Monday, September 17, 2018

The Kavanaugh Accusation - Is #MeToo Morphing Into #MenGuilty?

As the great Yogi Berra used to say, it's "deja vu all over again."

Trump Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh now stands accused of sexually assaulting a woman (girl?) in high school. The accusation came from a woman, a college professor, who originally wanted to remain anonymous, a woman who has now been persuaded to come forward to testify in the Senate Judiciary Committee to testify after testimony in the committee was concluded.

I've seen this movie before.

Turn back the clock to 1991 and the Clarence Thomas-Anita Hill confrontation .For those too young to
Justice Clarence Thomas
remember, Thomas was appointed to the Supreme Court by President George Bush.  The Senate Judiciary Committee spent several days hearing testimony about the appointment. The testimony closed and the committee was set to vote when a previously anonymous accuser, Anita Hill, was encouraged to go publicly forward with her accusation that Thomas Sexually harassed her while she worked for him at the Office of Civil Rights.  Supposedly Thomas asked her for dates, described scenes from pornographic movies to her, and once infamously joked that someone had put a pubic hair on his coke can.  While those accusations could certainly constitute sexual harassment, they seem mild in a post-Harvey Weinstein era.

It should be noted that the Anita Hill accusation was the culmination of a long effort by Democratic partisans to derail the Thomas nomination.  Liberal groups had run scores of national ads to get people to come forward to dish dirt on Thomas.  Investigators went through Thomas' garbage, obtained a list of his movie rentals.  They were ruthless in trying to find dirt to derail the Thomas' nomination.

Thomas denied Hill's accusation, declaring it to be a "high-tech lynching," a partisan maneuver intended to keep him off the bench.  After a contentious hearing, Thomas ended up prevailing in the U.S. Senate, with 52 Senators voting for his confirmation, including 11 Democrats.

In the nearly quarter decade since, the revisionist history line from many of the media is that Anita Hill was "vindicated" and the all male Senate panel at the time was "tone deaf" to Hill's accusations.  Utter nonsense.   People who sexually harass women, exhibit a consistent pattern of behavior.   They just don't confine their lecherous behavior to one woman.  Thomas had zero history of harassing women in the work place and scores of women who worked for him came forward to praise him for being an excellent boss who never did anything untoward toward his female employees.  In the "He Said She Said" confrontation, the Senate Judiciary Committee, rightly, chose not to assume Thomas was guilty and voted to confirm him..

The additional media narrative is that nothing was "learned" following the Thomas-Hill hearing and the our patriarchal political system continued to march on without missing a step.  That simply is not correct.  There was indeed a backlash to the Thomas-Hill hearings, a backlash that that in 1992 became known as the "Year of the Woman," featuring women winning elected office in record numbers.  During that time frame if a man was accused by a woman of something, he had to be guilty. Why would the woman ever accuse a man falsely after all?

The 1992's version of the #MeToo movement, however,  reached too far and produced its own backlash, a nearly quarter century during which women's accusations against powerful men were discounted at best, disbelieved at worst.  It was an environment in which lecherous men like Bill Clinton, Donald Trump and Harvey Weinstein were able to rise to power despite the very credible women who were willing to come forward and tell their story.  Unlike with Thomas and Kavanaugh, Clinton, Trump and Weinstein have exhibited a long pattern of misconduct when it comes to women.

I don't know what Brett Kavanaugh did as a high school student in the 1980s.  But I do know it is wrong to simply assume that a man is guilty because a woman accuses him of wrongdoing. Believe it or not, women sometimes, for an assortment of reasons, lie.  Unless there is some tangible evidence supporting the accuser, one has to give the accused the benefit of the doubt, especially on something that supposedly happened 35 years ago.  That is just fundamental fairness.

A movement that encourages women to come forward and speak out about sexual harassment and misconduct by male bosses should be encouraged indeed celebrated. But that movement cannot morph into being a "#MenGuilty" movement. For if it does, it is likely to spur another 25 year backlash that hurts, and not helps, women.

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