The Supreme Court, Sexual Assault and Seeing Red

With every passing day—with each sordid detail that comes to light about Brett Kavanaugh’s school years, with every aggressive and hypocritical word that passes across the lips of Senator Mitch “plow through these hearings” McConnell, with every victim-blaming tweet from the pussy-grabbing POTUS himself—my fury swells.

I am just a few years younger than Brett Kavanaugh. Some teenage counterpart of our nation’s current Supreme Court nominee strutted the leafy suburbs and ivy-covered campuses of the 1980s America in which I came of age. At the time, I wasn’t even fully aware of the sexism that surrounded me: Hell, I just had the misfortune of an in-flight viewing of the John Hughes classic Sixteen Candles—thanks, United—and was reminded that Jake Ryan, heartthrob to the ever-angsty Molly Ringwald role, was among the rapey-est of privileged white boys. But as a law student in the early 1990s, I watched with horror as Anita Hill’s testimony disintegrated into a circus of misogyny. I was surely not alone in translating that spectacle into my own career trajectory—a vow to use the law to crusade for women, challenge the systems, and course correct our society’s broken promise of equality

Fast forward to the here and now. 27 years later, multiple women have publicly come forward to accuse Kavanaugh of sexual assault—and once again, our nation is reeling, and too many of our leaders are failing to take women seriously or treat them with respect.

Despite the grotesque politics of the last two years, I’ve found inspiration, even hope for progress, unlike any I’ve experienced in recent decades. A renewed camaraderie and sisterhood; activism and advocacy across diverse communities; millions who’ve taken to the streets for an intentional, intersectional feminism; swift power and impact from #MeToo and TIME’S UP across Hollywood—all of this has truly punctuated my work, deepened my resolve, revived my spirit.

But for the past two weeks, all I can see is red.

The Kavanaugh hearings are laying bare the ugliest of twin truths: the naked distrust and disgust in which women are regarded by men in power, and the willingness to believe, vouch for and dig hard for any rationale to excuse those same white, wealthy, privileged men from any shred of accountability. (She was drunk? Poor judgment! Slutty too! He was drunk? He knew not what he did. He was… a virgin? Good boy. Case closed.)

Honestly, it’s enough to make this 50-year-old lawyer-parent-feminist shove back hard at the men-who-stand-too-close on the subway and tell me to smile.

My anger won’t be swayed by partisan preference, either. Republicans who abuse women while touting family values are just as hypocritical as Democrats who abuse women while claiming the cloak of feminism.

Through all the rage, though, is a fresh recognition. The problem isn’t just the players and perpetrators—it’s our very systems of democracy and justice, which is compromised to the core. Sady Doyle wrote in a scorching essay last week for ELLE that violence against women is the ultimate structural assault, “built into our assumptions and our institutions, inflicted from the top down.” Worse, she called it “the intended outcome within a culture that is built to empower men at women’s expense.”

The intended outcome. In the midst of all this, that notion—so cutting in its stark reality—is resonant and enraging.

Those who exert political power—from Hollywood to the White House to the U.S. Supreme Court—also dictate the rules for those who are to be heard or believed. In a culture where men like Trump and Kavanaugh, Harvey Weinstein and Les Moonves, Bill O’Reilly and Bill Shine, hold that power, women are forever stuck having to play by rules that we didn’t create—rules that are designed not to serve us, but to ensure that the power structures remain intact, and nearly always at our expense.

“Boys will be boys,” long regarded as an outdated model for excusing male violence, has become our national creed. Whether voiced to excuse the abuse of teenage girls at a party or the abuse of a woman taking the stand to testify, it is playing out now on the national stage in a most nightmarish of ways. And the path to Kavanaugh’s confirmation is only the beginning. If he is granted a lifetime appointment to the Supreme Court, he will shape our futures. He will determine our rights, our bodily autonomy, our dignity. He will hold the trajectory of our lives in his hands.

Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, in the story she has so courageously told to the entire world, described how Brett Kavanaugh attempted to use his hands to debase her body and cover her mouth—but she, like so many survivors, refused to falter. Blasey Ford went on to reclaim her narrative, tell her story and shatter silence.

We must be clear: Come what may for the Court, our rage won’t let us forget this moment or those which have come before it. We will not go back. We will not stay quiet. And we will never stop demanding accountability or reimagining democratic systems that work for us all.


Jennifer Weiss-Wolf is the executive director of Ms. partnerships and strategy. A lawyer, fierce advocate and frequent writer on issues of gender, feminism and politics in America, Weiss-Wolf has been dubbed the “architect of the U.S. campaign to squash the tampon tax” by Newsweek. She is the author of Periods Gone Public: Taking a Stand for Menstrual Equity, which was lauded by Gloria Steinem as “the beginning of liberation for us all,” and is a contributor to Period: Twelve Voices Tell the Bloody Truth. She is also the executive director of the Birnbaum Women’s Leadership Center at NYU Law. Find her on Twitter: @jweisswolf.