Opinion

Opinion | Jennifer C. Braceras

Brett Kavanaugh and the limits of hashtag feminism

Brett Kavanaugh and the limits of hashtag feminism
Lesley Becker/Globe Staff

“Believe Women.”

This mantra, expressed often on T-shirts and Twitter, reflects the legitimate frustration of women who, over the course of history, have been taken advantage of — economically, politically, and sexually — by more powerful men.

But recent calls to defeat the nomination of Judge Brett Kavanaugh to the US Supreme Court on the basis of a last-minute, decades-old assault allegation are testing the limits of such hashtag feminism.

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There is no question we must take seriously any and all allegations of sexual misconduct and abuse, including this one. But that does not mean such allegations must be accepted as true simply because they are made by a woman.

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To the contrary, fairness and due process require that claims be evaluated on the basis of evidence and on the credibility of both the accuser and the accused.

Here is what we know about the allegation against Judge Kavanaugh:

Christine Blasey Ford, a 51-year-old psychology professor in California, says Kavanaugh held her down on a bed, groped at her clothing, and covered her mouth when she cried out during a high school house party in suburban Maryland when they were teens. She says she was able to break free only when Kavanaugh’s friend, Mark Judge, jumped onto the bed, causing the three of them to tumble onto the floor.

Kavanaugh adamantly denies the allegation, as does Mark Judge.

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The she-said/he-said nature of the allegations; Ford’s failure to mention the event to anyone for decades; and her inability to provide key details such the location or specific time frame of the alleged assault raise reasonable questions about her credibility. Nonetheless, we are told that we should believe her because she “has no reason to lie,” and it’s time we started “believing women.”

This tweet from @KailiJoy is emblematic:

“A woman is trying to protect us from putting an attempted rapist on the Supreme Court, and she’s going to be destroyed for it, and she knows it, and she’s doing it anyway. That’s patriotism.”

That’s one way to look at it. Here’s another: A woman is trying to sink a Supreme Court nominee whom she believes (rightly or wrongly) puts Roe v. Wade in jeopardy, and she will be hailed as a hero and a patriot, offered lucrative speaking engagements, and a named professorship at a prestigious university.

Or how about this: A young, intoxicated woman is pushed on the bed and groped by an equally intoxicated young man. More than three decades later, during marital counseling, a middle-aged woman mentions the incident without naming the assailant. Still years later, she fills in the blanks and, inaccurately, attaches the name of Brett Kavanaugh to that memory.

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I am well aware that the mere suggestion of these alternate interpretations may open me up to charges of insensitivity and victim-shaming. But considering other possibilities is not victim-shaming, it’s an attempt to discern the truth. And although it indeed takes great courage to come forward with a sexual misconduct allegation, particularly against someone powerful, one need only consider the fabricated Duke lacrosse case or “Jackie’s” fictional tale of gang rape at the University of Virginia (to say nothing of the scores of college students falsely accused university Title IX tribunals) to see that not every accuser tells the truth.

In a just world, a last-minute attempt to stop judicial confirmations based on an uncorroborated allegation of teenage misconduct would not succeed. But in this political climate, will any white male Republican senator have the courage to vigorously cross-examine Kavanaugh’s accuser?

Perhaps Senator Susan Collins can offer her male colleagues some political cover. On Tuesday, the Maine Republican tweeted that she would ask the Judiciary Committee to allow counsel for Ford and Kavanaugh to cross-examine each other under oath. Right on cue, Ford’s attorney suggested she might not appear at all, stating that she preferred to have the FBI investigate the matter.

This is a delay tactic, pure and simple. Any FBI investigation would involve interviews with Ford, Kavanaugh, and Judge. There is no forensic evidence to collect, given the extensive lapse in time. So why not conduct the interviews in public to allow the senators and the people to assess the credibility of the witnesses? Her hesitation in subjecting herself to cross-examination is telling. But how Collins responds may determine Kavanaugh’s fate.

A nod from Collins may give her male colleagues the support they need to move forward with a vote. If, however, Collins decides (now or at a later date) that she believes Ford’s claims, then Kavanaugh is done.

And, sadly, she will have lent a veneer of legitimacy to the weaponization of #MeToo for political purposes.

So, Senator Collins, what say you?

Jennifer C. Braceras, a former commissioner on the US Commission on Civil Rights, is a senior fellow at the Independent Women’s Forum.