In the midst of this Brett Kavanaugh confirmation chaos, I find myself perplexed by numerous things, but the question, “Why didn’t Christine Blasey Ford tell her story earlier if it really happened?” is not one of them. Quite ignoring the fact that she has passed a polygraph examination, people pose this question to dismiss her accusations. If it happened, surely she would have come forward, right? That is what any normal person would do, right?
Wrong. Good estimates suggest that more than 25 percent of women will experience an unwanted attempted or completed sexual assault in their lifetimes, and most of these women never talk about their events publicly. Most of us stay silent, sharing the event with close friends and family — often years later, and sometimes with no one at all. Why, you ask? Because girls are taught to be agreeable, to make others feel good, to care about their feelings, and practice decorum. We are also taught to be the gatekeepers of sex — of males’ wild and “untamable” (natural) sexual impulses. We must guard our own bodily integrity but do so with kindness.
This puts girls and women in an impossible position even in the best of circumstances. To say no, to be a gatekeeper, is to be disagreeable. To tell someone, “No thank you, I don’t want your body sexually,” is to hurt their feelings or make them feel bad — exactly the things girls are not supposed to do. Big shocker that girls struggle negotiating these situations and blame themselves when things go awry. (Did I say “no” wrong? Was I unclear? Is it my fault he forced himself on me?) Girls are put in an unwinnable situation as gatekeepers of sex, especially in a society where too many boys and girls haven’t had clear, frank guidance about sex and respect. Throw alcohol into this mix, and it’s a recipe for disaster for all parties. There are a lot of wrongs, and probably even more gray areas, and this is a situation that desperately needs attention.
This alleged Kavanaugh event, however, does not seem to involve much gray. They were both drinking underage, and he tried to force himself on her sexually, Ford says. That is wrong. In this described situation, Ford was violated, but (in the minds of some others), she was not the “innocent” party that girls are expected to be as gatekeepers of sex. She would have been a young woman asserting her bodily integrity against a privileged boy at a party where all were technically misbehaving. That was not how to behave as a “girl” in polite society where I grew up (in the South). Girls don’t make trouble; don’t cause a fuss; and absolutely do not impair the trajectories of our fabulous young boys who are poised to do great things. So, she did what most of us do. She kept quiet. She didn’t cause trouble. She didn’t disrupt that stressful social order of high school. From all appearances, she stuffed it, like many, perhaps partly blaming herself, perhaps hoping she could forget it, perhaps too embarrassed to talk about it. We don’t know. But not talking about it in no way is any sort of indication that this assault didn’t occur.
We are in need of change in our society, but not speaking out about sexual assault is not one of our problems, although the #MeToo movement is catalyzing needed change. We need to teach our kids to respect others’ bodily integrity, help girls learn to be assertive and respond supportively when people do admit to experiencing assault. Attacking the victim is no answer. What message are we sending to our girls and boys? They need to hear candid discussions about respect, assertiveness and how to negotiate sexual behavior.
Remember, it would have been easy for Ford to stay silent like she had all those years. She didn’t want to come forward; she tried to do so anonymously, and she was identified. She didn’t think a person who tried to force sex on her in high school was suitable to serve as a lifetime-appointed justice on the highest court of the land. I agree.