The testimony of a university professor who has brought sexual assault accusations against Donald Trump’s candidate to the U.S. Supreme Court heralds a new step in the #MeToo movement. Women all over the world are now speaking out as one to tell men that “enough is enough.”
Last Thursday I was on Times Square in New York where all media outlets have their headquarters. It was 10 a.m., when on any other day the crowds would be bustling and hurrying about. But that Thursday was different. Thousands of onlookers were frozen to the spot, as if hypnotized by the images displayed on the giant television screens on the surrounding buildings. Never have the American people been so stunned in the face of an event since humankind’s first steps on the moon and the September 11 attacks. And this recent affair will probably be just as major a turning point in history as Neil Armstrong’s mission.
It was not a show per se, however. On the screens, her voice breaking with emotion, a stony-faced woman wearing glasses read out her accusations against Donald Trump’s candidate for the U.S. Supreme court. A nomination set to be approved, or not, by the largely white, male Senate. In her testimony, Mrs. Christine Blasey Ford, a university professor, explained how 36 years ago a drunken Brett Kavanaugh, then a prep school student, had attempted to rape her. Accusations that Kavanaugh, a family man, a practicing Catholic, and now a respected judge, denies in full.
Almost all American women believed Professor Ford was being sincere that day. They took her on her word because she was convincing, and because she had nothing to gain from a confession that will inevitably affect her private and professional lives. They believed her even more because the traumatic events recalled by Professor Ford reminded millions among them of similar experiences.
It could be said than Kavanaugh’s denial appeared just as sincere. Perhaps because the alcohol had wiped his memory, and because at the age of 17, attempting to sexually assault a 15-year-old high school student was not a particularly memorable event at the time. At least, not particularly memorable for the attacker. It also seems that many male Americans, while not calling Professor Ford’s account into question, failed to see what the problem is. Boys will be boys, or so goes the saying.
The contrasting testimonies given before the Senate obviously carry heavy political consequences, and everyone has chosen their camp. Trump-supporting Republicans have aligned themselves with Kavanaugh while the Democrats stand with Christine Ford. But party lines aside, the affair has revealed the extent to which men and women — and this since time immemorial — do not experience their early sexual lives in the same way. What was and remains a game for the world’s Brett Kavanaughs is a trauma for the world’s Christine Fords. However, this essential difference in our existential experiences has always been hidden by social conventions. Women know they have to resist the impulses of male adolescents and predatory adults, and that being a woman implies having this ability to resist. Nothing of the sort is asked of men, and as a result they misjudge or are entirely ignorant of the suffering they cause.
But sometimes, women rise up together. Some 25 centuries ago, the playwright Aristophanes told of how women rallied to the call of Lysistrata and withheld sex to end the Peloponnesian War that was killing their husbands, brothers, and children. The #MeToo movement, which began in Hollywood before spreading across the world in a matter of months, has taken us far beyond Aristophanes. Christine Ford’s testimony — words we are all obliged to hear and which we can no longer dismiss with a shrug — has revealed an all-encompassing transformation of Western civilization. Feminism is no longer a type of literature or a subject for discussion. Women from all levels of society are now speaking out as one to tell men that “enough is enough.”
Just as with every revolution, this one will have its collateral victims. Some men may be wrongly accused, or even sentenced following baseless claims. But it is by such injustices that revolutions are defined. I am certain that the world’s Brett Kavanaughs, who are 17 today, will have to look at women differently from now on. No longer as prey or trophies to be collected, but as equals.