Women Must Stop Playing By The Rules After Brett Kavanaugh's Confirmation

Photo: Chris Kleponis/AFP/Getty Images.
There’s no sugarcoating it: the decision of 50 senators to usher a likely sexual predator onto the Supreme Court is devastating. Brett Kavanaugh’s tenure on the court will prove an existential threat to women, queer people, people of color, immigrants, people with disabilities, and anyone else inadequately alpha for Justice Boof. Not just because of how his reactionary politics will shape the court, though they undoubtedly will. The decision is also catastrophic because of how it has degraded the court, and all of us, by elevating of a man who appears to have committed multiple sexual assaults – a man who lied under oath so often and so recklessly it is hard to believe he even knows what truth is, a man so nakedly partisan and emotionally unhinged that you wouldn’t hire him to dog-sit.
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But the fight against Kavanaugh still mattered, and not just in a moral way. We fought hard enough that the men in power were forced to remove their masks entirely. They’ve now told us in the starkest terms that no matter how well we play by their rules, we cannot win their recognition of our humanity. Dr. Christine Blasey Ford literally came to their vaunted halls, submitted to their arbitrary hearing rules, answered every question on their agenda to the best of her ability, was deferential and helpful and apologetic and collegial and calm and smart and heartfelt and a little fragile, but not hysterical. Not to mention white and from a wealthy, well-connected family. And yet, they ran over her like the runaway train she predicted they would be. They did not even bother to come up with good reasons why.
Maybe you already knew this. Surely Black women raped by police know this, as do immigrants raped by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), and Native women and girls whom the federal government has systematically dehumanized through sexual violence for as long as it has existed. But 45% of white women still supported Kavanaugh’s nomination according to a Quinnipiac poll, so it bears repeating: no matter how good you are at their game, if you get in the way of their power, they will muffle your screams and tell everyone they were never even there.
Coming on the one-year anniversary of the Harvey Weinstein story that launched #MeToo into celebrity consciousness, you will no doubt hear that this vote is a sign that women have gone too far in our demands for sovereignty. That if we don’t want to lose even more ground we should trim our sails and shrink back into our britches. But #MeToo wasn’t born last fall, and it sure as hell can’t be revoked by sexual abusers and their enablers. They’ve already shown us that we’re never going to matter to them. These are our bodies and our movements and we’re done bargaining over them with moral monsters.
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Not that this is strictly about Republican malfeasance. We may have been spared a replay of the bipartisan degradation of Anita Hill, but the fact that men on the left have become willing to stand with survivors when it happens to align with their political goals is a small solace. Call me when they are as full-throated in condemning the next Al Franken as they were Kavanaugh. Hell, ping me when they manage to stop arguing for the redemption of lefty-darling men, like Louis C.K., who haven’t lifted a finger to actually redeem themselves.
That’s not to say that nothing has changed since 1991. Hill’s bravery famously launched the Year of the Woman, a history-making wave of women running for and winning elected office. Less famously, it galvanized what’s now known as the third wave of feminism, led by young women, especially women of color, who learned exactly the right lesson from the spectacle of misogynoir that Joe Biden presided over: they don’t love us. They’re never going to love us. We might as well make our own rules.
Three decades later, the girls who were raised on riot grrrl and reproductive justice are now at the height of their adult power. Many of them also have children of their own. Those children have just spent weeks listening to some of the most powerful men in the world declare that attempted rape is normal behavior for 17-year-old boys and that shoving your penis in a woman’s face doesn’t count if she’s drunk. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t worried about the impact this will have on them, and you should be too. But between third-wave parenting and the alternative knowledge paths made possible by the social media and the internet, the upcoming generations are more prepared than they even were in Hill’s moment to learn some of the right lessons from this, too.
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What’s more, we don’t need to wonder if we’ll be getting a new Year of the Woman inspired by Blasey Ford, because a huge one is well underway. But breaking into the halls of power will only matter if we use that access to tear the doors off their hinges. For that to happen, we need to heed the recent words of Glennon Doyle: “Women have no government. We are ungoverned, so we will become ungovernable.”
That means organized resistance, for sure. Doyle herself is already calling for weekly mass actions. But let’s become ungovernable on a cellular level, too. This naked negation of our humanity by the men who hold our lives in their hands is shattering. Nearly every woman I know is suffering from it as I write. I’ve been sleepless and sick to my stomach for weeks, spacey and jumpy. My body has decided it’s less painful to distract me with these symptoms than to let me feel the full weight of what is happening.
But in a weird way, I want to feel it all. A long time ago, I stopped letting myself feel my own trauma. I did it because I became an expert on sexual assault; you can’t be both a victim and an expert. Those are the rules from on high. If you’re emotional about your own experience, you’re damaged and therefore unreliable as an expert. If you’re an expert, you’re smart and cunning and probably lying about the whole thing. (I saw that argument on Twitter just last week during Blasey Ford’s testimony.)
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That kind of bifurcation is its own kind of violence. And it doesn’t even work — I still hear every kind of excuse about why I’m unreliable. I’m bitter because no men want me. I’m an unrepentant slut who wants to destroy Western civilization with my vagina. I’m a power-mad feminist operative working to enslave men in my Soros-funded matriarchy.
I miss my feelings. Even the most excruciating ones make me feel alive, help me to connect to people, make me capable of love and joy and hope and care. So when I say we need to stop playing by their rules, I don’t just mean we should get angry. There are tremendously important conversations happening this year about the power of women and rage and I am all the way here for anger. But I mean so much more, too. If the Senate Judiciary Committee is going to issue official press releases slut-shaming a survivor based on only the say-so of her ex, then we might as well enjoy ourselves however we see fit. If they’re going to say we’re too ugly to be raped, why should we care what they consider beautiful? If it doesn’t matter how composed we remain against incredible odds, then what’s stopping us from weeping in the streets? If they’re going to pit “good girls” against “bad girls” for all of time, only to throw the good girls under the bus without a second thought, let’s stop shaming each other and focus on just loving each other with abandon.
There are no more fig leaves or excuses. There is only the stark truth: they don’t care about us when we adhere to their rules, but they do start to care when we corner them in their private elevators in front of the national press. If you listen closely, they are telling us our power. When Orrin Hatch tells survivors to “grow up,” he’s telling us he can’t deal with adult women. When President Donald Trump tells men to fear the nearly nonexistent possibility of being falsely accused of rape, but not to fear the much more likely occurrence that they may themselves be raped, he’s telling us he sees women with autonomy as a malignant threat.
So let’s be one. Let this be the final stake in the heart of gender respectability politics. Let's cry in public and dare anyone to call us less powerful for it. Let’s love each other harder than they hate us. Let's be fat, angry, grieving, ugly, slutty, frigid, foreign, dark, broken, confused, crazy, queer, tender-hearted vengeance demons. Let's yell our truth at senators and justices and whomever else we feel like yelling at that day, not even because we believe it will change their minds, but simply because we want to. We play by our own rules now.
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