The Female Face of Men’s Misogyny

In 1991, Ricky Silberman, Anita Blair and Barbara Kay Bracher formed a group called “Women for Judge Thomas” that led the fight to discredit and silence Anita Hill. The organization, which went on to become the Independent Women’s Forum (IWF), is now one of the right-wing groups rallying support for the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court—even in the midst of his own #MeToo moment.

Feminists protest in support of reproductive rights at the Supreme Court. IWF opposes reproductive justice policies, and Brett Kavanaugh has a record of voting against them. (Victoria Pickering / Creative Commons)

During the confirmation process for then-nominee and now-Justice Clarence Thomas, Silberman, Blair and Bracher released a list of women who affirmed they had never been assaulted by him. “They ran the original playbook of giving Clarence Thomas cover by having women stand behind him and argue for him,” Lisa Graves, who did in-depth research on IWF as the former head of the Center for Media and Democracy, told Ms. (Graves is now the co-director of Documented, a watchdog group that investigates how corporations manipulate public policy.)

The strategy, Graves says, “boiled down to denying [Hill’s] experience as inauthentic and deceitful because Thomas had not sexually harassed [other women].” Supporters of Kavanaugh are now employing this tactic against Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, who earlier this month alleged that he attempted to rape her in high school, and will likely be used against Deborah Ramirez, who just this week claimed he once exposed himself to her without her consent in college.

But the assertion that Kavanaugh did not rape some women, of course, should not excuse him from the sexual assault of Blasey Ford, Ramirez or others. “The idea that you get a freebie because it was a long time ago is morally repugnant,” says Graves. “We need to slow down and find out what happened, because it matters whether you put an attempted rapist on the Supreme Court. It would matter if you put an attempted bank robber on the Supreme Court. You wouldn’t hear people say: well, he only robbed one bank and it was a long time ago; he didn’t rob every bank, just that one, so how do we know he’s really a bank robber. The argument in any other context besides sexual assault is absurd on its face.”

IWF and its 501(c)(4) affiliate, Independent Women’s Voice (IWV), claim to be independent and to speak for women—but in fact, they are a female front for rich, white men like the Koch brothers to sell misogynist policies and candidates to women under the guise of non-partisanship and neutrality.

The Koch network of billionaires has given IWF more than $5 million between 2001 and 2014, and many IWF employees come from Koch-controlled or funded groups. IWF has also received donations from Exxon Mobil and Rush Limbaugh. Ironically, the overwhelming majority of known donors to Independent Women’s Voice are men.

Not surprisingly, IWF and IWV’s policy positions reflect the views of those male supporters. Graves, who has called IWF “an ultra reactionary women’s group opposing women’s rights,” observed that the group has “provided Republicans in Congress with women’s voices to testify against affirmative action, social safety net programs and gun violence mitigation measures,” giving a “female face and voice to opposing almost every mainstream and common sense protection for equality that’s been advanced.”

IWF helps Republican lawmakers try to appeal to women—despite their misogynist positions. The group has consistently opposed policies that would advance equal pay, earned sick leave and paid parental leave; increase the minimum wage; and secure and uphold women’s reproductive privacy and freedom. IWF’s leaders lobbied against the Violence Against Women Act, falsely declaring in the process that “wives instigate violence, including severe violence, against husbands more often than husbands do against wives,” and have argued that the problem of sexual assault on college campuses is overblown. They have attacked Title IX protections for female athletes and claimed that integrating the Virginia Military Institute would cripple national defense.

In elections, IWV has relentlessly attacked female politicians, especially Hillary Clinton, and supported misogynist male politicians like Todd Akin (R-MO), who claimed that rape victims couldn’t get pregnant; Richard Mourdock (R-IN), who asserted that pregnancy from rape “is something that God intended to happen;” and Joe Walsh (R-IL), who said that abortions to save a mother’s life are never medically necessary.

In the midst of mounting allegations of sexual assault against him, IWF recently posted an article in support of Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court on their website—titled “Why Women Should Support Judge Kavanaugh’s Nomination”—accompanied by a Shutterstock photo of a Black woman in business attire.

Considering the way IWF’s leaders treated Anita Hill, the hypocrisy of the piece is stunning—and in the wake of the organization’s decades-long attempt to erode women’s rights, exposing such attempts at deception by its leadership is as critical as ever.

Carrie Baker is Associate Professor and Director of the Program for the Study of Women and Gender at Smith College.

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Comments

  1. Carrie N Baker says:
  2. Kathleen Dully says:

    Now that we are between fresh episodes of national disregard for capable women in leadership, can we publicize misogyny as a daily difficulty ? If I even intensify my voice at work, can see recoil among other women. Even when that clarity is needed. We need to grow up. Waiting for another woman to be publicly discredited for doing something important or necessary is not the way.

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