Resigned or Determined? After Kavanaugh, Women Are Pulled in Opposite Directions

The words they choose: Despair. Rage. Fear. Hopelessness. Determination.

  • The bruising battle to confirm Brett M. Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court may be over, but the reverberations for women who opposed him are not.
  • In more than 50,000 responses to an invitation for women to share reactions about his confirmation battle, a wrenching question emerged about the hearing’s aftermath: Will the main result be resignation and withdrawal, or will it redouble activism and engagement?
  • As those who lost this battle try to figure out how and whether to gird for the next ones, many women who opposed Justice Kavanaugh are pulled both ways.
  • “I cried in the bathroom at work, I cried at home, I cried in the car, the whole time knowing that Brett Kavanaugh would inevitably end up on the Supreme Court,” wrote Katelyn Sullivan, a 27-year-old graphic designer from Burlington, Vt. “I waver between feeling the power of women’s anger and feeling like meaningful change is out of reach.”

 

The responses ran the political gamut, with many also writing to support Justice Kavanaugh.

“I think this became a political game with a lot of underhanded maneuvering,” wrote Anne Abraham, who identified herself as a first-generation immigrant from India living in Maryland. She said Justice Kavanaugh would uphold the constitution, and she would vote Republican as she has in the past. “I think it’s healthy for a nation to protest and voice their concerns. I think that it’s become unsafe in this country to be a conservative — especially in our cities and in popular culture.”

But after two heady years of marching, organizing and running for office, after once-invulnerable men were toppled by accusations of sexual harassment, many women who opposed the nomination are asking themselves how much has really changed — and how much still can.

Many listed specific actions they plan to take in the aftermath: vote, canvass, protest, write public officials, donate money. One woman said if, as she expects, abortions are further restricted, she would open her California home to women who needed to travel to obtain them. Another said she would launch a social media campaign describing her own sexual assault and listing others.

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Susan Daily of Kansas City, Mo., who described herself as a mother of twin daughters and married to a conservative she persuaded not to vote for President Trump, said she turned her Facebook profile into an oozing volcano after the hearings. She said she plans to show up in courtrooms to support victims of assault. And she has not given up on reaching across the divide. “I try to post uncomfortable truths to engage others who run across my newsfeed,” she wrote. “I engage civilly with conservatives and naysayers online.”

But many women said the hearings had reminded them of the formidable barriers to change posed by an entrenched political structure still controlled by older white men. And some who were rooting for Democrats to win back Congress in the elections could not shake a dread that once more their side would lose.

“I feel powerless to change anything, and I don’t think my vote even counts due to the Electoral College, but I do vote anyway out of principle,” wrote Ashley Silverthorne from Minnesota. “My foremothers fought for our right to vote and I’ll exercise it any time I can even though I don’t think it will change anything.”

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Laura Stahl, of Los Angeles, said she is resolved to vote. “But I am so afraid that my voice does not matter,” she wrote. “I feel as though I am screaming into the void. And yet I cannot be silent. I have to do something or else this hopelessness will paralyze me.”

For these women, the hearings were a live, communal swing from jubilation that a female accuser was first seen as widely credible to disgust that male power once more ruled the day. They described feeling silenced and sidelined, not only by men, but in a singularly wrenching betrayal, by other women — those who voted to confirm Justice Kavanaugh and those who believed him over his accuser, Christine Blasey Ford.

“I felt completely and utterly shut down,” wrote Nicole Keefler, an American living in Canada who is casting an absentee ballot in the midterm elections. “That none of our experiences of sexual violence matter. Nobody cares — not the police, the courts, the politicians or the president.”

Even more, the hearings were a painful flashback to 2016, when Democratic women were shocked not only that Hillary Clinton lost, but that a man whose unapologetic embrace of swagger and sexual entitlement could be elected president.

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That explains a lingering intensity that has taken many of these women by surprise.

“I had no idea that these hearings would affect me so deeply,” wrote Keirsten Hamilton, an attorney who said she was raised in a fairly conservative Christian home in small-town Texas, votes Republican in some local races but more often for Democrats. “It does feel, in many ways, like meaningful change is out of reach. But I’ve never felt so enraged in my life. I refuse to let men keep telling this narrative that I know is wrong.”

As with both sides in this intensely partisan moment, Sarah Orlando of Houston evoked an apocalyptic future: “This is the worst thing that’s happened to women in my lifetime, I fear the worst is far from yet to come. I’m not just worried for women though. I’m worried for every marginalized community in America. When my son asked if everything was going to be O.K., I answered with my filter temporarily disengaged, ‘Just be glad you’re not a woman, honey.’”

Some women reproached themselves as well as men in power, turning anger inward for somehow failing to do enough. “Honestly this makes me realize how inactive I have been,” wrote Raphaela Weissman of Seattle, who said she was voluble on social media but had not taken direct action. “I did not call any senators before this vote, so in a way this is my fault, too.”

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Allison Butz of Texas offered a vivid glimpse into modern-day juggling many women must navigate. She wrote that she had always voted, protested, written letters and volunteered for campaigns when she could. “But sweet Jesus, I’m the underpaid director of a severely underfunded community food pantry in a service area that has some of the highest rates of food insecurity in the entire nation. My husband and I own a print shop. I have two small children who are in school, in soccer, in other activities … and the birthday parties, constantly … and that doesn’t even touch on how I manage to keep the plates spinning in every other aspect of my life.”

“I can’t add another commitment beyond what I’m already doing, and I feel like I’m letting the entirety of society down as a result,” she continued. “Moral of the story? Right now is bad.”

Yet for many who responded, the prospect of more women in office remains alluring and hopeful.

Magaly Marques, who described herself as a manager, mother and immigrant, wrote: “To expect that all women will vote the same way is naïve. But when women are in at least equal numbers in the Senate and their committees, the conversations will be different, the questions asked will be different, the ability to hear and not deflect will be there, the bullying tactics will be in check.”

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