Sheroes: Doctor Christine Blasey Ford, Anita Hill and other sexual assault survivors
Shero strength: Courage
I feel like I’m a beat behind in writing this. I wanted to write something weeks ago as the conversation around Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court began and Dr Christine Blasey Ford’s allegations were made public. I wanted to write something after her testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee. I wanted to write something when her words, and the words of other women who have claimed he assaulted them, ultimately failed to have any affect and he was voted into the Supreme Court with a count of 50 to 48. I wanted to write something when Donald (f***ing) Trump apologised to Kavanaugh ‘on behalf of the nation’.
I wanted to write but I felt – and still do feel to some degree – immobilised by rage, frustration, desperation, heartache, shock and awe. I’m still not 100% sure what I want to say, but I know that I have to say something. And unfortunately, there is never a moment when talking about women being sexually assaulted is not pertinent. So even now the hearing is over, the protesters have gone home (for now) and the Supreme Court Justice has been appointed, this remains all to relevant.
There are so many aspects to this which could be mentioned, again I find myself almost drawn to a halt it’s so overwhelming, but I want to focus on the courage shown by Dr Ford and the other sexual assault survivors who have spoken out alongside her; on the courage shown by Anita Hill nearly 30 years ago in a depressingly similar situation (with a depressingly similar outcome); and on the courage shown by every single sexual assault survivor out there.
As I have learned the stories of women throughout history it has led me to believe that courage is perhaps the cornerstone of being a shero. The courage women have shown in the face of all manner of adversity is beyond inspiring. The courage shown by Dr Ford as she recounted her assault, not just in front of her attacker, not just to a full court room, but also to cameras who would beam her testimony to all corners of the world and all corners of the internet. The courage she showed, testifying when it would surely and certainly bring more hatred to her door, more disbelief, more threats, more ridicule (even from ol President Fart Face himself); what courage! And it’s a courage that calls out to other women, a courage that echoes down through the ages to us, and which we project forward and outward when we show it today.
As sickening and depressing as it has been to see the reaction to Dr Ford’s testimony from those who disbelieve her account, it has been as strengthening to hear the surge of ‘We believe’ positively thronging throughout the world. And, as Millicent Fawcett famously stated, ‘Courage calls to courage everywhere’: as one woman has the courage to stand up and tell her story, in the face of sure adversity, so too do others. In 1991 when Anita Hill stood and bravely shared her testimony against Clarence Thomas, her courage reverberated outwards, showing others that it was ok to speak the truth. Every time a person breaks the silence around their assault there is a ripple affect which makes it just that tiny bit easier for someone else to do so.
Of course, as the story around Kavanaugh and Blasey Ford has made headlines, with frustrating predictability the cry has come from many of ‘why didn’t she tell sooner?’. It baffles me that people can objectively ask this question. Look, just look! Look at the reaction that women have every time they publicly speak out about sexual assault. Look at the HUGE disbelief. Look at the staggeringly low rates of conviction for rape. Look at the success of accused perpetrators despite accusations (I mean Trump – right?!) Look at the victim blaming women receive when they dare to share their stories. Look at institutionalised rape culture the world over! Look! Genuinely, it’s a wonder anyone at all comes forward in spite of all that – let alone to come forward and share their story not just with the police, or a friend, or a court – but with the whole world. What courage! And that doesn’t even go into the trauma, the pain, the shame that sexual assault survivors experience – all also valid reasons why coming forward, and speaking out, is extremely hard to do.
The act of Dr Christine Blasey Ford, while ultimately failing to prevent the election of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court, shines out gloriously as a beacon of courage to other sexual assault survivors everywhere, just as those of Anita Hill did before her, and the women upon women, upon women who have ever had the courage to do similarly. We mustn’t stop speaking out. We mustn’t stop believing others when they do. When women speak out it bolsters the courage of other women. When other women believe those who speak out, it bolsters the courage of yet more. We speak; we believe; and courage calls out to courage.
I feel it’s important to say, that survivors of sexual assault who have not yet felt able to tell anyone show no less courage every day. Surviving through a trauma like sexual assault calls on the deepest courage within. Sometimes just to get up and live another day, in the face of all you have experienced will take all the courage you can muster. You may feel unseen, but you are seen. Your courage calls to courage too. See the courage of others who have reached the point where they can let some of it out, and take that courage to help you through the next day, and the next. You are not alone. See the belief of those who say, in unified chorus ‘WE BELIEVE’ and let it hold you. If, one day, you are ready, there will be people who believe you too.
We have such a long way to go. But sexual assault and the endemic nature of how it affects women (it’s called #MeToo for a reason), is beginning to come out of the shadows. Courage is the wind in the sails of this movement, the individual courage of individual women, blowing together in a gail of courage to carry us all forwards. Hold fast to courage, share it, show it, give it to others when they have none by telling them you believe them.