© 2016 Kathryn P. Davison

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Dear Mr. Kavanaugh

October 4, 2018

 

Dear Mr. Kavanaugh. My heart really goes out to you and your family for what you are currently enduring. I can only at present utter a general "Thank you" for contributing to our national dialogue around judicial temperament, sexual misconduct, maturity, forgiveness, and Senate confirmation processes. You seem to be the lightning rod for us all now, so -- here we are.

 

 

I attended college in the late 70s - just before your time - and I, too, partied with a beer-drinking crowd in college. That was the "in" thing to do: drink some, or a lot, dance a lot, engage in sloppy social and sexual experimentation, see what outrageous clowning might happen as the night wore on, and then get up and go to class in the morning. There I learned some rules of the road to live happily amongst the partiers while also keeping myself sane. I learned never to go to anyone's "second floor." I learned to pour my own beers from the keg. I learned to politely decline Southern boys' offers to walk me home, because it didn't take long to see that walking me home was not the agenda. I was just one sheltered young lady trying to step out of the controlling rules of my parents, but certainly not wanting many of the gruesome encounters I had. I'm just one of millions. 

 

In high school, the drinking age was 18, and we were all impatient to experience the mysterious joys we witnessed come over our parents between 6 and 7 pm every night. We wanted that Happy Hour, too. Much like Dr. Ford, I was accustomed to the "senior scene," which meant riding around with friends, running into other friends or people from rival schools, and choosing a party to attend that we thought would be interesting, or where the parents weren't scrutinizing our gatherings. As "the date," I wasn't navigating or driving, I was just taken places, and sometimes i didn't even know the last name of the party hosts: we were kids, living slightly daring moments within sheltered lives, but our naivete couldn't illustrate the dangers,  understood few boundaries beyond "be home by midnight." It's easy for me to imagine how Dr. Ford ended up at a house she can't recall exactly, and it's easy for me to imagine that she had had a bit to drink, and it's easy to imagine that she just went looking anywhere for a bathroom. It's also easy to understand that you, also, were learning to enjoy alcohol without any sense of what is "too much." It's a naturally perilous situation. I won't say who did what, but I sense the truth lies somewhere between what has been spoken, and what has been unnamed.

 

What I found most remarkable, of all the surprising and indelicate moments in the Senate hearings, was your emotional and defensive treatment of your own colleagues' questions as they attempted to engage with this painful situation. They needed to know, and they needed to ask, if your behavior then indicated deep seated character flaws that make you unfit for service now, in our highest court. Ironically, it was your behavior in the hearing itself that gave me pause. You seemed to want to deflect all your shame and mischief onto the questioners, or others. Instead of speaking directly to the issues - yes, I was a big drunk in college - you threw the questions back at them. This just isn't judicious.

 

 

 

You see, while woman are questioned at every step at work and home, about their judgment, their abilities, their suitability, etc., you seem to operate under the impression that your personal outrage is sufficient to silence the queries. We women in the United States, however, don't have that luxury. This could be one of the lynchpins of the white male privilege people talk about. You might take a moment to learn some tricks of the trade from us, as we are forced to operate in a very different way, all the time, every day. Look at how Dr. Ford communicates. Look at how Ms. Clinton held up under 10 straight hours of questioning. We are trained, trained, trained, in handling damning and shaming and de-legitimizing questions and statements on a pretty regular basis.

 

Once, in my entire career, I expressed anger towards a boss who was making an impossible demand (lie to the budgeting office about a whole year's operations, on his behalf), and he chastised me for "having an angry tone." Then he informed me that while anger was natural, I was not to be angry towards him, specifically, if I valued my income. This from a man whose own secretary could not speak to him: he had to give her instructions through me, because it created so much pain and anxiety for her, she felt crippled. He was a litigator. He made it his business to name her as incompetent and scatterbrained. Meanwhile, he phoned in from Florida while we held down the fort in New York. That secretary had a masters' in English Lit from Bryn Mawr and two decades with the company. There are hundreds and thousands like her, caught in a need to provide for themselves and threatened frequently by bosses who say and do whatever to them, and aren't accountable. We live somewhere between Ms. Moneypenny and Cinderella, blending logic and magic to keep the system going well.

 

We women are on the front lines of "emotion management" to a degree most men have never known, or numb themselves to knowing. We must manage our bosses' emotional states, our partner's esprit de corps, non-profit committees' attitudes, school PTA optimism, children's mental health, you name it. We are all day long doing our best to get people to feel good about their life and work. We make lunches before work, make brownies for meetings, set up the coffee station AND do your job, and our job, and give you your notes, and support you when you are fumbling, and then clean it up after you stroll out. You just need to be right on a given day about half the time, and you get the Big Bucks. We google "how to survive sexual harassment" in private and hope no one is tracking our operating systems. We have so much we have to swallow, mop up, refine, silence, and rearrange, and all during that time, our character is called into question, our assertions belittled, our efforts to succeed and support families, somehow less vital than that of a man's. And in order to succeed, we sometimes might get that cocktail with a male colleague because everyone knows he's the one who holds the green light for your corporate future. 

 

Meanwhile, Mr. Kavanaugh, you are upset to be questioned about your past drinking patterns, and throw the questions back in the faces of the committee members. How would a woman fare who exhibited such a stance? The hearing would be OVER.

 

So what I want to say to you is, regardless of whether you are confirmed or not, spend some time with women who have to get up and go to work after being sexually assaulted by their boss. Ask them about managing their outrage. Spend a little time with women who have been threatened for asking a question at a meeting. Spend a little time with a woman who wants to know why she works harder than her colleagues, is more productive, and makes 70-80% as much. We are masters of silence, emotional metabolism, self-reflection, therapy, and resilience. We are learning to master being unflappable in the face of extreme pressure. We are working together in sewing clubs and book clubs to petition for our rights. We are teaching ourselves and each other how to get through.

 

 

 

Dear Mr. Kavanugh, please don't be outraged that the very people who want to see you in office, must ask questions about your behavior in certain formative years. Instead, try to muster a little outrage that sexual assaults go mostly unreported and un-investigated. I need to tell you straight: it's just a really big deal to terrify a young woman and humiliate her in front of your friends. When you terrify someone in fundamental ways, you are putting ghosts into their psyche that haunt them for years.

 

I don't believe that you are the same person today that you were then. I find, however, that you and others are still happy to question a woman's credibility and fiercely defend the reputation of a man. In contemporary culture, we are now more and more attuned to the ring of truth, and the ring of, well - everything else. You need to ask yourself, do I sound true? Dr. Ford is not here to ruin you, she's here to be heard, to speak for millions of silenced women who earn less pay, while paying for the expensive therapy necessary to heal from assaults on their bodies, their psyches, and their earning power.

 

I hope you will study carefully your words, posture and tone from playbacks of the inquiry process, to discover a new poise and compassion that would make you once again a stellar judiciary candidate.

 

 

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