Dr. Christine Blasey Ford testified yesterday before the congressional Judiciary Committee and a national audience, detailing her sexual assault allegations against supreme judge nominee Brett Kavanaugh. Ford described her most vivid memories of the alleged assault in a way that left a lot of the public surprised. Though it was clear to anyone watching that this was a woman in pain who has been enduring pain for years, Ford still remained calm, collective, and everything but emotional. While Kavanaugh was overly emotional, angry, and very defensive. Some jerks have even gone as far as referring to her as an “ordinary” victim. But the truth is, Ford couldn’t be emotional. She knew that and so did every woman watching.
You could see the pain in Ford’s eyes when she recalled the details of the night of the alleged assault. But even when it looked like she was on the verge of tearing, the professor who teaches psychology at Palo Alto University in California, made a tremendous effort to reign in her emotions. Why? Because she knew that an emotional explanation from a female sexual assault victim would effect her credibility as it often does.
An emotional testimonial would have resulted in assembled Senators, the public and the media creating theories of her not being a credible source for either being “too emotional,” “emotionally and mentally unstable,” “irrational,” “hormonal,” and even “crazy.” Because these are things people—men in particular—say about women when they display any kind of emotion really. She’s “too emotional” or she’s “too sensitive” are often things used to accuse a woman of “overreacting” and Ford couldn’t afford to have a room filled with senators perceive her as overreacting. She understood that being a sexual assault survivor and a woman meant that her accounts would always be questioned and subject to scrutiny. How emotional she came out would literally impact the believability of her testimony.
In fact, Ford did the unexpected. Not only did she remain calm, collective and professional throughout her testimony but she also used science and her psychology background (she earned a doctorate in psychology at the University of Southern California and a master’s degree in Stanford and Pepperdine University) to help explain how the human brain tends to create memories when processing traumatic experiences as a surviving mechanism. She essentially used her psychological breakdown to explain why she’s 100 percent sure that Brett Kavanaugh is the one who assaulted her.
When Sen. Feinstein asked Ford, “How are you so sure that it was he?” Ford responded saying that she was sure that it was Kavanaugh in “the same way I’m sure I’m talking to you right now. Just basic memory functions and also just the level of norepinephrine and the epinephrine in the brain that as you know encodes that neurotransmitter that codes memories in the hippocampus and so the trauma-related experience is locked there, whereas other details kind of drift.”
Kavanaugh on the other hand displayed incredibly emotional behavior during his testimony. He wasn’t calm and certainly wasn’t collective. Unlike Ford, he didn’t behave like he was being watched and scrutinized under a microscope. It didn’t make an effort to conceal his emotions. He was angry and you heard it in his words—in his volume—and you saw it in his face. His responses were rude, defensive and at times even condescending. At one point in an attempt to dodge drinking questions, he went as far as asking Senator Amy Klobuchar about her drinking habits. It was such a bad look, Kavanaugh even found himself apologizing afterwards.
Kavanaugh wasn’t concerned about how he was perceived. He wasn’t afraid of coming off like an asshole and definitely wasn’t worried about sounding “too emotional.” Senate Republicans have agreed to a one-week delay so that the FBI can investigate the sexual assault allegations further. One could argue that this means Senate Republicans found Ford’s testimony believable and Kavanaugh’s doubtful. But who knows. Either way, it’s clear that Kavanaugh didn’t think his overall emotional display would lead to any doubts from the committee. Whereas Ford had to calm every nerve in her body to make sure her emotions wouldn’t negatively impact how her testimony was perceived. So many men seem to pose doubt and have questions about why so many women stay silent about their abuses. Why they never report their accusers or why they wait sometimes decades to finally do so. It’s because regardless of how calm or rational she is, regardless of how many other women might have allegations against the same man, and regardless of evidence, a woman accusing a man—especially a man in power—of sexual abuse is always questioned and hardly ever believed. Let’s hope that Ford bravely coming out with her story finally changes that.