In The Breakfast Club, handsome leading teen, Jake Ryan, hands off his drunk, unconscious girlfriend, Caroline, to nerdy Ted and says, “Have fun!” The next morning, after Ted takes photographs in front of her unconscious body, he and the previously-unconscious Caroline figure out that they had sex the night before when she was drunk and unconscious.
As explained by Constance Grady in a new piece for Vox, the filmmaker presents this scene not as a tragedy or a crime thriller, but as a sweet and funny part of a romantic comedy. You see, raping teenage girls like Caroline, or Christine Blasey Ford, was a funny joke to play on a deserving girl back then.
Decades later, survivors and advocates across the country were ready for an onslaught of tired rape justifications and victim-blaming myths to emerge after Blasey Ford came forward and accused Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh of sexual assault.
But Kavanaugh crafted a different plot for his narrative. Instead of blaming Blasey Ford, he blamed Democrats. He positioned himself and his accuser alike as victims, as pawns in a political game.
That plot can be summarized as follows: Democrats want revenge on me for the Clinton sex scandal. To do so, they seized on a traumatized woman. The attempted rape this woman suffered was so traumatic that marred her memory. Now Dr. Blasey Ford and I together are victims. The Democrats have ruined both of our reputations and hurt our families. Please make it right by giving me the seat I’m entitled to, United States Supreme Court Justice.
It’s a clever narrative strategy, though his technique could use some work. (I have a lot to say about unreliable narrators in both fiction and law; his testimony could be one of my primary examples. But that’s a different topic for another day.)
What it reveals is that, in the age of #MeToo, Kavanaugh and his compatriots on the Senate Judiciary Committee had to find a new way to discredit survivors.
In the wake of the #MeToo explosion, a growing majority now rejects the normalization of violence, loudly and with much force. Sharing our stories has trained us to recognize such defenses as extensions of our original wounds. Even women who haven’t been raped are often offended when enablers and confessors say that such behavior toward women and girls is a rite of passage for their assailants.
Likewise, that growing majority rejects victim-blaming. We now have the language to call out victim-blaming and slut-shaming, and the vernacular is now part of our everyday vocabulary.
The blame and shame that sex offenders shift onto their victims replaces the victim’s needs and wants with the offender’s; that shift also erases the victim’s perception, and replaces it with the offender’s. The nullification of our perception forces us into silence. It stops us from telling our stories. Much like the weight of that shame and blame, survivors carry it with them—sometimes for a lifetime.
Regardless of what comes next for Kavanaugh—and the rest of us—even this painful moment serves, in some way, as a reminder that something has changed. The #MeToo movement shaped the national narrative surrounding these allegations, one that reflects a growing awareness of the dangerous ways in which our words can wound survivors and serve to perpetuate the violence they’re defying with their own stories.
Perhaps the ultimate ripple effect will be that someday, those two words themselves will no longer be so pertinent—or so prevalent.