersectional feminism, in seeking to empower all women, strives to account for the differences among women so as to avoid marginalizing certain voices within feminist circles, including differences based on economic status, gender identification (i.e. cisgender or transgender), language, nationality, race, religion, sexuality, and whether or not a feminist can be identified as “radical.” This attention to various distinguishing characteristics, in theory, creates a more complete understanding of the underlying issues facing women in society today. Such that, for instance, a discussion about women breaking through the proverbial glass ceiling or earning equal pay might also include a discussion about raising the minimum wage, or addressing women’s reproductive rights might additionally touch upon the inability of some women to afford abortions or even contraception. Intersectional feminism, therefore, complicates the notion that “the liberation of women means the liberation of all.”

It is through this lens of intersectionality that we may start to more critically view the #MeToo and Time’s Up movements in terms of the big picture, and in saying this, I want to be very delicate with my words and views here. Broadly speaking, I support #MeToo and Time’s Up. That they encourage recognition of the pervasiveness of sexual abuse, harassment, and misconduct, as well as the destructive power these crimes can have on lives and how it is possible for victims to cope with them, notably through sharing their experiences, I believe, is a step forward. That both movements have not only demanded accountability for men who have taken advantage of women in some way, but have yielded real consequences for perpetrators of sexual violence also seems like progress. At the same time, however, and without wishing to appear sexist by invoking criticism, I feel it’s worthwhile to wonder where these initiatives are headed and what their intended purposes are.

First things first, let me speak to the idea thrown around by some high-profile men, notably film director Michael Haneke, that #MeToo et al. are some form of “witch hunt.” While this thinking perhaps bears more credence than Donald Trump’s claim that the investigation into his and his campaign’s dealings with Russia are a witch hunt—if you believe Trump, despite being given every opportunity to succeed, he is the most egregiously persecuted man in the history of the world—framing movements like these along these lines at best undermines the idea that victims should be believed and taken seriously at their word, as well as it belies the low percentage of falsely reported claims of rape and other forms of assault. At worst, it does all of the above and signifies that the person pointing to the irrationality of the angry mob with pitchforks and torches is himself a bad actor. The concept of there being “levels” of sexual misconduct—that not all violations of a sexual nature are created equal—should be similarly and deservedly downplayed. As many observers and experts on these matters have put forth, not every perpetrator is going to be a Harvey Weinstein. Rather, in all probability, they will be more like Al Franken or Louis C.K., ostensible “good guys” who are guilty of misdeeds, even if they don’t involve jail time or even if we like their work. A violation is a violation, no matter the size (I am being serious here, but feel free to conjure innuendo-laden imagery if you desire a humorous aside).

On that last note about how “good guys” can do bad things, even men who are presumably “woke”—a term I usually forgo owing to its ambiguity, if not its blatant disregard for grammatical correctness—one woman’s tale of a date gone wrong with comedian Aziz Ansari created quite a stir when it was published on Babe.net. Prompting its critics to declare that #MeToo had “gone too far” or “run amok,” it depicted an encounter in which the woman felt shocked by Ansari’s aggressive behavior, likening him to a horny teenage boy, a night that he thought was a great time, but that she obviously saw as a nightmare. For some, this is wrong behavior, pure and simple, and Ansari should be admonished for his actions. For others, even those who would identify as feminists and/or socially conscious, though, outing Ansari for something that isn’t a crime, but is related to differences in how men and women may view consent in sexual situations (not that this excuses Ansari, mind you) and something which probably should prompt a larger dialog on the dynamics of sex and male domination, strikes them as excessive, if not sensational or deliberately designed to start controversy. Accordingly, for all the good this cautionary tale might bring about by fostering a conversation, its logistics and naming of names arguably overshadow its merits.

In turn, and speaking to a problem seemingly faced by other activist-led movements concerned with social issues, critics of #MeToo and Time’s Up have suggested that it is not enough to merely name names and wag fingers in condemnation, but to provide a clear path to actionable goals. That is, while stories of sordid acts might entertain us, in the way car accidents may “entertain” us as we rubberneck our way across concrete landscapes, these accounts do not necessarily help us in our bid to reform boardrooms, workplaces, and the like, and need to be more forward-thinking and focused on the victims, as opposed to the due process of and fairness to suspected perpetrators. For all the hoopla about putting Aziz Ansari in the spotlight for poor sexual etiquette, realistically, he is not likely to lose much credibility over the long term (or sleep) in light of what could be recognized as sexual assault (I, not being there, don’t doubt both that Ansari believed the sex was consensual and that the woman believed she was being coerced).

To their credit, people like Tarana Burke who have been instrumental in creating and furthering these movements have identified potential avenues for change, including increased protections for victims, as well as training and vetting of candidates for service, whether in places of worships, schools, workplaces, or anywhere else. This includes Congress, not only as a supposed hotbed of sexual impropriety, but as a place where legislation has been introduced on the subject by Rep. Jackie Speier, and where additional, more far-reaching laws may be approached that more adequately serve the needs of constituents. Still, at a critical moment when change on so many issues seems possible—just look at how the conversation about gun control after the Parkland, FL school shooting has taken on a markedly different tone than it did following, for instance, the Orlando nightclub massacre—and this is not to suggest an onus be thrust on movement leaders, but care must be taken to avoid current and prospective supporters, women and men alike, becoming disenchanted by inaction or feeling alienated as irredeemable obstacles on the path to progress. Lest, at least on the part of the males, they take a cue from the words of Matt Damon and deny any wrongdoing, pushing the truth back into the darkness for fear of what it will do to them and their livelihood.


Returning to the backdrop of the film industry, author Lindy West, in a recent opinion piece for The New York Times, expresses admiration for Academy Award-nominated films like Call Me by Your Name, Get Out, and Lady Bird for challenging the reassertion of “white Christian masculinity as the tentpole of the universe” by Republicans and their ilk, and embraces the resolve and real-world power possessed by supporters of the #MeToo movement. At the same time, though, she insists we as a society need to leverage this newfound influence to address unfinished conversations already begun on related issues. From West’s op-ed:

In the rush of catharsis, it’s important not to lose track of some of those old conceptual conversations, because we never came close to finishing them. We are not done talking about why so many men feel entitled to space, power and other people’s bodies. We are not done talking about our culture’s hostility toward women’s sexual pleasure. We are not done talking about how to get justice for “imperfect” victims, and how to let go of perpetrators we love. We are not done talking about how to decide which abusers deserve a path to redemption, and what that path might look like. We are not done talking about the legal system. We are not done talking about sex. We are not done talking about race.

As we’ve noted, intersectional feminism has something to say about race and the fairness of the legal system on top of other institutions—or lack thereof. Nonetheless, other nuances of the #MeToo/Time’s Up discussion within West’s enumerated list do seem to get lost in the shuffle and kerfuffle of bringing down powerful men. With high-profile political figures like Mike Pence predicting abortion will become illegal in the United States in his lifetime, the sense of entitlement men in power feel to what women do with their bodies is an important area of exploration. Ditto for the double standards that exist for men and women in terms of expression of sexuality, which lends itself to the former being lauded for keeping in mind the biblical mandate to “be fruitful and multiply,” and the latter being called “sluts” and being told to “keep their legs closed.” Meanwhile, on the specific subject of redemption for abusers, while the depth of Harvey Weinstein’s misdeeds and his unrepentant defiance of violating consent would appear to negate any hope for reformation within the sphere of public opinion, for someone like Louis C.K. who admitted his faults and wrongs—albeit after his initial denial of the “rumors”—is the door closed on him as well? Does Aziz Ansari now make for an unwanted advocated for the Time’s Up movement? And how do we regard the work of those like Kevin Spacey or Jeffrey Tambor? That is, can we separate their craft from what they have done or allegedly done in real life, not to mention our enjoyment of it? These are conversations that many might agree are worth having, but don’t seem to be getting their due in light of the focus on specific perpetrators.

As Lindy West says in closing, “Unseating a couple (or a score, or even a generation) of powerful abusers is a start, but it’s not an end, unless we also radically change the power structure that selects their replacements and the shared values that remain even when the movement wanes.” This echoes her own sentiments expressed earlier in the piece that #MeToo can’t just disrupt a broken culture, but become the culture. It’s a goal that will likely take generations to realize, and thus, will need direction and commitment to survive over that duration. For West, that involves making art that reflects the values we seek to promote. For all of us, it requires a shared recognition that gender inequality is a problem which affects us all, and that women’s and men’s voices of all make and model will be needed if we are to advance the conversation.