The discussions of this week, which have found politicians and commentators finding new ways to cast the old doubts on Ford, have suggested how far the country has to go before “believe women” can manifest as anything more than an empty performance. And not only because the phrase has been, in the public discourse, breezily misrepresented. “Believe women” fails when Americans prove themselves—still, despite it all—reluctant to do the extremely basic work the ethic asks of them, as it asks for women’s experiences to be taken seriously: to acknowledge those experiences in the first place. To pay women that smallest and yet rarest of dignities: listening to them. And actually hearing them.
Here are some of the immensely predictable things that have happened to Ford, according to her lawyers, since she was coerced into coming forward publicly: She was hacked. She was doxxed. She and her family, including her two teenage sons, have had to leave their home, and are currently seeking refuge from the rage of their fellow citizens at a location that remains, for the moment, undisclosed. They have had to hire a security team. (There is currently a GoFundMe campaign, started by a law professor at Georgetown University, to help the family defray the costs of coming forward; it currently has more than $209,000 in donations.) The hiring of the security detail was necessary, of course, because—the world whirls in predictable patterns—Ford, those close to her say, as part of the campaign of “vicious harassment” that has been waged against her, has been receiving death threats.
She knew this would happen. Her lawyers, both women, knew this would happen. Anyone who has been paying attention—including the ACLU, which provides a detailed list of the protective measures one should take before going public with a story of assault—knew this would happen. After sending the letter detailing her allegations about Kavanaugh to her representatives, Ford had initially decided not to come forward, The Washington Post reported, precisely because she assumed that Kavanaugh would be confirmed despite her claims, and that she would therefore become collateral along the way to another American inevitability. “Why suffer through the annihilation,” she figured, “if it’s not going to matter?”
The annihilation has come. And it has, over the past day, taken on a new form. The story of Ford and Kavanaugh has come to involve another strain of coercion, one that is doing its insisting not in a bedroom, or in a home with eager journalists camped out on its front yard, but rather as a matter of public record: in the demands that Ford appear, on Monday, before the Senate Judiciary Committee—to testify, potentially, in the same room and at the same table, as her alleged attacker, as the nation watches and judges. Chuck Grassley, the chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, has given her a strict deadline (Friday, 10 a.m. eastern standard time) for deciding whether she will appear. And so much will rest on that decision. “Everybody should be clear about what the stakes are,” the legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin said on CNN on Wednesday evening: “If she does not testify, he is getting confirmed.”