Believe women. It seems like such a simple phrase, but to so many people resist the notion, muttering darkly about due process and suspending belief until all allegations can be proven beyond a reasonable doubt. But belief doesn’t require absolute proof. If it did, could anyone believe in God? No. They could not.
Written by guest blogger Perditax
What belief requires in this context is that the listener take a woman’s statements seriously. That’s all. No more. No less. Here’s an example of that sort of belief:
Think of a small child, about 4 years old. This child tells you with absolute certainty that there’s a monster in her closet. You have two choices. The first option is that you can believe her. You can believe that she believes in the monster. You don’t have to believe in the monster yourself; you just need to believe that this monster is a problem the child is having that needs to be addressed. So you investigate. You stay up with her one night and listen for the monster.
Are there any mysterious noises in the closet that sound monster-like? Is there a mouse in the walls making scary scratching sounds? Do you need to have a talk with the cat? Are there any shadows that look particularly scary when the lights are out? Or is there no “proof” of a monster at all? If there’s no proof of a monster, then the child is still definitely afraid of something, and this fear is expressing itself as fear of monsters. So, you talk with the child, ask what she’s afraid of other than the monster. Try to figure out how to soothe her fears. Try to figure out what the monster really is. Fear of a new school? Fear of the new baby brother or sister that’s on the way taking her place or taking her mom away from her? You find out what this monster is. Together, you and the child find this monster, real or imaginary, and deal with it.
The second option is to not believe the child. You tell her that there ARE no monsters. You disregard her fears and her anxieties. You scream, after the fifth night in a row that she cries about monsters, “I told you monsters don’t exist! Now shut up and go to sleep!” And you slam the door shut, ignoring her small quiet sobs behind the closed door. Far too many parents choose this option.
Which child do you think feels more secure now? Which child do you think has just been taught to fear and distrust adults? Which child was treated like a human being with thoughts and anxieties that deserve respect? Which was treated well? Which was treated poorly?
The reason women are so very angry right now is that society has been that second parent to us for centuries. Despite the fact that ¼ of us will be raped in our lifetimes, despite the fact that even more than that will be harassed or stalked or assaulted or terrorized, society keep screaming at us, “There is no monster/rapist in the closet! Now shut up and fuck off!” Because rape and harassment don’t always have witnesses. And for so many people, if it can’t be seen, it doesn’t exist.
But what would it be like if society behaved more like the first parent? What if our government and our culture acknowledged that there’s a scary monster, and we can’t always prove it, but it’s a problem we women (and men too!) are having that needs to be addressed? What if they commit to brainstorming and working to find some solutions, from changing the culture, to better law enforcement, to educating citizens?
Frankly, I believe Doctor Ford, and I believe Brett Kavanaugh. Just as you don’t have to believe IN the monsters to believe the child, I don’t have to disbelieve one party in order to believe the other. Believing both is absolutely possible, and believing women’s stories of assault does not mean automatically convicting the men they accuse. I believe he did assault her, just as she recalls, but he doesn’t remember the incident at all, both because that sort of thing was common and socially accepted back then (though still both morally wrong and illegal), and because he did drink heavily according to many of his friends.
But what if he believed her? What if Brett Kavanaugh said this:
“I don’t remember that at all, but I believe you. I believe it’s possible, no…probable, since you are so certain it was me, that I did something to harm you. After all, I did drink a lot back then, and I don’t recall every moment perfectly, so it is possible that I assaulted you. And I am so very sorry. I really didn’t mean to hurt anyone. And I know that an apology doesn’t help much, but I do apologize, and I will be sure it can never happen again. I will limit my drinking, and when I do drink, I will always have a sober friend around. I will change, because an apology isn’t enough. True remorse demands change.”
I’d respect the hell out of him if he said that. If he said something like that, I could honestly say, “I don’t like his politics, but I think he’s a good person.” But he didn’t say that, because he’s not a good person. And he’s not a good person because he doesn’t empathize with others, and he does not give people the respect they deserve as fellow human beings.
Because that’s what “believe women” boils down to. Believing other people’s stories of trauma means believing that the thing they feel so strongly about deserves to be addressed in some way. It’s having some ability to put yourself in other people’s shoes, to see events through their eyes. It’s about respecting our fellow human beings and really listening to what they have to say. And it’s a courtesy we’ve denied women and their stories of assault and trauma for far too long.