Welcome to Word Vomit Wednesday! A series of blog posts where I attempt to process thoughts and feelings, usually about a specific topic from current events that I, and sometimes the rest of the Internet, ruminate obsessively about. All thoughts/opinions/experiences are my own (unless otherwise indicated); I don’t claim anything that I write to represent anyone other than myself.
CW: Sexual Assault
As with pretty much all the news about our current state of affairs, the Kavanaugh nomination and hearings for SCOTUS have been extremely triggering and stressful. Even before Professor Christine Blasey Ford came forward with her story of being sexually assaulted by Kavanaugh, this nomination indicated an even darker America to come, as if the one we’re in now isn’t dire enough for women, the LGBTQ+ community, and BIPOC. And, as with so much of the news we’ve been contending with since 2016, I’ve felt a need to pull back from watching it, reading tweets and articles almost ritualistically just so I can take care of myself physically, emotionally, and psychologically. Staying on top of everything going on takes a tremendous toll and I constantly find myself thinking about how the well-beings of marginalized people are constantly looked over and dismissed.
This came up for me again the other night when, after having a pretty relaxed evening watching The Emmy’s with my parents, my dad turned the news back on and that sense of simmering rage and hypervigilance that I’ve learned to just deal with existing as a woman in the world, came bubbling right to the surface. I had to leave almost immediately because that was not the way I wanted to end my day feeling. If I’m going to be active and helpful in any way, even in small ways like writing this blog, I need to be able to sleep at night. But one thing that came up in the few minutes of watching the Kavanaugh coverage that I have not been able to stop thinking about was a quote from someone in the nominee’s camp saying something along the lines of not even knowing the story or who the woman could possibly have been until Ford revealed herself. This narrative is offered over and over again as a way to dismiss women when they come forward in these situations. A narrative that continues to portray women and our experiences as insignificant.
That killed me. The fact that this woman not only went through a trauma where her personhood was never considered from the get-go, has been affected by it for decades, is risking her life for this country (she and her family have since had to leave their home due to death threats) to share her story and make her identity known, to again, be told by men she is not worthy of consideration is devastating. And that seems to be a major key in all of this. Women are not considered. At all. Kavanaugh probably didn’t recall the assault because he got what he wanted out of it. He never considered Ford or her feelings, needs, or wants. He couldn't have cared less. He still couldn’t care less. The GOP, who should care about putting an alleged rapist on the bench of the highest court in the land, but instead made a publicity stunt of having 65 women sign a document (all but two seemingly had no idea what they had signed) that stated they would vouch for Kavanaugh, definitely don’t see a problem if they’re willing to manipulate women to get their man through the confirmation process.
I saw a tweet the other day from @laurenthehough, who shared this sentiment: “You know what would be fucking weird to hear? ‘I did that. It was fucking terrible. I’m sorry. I did years of therapy and soul searching and work and I changed my behavior. I can’t change what I did. But I made damn sure I never did it again.’ Why is that never the statement?”
Why is that never the statement? I cannot tell you how healing it would be if those were the statements that we started hearing. Real accountability. Real apologies. Real work put into an individual’s growth and education. Would those statements start solving all of these problems? No, of course not. But they would at least indicate that these people recognize that the women they’ve hurt are people. And that they understand that they have caused harm, sometimes a lifetime’s worth, to another person. That would create a powerful shift. Because one of the reasons we don’t hear these statements is because these people don’t consider what they do to women to be of any significance. That unless you’re related to a woman by blood or marriage or if you find them attractive, they don’t matter. It’s probably inconceivable to Kavanaugh and his ilk that a situation that was so forgettable for him because “boys will be boys,” had been burned into Ford’s mind. She never mattered to him, he felt entitled to her and her body, and our culture allowed that.
As I’m writing this, I realize that I will be posting it on arguably the most important Jewish holiday of the year, Yom Kippur. Which couldn’t be more fitting for this topic. Yom Kippur translates to Day of Atonement. It comes ten days after Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year, wherein those ten days are meant to give us time to reflect on the past year. All the great and terrible experiences and the things we wish we did better or hadn’t done at all. What we are sorry about and who we need to apologize to and when Yom Kippur finally arrives we are supposed to take full accountability for ourselves. Now, one day to hold ourselves accountable for our actions (as well as inactions) and how they’ve caused harm and suffering to others and actively make amends is not enough. Especially if the damage we have caused has had a prolonged traumatizing effect on person’s life and livelihood. Going to shul once a year and reciting prayers are not going to fix things or provide the healing that’s actually necessary. But at least the holiday is there to jumpstart the conversation. To hopefully get us thinking outside of ourselves and give the apologies that we wished we’d been given when we’ve been wronged and make necessary and lasting changes.
I’m pretty sure Brett Kavanaugh is not Jewish, probably has no idea what Yom Kippur is, and, like most cis-het white males, doesn’t think he's done anything wrong and that he's entitled to whatever the fuck he wants. But for those men who do genuinely want to make amends and be better people and because we very rarely have a framework for how to get started with that, I’m going to offer a few suggestions (mostly for men to combat rape culture and inequality, though some of these skills definitely apply in many other areas and for most people) on some things to start focusing on that would be incredibly helpful. This is by no means a complete and comprehensive list, and there is no significance to the order, but a few things to get people started.
Listen to women and believe them. We know our own experiences, so please do not come at us with “what if she’s lying” bullshit. There’s a reason men are conditioned to believe that women are liars and that reason is to keep women oppressed. Learning how to listen, really listen, is one of the most valuable lessons anyone can learn. When you check your egos at the door, unlearn your social conditioning, and learn to center and hold space for someone else and their feelings, especially when they’re in need, it validates their humanity. We all need support and knowing someone is in our corner who’s not going to question our motives, interrupt us as we process whatever we’re going through in the moment, or lash out at us is basic common decency that we are rarely shown, but (as women) are expected to provide for others. It’s also invaluable for the listener because you will get to understand someone else’s world a little better and hopefully gain more perspective on the one you inhabit.
Start asking “What do you need” and “How can I help you.” Practice those questions so much until they become second nature. No one is asking you to bend over backwards for other people, only you know what your limits are and it’s your responsibility to be honest about what you can or cannot do, but this is another small gesture, just like listening, that goes a long way. On the flip side of that, asking for help when you’re struggling is an important skill as well. People will typically show up for you if you give them a chance, especially if you’ve shown up for them.
Hold other men exhibiting toxic behavior accountable. Show by example how a good man acts and let those who are extremely problematic know that you see them and what they're doing and are not here for it. Men listen to other men (bc toxic masculinity, but that’s a post for another day), so you pointing out that some behavior or thought-pattern is problematic or shameful is effective.
Vote for and support women. Not just the ones you’re related to or find attractive. If you can only make room for the former, you're only performing ally ship and you don’t actually support women.
Men built the glass ceiling, therefore it’s your job to dismantle it. Do not put the extra weight of men’s work on marginalized folx who are already carrying and navigating too much.
Go inward and start tackling your own internalized patriarchal proclivities. Do your due diligence to understand toxic masculinity, sexist/racist double standards, and your privilege and the ways in which you help perpetuate a system that gives you benefits at the expense and suffering of others. Ways to start doing that: go to therapy, get a group of your boys together and actually start talking about and identifying your feelings and asking each other questions, read books or watch films/tv by people who come from very different backgrounds than you. You’ll hopefully learn a lot about yourself and the world. And you’ll learn how to take responsibility for your own feelings in a healthier way, rather than putting and projecting that emotional labor on the women and other marginalized folx in your lives.
If you have realized that you have done something wrong or hurtful or it was brought to your attention that you have, you may want to get defensive. Acknowledge the feelings you're having to yourself, but to the appropriate parties try saying something like this: “I did that. It was fucking terrible. I’m sorry. I did years of therapy and soul searching and work and I changed my behavior. I can’t change what I did. But I made damn sure I never did it again.” If you haven’t done the work yet, don’t say you have unless you do actually plan on following through. And then follow through. These are also great growth opportunities for utilizing those new listening and offering assistance tools from #s 1 and 2.
*BONUS*: Do not, under any circumstances, attempt ANY of the above with ulterior motives. You do not get a gold star for being a “good guy.” This is just how people should be treated. Decently, respectfully, and without any expectation of owing you anything in return.
Obviously, this is a very simplified list but when you start opening the door to one of these items, more and more doors begin to appear. As hard as it may be at times, it is worthwhile work that benefits everyone. Also, if you’ve made it this far, please call your senators and tell them to not confirm Kavanaugh to SCOTUS. We, the people, deserve someone on the bench who considers all of us.
Katie Louchheim seriously doesn’t know how she functions on a daily basis with all this bullshit. CALL YOUR SENATORS TO #StopKavanaugh: 202-224-3121.