After eight years of active duty military service (U.S. Navy and U.S. Marines), and a dozen years working with gangsters and tough guys, I learned that when bullies sense fear or weakness, they pounce harder. And that's exactly what happened to Dr. Christine Blasey Ford when she testified before Congress. She acted like a nice little girl. She thanked them for listening to her. She spoke in a soft voice. She was fair and even-tempered and transparent... in short, she was too damned nice. And so the Republican bullies dismissed her as a compliant victim. Brett Kavanaugh on the other hand, pitched a fit. He shouted and cried and rubbed his nose with his hand - no tissues for him - he's a tough guy. He insulted Senators, especially the female ones, signalling to anybody watching from the White House that he was a 'real man.' He demonstrated his sense of privilege. He felt supremely sorry for himself. He wasn't on a job interview, in his mind. He was demanding his due. How dare anybody question him?
The Republican bullies tested Dr. Ford and her lawyers even prior to the hearing, to see if they could push her around, and they learned that they could. They made demands and she complied. They gave a tiny bit of ground to her lawyers to signal their intention to play nice. And they fell for it. If Ford and her legal team had said, "We want an FBI investigation and if we don't get one, we are going to file civil criminal charges in Maryland," the Republicans might have taken them seriously. But they didn't, and so they didn't.
Here's why I believe niceness doesn't work. I grew up in rural smalltown Pennsylvania and knew nothing of the world when I graduated from high school. I lasted a month at college. It was just too scary and the frat boys were mean. So I went home. My mother, who had never travelled outside of our county, urged me to join the Navy and see the world. "I think they're letting the girls drive the boats now, Honey," she said. "And you will learn to be a journalist and they will pay for you to go to college." A dutiful daughter, I went. Boot camp wasn't that bad. But as soon as I reported to my first duty station in Norfolk, the harassment began. I was called a cunt, a bitch, and a beaver. That was just the enlisted men. My executive officer, J.B. Waddington, the Third, verbally assaulted me daily with sexist jokes, innuendos and insults. When I protested, everybody laughed. I was the only woman in the office, of course. So I thought perhaps without an audience, Commander W would be nicer. I requested permission to speak to him in his office. I explained that his jokes and comments were hurtful and upsetting. "I'm the XO," he said. "When I tell a joke, you laugh." Ooooo...kay.....
After about six months of daily verbal and emotional abuse, Commander W made an extremely rude comment about me in front of a group of NATO officers from around the world. The other officers looked shocked. Commander W gloated, proud of his rudeness. Enough. I stormed into our office, swept everything off my desk onto the floor and shouted, "I am not a dog and I will not be treated like one. I have had enough. I quit." And I marched to the barracks to await my fate. This happened on a Friday, so all weekend long I listened to my fellow WAVES warn me that I was headed for the brig or a dishonorable discharge. Frightened but determined, I said, "If they lock me up or kick me up, I'll write a book about them." They convinced me to go to work Monday so I wouldn't be charged as AWOL. When I arrived at the office, all the men looked big-eyed and serious. Nobody greeted me. Nobody smiled. A few seconds later, Commander W walked into the room carrying a dozen red roses. He placed them on my desk and said, "I'm sorry for the way I spoke to you. It won't happen again." Of course, as soon as he left the room, one of the sailors whispered, "Stupid fucking bitch. If that had been a guy, he'd have gotten busted for sure." My Chief, a seasoned vet, called me aside and said, "You just learned a valuable lesson. If somebody is out of line, they can't bust you for reacting without stepping on their own tail. Remember that, but don't take advantage of it."
A few years later, while working in a radio-tv station in the Philippines, an Air Force aviator strutted past me at work. I was removing copy from a teletype machine that was located under the counter. When I bent down to retrieve the papers, the pilot whacked me on the ass with his clipboard. Hard. I stood up and said, "I don't know you, Sir, and I don't appreciate being hit. Please keep your hands to yourself." He laughed and walked into an adjoining office. A few minutes later, he reappeared and again smacked me on the ass as he passed by. This time I was prepared. I doubled up my fist and socked him on the jaw. I was wearing a small diamond ring that cut his chin. He put his hand over the cut and said, "I could court martial you for that, WAVE." On the verge of tears, I managed to hold them back. "You hit me first," I said. "That's aggravated assault, any way you slice it." Then I stomped out of the building and ran around to the back where I could huddle in the shadows and give way to my tears. Shaking, I returned to work a few minutes later. The officer was gone and I never heard another word.
Years later, after earning my college degree, I was encouraged to attend Officer Training School where I graduated first in my class and was commissioned a 2nd Lieutenant in the USMC. Immediately, one of my senior officers, a captain, began a nonstop campaign of sexual harrassment. My supervisors, all men of course, informed me that he was wrong but that he was my superior officer and I could not even look at him disrespectfully when he made lewd comments. When his harassment grew more serious and I felt I was in physical danger, I resigned my commission. I loved my job and I was good at it, but it wasn't worth my life. I wrote a book about my experiences in the early 1980's. Editors responded by saying, "This is a good book and well-written, but we don't believe it. It may be true, but people won't believe it." Sigh. Now, thirty years later, some people would believe me -- but not the Men in Charge.
Those are just three of many many incidents. Each time, I learned that when I was reasonable, polite and "nice," the abuse continued. But when I expressed outrage and justifiable anger, the bullies recognized the emotions - they were looking in the mirror. And so, I maintain that if Dr. Ford had arrived at the hearing and began by saying, "I am outraged and insulted by the treatment I have received at the hands of this committee and at the misogynistic remarks that have been made to news reporters about me in advance of my testimony. I have been prejudged and dismissed as someone whose voice is not important. But let me tell you that my voice is important and it will be heard...." And if she had shouted and demanded justice and asserted that unacceptable behavior would not longer be acceptable, things might have gone differently. Senator Harris might have stood up and applauded. Senator Corker might have nodded his head. And Mr. Hatch and Mr. Grassley and Mr. Graham (I won't call them Senators because they don't act senatorial) would have muttered, "Stupid bitch," but they would have taken her seriously.
As this is being written, Senator Flake has just demanded a one-week delay and an FBI investigation. His voice is important and he should be heard. My fingers are crossed that the Senate does the right thing. But, either way, my voice will not be silenced. And neither will the voices of all the "bitches" who will continue protesting and who will be voting in November.