Gender, politics, and more: Americans weigh in on Kavanaugh
As the Senate Judiciary Committee hears testimony from Christine Blasey Ford and Brett Kavanaugh about allegations of sexual assault, AP journalists around the country are talking to Americans about politics, gender, culture and the Supreme Court. Many who viewed Ford’s testimony said they found her credible, but not all believed Kavanaugh was guilty of assault. And echoes of Clarence Thomas and Anita Hill abounded:
THOUGHTS OF ANITA HILL
Helen Anderson had Anita Hill and Clarence Thomas on her mind as she watched the hearings from her Sioux City, Iowa, home.
“I’m thinking I don’t want to see that again — a rush to confirmation,” said Anderson, 72, a retired elementary school teacher and registered Democrat. Thomas’s nomination was confirmed in 1991 despite Hill’s allegations of sexual harassment, which he contested.
Anderson said she found Ford’s testimony convincing, adding, “I think she’s given a very strong statement, and I think she’s doing a very good job.”
Anderson noted that certain things had progressed since 1991.
“I remember one of the questions asked of Anita Hill was something like ‘Are you a woman scorned?'” she recalled. “You aren’t going to hear that in this hearing. I think some lessons have been learned since Ms. Hill was treated the way she was.”
Daniela Romero, a registered Republican, watched Ford’s appearance at a student lounge at Florida International University in Miami. “I believe her testimony is true,” she said.
Romero, 22, recounted how one man had sexually assaulted several of her female friends. She described the legal process that followed as “miserable” for the women involved, saying, “It something that affects you for the rest of your life.”
“She will never forget that,” Romero said of Ford.
Romero said she hesitates to believe eyewitness testimonies, citing her background as a psychology major. She described memories as flawed and unreliable, and yet — after hearing Ford speak — said she felt that all signs point to sexual assault.
A ‘WITCH HUNT’:
Connie Cook Saunders, a fitness director for a San Diego athletic club who considers herself a moderate Republican, was able to catch about 15 minutes of the hearing before heading to work. She recorded the rest to watch later.
“I personally feel like it’s a witch hunt,” she said. “It’s political. If it happened to her I am sorry, but it doesn’t make sense to bring it up now. We all did things in high school we don’t want to be judged for now.”
Cook Saunders, 52, said she hoped Kavanaugh would muster more emotion in his Senate appearance than he showed in his Fox interview, where she felt he was too poker-faced.
And she, too, evoked the Thomas-Hill hearing.
“I believed Anita,” she said. “I think she was a more credible witness so far from what I’ve seen than Ford is.”
AGONIZING TO WATCH:
For Elizabeth Jacobson, listening to Ford’s testimony was emotionally exhausting. “To watch someone have to recount something that traumatic, I feel very on edge for her,” said Jacobson, 24, of Minneapolis.
Jacobson, a first-year law student at Mitchell Hamline School of Law who identifies as a Democrat, watched the hearing with colleagues in a classroom. She said she found the opening by Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley frustrating, adding, “He didn’t uphold his duty to make sure that it was a very fair and neutral introduction.”
Jacobson said she was nervous before the hearing started.
“It could be a really important step forward — or it could be a very large wall in some ways, another hurdle, another obstacle,” she said. When asked what she would like to see in the hearing, she cited “respect,” saying that challenging Ford’s credibility could discourage others from coming forward.
One of Jacobson’s close friends was sexually assaulted in high school, an experience the friend said would scar her for life. In that context, Jacobson said, “something that you do in high school can stick with someone else for the rest of their lives, and in some ways you should be held accountable for the decisions you made.”
TRYING TO KEEP AN OPEN MIND:
Republic strategist Jennifer Jacobs, watching the hearing from her home in San Diego, said she found herself struck by what she deemed Ford’s sincerity. But she remained uncertain as to whether it was “absolutely” Kavanaugh who committed the alleged assault.
“I think her sincerity is definitely playing heavy on my mind and my heart,” Jacobs said, adding that she believed “something happened to her in her past that has caused her a lot of pain. I don’t think that can be disputed.”
“The last thing I want to do is take away from the pain a woman has,” Jacobs said. “I’m still on the fence about, do I believe that this was absolutely this person.”
She added: “I am doing my best, 100 percent, to keep an open mind.”
PROTESTS IN NORTH CAROLINA
Across North Carolina, protesters gathered outside the offices of the state’s Republican U.S. Senators in three different cities to demonstrate against Kavanaugh’s confirmation.
In Raleigh, a crowd of about 30 gathered outside Sen. Thom Tillis’ regional office, blocks from the state capitol.
Penney De Pas, an artist and retired state employee, called the protests part of a larger movement on the part of Americans fed up with men in positions of power abusing their status to get away with sexual assault.
“You have a group of baby boomers and Gen Xers and millennials … who are like ‘We’re not going to put up with this anymore,'” De Pas said.
She said the Kavanaugh confirmation hearing particularly hit close to home because she was sexually assaulted as a child.
When Brandi Geoit makes calls and knocks on doors of prospective voters as part of her campaign for a seat on the Pasco County Commission in Florida, she hears familiar refrains about Kavanaugh.
“How can they do this to this poor man?” she says Republicans ask. And Democrats tell her, “I can’t believe that someone would be OK with a man having allegations of sexual assault sitting on the Supreme Court.”
The 42-year-old plans to watch Thursday’s hearing in between continuing to reach out to prospective voters.
Geoit is a Democrat and isn’t sure there’s anything Kavanaugh can say that would sway her from believing the women who have come forward against him.
“It’s not a Democrat or Republican issue. It’s an issue of how we treat women in the United States,” says Geoit, who adds that she has dealt with unwelcome advances from men on the trail.
Though many see parallels with Clarence Thomas’ confirmation hearings, the Kavanaugh hearing is taking place in a changed cultural landscape, says Jill Abramson, co-author of “Strange Justice: The Selling of Clarence Thomas.”
“What’s different now is that in 1991 much of the country did not even know the concept of sexual harassment,” Abramson said in an interview. “The sexual misconduct of men was not openly discussed except in rare situations.”
That’s obviously changed. #MeToo has claimed many powerful men in almost every industry, beginning with former Fox News Chairman Roger Ailes, movie producer Harvey Weinstein and so many others.
Of Ford, Abramson says: “If the all-male Republican side treats her as a liar and attacks her character, it could discourage other women from coming forward. It could also create a well of anger in the country, as it did in 1991. Anita Hill was asked to tell her story and was disrespected.”