Martha Michael | Supreme Challenges for Women


By the end of last week’s drama, the only Supreme I wanted to hear about was Diana Ross. But, alas, there was “no mountain high enough” to keep away from the gavel-to-gavel coverage of news like the Brett Kavanaugh appointment.

The conflict was fierce, and in situations like these, I believe most of us want all sides to be heard and understood. But there’s a tremendous lack of empathy and a dearth of understanding about situations outside the realm of our own experiences.

Like many others, I’ve known “Brett Kavanaughs” before. I went to an Ivy League-caliber university with thousands of these young men, and I even married a frat boy. Trust me, I know what goes on. I wish the judge-turned-justice had been more honest about those things. In the end, the sexual allegations became moot, basically, because issues of truth and temperament loomed larger.

But I also feel I have a responsibility to speak from my own experience to perhaps help underscore the seemingly illogical chain of events that often follows inappropriate treatment by others.

What happened to Dr. Christine Blasey Ford in high school also happened to me. Decades ago, just like her. And I never told a soul until last week. It was the first time I breathed it – I told my husband about the adolescent male who inappropriately overpowered me, briefly, until I got away from him. Like Ms. Ford, I got away before being physically harmed in any way. In fact, my experience was far less extreme than what happened to her.

I’ve seen the offender many times in my hometown. As an adult, he’s a really nice guy and highly respected, and I’ve never felt the need to come forward, as it didn’t have the lasting effect a violent assault would have. It was minor, and yet, I still never told anyone. For reasons unknown almost. It was embarrassing, frankly, which makes no sense. He should carry the shame, not me.

My point? It’s hard to understand what it’s like to be a victim like Ms. Ford, especially if you’re an old, white male.

Think about the view of women held by people born in the 1930s, like some of those 11 men on the Judiciary Committee. It was 20 years before the Equal Pay Act (which meant no more paying a woman less because she has a husband who’s the main breadwinner). Some of these men were married in the 1950s, when even as married couples they could be denied the right to use contraception. They were middle-aged men before girls were even allowed to wear pants to school.

Sound ridiculous? Your past experiences inform your opinions. So, in response to individuals who don’t understand why girls/women don’t just “go to the police,” as  Lindsey Graham told a rape survivor, it’s because we have good reasons NOT to tell our parents or the authorities. It’s a huge decision to create a legal battle and receive anvil-sized criticism along with negative public exposure. It makes no sense, but we carry the shame because males, who are in charge, tend to side with males, feeling a greater fear of false accusation than the emotional damage done to their sisters, daughters and wives from sexual assault (which victimizes one in five women and one in 71 men, by the way … every 98 seconds).

I also heard last week, “Why say ‘white male’ when race wasn’t an issue in this case?” That’s a good question, which is answered the same way – because they possess the most power in society. Kavanaugh and nearly all of the committee Republicans are rich, white American males – the epitome of privilege. The photo of this group looks like a yacht club membership, which is why it seemed odd that Kavanaugh would be seen as the victim here.

Sometimes it’s the fear men have of losing that powerful advantage that motivates them to minimize opportunities for others. I’m not saying it’s deliberate – it’s probably not conscious. If they organically elevated women at the same rate as men, they wouldn’t be forced to put women on their leadership boards, because women would already be there.

Last week I met longtime L.A. Times op-ed editor Susan Brenneman. She spoke to a group at the Newhall Presbyterian Church as part of a speaker series, and it was both stimulating and powerful. She talked about the importance of a locally owned paper, and she explained the process of professional journalism, insisting that we must support the job of news coverage. When asked about women in her field, she said it’s a great career for females, like so many others. She remembered the days when meetings included newspaper staff members sitting in two concentric circles, the inner group seated around a table. There were no women in the center circle – literally, “no seat at the table” for females.

Until we are seated at the table in the boardroom, listened to and believed when we speak out about inappropriate behavior, men will not get the chance to gain understanding about our experiences. They also won’t gain access to our giftedness.

I think that most of us want to see more connection between differing viewpoints, and more listening. We can only hope that as we get further up the mountain, the incessant infighting will “stop – in the name of love.”

Martha Michael is a contributing writer for The Signal.

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