Politics 6 October 2018 | 10:17

Thousands cry: ‘Me Too!’ US Senators respond: ‘So what?’

06 October 2018 10:17

A year ago, the hashtag #MeToo began to trend, and what started as a collective cry for help from victims of sexual misconduct became the most defining cultural movement of the decade.

Last night, an alleged sex attacker was not held to account – he was hired – by the most powerful court in the world.

The confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court is a sickening gut-punch. Let’s not forget, it came despite achingly familiar testimony of sexual assault from Christine Blasey Ford; despite allegations from at least two other women; and despite Kavanaugh’s incoherently apoplectic response, which contained so many misdirections and lies that his former classmates were forced to intervene.

It kills once-and-for-all that dreadful appeal: ‘His life will be ruined if you speak out.’ Consider the rage and repulsive mockery – from the President, no less – that Dr Ford has suffered, while Judge Kavanaugh escapes (for the moment) criminal investigation and is elevated to a position of power above almost all others. Tell me whose life has been ruined. Tell me why we shouldn’t speak out.

Last week’s five-day FBI investigation into Kavanaugh was at best an impotent farce, and at worst a shameless cover-up. It never even interviewed Dr Ford and was reportedly hobbled by the White House.

It was also a terrible illustration of why #MeToo existed in the first place – and how it has failed. Victims who chose not to come forward, fearing precisely this scenario, have been brutally vindicated. Victims who are trying to find the courage to do so have been spat on.

A year ago, tens of thousands said: ‘Me too!’ Today, they heard back: ‘So what?’

And from a woman. Senator Susan Collins became the 50th Republican to confirm Kavanaugh, followed by Democrat Joe Manchin, so that Vice President Pence can today seal the final vote. The same Senator Collins who spoke so loudly against Senator Al Franken when he was accused of groping.

I promised myself that I wouldn’t be harsher on her than on any of the other Senators, because to expect more feminist allegiance from a woman is to imply that men have less of a responsibility. I can rationalise and contextualise her vote. But the fact that this hinged on a woman makes my throat ache from swallowed screams.

I do not believe that this would have happened before Trump – a time that’s hard to remember now – and before partisan allegiance would have taken intelligent people so far from what was once common decency.

I do not believe that this would have happened before Weinstein was called out and #MeToo began, and before men’s fear forced them to lash out and close ranks.

The backlash against hard-won progress is always harder to bear than the demons you fought in the first place, because of what you had to suffer. But, as we wearily pick ourselves up yet again, never forget that there are those who are counting on us being too demoralised to fight back.

The hundreds of women who protested the decision last night at the Senate office building, the thousands of (mostly male) law professors who published a letter against Judge Kavanaugh’s confirmation, and the American citizens mobilising against the Republicans for the midterms would beg to differ.

A change is coming, there’s no doubt. The question remains: how many more women, like Dr Ford, will have to suffer for it?