What the testimony of Christine Blasey Ford and Brett Kavanaugh showed us about who gets to be angry in public.
By Rebecca Traister
Sept. 29, 2018
Inside the room, in the morning, she spoke carefully, precisely, in a high voice; she made jokes about caffeine, asked deferentially about whether it would be O.K. to take a break. She acknowledged her terror, but remained calm, and cited her scientific expertise in how the brain responds to trauma.
Her voice trembled in moments of intense recollection; it sounded as though she might be crying, though no tears appeared to fall. She described a past sexual assault and the more recent media assault on her in excruciating and vulnerable detail, but did not yell, did not betray a hint of the fury she had every reason to feel as she was forced to put her pain on display for the nation.
That is how women have been told to behave when they are angry: to not let anyone know, and to joke and to be sweet and rational and vulnerable.
Outside the room where Christine Blasey Ford was testifying on Thursday morning, women were incandescent with rage and sorrow and horror. They were getting angry in a new way, a public way, an unapologetic way — a way that is typically reserved for men, and that would again serve men well, when afternoon came.
Brett Kavanaugh bellowed; he snarled; he pouted and wept furiously at the injustice of having his ascendance to power interrupted by accusations of sexual assault. He challenged his questioners, turned their queries back on them. He was backed up by Lindsey Graham, who appeared to be having some sort of fit of rage over people having the audacity to listen to a woman speak about her life and consider that she might be telling an ugly truth about a powerful man. And, as soon as he was finished, it certainly felt as if the white men’s anger had been rhetorically effective, that we had reflexively understood it as righteous and correct.
Fury was a tool to be marshaled by men like Judge Kavanaugh and Senator Graham, in defense of their own claims to political, legal, public power. Fury was a weapon that had not been made available to the woman who had reason to question those claims.
What happened inside the room was an exceptionally clear distillation of who has historically been allowed to be angry on their own behalf, and who has not.
And outside the room was a hint of how it might be changing.
Most of the time, female anger is discouraged, repressed, ignored, swallowed. Or transformed into something more palatable, and less recognizable as fury — something like tears. When women are truly livid, they often weep.