By Trudy Wischemann
In discussions about last week’s Kavanaugh hearing, I kept listening for a truth I picked up during the proceedings. I haven’t seen this truth described yet in print, so here goes.
I think women’s words are harder to hear than men’s words in our culture. In general, women’s words are easier to hear by women than by men, though both genders will usually give more weight to men’s words than women’s words. Most of the books on my shelves were written by men, and I’ll quote a man before a woman simply for the greater weight of their authority. (I don’t type that proudly.)
The history of this tendency is long, stretching back at least to Biblical times. It’s a direct result of patriarchy, of power held by the male gender over the female, which is directly related to who holds power over the land. One of those books on my shelves is by a woman anthropologist who studied a matrilineal culture (i.e., one in which the women held and worked the land, while the men hunted, fished and joked around.) Let me tell you, things were very different there. Things were so different, in fact, that this woman anthropologist had a very difficult time re-entering our culture. One of the things that was hardest was that people, especially her male colleagues, had a hard time hearing her words.
When Dr. Ford began to speak, after having to sit through a 10-minute rant by Sen. Grassley about how we shouldn’t even have to be doing this (damned Democrats!) which was slightly moderated by Sen. Feinstein’s 5-minute speech saying yes, we should, I felt sudden fear. “She’s not a fighter,” I said out loud, hearing the girlish pitch of her voice, seeing her hair fall over her face. But the clarity of her words, both when read from prepared testimony and those that followed responding to questions—that clarity was her power.
Dr. Ford said many things that morning that made total sense to me, but the words that struck home were “the laughter.” She’d been asked what things about that night were the most unforgettable, and after listing the environmental elements—the sparsely furnished house, the narrow stairway, the room, the locked door, she said it was the laughter that she’ll never forget. “They were having fun at my expense,” she explained. I’d like to offer that the real violation is that they didn’t even see her at all, except as a prop for their emerging masculinity. It wasn’t Christine on that bed: it was nobody. Just a girl.
There’s a form of masculinity that enlarges by mocking the feminine. I’ve heard it myself in snorts from my father when I felt unable to complete an assigned task or when making an appeal for something I loved. I’ve heard it from professors when I advocated for the nurturing values of community. I’ve heard it from lovers regarding home decorations, a book to read, a film to watch, a place to visit—and most importantly, about my ideas. It’s what women mean by the word “discounted.” It’s enough sometimes to make me vicious.
But watching Dr. Ford put her words out there anyway, knowing they would be discounted for multiple reasons, gave me strength. It’s just an old, prehistoric instinct standing in our way. It’s not the words themselves. Keep speaking.
Trudy Wischemann is a womanist writer living cautiously in Lindsay. You can send her your words, brave or not, c/o P.O. Box 1374, Lindsay CA 93247 or visit www.trudysnotesfromhome.blogspot.com and leave a comment there.
– This column is not a news article but the opinion of the writer and does not reflect the views of The Foothills Sun-Gazette newspaper.