What The Kavagnaugh Hearings Say To Young Women
By: Charlotte Manier
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For many young women, being teased by boys was a part of growing up. Male students who make comments about a woman’s sexuality or appearance are seldom penalized for their actions, and many young women often do not know when to speak up. They are taught that these comments are meant as flattery or a joke, or that boys “just can’t help it.” The ignorance of words soon leads to the ignorance of actions, and women often become the victims of harassment or assault without knowing. This culture of tolerance begins even before girls enter school, and can last for decades after. In the case of Christine Blasey Ford, it has lasted her entire life.
Dr. Blasey Ford has faced the ridicule of millions over the past few weeks, and her allegations against Brett Kavanaugh have been criticized and pulled apart to no end.
In 1985, the U.S. Department of Justice published its first “in-depth” study of sex crimes committed from 1973 to 1982. It was called “The Crime of Rape.” The article was eight pages long, of which four pages were references, and contained information that has since been proven false, such as “The [rape] offender is usually a stranger to the victim.” This incorrect report was all the United States had to show for its concern for women’s safety in 1985. This was far too little and far too late for women like Dr. Blasey Ford.
In 1982, Blasey Ford was sexually assaulted by the now Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh. Upon hearing he was nominated for the title, Blasey Ford wrote a letter to Senator Diane Feinstein describing her past experience and what effect it had on her mental well being. When she agreed to testify to the Supreme Court, Blasey Ford gave detailed and convincing testimony about her experience. One of the most common questions from the Republican senators in this hearing was why hadn’t she reported this attack when it happened? This question not only disregards the enormous strength it would take any young woman to come forward with an allegation of sexual assault, but the question, in fact, answers itself. Christine Blasey Ford did not report her experience when it happened because no one would have believed her then, and not enough congress members believe her now.
While efforts to improve the safety of young women has increased since then, there are still many obstacles that remain. Among these obstacles is the social stigma of speaking out about sexual harassment and assault in high school. High schools across the nation assert that girls who talk about being sexually assaulted are looking for attention and that the allegations they make are false. Boys who speak out about being sexually assaulted are also disregarded and considered weak.
Claims of sexual harassment are even less respected. Even many things said in “banter” are really jabs at a person’s sexual security, but because these comments are supposed to be jokes, it is often hard for the victim to realize they were harassed. Victims who discover that they have been sexually harassed and share their experience are often perceived as sensitive or dramatic.
If youth are still struggling to be open about their encounters with sexual harassment and assault in today’s climate, it is impossible to expect that a young Christine Blasey Ford would have shared hers in 1982. Assault and harassment weave their ways into the everyday lives of young people, to the point where most young people can’t even identify the attacks they’ve experienced. It has been normalized, ignored, and in some cases, encouraged.
However, contemporary movements like Me Too offer an opportunity for young people, especially young women, to step away from the social norms they live within and examine their experiences. Speaking out against a friend or fellow classmate becomes much less intimidating when there are millions of people who have been in similar situations. The first step to ending the acceptance of sexual assault and harassment is to acknowledge its existence.
Listen to your classmates. Stand behind them when they are most vulnerable. Stopping Brett Kavanughs in high school will prevent any more from reaching a higher power.