“Do you want to be arrested?” the cop asks Amy Schumer. “Yes” she says simply. She was one of the 302 women held after protesting at a Senate office building against the likely confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh to the US supreme court. They were arrested for “unlawfully demonstrating”. One of the chants in the crowd was: “This is what democracy looks like.” Indeed, this is what democracy looks like when trust in its institutions has been shattered and civil disobedience appears to be the only option. Women’s silence explodes into anger. Anger and disbelief. What does it take to be listened to many asked, after Dr Christine Blasey Ford, the “perfect victim”, gave her testimony in what was a job interview, not a trial.
What does it take to be believed?
The FBI did not believe it needed to speak to her again. It produced a 1,000-page report and senators had an hour to read it. Republicans are now reassured there was no hint of sexual misconduct. Indeed Kavanaugh got to write his own op-ed in the Murdoch-owned Wall Street Journal, where he self-servingly made his case again. He may have been too emotional he says. He may have “said a few things I should not have said. I hope everyone can understand that I was there as a son, husband and dad”. Yes we understand very well, us daughters, wives and mothers. We understand now exactly who is allowed to be emotional and who isn’t.
If Kavanaugh is confirmed, though more than 2,000 law professors have signed a letter questioning his suitability in terms of temperament to be a judge at all, a very direct message is being sent out to women: that the ranks of patriarchy will close to block women’s voices. The next step is to close down women’s choices.
If #MeToo and Time’s Up have been about women as survivors of everyday sexual abuse finding a collective voice, what this circus has been about is the pretence that this voice matters. This is not about whether women tell the truth, but whether that truth actually changes anything. Ford stood there shouldering the burden of having to represent every woman who has been violated. No one can do that and as we now know her testimony was not good enough.
What was preferred was the ruddy-faced ranting of an entitled man who became aggressive when he felt his privilege under question. No wonder that Trump saw something of himself in this performance, something that he wanted on his side.
When Kavanaugh gets his job, it’s unlikely that Roe v Wade will be overturned overnight. Instead a series of smaller interventions that limit abortion services will continue to be made. During his tenure as a federal judge, he once ruled against a 17-year-old woman who sued the government after she was denied access to an abortion while in custody for illegally crossing the border.
Trump’s formerly laissez-faire attitude has now hardened into an anti-abortion one, purely to win votes. Women will simply travel to other states if certain states make abortion impossible. Already urban centres have choice, rural ones don’t. West Virginia, Mississippi, North Dakota, South Dakota and Kentucky each have just one remaining abortion provider. Doctors, often at risk themselves because of death threats, are flying hundreds of miles to provide services to the queues of women in need. Poor women, as always, cannot afford to travel. This is what this supreme court nomination is about: American women waking up to a world in which their daughters will have fewer rights than they did.
This is where we join the dots. The same system that is running scared of #MeToo is the system that will clamp down on reproductive rights. This is indeed a matter of belief. Not only do many of us believe women who speak out about sexual assault and rape, we believe that we have the right to choose what we do with our own bodies.
All of this is has been played out in public. Some women shout and hold banners. Others stand silently holding their palms up inked “I was 15” on one and “I didn’t tell” on the other. What we are witnessing is not “bad optics”, but an unmistakable display of male supremacy .
The one in four women in America who have had abortions now need to speak up: this other kind of #MeToo has been effective across Europe and in Ireland. There is huge power in women’s refusal to be shamed. As Schumer said, “We will keep showing up”.
This anger will not subside, it will keep flowing. Women are not going to keep men’s secrets any longer.
• Suzanne Moore is a Guardian columnist