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Are the cards always stacked against women?

By Alys Hewitt

2018 is proving to be a confusing time for women. On the one hand, we are told that our voices matter more than ever, that there is a burgeoning movement in our favour, that times are drastically changing in a post #MeToo landscape. However, while it is true that there are many reasons to be optimistic, the fight is far from over, and we cannot dismiss the backlash and setbacks still inherent in the discussion surrounding sexual assault. Several instances have indicated that the efforts of #MeToo and Times Up are falling short and failing to move forward, still being overshadowed by deep-rooted patriarchal values. One year on from #MeToo, many victims still aren’t being listened to.

The recent Kavanaugh vs. Ford hearing is exemplary of the way in which male power and privilege is still more or less untouchable. During the hearing Dr. Christine Blasey Ford gave an emotionally-charged testimony against Judge Brett Kavanaugh, a nominee to the Supreme Court, describing the moment in which he allegedly forcefully sexually assaulted her at a party in the 1980s. Kavanaugh, who has also been accused by two other women of sexual misconduct, angrily denied the allegations, dismissing them simply as a plot against him orchestrated by the Democratic Party. But by reducing Ford’s account simply to a weapon of political intent, Kavanaugh is disregarding and silencing the personal pain and horror felt by victims of sexual assault everywhere.

Kavanaugh still has the support of many high-profile Republicans, not least the President himself, who defended the Supreme Court nominee this week as a ‘good man’ with ‘great intellect’ – never mind how little a man’s intelligence or perceived greatness has anything to do with his capacity to assault and abuse. In the same week Trump also mocked Ford’s testimony during a rally in Mississippi, providing his cheering supporters with a scathing imitation of her inability to recall certain details about a traumatic event that took place many years ago. He also linked her to a Democratic conspiracy of ‘evil people’, hell-bent on destroying the Republican cause. It should seem remarkable that an American President would conflate believing and supporting an account of alleged sexual assault with ‘evil’, but comments like this don’t even come as a shock anymore.

The belittling and mocking of women who talk about their experiences accounts for exactly why victims are afraid to come forward in the first place; we are all aware that fear of humiliation and not being believed acts as a barrier to reporting sexual assault as it happens. By deflecting away from the issue at hand and arguing that Kavanaugh is the real victim here, that it is his life that has been ‘shattered’ by these accusations – Trump is feeding into the exact narrative we are trying so relentlessly to destroy. This is hardly surprising, given his track record, but still a reminder that those in power are the ones who need convincing the most, that unfortunately shared declarations of solidarity against sexual violence can only take us so far.

This is just one case which feel like a backwards step for the #MeToo movement, reminding us that the values of victim-blaming, silencing and speaking over women are still very much entrenched in our culture. Although great strides have been made, we must continue to move forward in order to eradicate these values. More women than ever are speaking out about their experiences, but to truly enact change people in power have to believe and listen to victims and survivors, rather than continuously making excuses for the men accused.

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