By Jennifer Ragusa
Baltimore Watchdog Staff Writer
The recent confirmation hearings for now-Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh are a reminder that American women are still operating in a society dominated by men, according to interviews with several college professors.
The professors said that even though Dr. Christine Blasey Ford was a credible woman who maintained her composure during her testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Kavanaugh’s position as a man gave him an advantage in the debate over whether he sexually assaulted Ford while both were in high school in 1982.
But the professors also said the political controversy that surrounded Kavanaugh’s confirmation to the Court should also be seen as another moment in which women are willing to step forward, face their assailants and continue their fight for full equality.
“After years and years of silenced oppression, women are slowly and bravely starting to speak truth to power in a way that tells their story,” said Michaela Frischherz, an assistant professor of communication studies at Towson University. “Part of the public response to that story telling has been to not believe those women and instead has been to strategize how to protect men.”
Frischherz said that a lot of the immediate reactions to cases like this – such as when people say things like, “this is a scary time to be a man in America” or society needs to “protect our boys” – are clear signs of misogyny and ingrained prejudice against women.
Amy Bhatt, associate professor of gender and women’s studies at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, said not much has changed since 1991, when Professor Anita Hill brought forth charges of sexual harassment against Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas.
“Both women were driven by a sense of civic duty to speak out against powerful men,” Bhatt said.
Erin Berry McCrea, an assistant professor of media and communications at Saint Augustine’s University in Raleigh, N.C., said the world is still based on a system of patriarchy that is an extension of white supremacy. She said society must acknowledge that these systems were put in place to oppress others.
“We need to rally together to make change,” McCrea said. “We have to ask what do we as individuals do? How are we supporting that system or how are we countering that system?”
Frischherz said it is also important to note that President Trump’s pick for the Supreme Court means the country’s highest judicial body is still dominated by one segment of the population.
“We’ve yet again tapped another white man for the job,” Frischherz said. “Which seems to me not a genuine expression of how the highest judicial, decision making branch of the government reflects the actual diversity of the United States.”
Emily Parker, professor of women’s and gender studies at Towson University, said that Ford was the ideal demonstration of what women are supposed to be like: composed in the face of a traumatic experience.
But, Parker said, even that was not enough.
Parker said much of her research centers on how the heterosexual white man is often defined as the “universal” American while those who fall outside this category are seen as “other.” This sentiment is so engrained in the culture, she said, that even non-white men often unconsciously adopt this way of thinking.
“He’s [Kavanaugh] a great example of that,” Parker said. “I think a lot of people can be made easily to share the emotion of a white man who is straight and able-bodied and wealthy. His body is the norm, so his emotions seem automatically understandable.”
Parker said the Kavanaugh hearing was reflective on how sexual assault cases are not taken as seriously as they should be in the U.S. She said that sexual assault is an extremely human event, in which people involved have a hard time making sense of it.
According to McCrea, women’s bodies are policed differently than men’s. The justice system is still co-opted by the ideology of patriarchy that suggests that if a woman accuses a man of sexual assault, and the man says he doesn’t recall or remember, we should forgive that.
Frischherz said that in relation to this case, it is another symptom of a larger broken system.
“That for years has told women that their truth and vulnerability was not important, or not real, or that they asked for it, or they didn’t communicate what they wanted well enough, as opposed to recognizing the complex communication that undergirds any sexual encounter,” Frischherz said.