Last Thursday, Dr. Christine Blasey Ford stood before the Senate Judiciary Committee and bravely testified about the assault she’d allegedly suffered as a teenager at the hands of Brett Kavanaugh, a man undergoing the confirmation process to become a Supreme Court justice. After much conjecture from the general public on if the Senate would confirm him, the vote fell to a few “swing” senators, including Susan Collins, a Republican from Maine who decided to draw out her decision as long as possible, finally addressing the Senate on Friday afternoon.
What followed, a 42-minute mess of a diatribe from Sen. Collins, was filled with what can only be called Grade A bullshit. She said that Dr. Christine Blasey Ford wasn’t on trial when she testified that Brett Kavanaugh had sexually assaulted her three decades prior — yet Collins went through minuscule details of what made her not believe Dr. Ford’s story, like why she couldn’t remember how she got home. Sen. Collins said she listened to other sexual assault survivors and vowed to protect the upcoming generations of women — at the same time she announced she’d vote to confirm a man who has been accused of sexual misconduct by at least three different women. To her, survivors retraumatizing themselves over and over to make her feel their pain wasn’t more important than giving a horrible man a job promotion.
The speech might as well have been called performance art.
What Susan Collins did isn’t new — not by a long shot, and especially not amongst white conservative women. In fact, support for Brett Kavanaugh amongst Republican women grew after his monstrosity of a hearing. Their reasons for standing by him are pretty predictable: Some believe that people shouldn’t focus on what happened in his personal life when making a decision about his professional life. Others described him as “qualified” as a judge. There’s “women’s advocate” Ivanka Trump, who apparently thinks Kavanaugh is a good man. And then there are those who doubt Dr. Ford’s testimony altogether.
So now we ask a question yet again: What do conservative women like Susan Collins get out of this? Why constantly pit themselves against feminists who want sexual assault survivors to be taken seriously and alleged perpetrators to face actual consequences?
It comes down to cool girlism, plain and simple.
Cool girlism stems from that old-fashioned pop culture line we’ve all heard, when a woman turns to a man and states, “I’m not like other girls.” It’s the misogynistic belief that if you cut down other women and prove that you’re above their “antics,” then the men will respect you and let you play with power on their level. As we’ve watched #MeToo become a rallying cry over the past year, many other women have been quick to cast themselves as “different” from survivors who come forward. These Cool Girls would never put themselves in a situation of being sexually harassed or assaulted, they say. They’d never make a big scene out of it, they say. They’d never hang around a “bad crowd,” they say. They’re not like those other girls, those survivors, those crazy feminists. They actually like men, they argue — often with a chuckle at the end.
In the case of Susan Collins, she wasted no time at the beginning of her speech chiding “special interest groups” for “[whipping] their followers into a frenzy by spreading misrepresentations and outright falsehoods about Judge Kavanaugh’s judicial record.” The accusations and grassroots organizing against Kavanaugh was the fault of “dark money,” she maintained. But in saying that special interest groups created a “frenzy,” Sen. Collins attempted to erase the fact that millions of sexual assault survivors and organizers came together to make the Kavanaugh nomination an issue. Their “special interest” was not seeing an alleged perpetrator on the bench.
The honest truth, however, is that the Cool Girls never get that respect from the men they’re trying to impress with that rhetoric, and they never get anywhere close to playing on the same level. But to gain the power they so desire, they ignore these realities and continue to sacrifice woman after woman in an infinite loop in order to chase men who are, frankly, never worth it and never interested. And in the case of Sen. Collins, voting no on Kavanaugh would have meant drawing the ire of many men, including her peers and Donald Trump, not to mention whatever Kavanaugh supporters (Cool Girls included) will be voting in 2020 if she runs for reelection.
While the concept of cool girlism might seem like something out of an 80s rom-com, what we’re watching right now play out with Susan Collins and other Republican is the same ordeal. The major difference? Their cool girlism is upholding a white supremacist and patriarchal society and taking rights away from millions of people. And often, there’s a hefty dose of false victimhood from these Cool Girls to go with it, lest anyone call them out. But hey, at least they got the attention of those men, right? Right?
Of course, the question then becomes, what can snap someone out of their desire to be the Cool Girl? Or are we totally screwed?
The optimist in me said that things can change. But unfortunately, unraveling decades of internalized misogyny doesn’t happen quickly. It often takes years and requires some soul-searching on the part of the Cool Girl at hand. So where does that leave us as we head into the midterms and prepare to watch Brett Kavanaugh get confirmed?
For now, we lean on of those of us who are like other girls. We yell together. We march together. We fight battles together. And on November 6th, we vote together.
Lily Herman is a contributing editor at Refinery29. Follow her on Twitter. The views expressed are her own.