Image of Christine Blasey Ford and Brett Kavanaugh

State of Disunion

Will America Ever Be a Country for Women?

One year with Kavanaugh on the bench, countless #MeToo stories, 24 sexual assault allegations against Trump, and powerful men are still free from lasting consequences. When will it end?

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This week marks one year since Brett Kavanaugh was sworn in as a Supreme Court Justice after a controversial confirmation process marred by allegations of sexual misconduct. But for many American women, 12 months has done little to heal the open wounds of this betrayal. The anniversary of Kavanaugh’s confirmation serves as a painful reminder of a reality we can no longer ignore—let alone forget: This is no country for women.

Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearings alone were sufficient evidence of this. A woman came forward with a credible claim of sexual assault against a Supreme Court nominee and it was treated as little more than a bump in the road on the way to a conservative court. Rather than undertake a thorough investigation, our elected officials not only rushed the nomination through to approval, but bemoaned the burden the allegations placed on the accused. It should come as no surprise that the men who govern our country (and yes, our country continues to be run by a white, male majority) aren’t terribly bothered by the idea of an alleged sexual assault perpetrator serving a lifetime tenure on our highest court. After all, they don’t appear too concerned about a president who has been accused of sexual assault by 24 women.

It is absurd that political conservatism, so entwined with religious morality and superiority, has men like Donald Trump and Brett Kavanaugh at its helm. Even in an era of #MeToo, little mind is paid to the chorus of claims made against such politically powerful men. Conservative men remain more concerned with preserving the patriarchal status quo than listening to victims—nevermind believing them.

Should the chorus grow too loud and persistent to ignore, their victims suddenly find themselves on trial in the brutal, unremitting court of public opinion. In this court, the lines between victim and accused are not only blurred; they’re all but erased. As Jessica Valenti writes in her essay, “The Ones Who Got Away: Kavanaugh and the Weight Women Carry”:

During Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearings, the SCOTUS nominee was the beneficiary of something feminist philosopher Kate Manne calls “himpathy”: “the inappropriate and disproportionate sympathy powerful men often enjoy,” especially when it comes to misogynist behavior.

Not only are politically powerful men granted undue societal empathy, they enjoy the benefit of the doubt when it comes to sexual assault claims. The accused is presumed innocent until proven guilty and the accuser is presumed a liar unless proven truthful. The former are entitled to a positive presumption, while the latter are forced to overcome a negative—a near impossible task given the intimate nature of sexual assault crimes.  As Bill Cosby’s 60 victims and Harvey Weinstein’s 87 victims can attest, even numerous corroborating claims and substantiating evidence are often not enough to meet this elusive burden of proof.

Rather than being met with a presumption of honesty or even neutrality, women who seek justice from such men are invariably met with skepticism at best and hate, vitriol, even death threats at worst. The cultural supposition that sexual assault accusers are deceitful jezebels who prey upon men for revenge and personal gain is not only misogynistic; it’s statistically inaccurate. According to statistics from the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, the incidence of false reporting of sexual assault crimes is between 2 and 10 percent. In fact, the vast majority of sexual assault crimes go unreported with 63 percent never reported to law enforcement.

Gross underreporting of sexual assault crimes undermines the perverse claim that it’s a “scary time” for American men. The sad truth is that it’s not a scary time for men, but it should be. I don’t think Donald Trump and Brett Kavanaugh have reason to be particularly worried given the institutional protection they currently enjoy. They should be called to account for their crimes and denied the privilege of holding our nation’s highest offices; yet, they aren’t.

They aren’t and they probably won’t be because America is not for women. It was founded by men, for men and it continues to be run by men, for men. When it comes to actually achieving gender parity, at least in the minds of these men, “the juice is not worth the squeeze.” Gender equality costs money. In the 1970s, concern over costs compelled business interests to fund efforts to defeat the Equal Rights Amendment that would have provided a legal guarantee of protection from gender discrimination in the United States Constitution. From the pay gap to the tampon tax, it pays to discriminate. Full legal equality for American women might prove expensive for some so America continues to operate at the expense of its women, rather than corporations.

Despite comprising almost half of the U.S. workforce, American women remain constrained by antiquated views of “women’s work.” Not only do women still bear the burden of the majority of unpaid domestic and caring work, but when it comes to paid and unpaid labor, women’s work in America remains financially less valued and unvalued respectively. Uneven distribution of domestic duties reinforces inequality by allowing women less time to compete with men in the workplace. As long as American women operate under the confines of what author Soraya Chemaly refers to in her 2018 book, Rage Becomes Her: The Power of Women’s Anger, as “the caring mandate,” economic equality will evade us.

Rather than being a source of cultural reverence and personal power, American women’s reproductive capacity is an abiding source of oppression. One’s ability to control what happens to his/her own body and the decision of if, when, and whether to bear or beget a child is a human right. Yet in America, women’s bodies equate to little more than convenient political fodder rather than the exclusive domain of the individual. Whether women’s bodies belong to them is a legitimate political question consistently answered by wealthy, white men behind closed doors with strokes of their gold, engraved pens.

We live in a country that has not only been ranked among the most dangerous in the world for women, but where the incidence of women murdered by men has increased nearly 20 percent since 2014. To live free from fear of physical and sexual violence is a human right. Not only are many among us denied this fundamental human right, we often have limited recourse when we are victimized and almost none when it’s done at the hands of politically powerful men. Misogynistic cultural epithets like “boys will be boys” and “bro codes” are consistently employed to “Trump” American women’s human rights. As long as victims of sexual violence remain unfortunate casualties when their justice is not politically expedient, this is no country for women.

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