#MeToo, 1991 hang over Christine Blasey Ford’s testimony

Posted at 4:11 AM, Sep 27, 2018
and last updated 2018-09-27 10:10:25-04

When Christine Blasey Ford sits down Thursday morning to testify, she will bring with her the memory of the 1991 hearings, and one overarching question: Will 2018 be any different?

The condensed, triumphalist version of what happened after the Anita Hill-Clarence Thomas hearings in 1991 goes like this: Women got mad, and then they stormed Washington.

And this is true. A record number of women got elected in 1992, including the nation’s first black female senator. California sent two women to the US Senate, one who sits on the Senate Judiciary Committee.

But as with everything — especially watershed political moments — the reality was much more complicated. What is also true is that many of those same women who stormed Washington, backed Bill Clinton for decades, after women credibly accused him of sexual harassment and assault. And then, Donald Trump, facing multiple accusations, won the majority of white women voters, which helped him win the White House.

In many ways, it’s clear that 2018 is different than 1991. The #MeToo movement, launched over a decade ago by Tarana Burke and energized by celebrities, politicians and social media, has encouraged millions of women to speak out.

In recent days, thanks to the accusations levied against Trump’s Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, other women have been sharing their deeply personal stories.

Karen Tumulty, a Washington Post columnist, tweeted: I was 9 years old. A man took me away from everyone else at a birthday party and stuck his hand down my pants.

Padma Lakshmi, in The New York Times, wrote of being molested as a child and later, at age 16, raped. She said she told her family about the molestation and then was sent to India.

“If you speak up, you will be cast out,” she wrote of the molestation. So, she kept quiet when a guy she was dating raped her while she was sleeping.

Millions of other women tweeted their experiences, explaining why they didn’t report at the time.

Anita Hill, in 1991, didn’t have that community of voices corroborating her story and her reactions to her claims about Clarence Thomas.

Kavanaugh’s first accuser, Blasey Ford, will, which is one way that that makes 2018 different from 1991. But there are still echoes.

There are still no Republican women on the committee — there has never, ever been a Republican woman on the committee.

Rather than risk the optics of questioning Blasey Ford themselves, the GOP has opted to go with a female sex assault prosecutor. But, away from the formal setting of a hearing, they have made their case about Blasey Ford.

While claiming to want to hear from her, they have also denied her agency, suggesting she is a pawn in what President Donald Trump has called a “big, fat con job” orchestrated by the Democrats. Many Republicans said the same about Roy Moore’s multiple accusers.

While several men have been forced to resign from office after allegations of sexual assault, actual voters haven’t always been so clear. See Bill Clinton. See Donald Trump. See Roy Moore, who lost, but won the majority of GOP voters in Alabama. And, see Democrat Al Franken, who many rank-and-file Democrats think was treated unfairly when he was forced out of the Senate, by many of the people who will now vote on Kavanaugh.

In March, a NBC/Wall Street Journal poll found that 43% of Americans supported the #MeToo movement, while 15% opposed it. Which means, many Americans, still haven’t made up their minds.

To be sure, there is a cultural and partisan divide about the merits of this new climate of speaking out.

As Arizona Republican Sen. Jeff Flake said, Blasey Ford and Kavanaugh, are “unwitting combatants in an undeclared war.”

He is right that Kavanaugh and Blasey Ford are “unwitting combatants,” but the war is hardly undeclared.

Yet another battle begins Thursday, with shades of 1991 and 2018 set to be on full display.