Kava-Nah: Trump won the battle, but #MeToo will win the war

by The Listener / 11 October, 2018
A protest against Brett Kavanaugh's nomination to the US Supreme Court. Photo/Getty Images

A protest against Brett Kavanaugh's nomination to the US Supreme Court. Photo/Getty Images

RelatedArticlesModule - Brett Kavanaugh Donald Trump #MeToo
Anyone who construes the appointment of Brett Kavanaugh to the United States Supreme Court as a telling blow to the #MeToo movement is, as they say over there, whistling Dixie.

This issue brings the US closer to a historical tipping point in its political and social democracy. Republican triumphalism at “winning” the Kavanaugh fight can only be interpreted by women as a further sign that the battle needs to be taken right to the heart of the Establishment.

The ugly circling of wagons by the powerful around this most unsuitable of judicial titans can only strengthen the popular uprising against current and historic bullying and sexual abuse of women. President Donald Trump’s characterisation of Kavanaugh, and men in general, as the victims of vindictive women has further intensified opposition to his administration just in time for the forthcoming Senate elections.

Most of the states involved are Republican-favourable, and the Kavanaugh issue has stoked pro-Trump fervour as well. But the President’s supporters should not confuse the battle with the war.

Contrary to some initial punditry, #MeToo is a durable global movement. It’s not unlike what happened when Princess Diana spoke publicly about her eating disorder, emboldening others to bring their shame-ridden struggles into the light. After such performers as Taylor Swift, Rose McGowan and Ashley Judd spoke out about their experiences, women from all walks of life have begun to do the same.

It has been both cathartic and empowering. It has also been revealing. A sense of urgency has propelled #MeToo beyond a mere “truth and reconciliation” exercise over historical issues. Disclosures such as those by New Zealand women lawyers about the entrenched bullying culture in some law firms show mistreatment of women is not historical but continual. It’s not just the old “casting couch” hazard, nor is it mostly low-income, down-trodden women who are liable to suffer ill-treatment, but pretty much any woman in any workplace. And, it’s important to add, quite a few men, too.

From supermarket checkout operators to corporate chief executives, every story of sexual abuse and bullying has come to have equal weight. That genie’s not going back in the bottle.

Photo/Getty Images

Photo/Getty Images

Whatever the still-disputed facts are of Kavanaugh’s treatment of his main accuser, Christine Blasey Ford, the broad outlines are all too familiar. Something of life-haunting horror was done to a young woman at a party. It was done by a young man or men who were steeped in privilege, saw nothing wrong with their treatment of her and who look back now either in aggressive denial, or shrugging, “That’s how it was back then.”

A critical change is that the presumption is shifting from, “She shouldn’t have got drunk and hung out with drunk men”, to, “Men shouldn’t abuse women”. As the SlutWalk movement so crisply puts it, the ethos is “Don’t rape”, not, “Don’t get raped”.

That Ford, a respected professor of psychology who had nothing to gain and everything to lose by speaking out, has done so anyway also underlines a growing acceptance that the historical mores that licensed this behaviour should no longer be a free pass.

To say today, “I abused women back then, but everyone was doing it; it wasn’t illegal”, is a bit like saying, “I kept slaves back then, but everyone was doing it; it wasn’t illegal”. The #MeToo movement freights women’s need for men to not only admit their past and current ill-treatment but to make a decent effort to understand how much pain and fear it caused/causes.

Had Kavanaugh shown the slightest remorse or attempted to gain some insight into how Ford experienced his and his cohort’s behaviour, he might have emerged with some honour. But she got not so much as a, “I’m sorry if I made you uncomfortable”. At heart, this all comes down to common courtesy and human kindness. As London’s Times noted, these are not gender wars, “they are decency wars”.

Kavanaugh’s victory will prove hollow. He will be remembered as an emblem of social reform all right, though not through any magnificence on the bench, but as the last-straw poster boy who galvanised #MeToo into achieving lasting change.

This editorial was first published in the October 20, 2018 issue of the New Zealand Listener.


March of the Algorithms: Who’s at the wheel in the age of the machine?
102434 2019-02-16 00:00:00Z Tech

March of the Algorithms: Who’s at the wheel in the…

by Jenny Nicholls

Complacently relying on algorithms can lead us over a cliff – literally, in the case of car navigation systems.

Read more
IBM’s new quantum computer: The future of computing
102458 2019-02-16 00:00:00Z Tech

IBM’s new quantum computer: The future of computin…

by Peter Griffin

The Q System One, as IBM calls it, doesn’t look like any conventional computer and it certainly doesn’t act like one.

Read more
James Shaw: Capital gains tax key to fixing wealth gap
102456 2019-02-15 14:54:45Z Politics

James Shaw: Capital gains tax key to fixing wealth…

by RNZ

The week before a major tax report is released, Green Party co-leader James Shaw has again challenged his government partners to back the tax.

Read more
Jealousy, murder and lies: The killing of Arishma Chand
102448 2019-02-15 10:28:12Z Crime

Jealousy, murder and lies: The killing of Arishma…

by Anneke Smith

Arishma Chand was just 24 when she was murdered.

Read more
Top wine picks from Central Otago
102233 2019-02-15 00:00:00Z Wine

Top wine picks from Central Otago

by Michael Cooper

Tucked into small corners, Central Otago vineyards offer nuggets worth digging for. Wine critic Michael Coopers offers his top picks.

Read more
Ivanka and her tower of crumbs
102404 2019-02-14 10:33:12Z Arts

Ivanka and her tower of crumbs

by Preminda Jacob

For two hours each evening, an Ivanka Trump lookalike has been vacuuming a hot pink carpet at the Flashpoint Gallery in Washington, D.C.

Read more
Youth mental health is in crisis and NZ is failing to keep up
102393 2019-02-14 09:52:16Z Social issues

Youth mental health is in crisis and NZ is failing…

by The Listener

The introduction of a free youth mental-health pilot for Porirua, and later the wider region, is welcome news, but it's far too little, far too late.

Read more
Guyon Espiner: Year of delivery begins in defensive crouch
102387 2019-02-14 09:21:07Z Politics

Guyon Espiner: Year of delivery begins in defensiv…

by Guyon Espiner

For a government promising 'a year of delivery' it has begun in something of a defensive crouch.

Read more