Former FBI Director James Comey publicly testified before the Senate Intelligence Committee on Thursday, answering questions about his interactions with President Trump in relation to the federal Russia investigation. Comey testified that he found some of the president's behaviour disturbing, and senators pressed him on why he didn't stand up to Trump in the moment, or at least tell someone about his concerns soon after.
Many people tuning into the Senate hearing were quick to compare Comey's actions (and the way he was questioned about them) to the experiences of women who are sexually harassed at work or sexually assaulted. While they certainly aren't the same, they do share some commonalities.
One of the main incidents in question was a private meeting between Comey and the president in the Oval Office in February, during which Trump talked to him about the FBI's investigation into former national security adviser Michael Flynn. "I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go. He is a good guy. I hope you can let this go," Comey recalled the president saying in his written opening statement released on Wednesday. Comey said he replied that Flynn is a good guy, and later talked about the bizarre encounter with other FBI leaders.
Plenty of women have been put into these precarious situations before — alone with a boss, made to feel intimidated and belittled, their livelihood threatened — and they face similar criticism and judgement that Comey came up against during the hearing.
Multiple senators questioned the former FBI director on why he responded the way he did. Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California asked why he didn't tell President Trump "this is wrong," if he was concerned about the encounter as he said he was. "Maybe if I was stronger I would have," Comey replied. "I was so stunned by the conversation that I just took it in."
He later explained that agreeing that Flynn was a good guy was simply a way to end the awkward conversation, but that he didn't agree to stop the investigation.
Republican Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida pressed Comey on why he didn't inform White House officials of his conversations with Trump if he felt they were inappropriate. "I don’t know," Comey said. "I think the circumstances were such that I was a bit stunned and didn’t have the presence of mind."
Bärí A. Williams tweeted that Comey keeping detailed notes about his uncomfortable meetings with Trump is what women of colour often do at work: "Trump somehow gave a privileged white guy the work experience of an under-leveled and underpaid Black woman via treatment. Mind blown."
The similarities between Comey's experience and women's experiences gives insight into how powerful men are protected. Really, Comey's privilege prevents him for truly understanding what it's like to be a minority in the workplace. But his testimony helped shine a light on why both men and women are sometimes too shocked or too scared to come forward about uncomfortable — even illegal — interactions with a superior.
It's too early to say if Comey's testimony will have an impact on the future of Trump's presidency, but there is something slightly satisfying in knowing that powerful white men can sometimes be intimidated, too. If only that would result in a few of them being more self-aware next time they interact with a minority employee. But really, that might be more unrealistic than the release of the infamous, unconfirmed pee tape.