It took me a few days to put words to this feeling.
It grew inside me, starting somewhere around the pit of my stomach but traveling, writhing up my spine to the nape of my neck, knotting my shoulders along the way. My mind pulled taut, growing hazy but too-bright, clumsy yet garish, my sentences dangling unfinished from parted lips. I vibrated, skidding on anxious limbs, and sipped my leaking tears.
“There’s something in the air,” I said, we said, my female friends and I, conferring. It was all the talk of trauma, the explicit, dissected stories, the decades of suppressed pain and fear, amplified by the millions of women who share in this intimate, immense experience, all this let loose in the atmosphere, the airwaves, the Web where we all live. Like too many stories in the past few years, this one burst the dams we so carefully construct, flooding the autumn air with ugly truth. We found ourselves awash in the memories, sensations, and anxieties we spend so much of our precious energy guarding against. Our bodies and minds shuddered beneath the weight.
The symptoms became acute on Thursday, which I spent with heart pounding, riveted to my laptop screen, watching the hearings of Ford and Kavanaugh. On the screen, a courageous, brilliant woman spent hours dignifying a system that is clearly stacked against her. Before her, a panel of all-white men represented the side holding almost unilateral power to decide the impact of her testimony. Behind her lay weeks of untold misery, of re-traumatization, unwanted attention and endangerment since she decided to tell her story. And behind that, the quiet decades of surviving, living with the debilitating pain and fear of what befell her at the hands of a drunken, entitled young man.
Later, that young man, now older, flush-faced, skin soft and thin after a lifetime of getting everything he wants, just as he likes it, arrived to bluster and fume. He’d yell and whine and cry and snarl, falling back on the words that had always worked, before, like magic charms to conjure his desires: “Model Citizen,” Yale” “Top of My Class” “Church” “Sports,” touting his hard work and good, American values, blind to the privilege that underpins it all. All this to one end: to deny the woman’s story.
Outside the room that day, and for days before and since, a nation has been reckoning. Voices of power — mostly male, often white — have been quick, relentless, and uncreative in their defense of Kavanaugh. A woman’s raw trauma, her obviously sacrificial courage, has been packaged as conniving punditry and then dismissed by those with actual political aims. Acrobatics of illogic have been used to posit the pre-determined conclusion: she is not to be trusted.
“He said-She Said” say some, thinking they sound generous, even-handed, fair. As if such an equivalency could be true, as if the woman hadn’t already paid an incredible cost, as if the man has nothing to gain, and thus their words could be weighed side-by-side on some neutral scale.
Some were more vicious, carelessly speculating, cruelly joking, blithely picking apart the woman’s physical appearance and supposed mental states. Others, more cautious since #MeToo, pretend at some kind of paternalistic telepathy: we believe that she really thinks she knows what happens, but we know she doesn’t.
Millions of victims watch in sad unsurprise. Like me, many have been made ill with deja vu, stricken by the broadcast reminder of our private truths: the House still belongs to the Good Old Boys, the System exists only to perpetuate itself and there is very little power that does not walk hand-in-hand with abuse.
What is most sickening, then, is this: we’ve all known Kavanaugh, and far too long. He is entitlement, tunnel-sighted privilege, a set of human competencies packaged in the right, male body, and so catapulted into the highest echelons of our land, trailing self-congratulations like a comet. The force of these traits, embraced and upheld by a system built by and for those like him, strong enough to withstand, it seems, what should be disqualifying doubt, or crimes. Beneath his arc of untroubled “self-making,” how many other selves did he damage, trample, demean? We know too many men like this, men who victimize — many with violent intent, some with alleged ignorance, but always, it seems, with impunity.
This knowledge, which my body holds even when my mind denies, is the sickness, like a latent virus awakened, that has been stirring in my veins. And like a silent ripple, it has spread through multitudes. Texts and calls stream into my phone, these past few days, fellow survivors and women of all walks. Their messages come bristling with anger, or quavering with grief, all of them charged with the same dark electricity that surged in us that November morning, nearly two years ago. The most common refrain: “Fuck. This.”
“This”: meaning the false equivalencies, the shrugging away of life-shattering pain, the baring of grievous evidence (think: Access Hollywood, million-dollar settlements, pedophilia, rape) that does nothing to stop men from getting what they want. A country in which self-proclaimed sexual predators are considered qualified for the highest office, where culture-makers and gatekeepers continue to take, and take, and take, and never apologize for what they destroy in the taking. Where women are given, always, a second and third set of standards, impossibly conflicting and so much higher than their male counterparts — and are expected to be grateful, smiling and deferential, as they collect their crumbs.
We are tired. We are angry and we are weary. This week has been a replay of all the things we hoped we’d moved beyond.
Yet. So many women, and allies, are being brave and big, once again. They are filling courthouse steps and ringing office phones and raising their banners across streets and browsers. They are coming together, tear-faced or jaw-clenched, sharing glances of “can you believe this shit?” and still, they are carrying on. Even when they don’t have to. Even when they could be justified in spending the rest of their lives tending to their wounds, or disavowing their connections to their abusers. Because we are all so much more than our pain — and it is exhausting to revisit, relive, resist.
Yet. In our numbers we find courage, and the improbable grit that lets us march on, to scoff at the scoreboard that would show us how seldom we seem to win. Because: daughters, because tomorrow, because enough is enough.
Because that’s what we, despite our breaking, our occasional retreats, do: what we must.
Some with hope, some with fury, but every one, every one, with strength.
And so, beneath the sickness, surrounding and subsuming the pain, I’m left feeling:
I’m so proud to be a woman.