Kavanaugh Hearings Showcase Power, Perils of Women’s Rage

The contrast was stark.

Christine Blasey Ford was calm and careful as she testified to U.S. senators last week that Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her as a teenager. Then Kavanaugh sat at the same table and angrily denied the allegations. He talked back to his questioners; he called the process “a national disgrace.”

Kavanaugh’s behavior triggered a new line of debate in his bid to be confirmed to the nation’s highest court — whether he is temperamentally suited for the job. As senators prepare to take their final vote on his lifetime appointment, his fury that day — and how women’s and men’s anger are perceived differently in politics and beyond — has been front and center in the national conversation.

“Powerful white men in this country have often been able to use anger to emphasize the seriousness of the points they want to make,” said Rebecca Traister, a political writer whose book Good and Mad: The Revolutionary Power of Women’s Anger, came out this week.

“Women are told if they want to be taken seriously, believed, respected, they must not speak out of anger or use angry tones,’’ she said. “If they do, they’ll sound irrational, unserious, emotional, and not trusted or respected in a public or political sphere.”

Kavanaugh was able to choose anger as a tool in his own defense, “but that tool wasn’t even on the table for Christine Blasey Ford,” Traister said in an interview at VOA in Washington.

Collective anger

At the same time, she said, women’s collective anger has often been the catalyst for real social change. Her book details how U.S. movements from abolition and suffrage to civil rights, gay rights and women’s rights in the 1970s revved up when women came together in anger about perceived injustices.

“If you look at the history, though we’ve never really been told their stories, there are furious women at the beginning of all those movements,” she said.

That may be happening now as well. Women protesters flooded Senate office buildings and marched to the Supreme Court this week, calling on senators to vote against Kavanaugh. 


WATCH: Kavanaugh Confirmation Battle Opens Space for Women’s Anger

The he-said-she-said testimony, with little to gain for Ford, was just the latest in a series of events that have upset American women, especially those who support Democrats, since Hillary Clinton lost the presidential election to Donald Trump almost two years ago. On the day after his inauguration, Jan. 21, 2017, millions took to the streets of Washington and cities across America and the world for the “Women’s March,” igniting political action that has led to record woman candidates in the midterm elections Nov. 6.

Anger is a motivating, propellant force for all kinds of political activism,” Traister said. “There is a vast and rich history of women coming together in frustration and resentment and anguish and fury around the world, and in working to change the structures that contain and subjugate them.”

​Individual anger

For one woman protester last week, activist and sexual assault survivor Ana Maria Archila, getting angry and letting it show changed the conversation. She was one of two women who challenged Republican Senator Jeff Flake in an elevator, demanding that he take survivors’ testimonies into account in his decision on Kavanaugh.

In an interview, Archila said she was reacting to reports that Flake was going to give his unconditional support to Kavanaugh, and she decided to show how she really felt.

“I was reacting to how that felt in my body, what that meant for my children, and I think I was not going to try to censor myself, not going to try to be obedient and behave well,” she said. “I was really going to try to help him understand the message that he was sending to women across the country.”

After the interaction, which was caught live on CNN and widely viewed around the world, Flake and Democratic Senator Chris Coons delayed the confirmation process by asking Republican leaders for an FBI investigation of the Ford allegations.

That report was completed Wednesday, and senators had the chance to read it Thursday. Susan Collins, the Republican senator from Maine who was reported to be unsure about whether she would vote for Kavanaugh, confirmed Friday she didn’t find reason in the report not to support him.

For his part, Republican Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnell blasted the crowds of angry women turning out to oppose Kavanaugh.

“Can we be scared by all these people rampaging through the halls, accosting members at airports, coming to their homes? Trying to intimidate the Senate into defeating a good man. Are we going to allow this to happen? In this country?” he said on the Senate floor Thursday.

Even as Kavanaugh is likely to join the high court, Traister and Archila both say this most recent episode may help shift the power dynamic between men and women in Washington.

“We are usually not alone, and connecting and being curious about other women’s anger, perhaps at the same things, is one of the pathways forward,” Traister said.

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