Illustrations by Hokyoung Kim

Where Were You When Christine Blasey Ford Told Her Story?

One year later, 10 women recount an unforgettable day on Capitol Hill

On the morning of September 27, 2018, 52-year-old Christine Blasey Ford entered the hearing room of the Senate Judiciary Committee, prepared to tell the panel, and the millions of people watching around the country, how Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her in the summer of 1982 when she was 15.

The public hadn’t seen Dr. Ford before this moment. No one knew what she looked like, no one knew what she was going to say. Now, a year later, we asked 10 women what they remembered about that day: women who were present as activists, women who had to cover the hearings for their jobs, women who had experienced sexual assault, and women who found the strength to speak up.

Tarana Burke

Civil rights activist, creator of the hashtag #MeToo

I literally woke up that morning praying for Dr. Blasey Ford. What is she going through right now? How scared she must be. So I said a prayer for her. I said a prayer for us.

I was in my hotel room when I got the phone call from Senator Dianne Feinstein. She said, “I want you to come in and sit with us inside the hearing.” The room was set up with two different sides, like a wedding where no one wanted the couple to get married. Kavanaugh’s folks were on the left, closest to the door, and we were on the right. When Christine Blasey Ford came in the room, I realized we had no idea what she looked like. I remember thinking her hair was full and bouncy. She looked really buttoned up and serious. I was thinking about how she got herself pulled together for this.

Her testimony just nearly took us out. I remember thinking, sitting there, “I’ve never experienced anything like this.” It just kept hitting me, the gravity of what was happening.

I watched the whole Senate panel as she spoke, from the Republican side all the way to the Democrat side. And I kept thinking about how lonely it must be for her to be so alone in this moment, right? I didn’t feel like anybody was there for her. Listening to her describe her experience, everything about it felt true. It felt like what I know, and what I’ve heard from so many other survivors.

Afterward, I went to the bathroom to cry. It’s so cliché, but there wasn’t a lot of space to be alone. I met a woman in the bathroom who recognized me and thanked me for my work. We were talking about the testimony, when she said, “I just wished that she had a character witness, or that she remembered more. She’s just not making a great witness.”

What Dr. Ford did in that room is what we all do when we try to forget. She had to salvage what she could.

I was taken back. “What do you mean?” I asked. “Well, I’m a survivor,” she continued. “And I remember every detail. I just don’t know how you could forget.” And I got so angry, but I knew I couldn’t get for real angry. So I turned to her and I began to tell her my story. I never do this. I definitely don’t just randomly offer it to people.

I said to her: “I was first molested at six years old. I’m 45, and I’ve spent the greater part of 40 years holding this thing. Let me tell you what people know about it. People who are close to me, friends, people who work with me, the thing they know about me is that I have a terrible memory. You know why? Because I’ve spent the greater part of 40 years trying to forget one thing. And as a result of trying to forget that one thing, big chunks of my memory have gone with it. So what she did in that room is what we all do when we try to forget. She had to salvage what she could, the thing that she’s been trying to forget for fucking 40 years.”

We so badly want to win. We so badly want to get what we want. I was passionate about trying to keep Kavanaugh off the court, but I didn’t want us to cause any further harm to this woman who put her life on the line for us. Our empathy has to meet her where she needs us to be, and if that is where her memory stops, that’s where we have to be.

Later, I was hanging around, talking to people in the hearing room, when this guy comes and starts clearing things away. The nameplate for “Dr. Christine Blasey Ford” was still on the table. I said, “What are you going to do with that?” And he says, “It’s garbage,” so I asked if he could give it to me, and he did. I have her nameplate in my house among my treasured things. I don’t know why I needed it, I just didn’t want him to throw it away.

Nina Totenberg

NPR Legal Affairs Correspondent; broke the story of Anita Hill’s allegations of sexual harassment against Clarence Thomas in 1991

After I broke Hill’s story, there was enormous vitriol against me, both from the Senate Judiciary Committee members and from the public. Every morning I would show up at work, where my voicemail held 36 calls, and all 36 slots would be filled. I had to listen to enough of them to make sure that there wasn’t something I needed to know, but that’s all I did. Almost all of them were horrible. It was the kind of thing you would see on Twitter today.

At the time, I was under siege — personally. I was subpoenaed and I refused to give up my sources, so it lasted quite a while. I got rid of my notes before there ever was a committee. I decided that the temperature of the debate was such that I simply didn’t want to have them around. I think I shredded them.

With the Kavanaugh hearing, I wasn’t personally under siege, so I treated it like any other good, but awful story. I worked from a booth above the hearing room; NPR was broadcasting it live, so we had a small team up there. Periodically I would go downstairs and just sit for a few minutes.

There was no way to really judge Ford’s testimony except by the way Kavanaugh responded to it

During the Thomas hearings, there were no women on the Senate Judiciary Committee and there was no #MeToo movement. [There are currently six women on the 22-member committee.] The times were totally different. In 2018, the committee understood that it couldn’t berate Dr. Ford, or suggest that she had erotomania, or claim that she was crazy. They left that, in some measure, to Rachel Mitchell, a sex crimes prosecutor they hired to be their counsel, and question Dr. Ford. And then, in the end, the committee ditched her, for all practical purposes.

The part of the hearings that was the most striking to me was Kavanaugh’s judicial blow up. Brett Kavanaugh was a respected judge, and in many ways he still is. But he abandoned that person for part of a day — and that was the part that other reporters and I kept returning to. Because you couldn’t resolve the actual allegation itself. All you’re saying is, “Well, I believe her,” or, “I think she just misremembers.” There was no way to really judge Ford’s testimony except by the way Kavanaugh responded to it.

Tana Ganeva

Criminal justice reporter; in 2018 she, along with four colleagues, discussed the culture of sexual harassment at her former employer, Alternet, on an episode of This American Life

At the time, I had a full-time job blogging for the progressive news website, Raw Story, which covers breaking news and politics. We had to have the TV on all day long and blog about any significant developments. We worked in shifts and I happened to be on during the hearings. I don’t think anyone realized how traumatizing it would be. I wish I hadn’t covered the hearings.

I remember when Christine Blasey Ford gave her initial testimony, we were all like, “He’s screwed. She is so believable. We all believe her. Everybody believes her. He is just screwed.” The second half of the day was Kavanaugh’s testimony, and that’s when it became obvious that he was going to go the route of “I’m just going to go with the Trump strategy of yelling and screaming and being so nuts that normal people just want it to end and just give me what I want.” It seemed like President Trump was Kavanaugh’s audience, more than the American people, because it was fairly clear that the Republican leadership would line up behind Trump if he decided not to withdraw his nomination.

When Christine Blasey Ford gave her initial testimony, we were all like, “He’s screwed. She is so believable. We all believe her. He is just screwed.”

I really respect the women who confronted Jeff Flake in the congressional elevator, but even this was hard to cover as news because it was just people screaming at other people. Even now, that is still one of the worst things — when Jeff Flake told the women in the elevator “I will consider this, consider my decision.” And I was like, “Fuck, this just means that this is going to drag out for another goddamn week and he’s still going to get confirmed.” And that’s exactly what happened.

I did not even remotely predict that it would be so shitty to cover the hearings. For two weeks it felt like everybody was in a constant state of rage; that’s a lot of negative, nasty emotion to process. When my sexual harassment story came out on This American Life, I got a uniformly positive reception. I can’t imagine revealing something like this and then having to deal with all the fallout.

Caira Conner

Freelance writer, formerly the head of new market development for Buzzfeed

I watched the hearings on my laptop in the Buzzfeed office. It was a Thursday afternoon and the office had this eerie intensity about it. The women’s Slack channel was going crazy. I felt like all the women of Buzzfeed were glued to the TV, watching history unfold.

Even just thinking about it, I’m getting chills. It was just like time stood still for a while. I had my headphones in and I didn’t move for the hours it took place. There were these jokes in the office like, “ladies, we’re going to go outside for some collective screaming,” that kind of thing. It was bizarre. Then there came a point where I realized I needed to get out of there. I kept thinking, “I need to get some air. I need to just leave.” I didn’t tell my boss, I didn’t tell any coworkers. Just, I got up and I left the building and I didn’t come back to work that day.

I had no expectations for these hearings, and what I realize now is that I was blindsided by it. What was really interesting was that, to me, Christine Blasey Ford didn’t seem very powerful. She wasn’t this like blazing, confident, triumphant woman. Her voice was a little meek and she stumbled sometimes. She seemed very vulnerable. Going into the hearing, there had been so much criticism, so much judgment about her decision to come forward. But here she was doing it anyway, on this very public stage. She was one person against what seemed like the entire world. I felt something inside me shift.

A couple of weeks later, I sent an email to someone who had been close to me and who had also protected my own childhood abuser. When I heard Dr. Ford speak, I realized suddenly it didn’t matter if I didn’t have this precise, chronological account of exactly what happened in perfect order. I was a kid, but I had always thought, there’s got to be some parts of it that were my fault too. I realized that Dr. Ford must have felt all those things — and she gave the testimony anyway.

I sent that email and I felt like my life changed, even though it was really just the beginning. I felt like, I fucking did it. I said it and I can never take it back. It doesn’t matter who believes me or not. It’s out there now.

I only watched Ford speak, and even to this day, I haven’t watched Kavanaugh.

I don’t think her testimony was for nothing. I think certainly, selfishly, just for me, her coming forward helped me do the same in my life. I would imagine, and I certainly hope, that there’s a lot of other women out there who were able to do the same. Maybe the victory wasn’t about him not getting the nomination, maybe the victory was on a much more micro level. At least that’s something.

Caille Millner

Deputy opinion editor and columnist at the San Francisco Chronicle

I watched the Kavanaugh hearings during my commute to work, streaming it on my phone. I was probably the only person on the bus who was paying close attention to the hearings that morning because public transportation is so economically stratified in San Francisco. The other people who were on the bus with me were dealing with all kinds of difficult situations; many of them were homeless. There’s only so much news everyone can take.

When I got to work at the San Francisco Chronicle, I turned on the TV and watched the whole thing. These kinds of hearings are like theater, and it was very clear to me that this hearing would be in the vein of a Greek tragedy. It was very compelling, very upsetting, and it was going to have a big impact.

I’m currently the only female editor in my department, and I definitely didn’t talk about the hearings with my male colleagues at all. One of our columnists, an older woman, came in and wanted to talk to me during Kavanaugh’s testimony because she thought it was so shocking. We both saw this person who was shouting and hollering, sniffing and sniveling. He was just so furious that people had the gall to bring this up.

The hearings made me much more aware of how resentful men feel towards women who demand the right to have a voice in public life.

I’m black, so when I was watching Christine Blasey Ford’s testimony, I was thinking a lot about Anita Hill. I was struck by how similar they were, how poised both of them had to be, how they both avoided any language that might seem like it was too colorful or too emotional — anything that might be read as them letting their feelings get the best of them. For each of them, their audience seemed to be the future. Kavanaugh clearly only cared about addressing the men in front of him.

I definitely had to take some breaks, particularly when Kavanaugh was testifying. When he started talking, I had to get up, I had to pace, and I had to go out in the hallway and just walk around. I couldn’t watch the whole thing sitting down because it was upsetting. There were things about it that made me feel rather ill. I don’t know that I would have watched the whole thing if not for work.

The hearings made me much more aware of how resentful men feel towards women who demand the right to have a voice in public life. I think men understand this idea intellectually, but when men actually have to listen to our voices and our expertise, I think that’s the part that so many of them don’t understand emotionally. Culture always moves a lot more slowly than circumstances do.

Kavanaugh was putting on the performance of someone who was aggrieved, who was resentful. He recited his resume; the entitlement was really horrific. There was an element of him channeling what Trump has tapped into, this overwhelming feeling that a certain type of older white man feels when he senses he’s not making all of the decisions anymore.

Today, I’m putting a lot more conscious thought into who I’m writing about and why. I’m making more of a mindful effort to really reflect on the lives and the realities and the political thought of women, and specifically black and brown women, who are so visible when it comes to catching hell, but so invisible when it comes to attention and regard and payment for their contributions.

When I started writing my column for the Chronicle, I thought the most hate mail I would get would be when I wrote about racial issues. But I’d say I get far more when I write about gender.

Samhita Mukhopadhyay

Executive Editor, Teen Vogue

I happened to be in the Bay Area during the hearing because I was speaking on a panel. I was up really early in my hotel room, running our coverage and making sure my team was okay, as well as managing my own emotions. I’ve had to learn how to deal with Trump’s America, where I’m both a journalist who has to cover the news — as well a human woman, person of color, and a sexual assault survivor — and constantly be like, “Oh yeah, I can be this objective news person.” Nobody can be that right now.

The mood felt very similar to when Trump was elected: a very grim day where people had to put their personal beliefs to the side to work. But you can only do that so much when it feels like a direct attack on your humanity. As journalists — and as feminist journalists — we have to step up and be able to channel that energy. If we’re not telling these stories, then who’s going to?

Sitting under the covers with my laptop open, I watched every moment of the hearings, like a slow-motion car crash that you can’t look away from. Teen Vogue plays a big role in translating what’s happening for younger readers and helping them grapple with it.

I think a lot of people had resigned themselves to this being inevitable. A lot of us were thinking: “Yes, this is what we were talking about. It’s here and it’s awful.”

I cried a bunch during Blasey-Ford’s testimony, in a way that I was not expecting. So I feel like it was good that I was alone — no one needed to see that. One of the parts that most stuck out for me was when she talked about how she had to double reinforce her front door. The lifelong ramifications of trauma and the weight we carry as women, as survivors, has become part of my life. To have it spoken about at a Congressional hearing — for the world to hear — was really powerful.

Later in the day, I went for a walk. I left my computer in the room and took my phone. It was one of those weird things when you’re really stressed by something and it’s not a universal experience. The 2016 election was a little bit different because everybody was upset. You got on the subway and people were crying and it felt like this really universal experience. For the Kavanaugh headings, I think a lot of people had resigned themselves to this being inevitable. A lot of us were thinking: “Yes, this is what we were talking about. It’s here and it’s awful.”

But I don’t think that what happened was for nothing. Christine Blasey Ford provided a model of what it looks like to stand in your integrity in a way that I think is pivotal to the fight against sexual assault.

It’s flippant to say this is just the same old misogyny we’ve always seen. In some ways, our material lives have gotten better. I went to college, I have a powerful job, I have my own money, I live alone. I have not been cast aside from society because I didn’t get married.

But there is also this wave of enthusiasm for a racialized kind of male identity — like the rise of the alt-right. These guys are not old, they’re young. I think there’s a heightened interest in recreating and rebuilding what many men feel they’ve lost: a white male supremacist culture.

Lisa Birnbach

Author The Official Preppy Handbook and host of the podcast 5 Things With Lisa Birnbach

I was home that morning. I realized that whatever I had to do, I wasn’t going to do it. I sat on the edge of my bed glued to my TV. I wasn’t glued because of him, I wanted to honor and listen to Christine Blasey Ford. I watched this woman, shaky, with her hair in her face, clearly not a performer, clearly out of her element, telling people something that was very, very hard to do. There was nothing slick or produced or comfortable about it. I was moved by everything she said.

I was thinking a lot about Anita Hill, whose life had been profoundly damaged by her Clarence Thomas experience. His ascension to the Supreme Court basically said: We don’t believe you. You don’t matter.

Then I had a doctor’s appointment. I thought I would return in time to see most of Brett Kavanaugh’s reaction to Dr. Ford, but my doctor wanted me to stay and take some other tests. So instead of running straight home, I spent the afternoon in waiting rooms, all of which had TVs. I watched Kavanaugh’s response, speechless; the other patients seemed as dumbfounded by his aggression and his anger as I was — tsk-ing and shaking their heads. I felt like we were all unified in our shocked and appalled reaction to what he said.

Brett and Squee and PJ, they’re onomatopoetic names — they sound like what they are.

What a pathetic event that hearing was. It felt like a convention of old, angry white guys. Brett Kavanaugh himself struck me as self-righteous, entitled, careless; somebody who obviously had anger problems. He wasn’t even hiding it. And these Republican lawmakers were apologizing to him for leaving a little ugly stain on his perfectly wonderful reputation.

There was no consolation prize for the woman who lost everything. He was going to get a lifetime job appointment and she wasn’t even going to get her expenses covered. She’s got to pay for security, she’s got to pay to move and relocate and hide with her family. We used her and spat her up. How shitty is that?

Later, one of my daughters called me, and when I heard her voice, we both started to cry. She was 25, and she said, “How are we supposed to go on? How are we supposed to feel trust? How are we supposed to feel that men respect us? What did this tell us about our government?”

I remember telling her, “I am so, so, so sorry. I wish I could tell you something encouraging, but I can’t.” At some point — I want to make this really clear that I’m not saying this as someone who has a political agenda, I’m saying this as a human being — I said to my daughter: “I wish there were better news, but ever since Hillary Clinton lost the election, I think I understand that people don’t like women. Americans don’t like women.” That’s such a gross overstatement. But I haven’t been proved wrong.

As the author of The Preppy Handbook, I’ve definitely gotten more attention when Brett Kavanaugh came into the picture because of the prep culture that he epitomizes. I hate when certain men of privilege behave badly. I don’t think that defines what preppy is, but I do think Kavanaugh certainly is a preppy.

Brett and Squee and PJ, they’re onomatopoetic names — they sound like what they are. They had rich parents and they were able to go to the club and put a penis in a girl’s face and come back from the club and nobody would say anything, and they could get away with stuff because they could be charming or clever and facile and their parents know one another. They had the networks behind them. That’s all preppy.

Sarah Wolfolds

Assistant professor, Cornell University; 2005 alumna of Holton-Arms, where Christine Blasey Ford graduated in 1984

We all are very much molded in the spirit of the Holton motto, “Find a way or make one.” That was our thinking when we made the letter. [Wolfolds helped pen a public letter of support for Dr. Ford; the letter quickly gained signatures of over 1,000 alumni.] There were a few things that we really wanted to clarify in the letter: First, that we supported Dr. Ford; and second, that we thought there should be an investigation.

We were amazed by how quick the response was, but I don’t think we were surprised. We only included signatures or names from people that we had verified as being Holton-Arms alumnae, but we also got emails from parents and current students, from other community members, and from alums of some of the boys’ schools or other girls schools in the D.C. area. The response was overwhelming. It felt like it could have happened to us. Holton is a small school. We feel like we know all Holton girls even if we didn’t overlap with them.

What I really want to clarify, though, is that I don’t think that this is a prep school issue. As we saw from the MeToo movement, women all over the country, from all over the world, are dealing with situations exactly like this. My concern about focusing on the prep school setting is that we get away from the fact that this is a larger issue. But we are privileged, and so we really need to speak up about it.

The day Dr. Ford was testifying in front of the Senate committee, I took the day off from work and watched the whole thing. My mom was in town, so I watched it with her. I think Dr. Ford did an incredible job. When she was speaking, I found it incredibly inspiring. I was in awe of her strength and clarity; she was so calm, she had an incredible presence, and she was so clear.

Afterward, Dr. Ford wrote a letter to Holton alumnae that was read by Samantha Guerry at the Center for Popular Democracy gala. Samantha was Dr. Ford’s classmate at Holton. We had started organizing as a way to support her, and for me, there was always a concern if this really was the best way to support her? To hear that it did actually help her and support her when she was going through the hearings and everything else, was incredibly meaningful.

Dianne Lake

Yale Law School, Class of 2021; helped organize a sit-in to protest Kavanaugh’s confirmation

Leading up to the sit-in, we had an event at Yale Law about Trump, Kavanaugh, and the #MeToo era. It was a conversation about how these issues were affecting our student environment, and how the legal profession needed to be held responsible for how it dealt with allegations of sexual assault.

There are a lot of power dynamics at play when it comes to judges and clerks. Students were asking questions like: Why don’t professors speak more candidly about the histories of certain judges that students are seeking clerkships with? Especially if they know that those judges have been accused of assault or bad behavior? Why do we keep supporting these people by supplying them with graduates from our school?

I think many people in that room, myself included, were disappointed with the answers, so we decided we had to demonstrate. We wanted to make people aware that Yale Law School students know our own alumni end up wielding a disproportionate amount of power in the legal profession. We wanted women to know that we hear survivors of sexual assault — that we believe them and we want to show support for them.

We ended up organizing two concurrent actions. One involved over a hundred students and staff members from Yale Law bussing down to Washington, D.C. And the rest of the staff and students hosted a sit-in in the Law School in New Haven. We organized both protests within a span of 48 hours. Everyone was working around the clock to get the word out — to make sure people had food to eat, people had places to sit.

A few days after the sit-in, I watched the hearings in the student lounge at Yale Law School. I was parked there the whole day, watching the entire confirmation. Lots of people came in and out, but there was this solemn convening happening. Everyone was pretty quiet. People were focused on the TV.

Watching Dr. Christine Blasey Ford testify was so devastating. I was very much thinking about Anita Hill. Because we know that many years ago, this black woman — a professor, educated, everything — she wasn’t believed. To have this very respectable, very believable white woman in the same position, and to have the same thing happen again? It’s just like… I don’t know where we go from here. Where is there for us to go if this woman is not believed?

Alicia Garza

Organizer, writer, and public speaker; co-founder of Black Lives Matter

When the vote happened to confirm Brett Kavanaugh, I was in Atlanta. I remember I was wearing a T-shirt that said “feminist;” it’s from the Ms. Foundation, and on the front of the shirt there is a very basic definition of what it means to be a feminist — recognizing women and all genders as equally human.

I was sitting in a hotel room, on a couch, and I was doing work while watching the hearings. What made me look up at the television was that I heard screaming. This screaming was a noise I will never ever forget it. All of the hairs on my arms and neck stood straight up as women’s voices shouted “we do not consent,” while the Senators voted.

I remember thinking to myself, this man is definitely getting confirmed, and this is a part of a larger political strategy. I believe these women, when they say they do not consent, and I believe these women when they say we’ll be back. I want to be back with them.

The hearings definitely confirmed for me what I already knew, which was that the project of democracy was not built for everybody.

One of the biggest things that we’re facing right now in this country is a deep distrust. We’re losing faith that a process that is lauded as democratic can actually be democratic when it’s run by particular people. We like to talk a lot about how other governments are corrupt and that’s what makes America the greatest democracy on earth. I have to be honest, watching those hearings, I felt pretty clear about what was going to happen. I still, of course, wanted to remain hopeful. But I think it definitely confirmed for me what I think I already knew, which was that the project of democracy was not built for everybody.

This is how our government has been designed and this is how power operates. Anytime you are challenging or threatening this, you will face a pushback that is going to be pretty enormous. As people who want something different, how do we build a force that can outweigh the force that has already been built? It is one of the big questions of my lifetime. It’s the biggest test of my lifetime.

Interviews by Andy Wright and Haley Cohen Gilliland.

News and commentary from the editorial staff at GEN.

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