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Opinion Christine Blasey Ford and the good-girl syndrome

Christine Blasey Ford regularly returned to her scientific background to explain her sexual assault allegation against Judge Brett M. Kavanaugh on Sept. 27. (Video: JM Rieger/The Washington Post, Photo: Melina Mara/The Washington Post)

Everyone who watched Christine Blasey Ford’s testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday will forever cite many different moments when they believed her testimony hit them in the gut. And then they will point to the moment that stood out more than any other. For me it was this: When Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa), the committee chairman, asked Ford whether she would like to take a few minute recess she replied, “Does that work for you? I’m used to being collegial.”

Let that sit there for a moment. Ford has had her life all but upended since she came forward with her allegation that Supreme Court nominee Brett M. Kavanaugh, as a teenager, sexually assaulted her during the 1980s. She has received death threats, and her family has had to leave their Palo Alto home — and then move again — to keep themselves safe.

And Ford is worried about seeming nice.

Over the past several weeks, Republicans have attempted to claim that she is a politically motivated opportunist, and is confused over who actually attacked her, while at no time actually asking for an FBI investigation of her claims.

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Yet over hours of testimony, Ford bent over backwards to seem accommodating, and to not come across as an angry woman. Even as she was asked about the possibility that she mistook Kavanaugh’s identity for another, or as Rachel Mitchell — the outside interviewer chosen by GOP senators — asked questions that appeared to be designed to make Ford’s accusation look like a political hit job, she remained soft-spoken and under control “I truly wish I could be more helpful,” she stated at one point. About the polygraph, which must have been a traumatic experience, especially since it came right after her grandmother’s funeral: “I endured it. It was fine.” She said “I’m sorry” over and over again.

Compare and contrast this to the opening statement by Kavanaugh, just a few hours later. He was angry and petulant, almost veering out of control at points. He cut off Democratic senators. Republicans quickly rewarded that performance.

It’s hard to imagine an angry Ford would have received a similar response — from anyone.

We should apply a higher standard to Supreme Court nominees. Nobody deserves to be on the bench, says editorial board member Stephen Stromberg. (Video: Adriana Usero, Kate Woodsome/The Washington Post)

Instead, Ford was a “good girl.” This is something women are schooled in all our lives. No matter the wrongs done to us, we need to take the other people in our lives, or in the room with us, into account. Our trauma matters, but so do the reactions of the people around us. No matter what we are going through, we need to remember to please those surrounding us, to make sure they feel accommodated, no matter how much or how little they have our best interests at heart.

Society emphasizes this time and again. Research shows women are punished for seeming angry, while men are rewarded.  Women who show rage are frequently viewed as hostile and out-of-control, while men are perceived as more credible and authoritative.

The result is what we saw Thursday. And it was heartbreaking.

Read more:

Christine Blasey Ford’s testimony was devastating

I hope you cried


The surprising thing about Christine Blasey Ford’s story is that she fought back

Americans are not going to forget this day. Especially women.