The many women alongside whom I watched the hearing—both in person and virtually, through text messages and social media—all seemed to see some of themselves in Ford because they had all experienced, or lived in fear of experiencing, something along the lines of her story. They, unlike her, were openly angry—probably because they did not have to perform for an audience of mostly male senators. These past two weeks have been a time of sickening, exhausting rage for many women I know.
And for that reason, Kavanaugh’s anger was familiar, too. It was the anger of a person who seemed to be just discovering the unfairness of the world.
Further reading: Kavanaugh’s fate will have a massive ripple effect.
Over the year since The New York Times and The New Yorker first reported allegations of sexual assault against Harvey Weinstein, the national reckoning over assault and sexual misconduct has produced a constant stream of exhausting news stories. The Kavanaugh allegations, though, seem to have hit particularly hard. The Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (better known as RAINN) estimated an “unprecedented” 147 percent spike in requests to its hotline during Thursday’s hearing. (Hotline calls increased 33 percent after the release of the Access Hollywood tape in October 2016.) As Ford and Kavanaugh were testifying, a stream of callers reached out to C-SPAN to share their stories of assault on air. Over the two weeks since Ford came forward by name in The Washington Post, almost every substantive conversation I have had with another woman has turned, as if by some dreadful gravitational force, toward Kavanaugh.
The allegations against Kavanaugh are particularly painful due to their familiarity. The Weinstein stories had such an effect in part because they were so baroque and exaggerated in their horror. Very few of us have been film stars, but nearly everyone has gone to high school. And the boisterous cruelty of teenage boys and young men, desperate to prove themselves to one another, is one of the foundational components of American education.
Ford’s fear at being trapped in an unfamiliar bedroom by two drunk teenagers who scrabbled at her one-piece bathing suit, her shame at having gone out drinking without the knowledge of her parents—all these are things that could have happened, and did happen, to so many other women in high school. So, too, in the first years of college with Deborah Ramirez’s story of joining a drinking game that suddenly ceased to be a game, with a male student—she alleges Kavanaugh—thrusting his genitals in her face. And so, too, with the story of Renate Schroeder Dolphin, who discovered only this week that Kavanaugh and his friends had apparently mocked her supposed promiscuity in the pages of their high-school yearbook without her noticing. (Kavanaugh denies Ramirez’s story and claimed before the Senate on Thursday that the yearbook was a reference only to Dolphin’s friendship.) “The laughter,” Ford said, when asked by Senator Patrick Leahy to describe her worst memory of the assault. “Them having fun at my expense.”