Our Civic Duty: Feminists Vow to Fight on After Christine Blasey Ford’s Historic Testimony

Dr. Christine Blasey Ford yesterday testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee about her allegations that Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her when they were both in high school. On Capitol Hill and across the country, survivors and their allies rose up to support her—and quickly came together after the day’s hearings devolved into a disrespectful show of victim-blaming and outright misogyny.

Illinois Congress member Jan Schakowsky at a Stop Brett Kavanaugh Rally in downtown Chicago. (Charles Edward Miller / Creative Commons)

“I am here today not because I want to be. I am terrified. I am here because I believe it is my civic duty to tell you what happened to me while Brett Kavanaugh and I were in high school,” Blasey Ford declared to the committee in her opening statement. “I don’t have all the answers, and I don’t remember as much as I would like to. But the details about that night that bring me here today are ones I will never forget. They have been seared into my memory and have haunted me episodically as an adult.”

Blasey Ford recounted for the committee the details of the night she alleges Kavanaugh and pulled her into a bedroom during a party, pinned her down and held his hand over her mouth as he attempted to rape her. Despite attempts to supress the memories of that night, she explained, she was compelled to come forward when she saw Kavanaugh’s name on a short list of potential Supreme Court nominees that surfaced after Justice Anthony Kennedy announced his impending retirement.

In a confidential letter sent to Senator Dianne Feinstein in July, Blasey Ford told her story and demanded anonymity. In the weeks to come, however, she would find herself retelling it over and over again—and on the national stage.

“Apart from the assault itself, these last couple of weeks have been the hardest of my life,” Blasey Ford said. “I have had to relive my trauma in front of the entire world, and have seen my life picked apart by people on television, in the media and in this body who have never met me or spoken with me. I have been accused of acting out of partisan political motives. Those who say that do not know me. I am a fiercely independent person and I am no one’s pawn. My motivation in coming forward was to provide the facts about how Mr. Kavanaugh’s actions have damaged my life, so that you can take that into serious consideration as you make your decision about how to proceed. It is not my responsibility to determine whether Mr. Kavanaugh deserves to sit on the Supreme Court. My responsibility is to tell the truth.”

In the two weeks since Blasey Ford first told her story in The Washington Post, more women have come forward with damning allegations about Kavanaugh’s behavior towards women. Each claims Kavanaugh played a role in their own experiences of sexual violence.

Deborah Ramirez, in an exclusive interview with The New Yorker’s Jane Mayer and Ronan Farrow last week, rehashed the night that she says Kavanaugh forcibly and aggressively exposed himself to her without her consent; in sworn testimony, Julie Swetnick alleged just this Wednesday that Kavanaugh was present at a party in which she was drugged and gang-raped. Another survivor, who has remained anonymous, came forward hours after Swetnick’s explosive detailing of what she identified as Kavanaugh’s pattern of “harassment” and “abuse” of women and girls during high school to allege that the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals Judge had “sexually and aggressively” pushed her up against a wall in front of four witnesses, including her daughter, in 1992, when he was 33.

As Blasey Ford prepared to testify, Ramirez sent her a message of support. “They want us to feel alone and isolated,” she said in a statement, “but I’m there wrapping my arms around you and I hope you feel the people of this nation wrapping their arms around all of us. Holding you up in spirit.”

Feminists from every corner of the country also demonstrated solidarity with Blasey Ford during the hearings—gathering on Capitol Hill and posting to social media to thank her for her bravery, share their own stories and push for the full investigation into her allegations that she has requested since coming forward. In a full-page ad published in the Washington Post, dozens of feminist organizations—including Feminist Majority Foundation, publisher of Ms.—extended that message of solidarity to survivors everywhere who were watching the hearings and had bore witness to weeks of political punditry reducing Blasey Ford’s experience to talking points and strategic sound-bites.

Aside from Chair Chuck Grassley, no Republican Senator on the body spoke during Blasey Ford’s appearance at the hearings—instead ceding the floor to a hired prosecutor who questioned her motives and attempted to poke holes in her story. Democratic lawmakers, however, echoed her supporters across the country in their own remarks.

“I want to thank you for your courage, and I want to tell you that I believe you,” Senator Kamala Harris said to Blasey Ford. “You have bravely come forward, and I’m going to thank you because you clearly have nothing to gain for what you have done. You are a true patriot. I believe history will show that you are a true profile of courage.”

Democratic lawmakers also railed against their own colleagues for failing to launch any investigation into her allegations. “Watching your experience,” Senator Dick Durbin observed, referencing the persistent harassment and threats that Blasey Ford has faced since speaking out, “it’s no wonder that many survivors hide their pasts and spend their lives suffering in silence.”

Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, in a scorching declaration blasting Congressional leaders for failing to launch an investigation into Blasey Ford’s allegations, observed that “thirteen men are to blame.” Calling Blasey Ford “heroic,” Senator Cory Booker declared that it was time for political leaders to do better by all survivors. “What you’re doing for our nation right now, besides giving testimony,” he told her, “is speaking truth that this country needs to understand.”

“This moment has become a crucible,” Senator Mazie Hirono said during the hearing, reading from an open letter to Senate leadership by the National Task Force to End Sexual and Domestic Violence. “It is a test of our progress. Do we start by believing sexual assault victims and treating them with dignity, or don’t we?”

Unfortunately, the answer to Hirono’s question came rather swiftly after Blasey Ford exited the chamber. In frothing testimony, Kavanaugh insinuated that the survivors coming forward were liars and political operatives in his subsequent appearance before the committee. The Republican lawmakers who had refused to address Blasey Ford went on to echo his defensive and dismissive remarks—lamenting the challeges Kavanaugh faced in being accused of sexual assault and furthering his own narrative that the allegations mounting against him were part of a “calculated and orchestrated political hit” against him.

In the hours that followed, unfettered white, male rage filled the room in a disgusting display of misogyny—one that shattered any notions of judicial temperment or congressional decorum. Senator Orrin Hatch chalked the allegations up to “immaturity;” Kavanaugh himself eventually called Swetnick’s allegations “a joke.” Senator Lindsey Graham, in heated remarks, declared that the women coming forward and the lawmakers advocating for their opportunity to be heard were part of a politically motivated “unethical sham.”

Despite Kavanaugh’s own demonstrations of disrespect toward their female colleagues, including his refusal to answer their questions and his own attempts to undermine them during their remarks, Republican men on the panel continued to encourage his brutish behavior. “Don’t give up,” Senator John Cornyn urged Kavanaugh. “[You’re] right to be angry.”

After the hearings concluded, Hill staffers confirmed that the body planned to move forward with a vote on Kavanaugh’s nomination—sparking outrage from feminist leaders and activists.

“It’s simply beyond conscience how any Senator could walk away from today’s gut-wrenching testimony or the related, profoundly disturbing recollections of Deborah Ramirez and Julie Swetnick without seeing how unfit Brett Kavanaugh is for a lifetime appointment on our nation’s highest court,” Karli Wallace, Senior Digital Manager and lead of Democracy for America’s #StopKavanaugh Campaign, said in a statement. “The Senators who are choosing ignore Dr. Ford’s testimony are not only displaying a callous disregard for the role the Court has in upholding justice, they’re making it clear that the lives of women impacted by sexual violence matter less than their own political game-playing.”

Advocates, who had been calling for a full investigation into Blasey Ford’s allegations and the allegations of other survivors who have come forward during the Kavanaugh hearings, also immediately began calling instead for his withdrawal as a nominee.

“Kavanaugh’s previous testimony under oath has already proven that he is not credible,” Feminist Majority explained in a statement on Twitter. “Furthermore, the conduct he displayed today—losing his temper and peddling in conspiracy theories—is unbecoming of a man who seeks to sit on the highest court of the land. Based on Dr. Blasey Ford’s testimony, Kavanaugh’s behavior and the Senate majority’s refusal to order a non-partisan investigation, we demand that Brett Kavanaugh withdraw his name as a nominee to the Supreme Court immediately. For the sanctity of the judiciary, and for the health and safety of survivors across the country, Kavanaugh must step aside. It’s time to begin the process again with a new nominee.”

On social media, movement leaders began sharing details on social media about a nationwide day of action planned around the committee’s scheduled vote—making it clear that despite continued efforts to silence survivors and their allies, lawmakers intent on pushing on with Kavanaugh’s nomination would be held accountable by the women they represent.

“We are sick and tired of living in a country run by abusers,” Know Your IX representatives declared just a few days ago at the #BelieveSurvivors demonstration on Capitol Hill. “The President, members of Congress and judges should not remind us of our rapists.”

About

Carmen Rios is the Managing Digital Editor at Ms. and has spent over a decade raising hell in feminist media. Her work has been published by outlets like the Atlantic's CityLab, BuzzFeed, ElixHER, Feministing, Girlboss, Mic, MEL and Everyday Feminism; and she also spent six years writing and editing for Autostraddle, was a founding blogger and activist with the SPARK Movement and was the inaugural managing editor of THE LINE Campaign blog. Carmen is additionally a co-founder of Webby-nominated Argot Magazine.