James Comey! He's Just Like Us

Photo: AP Photo/Alex Brandon.
Rachel Sklar is a writer, entrepreneur, and feminist based in New York. She is the co-founder of Change The Ratio, which increases visibility and opportunity for women in tech & new media, and TheLi.st, a network and media platform for awesome women. All opinions are her own.
So! How about that Comey hearing?
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Calling Trump a liar? Check.
Suggesting that Trump's behavior was of "investigative interest?" Check.Heavily implying that there was something fishy about Jeff Session's involvement in—and recusal from—the Russia investigation? Check.
Admitting that he leaked his own memo to the press? Check.
Seeming sorta human? Check. Wait, what?
Yes! Despite being a 6'8" career intelligence officer with a history of facing down presidents (and, presumably, bad guys) but at the very least knowing how to rock one hell of a memo, James Comey—the man who, some might say, toppled Hillary Clinton and ushered Donald Trump into the White House—is also adorably, relatably human.
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It's true! Comey was invited by his boss to a work dinner that turned out to be a weirdly intimate, private affair in a closed-door office. You know, so they could "talk." Pretty much any woman reading this right now is already getting the heebie-jeebies just from remembering the last time that happened to her.
As I said on the Refinery29 Twitter feed: "Comey at that dinner with Trump sounds like every woman suddenly realizing her work event is something else."
During the hearing, in between explaining to the Senate Intel Committee why he thought the President was a lying liar and how skeeved he was when Trump asked him if he would let that whole gnarly Flynn thing go, Comey was grilled by certain Senators about why he didn't challenge the President on his line-crossing on the spot. (And, you know, what exactly he expected when his skirt was so short.)
And Comey, all six-foot-eight white-male of him, fumbled for an answer.
"Maybe if I were stronger, I would have," said Comey. Instead, he said, he was shocked by the brazenness of the president and "just took it in," searching "carefully" for the right words and "playing in my mind, what should my response be?"
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How could he possibly have failed to speak up in that moment? Didn't he know it was wrong? Surely he should have just said so?
Sure, except for all the reasons not to — like, in the parlance of Jim Comey, oh fuzz, this is about to snowball, I need to contain and deflect. Or, oh fuzz, this is my boss, I need to tread carefully, I don't want to lose my job. Or, oh fuzz,, I'm uncomfortable, how can I steer this safely back into something that doesn't feel awkward, and even dangerous? Or even just the all-purpose, Lordy! Or the slightly stronger version which usually happens right before you freeze.
I can think of all sorts of situations where the first response would be to "just take it in" even if, later, you thought of what you might have said "if I were stronger." Yep, totally relatable.
But don't take my word for it — I'm a woman! There are men out there making that call, so you know it must be true.
National Review editor Rich Lowry: "Comey explanation of why he didnt tell Trump he was wrong sounds credible to me--how human beings react in real time"
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New York Times columnist Frank Bruni: "Whether explaining bits of sympathy for Trump or copping to own failings, Comey coming across in way too many in D.C. don't: as HUMAN."
MSNBC Host Chris Hayes: "I find it oddly comforting because I've choked in situations (of much lower stakes) and still kick myself for it."
Right? Totally human! Yaaaay, something we can all agree on!
Well, not quite. Because what about when we're not talking about a 6'8" white man, but one of those other humans - namely, a woman?
Alas, women have a history of being held to higher and far less sympathetic standards. "Human" is a little harder to come by. Anita Hill could tell you that. Brock Turner's victim could tell you that. The women who accused Donald Trump of groping them could tell you that.
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And lighting up my Twitter feed during today's Comey hearing were women, well, telling you that:
Vox's Liz Plank: "'Did you initiate that dinner?' Comey getting a taste of how victims of sexual assault get questioned."
Cool Mom Picks' Liz Gumbinner: "This is like a sexual harassment suit: Why didn't you quit? Why were you alone with him? Have you been alone with other presidents?"
HuffPost's Chloe Angyal: "Rubio here sounding like every guy who's ever asked a woman why she didn't speak up and defend herself if the harassment was really so bad."
But as Ana Marie Cox points out, predations and abuses of power are not always about sex. Comey's experience is notable because it happened to a classically privileged, literally towering white man, not that it happened. The parallels to how people of color, and specifically black women, are treated in the workplace were stark to Stubhub's Bärí Williams, who noted that "Comey keeping receipts on Trump gave him a taste of #BlackWomenAtWork, or really any person of color or woman at work." She ticked off the behaviors: Saving emails, keeping memos, begging not to be left alone. "'Rationale for keeping said receipts is due to knowing "I'd need records to defend myself and [place of work],'" she tweeted. "This is wild. And relatable."
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Relatable - especially when it's happened to you.
And now it's happened to tall drink o' G-man water James Comey, and now along with possible evidence of obstruction of justice and collusion with a hostile foreign power, his hearing has given us that. It may not be the stuff of impeachment articles, but it's yet another reminder that this administration is about predations and abuses of power from the top down. It's a signal that is carried loud and clear, from the GOP welcoming Greg Gianoforte with open arms to Trump's bullying behavior towards the Khans and Serge Kovaleski and the Mayor of London to 13 GOP Senators dismantling healthcare for millions in secret to Eric Trump responding to a deeply-reported article about his father skimming off his charity for children's cancer by saying that Democrats weren't even people to Jared and Ivanka's complicit, enabling silence.
Abusers count on their power keeping our responses in check. Comey showed that even if it shocks and paralyzes you the first time, it's never too late to speak out and fight back. May the country follow suit.
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