The Unrelenting Burden of Female Perseverance
This is going to be about Brett Kavanaugh. I’m sorry, I’m sick of him too. I am sick of thinking about his preppy high school, hearing about his virginity, and watching his face on TV. But, we’re not done.
On Thursday, the Senate Judiciary Committee’s hearing streamed in the background, as women everywhere were having the same conversations.
In some, women recalled the first time we had been reduced to our bodies as tools for sex. Remember when Brad talked about my breasts in front of the whole English class? Did you guys notice how Bruce always used to slap my ass outside the locker room? During the dance, Brendan shoved my hand down his pants and grinded against my scared, flat, open palm. None of these moments resulted in our lasting trauma, but we all remembered them quickly and easily as the first searing holes in our innocence.
In other chats, women relived more severe sexual assault. Dr. Ford’s testimony could be mine. It happened to me exactly the same way, with the music, and the drinking, and the memory gaps. I never told anyone but here she is, telling everyone. We reckoned with our own trauma, and the men or women who had inflicted it upon us. We cried, stayed in bed, and asked friends to support us — and those friends did.
In group texts, women vented fears about their own children. How do I make sure he respects women? How do I raise her to be strong? Together, we vowed that the next generation will definitely not let this happen again, and swapped stories on how to effect change in our own households, with our own sons, daughters, wives, and husbands.
Throughout her testimony, Dr. Ford presented a constant reminder of the work of women’s duty. Dr. Ford chose to present herself, her life, and her trauma for public review because she felt it was her civic duty. At the close of her testimony to Congress in 1991, Anita Hill also relayed it would have been easier for her to keep quiet, stay at home, and not tell anyone about Clarence Thomas’s behavior. Yet, when Congress asked her a question, Ms. Hill felt she had a duty to answer honestly.
The one-sided labor of duty always falls disproportionately to women. We are reminded of our duties over and over again: The duty to avoid sexual assault through our dress and behavior. The duty to reject men politely. The duty to bear children, no matter the personal price. The duty to raise children. The duty to spray, wipe, and hide the ugly parts of our femaleness from plain view.
These duties exhaust us, even as they become second nature. We learn to bear its weight around our necks, and are expected to smile contentedly behind its yoke. As the Senate Judiciary Committee prepared to send Judge Kavanaugh for a floor vote, and Senator McConnell gleefully declared he would be confirmed by the end of the weekend, it seemed as if — yet again — the duty women bore was for nothing.
On Friday afternoon, two women confronted Senator Jeff Flake on his way to vote, and unleashed a torrent of female fury upon him. In a small and narrow elevator, Ana Maria Archila and Maria Gallagher used the rawness of our collective experience to fashion weapons.
Unrelenting and insistent, they laid our frustration plainly. Women have borne our duty for years, for generations, for lives eternal: It is your turn now. Your time for duty has come.
As he was called upon to vote, Senator Flake hesitated. He paused. And finally, he voted to require an FBI investigation.
It would be easy to have the cynical despairing view that a weeklong investigation will be inconclusive, and Senators will vote to affirm anyway. They will install a Judge onto the Supreme Court who will protect the executive branch at all costs, instead of seek to balance it. Another woman’s assault is irrelevant in a man’s pursuit for power. Business as usual.
But, instead, let’s choose to focus our gaze on Ms. Archila and Ms. Gallagher. In that moment, they ran, they spoke, they were undeterred, and most importantly –
They might have changed the outcome.
Although Archila has said she wanted Senator Flake to be a hero, she is my hero. Archila and Gallagher remind us that we are still powerful, no matter how often the men surrounding us strive to make us feel otherwise. Yes, the constant work to persevere (again), clean up messes (again), and remain strong (again) is grueling. It is arduous. It sucks. But, when you lose faith, find it again in the women fighting beside you.
Women are a majority in this country. We still have agency. We are clear-eyed. We can grit our teeth, and lean our collective shoulders against the howling wind of the upcoming winter. Pick an action — any action — and make it your own. Get fired up.