Raising standards

Kavanaugh hearing should matter to Canadians too

Canadian society protects aggressors and vilifies survivors just like in the U.S.
Photo: Victoria Pickering
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She had insisted upon a second door for her home because she suffers from PTSD-related claustrophobia as a result of the assault, testified Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, voice trembling, at the hearings for Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court nomination. At this moment I was overwhelmed for her and by her.

I was moved by her vulnerable bravery, as she publicly relived a deeply private trauma to prevent a man from being nominated to a position where he would inevitably have control over millions of women’s bodies should Roe v. Wade be reopened. I cried for the scared 15-year-old that she once was and for the poised 51-year-old she is now, having lived silently with the consequences of the violation for over three decades.

Quick fact: There has never been a woman Republican in the committee’s history.

I remained transfixed as a credible, composed, articulate woman took great pains to be accommodating and polite to those who did not have her best interests at heart. A woman who has taken a polygraph test, has submitted a sworn affidavit that carries criminal liability if she knowingly perjured herself, and has willingly agreed to a full FBI investigation patiently answered questions, while being stared down by all 11 GOP members of the committee. They, of course, were all men.

Quick fact: There has never been a woman Republican in the committee’s history, and if you think that’s incidental and doesn’t matter, you probably also believe that “boys will be boys” is a credible defence for aggression and use inappropriate and hyperbolic expressions like “lynching” to describe a man merely being subjected to what is tantamount to a job interview for a lifetime position of immense power.

I also watched an angry, belligerent, entitled, snivelling, smug Kavanaugh deflect and decline to answer questions about his drinking habits and any possible blackouts, rudely interrupt, and repeatedly refuse a request for any further investigation. He looked irate and frustrated and ultimately terrified that what he obviously thought he was entitled to wasn’t coming to him quickly and with fewer hassles. It was, as New York Magazine’s The Cut referred to it, a “master class in American male entitlement.”

While he was quick to recite Bible verses and talk about his weekly church attendance, what I saw in his behaviour wasn’t righteous indignation. A privileged 53-year-old white man was facing possible consequences for the first time in his life for toxic and careless frat-boy behaviour.

I also saw a man who displayed obvious political bias. The fact that his opening statement referred to an “orchestrated political hit” fuelled by anger at Trump’s election as well as people trying to exact revenge for the Clintons should automatically disqualify him from what is supposed to be the non-partisan and neutral position of Supreme Court Justice.

A plague in Canadian politics too

Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearing had the attention of many Canadians yesterday, and I saw more than a few people express concern and aggravation that we weren’t focusing on our own issues and had instead tuned in to the great circus proceedings to the south. While I can understand the frustration, I think that watching what happens closely is not only inevitable, it’s necessary.

Whether we like it or not, what happens to our neighbours affects us and seeps into our politics — particularly with Trump-like populism and partisan tactics becoming more mainstream on this side of the border.

As a woman I cannot remain unaffected by what’s happening in the U.S, not only because I want to express my solidarity with my American sisters, but also because the male entitlement, the toxic macho bro culture, the system of complicity in the political and workplace arena that protects and promotes men like Kavanaugh is very much alive and well in this country too.

Never has the need for a federal, non-partisan investigation been greater.

Just like in Dr. Ford’s case, there are huge personal costs in coming forward for victims of sexual violence. When women find the courage to break their silence and point a trembling finger at a perpetrator, they are doubted, questioned, vilified, often doxxed, their lives and safety on the line, their reputations and motives scrutinized and found wanting.

By all accounts, Dr. Ford is the perfect character witness. Few who watched her testimony would argue that her story is not believable, and yet millions of Americans won’t believe her — or even worse, won’t care. To them, partisan politics and ideology trump everything else, and sexual violence and misogyny are not deal breakers, not sufficient reasons to deny a man his birthright.

The double standard of acceptable behaviour was on full display during the hearing, something that also plagues Canadian politics. Kavanaugh's behaviour was not something any female politician or witness would have been able to get away with without being called hysterical and emotionally unhinged. Yet his erratic behaviour was willingly excused by many and attributed to the passion of a man wronged.

Raise standards for men

This hearing brings home the importance of sexual education and our need to collectively raise the bar for how we treat survivors.

We need to teach young boys to treat women with respect and solicit consent, and young girls that they can stand up for themselves and expose their abusers. Too many women suffer in silence, terrified of being revictimized again if they come forward. Too many abusers take advantage of this silence to assault others, taking home the message there are no consequences for toxic behaviour.

As Senator Chris Coons said, “Boys will be boys is too low a standard for the conduct of boys and men in this country.” It’s too low a standard in any country.

I’m writing this without knowing what ultimately happens with the confirmation. Following the testimony, the American Bar Association has now called for an investigation into Brett Kavanaugh. Never has the need for a federal, non-partisan investigation been greater, and those interested in the truth and the integrity of their judicial system should welcome one.

But I hold out no hope that Kavanaugh will be kept off the Supreme Court, despite it all. My expectations of disappointment, of another privileged, protected man being steamrolled through to power despite the many doubts about him is an indictment of a system that continues to let down women and victims of sexual violence.

All I know is that I’m paying close attention no matter where it happens because the perpetrators, the victims, and the systems that protect aggressors and vilify survivors are the same, no matter which side of the border you’re looking at them from.

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