by Valerie Morales
Who deserves grace? A fragile survivor who flew in from across the country to detail her dehumanization? Or, a once upon a time adolescent abuser intent on defending his behavior? For the moral, it was not a difficult choice, not an algebraic equation, or some existential abstract. It was, simply, basic decency. Are you on the side of the girl who screams? Or, her tormentor?
Maine Senator Susan Collins risked her name and reputation, and possibly the 2020 Senate race by pretending a violent night at an affluent house in Maryland did not happen the way Christine Blasey Ford said it did. Susan Collins chose a side and accepted the consequences of that choice, but perhaps not really understanding winter was coming. Hubris swirling, she failed to distinguish the twin instruments of entitlement and despair. That she scarred the previously scarred leaves us with a quiet valence.
It went wrong for her instantly, after the yes vote. On 60 Minutes, Susan Collins absurdly rationalized her partisan action by inferring Kavanaugh’s accuser was confused. It’s the same kind of weaponization you hear defense attorney’s use on rape victims under cross. You misunderstood, didn’t you? You misinterpreted friendliness. You didn’t understand he was drinking. You wanted him right?
We expect male armies to cling together in their sexual violence denials. Women though are expected to support other women, but they often do not. The passionate who side with abusive men as some kind of grotesque applause is a dark part of the culture. I guess for some, the truth about men’s sexual violence is hard to swallow, as it generally indicts fathers and uncles and brothers. But it was Alice Walker who wrote “All my life I had to fight. I had to fight my daddy. I had to fight my brothers. I had to fight my cousins and uncles. A girl child ain’t safe in a family of men.”
Susan Collins partisan vote wasn’t 24 hours old before it immediately touched the #MeToo scar tissue. Instantly what was relitigated was the canny argument that white women don’t believe white women, a familiar refrain after Hillary Clinton’s defeat, and now center stage with Brett Kavanaugh. A man just has to portray his past as fey and white women immediately flock, accepting his denials, victimization, and slickness.
The Kavanaugh holy mess, even at this late date, says something profound about #MeToo, even as it trolls Susan Collins as a sexual violence denier. #MeToo has triggered the culture to be sympathetic when victims come forward. We listen as they speak. We exhale as they explain. We are attached to their delayed justice search that often indicts the white, the male, and the powerful. But there is a bigger point that Susan Collins didn’t understand ten months ago. If you cannot have adequate compassion for gender trauma, something is morally wrong.
A Maine resident named Roberta had this to say after Susan Collins voted yes. “We knew she was stringing everyone along. That’s her thing. In the end, with rare exceptions, she’s a party hack. She’s toast. She was angry because of the folks funding a mystery opponent before the vote. She has never had to work hard to get re-elected. And she has never been outspent.”
Polls indicate that while Mitch McConnell is the most unpopular senator in the United States, Susan Collins is next. Since 2017, her approval rating has dropped 44% as she is seen as a Trump sycophant, a woman absent a voice. Her vote, which put Brett Kavanaugh on the court, has made her a symbol of male privilege. In all of it, her age cannot be ignored. She’s 66 years old and generationally she’s still stuck in the boys club cohort, a raucous group that defiles and dehumanizes women without a price to pay. Being silent and letting boys be boys is part of her Republican noir.
It took her a full day to have a comment about Trump’s racist tweets against the four congresswomen of color. 24 hours. It explains her Kavanaugh vote somewhat. She doesn’t empathize with female victims but with male aggression. She’s a woman who doesn’t get other women at their soulful quiet and she definitely doesn’t feel their sexual or racial pain, not even on a surface level. She didn’t call Trump a racist in her oh so late response, her political duty pushing her partisanship like that damned bell pushes Pavlov’s dog to slobber. Collins failed to identify the women Trump victimized, abnormalizing them as “some members.” No names. No respect. But they were not “some members”. They are women. Women of color. Women who were targeted on purpose to curate votes from people Susan Collins is going to curate votes from. In full alliance with Trump’s misogyny, racism, and xenophobia, she is a shelter for the cruel.
Democrats aren’t just paying attention to the mechanics. They have raised nearly $5 million to defeat Susan Collins. Sara Gideon, the state House Speaker announced she was running and raised $1 million in a week. Democrats and Independents who make up a large share of the Maine voting populace sense a drowning.
#MeToo has always been about the voice. Shaky or stiff. Liquid or timid. Loud or louder. Brown or pale. It is the voice that marches the story forward, a grisly tale of harassment and abuse, of men acting violently and narcissistically, of female outrage and shame, and masculine tsk. The voice usually, at some point in the story, cracks. It then backtracks and tries to calm down. But speaking about sexual violence in a room of men is an exercise in shame.
Christine Blasey Ford, a woman of privilege, acted appropriately. She told very few people about her Brett Kavanaugh experience. She knew she wouldn’t be believed. She knew she would be seen as the drunk impolite aggressor. She knew her story would be gutted and she would be excoriated for having the nerve to tell it. But she told it anyway and the world listened while holding their breath. Many were absorbed. The reprobate mocked her. The worst were the enablers who normalized the Kavanaugh experience, wanting us to believe and accept it’s what all boys do. No, not really. But it is evidence of the why.
#MeToo exploded like a bomb because boys do abuse girls and girls say nothing. Girls cope by touching the wound and nursing the scars and getting on with their lives. Until something extraordinary happens. I know a woman who, when she was Christine Blasey’s age, was raped by the older brother of the toddler she was babysitting. They were family friends so she endured her suffering until #MeToo.
In a patriarchal culture, #MeToo is an outlier. It encourages the voice. But it adds a more punitive layer. It slays men. It rips the abuser out of his skin and puts him in the light. It shames him with his crimes the way he shamed his victim with his violence. It is equality. Finally. Or, it is karma. Or, it is justice.
But as the men piled up over these past two years in a mountain of the grotesque, and they lost everything, there were whispers about #MeToo losing its soul and going too far. That #MeToo shouldn’t celebrate the destruction of men just because abused women are emancipated.
About that emancipation. Many women did nothing. Many women are cold; they are the “you wore a short skirt? of course you were raped” crowd. Many women who are scarred themselves refuse an I’m sorry he did that to you. Many women defend men and their behavior, either through rationalizations or excuses or defenses. Or, in quieter ways. Setting up meetings. Leaving the accuser alone without backup. They condone violent men, or sexualize the harassment, or forgive abusers, or ignore crimes. They vote for misogynist ( and racist) presidents. Many women call accusers liars and say male cruelty is a hoax.
This is how the math works though. Susan Collins didn’t believe one abused woman. Using logic, she probably won’t believe any abused woman. She had power but refused the kind of moral courage that had Sojourner Truth asking Ain’t I A Woman?
Ain’t Susan Collins a woman?
It was Shakespeare who wrote, “hoist with his own petard”. Shakespeare also reminds “if you prick us, do we not bleed? If you tickle us, do we not laugh? If you poison us, do we not die? And if you wrong us, do we not revenge?”
The jagged debris she threw in Christine Blasey Ford’s face has done a boomerang circle and is heading Susan Collins way in 2020. Too many remember what she refused to do and who she stood up for and what woman she belittled. In every life, there is a moment of reckoning, a turn. Amplification of the moral. We are there. It is now.
Susan Collins isn’t a friend of traumatized women, whose grief lands roughly. In the company of violent men who are not sorry, Susan Collins lacks guts. She isn’t revolutionary. Last year, she called a sexual assault survivor confused. She said she couldn’t believe her without corroborating evidence. And then Susan Collins believed Brett Kavanaugh without corroborating evidence. Abusers over survivors. That is Susan Collins.