brett kavanaugh

Let’s channel the power of #MeToo to the polls today

The past year has seen mounting consciousness of issues of violence, harassment and targeted abuse of women due to the #MeToo movement, which has led to accountability for several powerful men accused of abusing women, and greater awareness of women’s day-to-day experiences.

And yet, as alleged sexual abuser Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation to the Supreme Court has revealed, despite the crucial and positive change #MeToo has made in women’s lives and society, the scope of its power remains vastly limited by powerful men’s capacity for shame. And if there’s one word to describe elected officials like President Trump, Sen. Mitch McConnell, and everyone responsible for the Supreme Court confirmation of an alleged sexual abuser, it’s shameless.

Kavanaugh’s confirmation happened not despite his record of alleged abuse, but frankly because of it. Republican lawmakers were certainly aware of the judge’s deep unpopularity, and the electoral impact this unpopularity could have on the party down the road; their misogyny has never been accidental, but foundational to what their party stands for. His confirmation sent a  message of contempt and dominance to women and survivors across the country: that this country is still ruled by men, that #MeToo’s power is limited, and powerful men like Trump and McConnell will decide its limits.  

To create sustainable, long-term change, we can’t rely on the mercy of male politicians, many of whom owe their careers to catering to the misogyny of their bases.. #MeToo’s deep cultural power, which has seen accused male actors and entertainment industry leaders ousted, must be channeled this Tuesday as electoral power. The movement has excelled at utilizing social platforms to shame and ostracize abusers, and lead boycotts on their work. But all too often, we’re still forced to depend on powerful men, many of whom are abusers or enablers themselves, to make the choice to do the right thing — typically out of fear of PR disasters rather than real concern for the dignity of survivors. And we’ll be forced to depend on them until we successfully replace them.

The experiences of Kavanaugh’s accusers, as well as the more than 20 women who have accused the president of misconduct, should make it clear why an estimated 62 to 84 percent of assaults often are unreported, among the one in five women who experience sexual assault. Survivors of sexual violence continue to have little to no options for legal recourse that would not force them to relive their trauma, or see their characters attacked and discredited.

Lawmakers who advocate for survivors’ rights could shift a status quo that’s either enabled or perpetuated violence against women for decades by introducing legislation to promote real accountability.

As we were reminded again by the devastating Pittsburgh shooting, lack of common sense gun control as a result of inaction from predominantly Republican lawmakers marks a public safety crisis that endangers everyone. But certainly, some groups are affected disproportionately. Members of marginalized groups have increasingly become targets amid an uptick in hate crimes in recent years, while women are five times more likely to be killed by domestic abusers when their partner has a gun. In the United States, a woman is fatally shot by a partner every 16 hours. The majority of mass shootings are led by domestic abusers, including men seeking revenge on women who rejected them.

Mass shootings, hate crimes, and violence against women are systemic issues that no single election will fix. But addressing these systemic issues has to start with electing lawmakers who will work toward solutions — and that starts with showing up to the polls today.

And as we saw with long delays and pushback from male Senate leadership against reforms supported unanimously by women senators across party lines earlier this year, the wrong lawmakers in power could just as easily hold this progress hostage.

We have seen that in Congress’ failure to reauthorize the bipartisan Violence Against Women Act this year, a critical piece of legislation that funds sexual violence prevention efforts and resources and legal aid for survivors.We’ve seen it in stalled efforts to enact meaningful gun control reform, including common sense laws to keep firearms out of the hands of domestic abusers. We’ve seen it in “rape exceptions” attached to dangerous and repressive abortion bans, that would force people impregnated by their rapists to litigate and prove their trauma just to access basic health care. We’ve seen it in endless judicial and legislative efforts to strip women of bodily autonomy and subject them to mass reproductive violence.

And we’ve also seen what’s possible when we elect more women and allies as our lawmakers, as we’ve witnessed with legislation that’s been introduced and passed by women in Congress to address sexual misconduct this year. We saw Senators Kamala Harris, Mazie Hirono, Amy Klobuchar and Dianne Feinstein on the Senate Judiciary Committee  work to ensure that Kavanaugh was asked the right questions regarding the allegations against him.

On the local level this summer, the removal of Santa Clara County Judge Aaron Persky, who notoriously prioritized convicted assailant Brock Turner’s comfort and feelings over justice for Turner’s victim, was the result of a grassroots, two-year, women-led movement that showed the electoral power and potential of #MeToo. Over the course of 2018, over 125 pieces of legislation addressing sexual harassment have been introduced in 32 states. If we use our votes to elect pro-survivors’ rights women and allies and transform #MeToo into an all-encompassing and inclusive political movement, we’ll continue to build upon this progress.

#MeToo can’t just rely on shame and social stigma to make change; it must also elect lawmakers who will stand up for survivors — lawmakers who will vouch for their credibility, protect their access to resources, and pass legislation to offer them meaningful options for legal recourse. And this election day, women, survivors and allies have the opportunity to flex our electoral power and demonstrate the staying power of our movement.

Photo credit: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Kylie Cheung is the author of the book, 'The Gaslit Diaries,' a series of essays exploring the gaslighting and politics that underlie American women's everyday experiences in the patriarchy. She writes about reproductive justice, women's/LGBTQ rights, and national politics. In her spare time, she enjoys volunteering for political campaigns and re-watching The Office. Learn more about her work at www.kyliecheung,tumblr.com.

Kylie Cheung is the author of the book, 'The Gaslit Diaries,' a series of essays exploring the gaslighting and politics that underlie American women's everyday experiences in the patriarchy.

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