After the Clarence Thomas confirmation hearings gave the country a window into workplace sexual harassment — and featured a committee composed entirely of white men skeptically questioning the African American woman detailing what she suffered at Thomas’s hands — the next election, in 1992, was dubbed “The Year of the Woman.”
That year, 24 women were newly elected to the House, and the number of women in the Senate tripled — from two all the way up to six.
We’re still a long way from gender equality in Congress, just as we are in most important institutions. But even before Brett M. Kavanaugh’s nomination was upended by California professor Christine Blasey Ford’s charge that Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her in the 1980s, 2018 was already a record year for women candidates, with 234 winning their party’s nomination for House seats, 22 Senate nominees and 16 gubernatorial nominees.
The real story of the backlash to President Trump is about not just those candidates but the millions of women who have become more involved in politics than they ever had before — organizing, volunteering and of course voting. Talk to the reporters who have covered the newly energized progressive movement, and they’ll tell you that it’s being driven overwhelmingly by women.
And what are they about to see?
To sum up our current situation, a president who is on tape bragging about his ability to sexually assault women with impunity, who has been credibly accused of sexual misconduct by a dozen women, who emphatically supported accused abusers such as Roger Ailes and Bill O’Reilly and Roy Moore, and who promised that he would appoint only Supreme Court justices who would vote to overturn Roe v. Wade, has appointed a man who is now accused of an attempted rape. Virtually the entire Republican Party is coming to that man’s defense, a defense that promises to include relentless attacks on the accuser. Just like what every other woman in her position goes through.
As Bloomberg News reports, the Trump team will try to discredit Ford’s credibility by raising questions about why she didn’t tell anybody at the incident at the time it happened. But every woman in the world knows why that 15-year-old girl didn’t tell anybody about it: because it would turn her trauma into an absolute nightmare. She’d be the one blamed. She’d be disbelieved, she’d be ostracized, she’d be called a liar and a slut and a hundred other names. Every woman knows that because every woman has seen it happen.
Not that they needed a reminder of how this works, but they’re sure going to get one now. Imagine if you’re a woman watching Kavanaugh’s defenders accept, and in some cases argue explicitly, that it’s perfectly normal for a drunken teenage boy to sexually assault a teenage girl because that’s just what men do. When Ed Rollins, co-chairman of a pro-Trump PAC, says, “If this is the new standard, no one will ever want or be able to serve in government or on the judiciary,” or when a lawyer close to the White House says, “If somebody can be brought down by accusations like this, then you, me, every man certainly should be worried,” that’s precisely the message being communicated.
Not all of them are saying that; many Republicans are worried about how this controversy will make them look, and they’re trying to step carefully. But if they’re going to insist that Kavanaugh be confirmed, as they will, that means they’re saying one of three things:
They can say Ford is a liar who concocted this story for political effect, falsified therapist’s notes from 2012 to corroborate her story, pretended to be unwilling to go public until journalists discovered her identity, and has volunteered to withstand the tsunami of hate and death threats guaranteed to come her way on the chance that she could torpedo Kavanaugh’s nomination.
Or they can say that they believe her, but that Kavanaugh’s alleged actions as a 17-year-old shouldn’t be held against him (a dispensation they’re notably unwilling to grant to, say, black teenagers shot by police).
Or finally, they can say that since it’s impossible to prove definitively what happened, Kavanaugh must be given the benefit of the doubt and confirmed. Because wouldn’t it be a tragedy if he were innocent and still wasn’t granted a lifetime appointment to the Supreme Court? Women understand that argument too: The man in these situations is always the one whose future is vital to protect.
However this turns out — a new round of hearings to address these charges is looking increasingly likely — women will not learn much they don’t already know. But they will watch and get angrier, as well they should.
Republicans are already facing a dramatic gender gap in this year’s elections. In The Post-ABC News’s most recent poll, Democrats led on the generic-ballot question (whether you plan to vote for a Democrat or a Republican for Congress) among men by 45-44, essentially a tie, but among women, Democrats led by a stunning 25-point margin, 58-33. Trump’s job approval shows something similar: In the most recent Gallup poll, his approval among men was 47 percent, but among women it was only 35 percent.
When this is all over, Kavanaugh may still be confirmed. But once women have the chance to make clear at the polls what they thought about it, Republicans may wonder whether it was worth it.