Brett Kavanaugh’s Confirmation: The Dangerous New Narrative.

Nikita Srivastava (’19)

The_Boy_Who_Cried_Wolf_-_Project_Gutenberg_etext_19994We’re all told at some point the story of The Boy Who Cried Wolf. A young boy would repeatedly and continuously cry wolf when no wolf was present. His village would panic and run to his rescue but found the boy with no wolf. The villagers always ran to his rescue when no wolf was present. Eventually, the villagers collectively decided that when the boy cried wolf, they would not come to the boy’s rescue. One day, the boy saw a wolf. Scared and alone, he cried wolf – no one showed up. The boy died, eaten by a wolf.

The moral of the story: don’t lie or you’ll die. Women were treated like the boy who cried wolf. When women scream “sexual assault,” they were met with disbelief.  However, after the confirmation hearing for Justice Brett Kavanaugh, that narrative changed significantly. Women are no longer met with disbelief, but rather ignorance of their experience. John Oliver said it best on his show Last Week Tonight: “it is not that women aren’t believed, [society] simply does not care.” The narrative now changed to not caring about a woman’s harassment/abuse/assault. Ultimately, this dangerous new narrative will cause more harm to women. By not caring, society will accept that women face sexual harassment, or have been assaulted, but won’t take action against it. By taking this stance, we are basically saying to women, “hey, you got harassed/assaulted/abused? Well, you’re going have to deal with that because you’re a woman. No one is going to help you. Your abuser won’t get punished or reprimanded for it.”

The Dangerous Narrative.

According to Dr. Chideibere C. Ogbonna and Margaret Lokawua’s article, Media Prejudice Against Women: On Gender Narrative, the media has been promoting advertising campaigns that objectify women. By doing so, women are presented as mere objects of sexual fantasy and gratification. This notion keeps women in a disadvantaged position in society. Since women were always seen as sexual objects, women were not believed when they spoke out about their experiences with sexual assault. However, with the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements, claims of inappropriate sexual behavior are now taken more seriously. Organizations and businesses quickly open investigations on men accused. Men from the entertainment business to government actors have allegations against them. For example, major companies will fire these misbehaving men or put them under investigation. (Remember Harvey Weinstein or Kevin Spacey?) Justice Brett Kavanaugh was accused of sexual assault shortly after his nomination by President Trump. His nomination allowed for a new narrative to arise.

However, Justice Kavanaugh is not the first Supreme Court Justice to be accused of inappropriate sexual behavior. In 1991, Anita Hill bravely spoke up about her experience with Justice Clarence Thomas. She told the senate committee that Justice Thomas acted sexually inappropriate with her while they worked together. He would talk about porn and his pubic hair, which brought Ms. Hill extreme discomfort. Ms. Hill, in the company of her attorneys, professionally and eloquently described what happened to her. Similar to Ms. Hill, Dr. Christine Blasey Ford also testified against Justice Kavanaugh. However, both these women faced different issues.

For Ms. Hill, the question was: is she telling the truth?

For Dr. Ford, the question became: do we care?

Aftermath.

One way to get people to care about women’s issues is to make the issue personal. The common rhetoric used is: what if this were your mother, daughter, or sister? This rhetoric caused people to put their judgment away and focus on the humanity of the victims. Additionally, this bolstered the credibility of women’s claims. However, the issue is not about believing; now, it is whether society will care that women are victims.

Brett_Michael_Kavanaugh_(2004)
Justice Kavanaugh

Several days after Justice Kavanaugh was confirmed, President Donald Trump hit the campaign trial. He told his supporters that Justice Kavanaugh went through something traumatic; yet, Justice Kavanaugh was a hero. President Trump continued to mock Dr. Ford’s testimony by stating she could not answer any specific questions. However, she was able to answer all questions. As he attempted to cast doubt by presenting false information to the public, President Trump’s behavior demonstrated a larger issue: do we care when a woman is sexually assaulted? Rather, will we, as a society, take action against those who sexually misbehave with women?

President Trump then flipped the common rhetoric. He began to ask, “What if this happened to your son, father, or brother?”  By doing so, he shifted the focus off women and to men. He changed the narrative of a woman’s issue by making it a man’s issue. When President Trump did this, he reinforced the idea that John Oliver stated on his show: it is not that women aren’t believed, society simply does not care. By doing so, a dangerous new narrative developed which will cause more harm to women. This new narrative starts to undue the work of the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements by not punishing the abusers.

Author: Nikita_Srivastava

Nikita Srivastava is a 3L at the University of Cincinnati College of Law. She is a founding member of UC Law Women and Vice President of UC Law's Trial Advocacy Team.  Currently, she is a legal extern for the Indigent Defense Clinic at the Hamilton County Public Defender's Office.

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