On Friday afternoon, Senator Susan Collins of Maine delivered a floor speech to the Senate and to the cable-news cameras situated within its chambers. In it, she made clear what had been, up until that point, likely but not inevitable: She would vote to confirm Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court, all but assuring that the Senate overall would elevate him to the bench.
As Collins spoke, she also participated, television being what it is, in a moment that had clearly been designed to be one of historical image-making: The senator was surrounded, as she delivered her speech, by two other (white, Republican) women who had supported Kavanaugh in his fight for confirmation, Senators Shelley Moore Capito and Cindy Hyde-Smith. A triptych meant to signal progress that also signaled its absence. But there was another woman who was part of that image, as well—a woman who has been present, not in body but in spirit, in the debates that have swirled around the late stages of the Kavanaugh nomination: Christine Blasey Ford. The woman who, in stepping forward to allege that Kavanaugh had sexually assaulted her when they were both teenagers, had called the judge’s once-breezy confirmation process into question—and who had also, within those winds, re-sparked a national conversation on sexual abuse.
Collins’s decision to confirm Kavanaugh suggests that Ford’s stated fears about coming forward in the first place—“Why suffer through the annihilation if it’s not going to matter?”—will in one way be proved true: Ford offered herself up, to be questioned in every sense. And the overall result of the confirmation vote, barring an extraordinary development—Justice Kavanaugh, the ninth occupant of the Supreme Court’s bench—will be the same as if she’d maintained her privacy and her national anonymity and the life she’d built for herself. But change moves side to side as well as back and forth—and in another way, the coming forward of Christine Blasey Ford changed everything. It convinced many who had been silent about their own experiences to share them out loud. It insisted that the sharing should not be a matter of shame.