Does #MeToo Have the Power to Take Down a Supreme Court Nominee?

In 1991, Anita Hill accused Clarence Thomas of sexually harassing her and was vilified for her testimony. How might Christine Blasey Ford fare against Brett Kavanaugh in the age of #MeToo?
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Anita Hill is sworn-in before testifying at the Senate Judiciary hearing on the Clarence Thomas Supreme Court nomination. Hill testified on her charges of alleged sexual harassment by Thomas.

Photo by Bettmann/Getty Images

The #MeToo movement does not exist to change the minds of misogynists—male or female. It is not about standing up, waving our arms, and screaming, “Hey, this violence happens to our bodies all the time and you should care!”

For misogynists, the commonality of sexual harassment and assault of women is evidence that women who demand justice are hysterical and self-seeking, driven by personal vendettas, or a desire for fame or money.

We are seeing this play out between U.S. Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh and Christine Blasey Ford, a research psychologist who alleges Kavanaugh attempted to rape her when she was in high school three decades ago. It comes against the backdrop of the #MeToo movement and 27 years after another dramatic showdown over sexual harassment allegations against another conservative Supreme Court nominee, Clarence Thomas.

Kavanaugh, if confirmed, could help decide the future of Roe v. Wade and abortion rights in this country, yet he refused to state during his confirmation hearings whether women should have agency over their own bodies. Instead, he dodged questions about abortion in cowardly, meaningless rhetoric.

Is it hard to imagine that as a 17-year-old he believed he had a right to take a woman’s body—well, a girl, actually, as Ford was only 15—and then staunchly deny the assault happened? Is it much of a stretch to imagine him deciding what he wanted, when, and how?

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For misogynists, sexual harassment and assault are a result of “the way men are.” It’s the natural order of things. Speaking out against it goes against the natural order of things.

And just as Anita Hill was seen as a transgressive woman thwarting the career of the supposed real victim when she testified in 1991 against Clarence Thomas, Ford is being cast as an impediment—at best, a liar and at worst, a fraud. She has received death threats and has been forced to move. She will always, henceforth, be known as the “woman who accused Brett Kavanaugh,” despite her Ph.D. in psychology, positions at Stanford, and numerous academic publications.

Coming all these years after Hill’s, Ford’s testimony, if it happens next week, will give us insight into whether the #MeToo movement has done anything to change the thinking of those who believe women should just “deal with it,” that the assault on a woman’s body is not a deal breaker, is not a sign of a man’s immorality. Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley has set a Friday deadline for Ford to respond to a request for her to speak to the committee.

A reserved law professor who knew she’d face relentless attacks on her character, Anita Hill had refused to be silent and testified in humiliating detail the sexual harassment she endured.

All these years later, will the committee similarly attack Ford’s character or respectfully give her the benefit of the doubt? Will they treat her as an autonomous human being with rights over her body and life or as an irritating roadblock to their pursuit of power?

The #MeToo movement is intended to help victims find entry points for individual healing.

To be a non-misogynistic woman in the era of Donald Trump is to live in a constant state of dizzying rage, and I can’t help but think that Ford will be attacked during her testimony and Kavanaugh will be confirmed—just as was the case 27 years ago.

A man who openly bragged about grabbing women “by the pussy” was elected president, with a full 53 percent of White women voters supporting him. Trump and the Republican Party threw support behind Alabama senatorial candidate Roy Moore, who sexually assaulted teenage girls while he was in his 30s and admitted to “dating” girls as young as 15. None of this signaled a problem for the GOP. Moore lost, thankfully, but only barely and only because Black women showed up in droves to vote against him.

The Trump administration has been one reminder after another that the sexual assault of women is not a deal breaker for a large portion of Americans, that our bodies are not our own, that our health care, particularly as related to reproduction, should be decided by hordes of cisgendered men who will never face the ramifications of the laws they pass.

As women fight for safety, equity, and bodily autonomy, our rage is not mere screaming into a void, but rather the catalyst for the incredible vitality of the #MeToo movement. It is a time when every one of us survivors sees herself in Anita Hill, even those of us too young to have witnessed her courageous stand. She sat before that committee and broke the rules. The women who spoke out against Harvey Weinstein exemplified this same bravery. Every woman telling her story of assault has done the same. And now, Christine Blasey Ford.

Tarana Burke, the Black woman who founded #MeToo in 2006, states that the movement is intended to help victims “find entry points for individual healing” and “galvanize a broad base of survivors to disrupt the systems that allow for the global proliferation of sexual violence.”

It’s about seeing ourselves in one another, in lifting our voices above the din of misogynists around us. It’s about fighting loudly in a world that truly does not care what happens to our bodies, raising sons and daughters who see it differently, who refuse to be touched against their will, who refuse to be silent when it happens anyway. These harassers and rapists may not lose their jobs. They may get a slap on the wrist and their careers stalled, but every time a woman like Christine Ford or Anita Hill stands, millions more will stand, too.

Ultimately, we don't need the approval of misogynists. We don't need their consent or even their compassion. They may win the Kavanaugh battle, but it won't be without extreme disruption, as we are witnessing now. They have no choice but to face us, and as more and more women fight for their rightful place in the world, they'll have no choice but to step aside. The floodgates have opened, and the waters flow toward justice.