#WhyIDidntReport isn't a debate

There are now two credible claims of sexual assault against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, and Repub...

Posted: Sep 25, 2018 10:40 AM
Updated: Sep 25, 2018 10:40 AM

There are now two credible claims of sexual assault against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, and Republicans are standing by their man.

This is not surprising, since standing by men is what Republicans do.

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Look no further than their President, Donald Trump, who was welcomed by GOP leaders despite the Access Hollywood tape and the ensuing 19 credible accusations of groping, grabbing and sexual assault.

Now, Trump's hand-picked nominee has been accused of the attempted rape of a high school contemporary, Christine Blasey Ford. And on Sunday, the New Yorker published allegations that Kavanaugh exposed himself and forced unwanted touching of his genitals on a college classmate, Deborah Ramirez. Meanwhile, Kavanaugh and the White House have denied the allegations, with the latter also questioning the validity of both women's stories. According to the New Yorker, senior Republican staffers knew of the second accusation when they initially moved to proceed with a committee vote on his confirmation early this week, a plan which has since been dropped to allow for Thursday's hearing.

Women have noticed that the GOP doesn't believe women (aka doesn't believe in "ruining men's lives," right Lindsey Graham?), and have responded with an outpouring across social media of their stories of being sexually assaulted, raped, shamed, intimidated and disbelieved. The hashtag is #WhyIDidntReport and the impetus was a tweet from Donald Trump which said: "I have no doubt that, if the attack on Dr. Ford was as bad as she says, charges would have been immediately filed with local Law Enforcement Authorities by either her or her loving parents."

And after a week of being gaslit and gropesplained by Republicans like Chuck "65 signatures" Grassley and Orrin "This woman may be mixed up" Hatch and Ed "like Carrie Mathison but for terrible and very possibly defamatory theories" Whelan, it was the Gropesplainer in Chief who sent women over the edge, and lo, the dam burst.

#WhyIDidntReport flooded Twitter, in story after story, from women -- and men -- with all the reasons they stayed silent about their sexual assaults (and in many cases, with the repercussions they faced when they did). Tweet upon tweet spotlighted the cravenness of Trump's casual, fact-free assertion with first-person testimony packed with all the many reasons they themselves knew better.

(Men: you may recognize this feeling from ever having started a sentence with "Well, actually...").

I know better, because I am one. But this isn't about me, nor is it about my friend Jill (not her real name) or my other friend Tori (not her real name) or my friend Jessica (actually her real name, because she published this list of assaults by men in her lifetime that has since gone viral). It's not about this open letter to Senators from my friend Alison which has 272 signatories including this anonymous one: "Just turned 13, he was 18." It's not even about how I can't open Facebook now without reading another wrenching account of an unreported rape, or one that was dutifully reported, but nothing actually happened. This is about how again, in 2018, the default assumption for the GOP is not to believe a woman when she says she's been sexually assaulted.

And by the way, saying "believe women" does not mean saying "automatically convict a man of sexual assault beyond a reasonable doubt." That's the standard of a criminal trial, involving the presentation of evidence on both sides. In this case, "believe women" just means taking the claim seriously. "Believe women" means not reflexively disbelieving them because you're eager for a vote and an investigation would be inconvenient.

"Believe women" means acknowledging how shockingly, terribly normal it is for women and men to be sexually assaulted, and how shockingly, terribly normal it is for men to be the ones sexually assaulting them.

This isn't a debate. I am aware that not all men are rapists, and thank you to those eager to point it out. I am aware that women can be assailants, you're quite right -- I, too, can Google, and have. You can find a wealth of relevant statistics here and here.

This right here, right now is about men. Men sexually assaulting women, and men normalizing sexual assault. It may be the strategy of the White House and patriarchy to deny, deny, deny, but #WhyIDidntReport is undeniable. Yes, there is a problem, and yes, it is men.

And yes, this sounds familiar. Remember #YesAllWomen, the viral hashtag that sprang up after Eliot Rodger killed six people in California because he was angry he hadn't had sex? Women from everywhere came forward to talk about being assaulted and living with the threat of physical violence from men as an everyday given. (To quote Margaret Atwood, "Men are afraid women will laugh at them. Women are afraid men will kill them." Hey wait, what else did she write?) It was in response to #YesAllWomen that #NotAllMen sprang up, a retort that said, "Well actually, let me just interrupt you talking about your systemic gender-based trauma to center the narrative around me."

But then there was #NotOkay, the hashtag that erupted in the wake of the Access Hollywood tape showcasing then-candidate Donald Trump talking about grabbing women "by the p****" and kissing any attractive woman he liked because "when you're a star, they let you do it." That hashtag, created by writer and comedian Kelly Oxford, invited women to share their stories about sexual harassment and violation punctuated each time with the assertion that -- guess what -- it's #NotOkay.

(Memo to Trump: It's still not, and it never was.)

And then, of course, we all know about #MeToo, which was women reacting to the monstrous revelations about Harvey Weinstein's sexual assaults and predations by literally saying "me, too."

And still we hear the fretting: Oh, no wait -- is all of this fair to men?

It's a funny thing about that word "fair." According to Merriam Webster it's supposed to mean "marked by impartiality and honesty : free from self-interest, prejudice, or favoritism." But it keeps being defined as, "This guy deserves a TV show, or his CBS stock options, or a lifetime appointment to the Supreme Court" and not "Hey, we should probably hear all the evidence from this woman who says this thing happened to her." Women know the difference, and they know that "fair" shouldn't just be another word for "Would you like a promotion with your privilege, sir?" They know "fair" doesn't mean "what were you wearing" or "why didn't you tell sooner" or "well gee, if Mark Judge says it didn't happen then it must not have happened." (Actually "fair" would mean bringing Mark Judge in for questioning because in Professor Blasey Ford's version, he's an assailant or at least an accessory. And see, who says I'm not being fair to Brett Kavanaugh?)

Well actually... Donald Trump says so. (I know, get your smelling salts.) In dismissing the allegations as "political" today, he opined that, "There's a chance that this could be one of the single most unfair, unjust things to happen to a candidate for anything." Leaving aside, say, Merrick Garland, this statement is exactly what you get when you think fairness and justice apply only to men.

What is fair is to recognize the torrent of horrifying #WhyIDidntReport stories as an epidemic and say, ENOUGH. Enough dismissing women in order to promote men, and enough of making them relive their traumas, again and again so maybe -- just maybe -- you'll consider believing them.

Memo to the GOP: "Believe women" means treating their stories seriously on the way to seeking the truth. But alas, for that to happen, truth would have to be a goal.

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