“Does that work for you?”
Of all the gutting things that Dr. Christine Blasey Ford said to the Senate Judiciary Committee as she testified, through her self-described terror, that Brett Kavanaugh attempted to rape her when she was 15 years old, there was something about those five words that stung with surprising strength. It was an effort to soothe something excruciating, and like iodine on an open wound, it burned.
Ford did not want to be there. She said as much in her statement, which was piercing in its written form, released late Wednesday night, and shattering as she read it aloud, visibly fighting back the urge to cry. “I am here today not because I want to be,” she said. “I am terrified. I am here because I believe it is my civic duty to tell you what happened to me while Brett Kavanaugh and I were in high school.”
Thursday, Ford was forced to relive what she has made clear is the most traumatizing experience of her life. Surely so many women watching this from afar were crying, or wanting to; were screaming or holding back screams; were remembering their own assaults or near-misses; could feel the hand over their own mouths as if it had never left.
But while sexual violence is common, the rise of one’s assailant to the Supreme Court of the United States is — well, not quite as rare as it should be. An atypical occurrence, at least. And so Ford has found herself in extraordinary circumstances that the vast majority of women in America will never know firsthand.
Yet in her repeated efforts to relieve tension, in her insistence that she spoke out not for herself nor for partisan purposes but only “to be helpful,” in the moments in which she blurted out a soft “sorry!” when she had nothing to apologize for, she was doing something that virtually every woman watching her had done before.
Ford, even in these extreme circumstances, was still engaged in the unending performance of pre-emptive contrition we require of women all the time. She put herself second and her service to others first just by being there, and then, upon arrival, asked Sen. Chuck Grassley if it was okay for her to take the break he’d already told her she could take, and then apologized for asking it if was okay.
This is a dance to which every woman who has said “I’m sorry” to a man who actually owes her an apology knows all the steps.
The anecdotal sense that women apologize more than men do is backed up by data. The surface takeaway is that women say “sorry” too much, rather than that men don’t apologize enough, because no one wants to live in a world where men more readily take responsibility for their mistakes, apparently.
But beneath that conclusion is something more illuminating: “Women reported offering more apologies than men, but they also reported committing more offenses. There was no gender difference in the proportion of offenses that prompted apologies. This finding suggests that men apologize less frequently than women because they have a higher threshold for what constitutes offensive behavior.”
If Mark Judge were being questioned by the Senate Judiciary Committee, would he apologize for asking permission to take a break because he’s “used to being collegial,” as Ford did? It seems unlikely, but of course, we’ll never know.
Because even though Ford told the Senate that Judge assisted Kavanaugh’s assault, and that the most harrowing part of the attack in which she believed Kavanaugh might accidentally kill her was “the uproarious laughter” between Kavanaugh and Judge “having fun at my expense,” Judge did not want to testify, and the Committee declined to subpoena him. So while much of the nation spent the day riveted by Ford’s gripping testimony, Judge was hunkered down at a friend’s place in Delaware’s Bethany Beach, maybe just staring at the ocean.
In the moments when her memory failed her, Ford said, “I wish I could be more helpful.” And in fact when asked directly, by Sen. Richard Blumenthal, if she wanted Judge to testify, Ford responded by saying that yes, it was “her preference,” not to force him to answer for his own behavior but because she would be better able to provide a “detailed timeline” of when the attack took place if Judge could confirm when he worked at the Potomac Village Safeway, since she saw him there after the assault. With that information, she said, “I certainly would feel like I could be more helpful to everyone.”
Based on Ford’s recollection of the events in question, this impulse to be helpful does not appear to be one Kavanaugh or Judge shares.
“I tried to yell for help,” Ford said. “When I did, Brett put his hand over my mouth to stop me from screaming.”
“A couple of times I made eye contact with Mark and thought he might try to help me, but he did not.”