A year ago Sunday, the #MeToo movement reached a flaming crescendo with the confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court.
It was an insane pile-up of events that coincided with the anniversary of the New York Times first cracking the Weinstein case, and reached back in time to the woman who lit the match 27 years earlier: Anita Hill. That almost grotesque symmetry set millions of American women ablaze as we watched the Republican senators on the Judiciary Committee apologize and genuflect to Kavanaugh—a snarling, spitting mess of snot and resentment (“this is a joke!”)—while insisting on his right to a lifetime appointment. It didn’t seem to matter that Dr. Christine Blasey Ford had just detailed how he’d sexually assaulted her. Weeks later, the Women’s Wave flooded Congress with Democrats, putting Nancy Pelosi back in the line of succession.
I’m still not over it, and neither is the electorate. In a September PerryUndem poll, 49 percent of voters said that the Kavanaugh hearings made them want more women in office. Among Democrats, 79 percent of women and 71 percent of men strongly or somewhat agreed that Kavanaugh was confirmed because white men wanted to hold onto power. Fifty percent of independent voters—split almost evenly along gender lines—said the same.
Yet even as men increasingly seem to understand the stranglehold of patriarchy, and some have done good work exposing and dismantling it (shout-out to Ronan Farrow), it’s remained mostly women on the front lines.
In She Said: Breaking the Sexual Harassment Story That Helped Ignite a Movement, Times reporters Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey’s riveting book about reporting on Harvey Weinstein, nearly 100 percent of the people who attempt to do something about the movie mogul’s flagrant misconduct are female. The exception that proves the rule is Ivan Reiter—an accountant for The Weinstein Company who was ultimately shamed after a public screaming match with his twentysomething daughter Sherri into helping expose his boss. Reiter is a key source for Kantor and Twohey, but unlike many of the women who helped them break the story, he’d been able to go for years until then in a lucrative career while taking limited action. So, too, the CYA men on the company board, who cared about the many complaints against their CEO exactly as far as they threatened the bottom line.
That indifference seemed to extend to the male reporters who’d been waved off the story by Weinstein’s fixers. Kantor and Twohey recount how The New Yorker’s Ken Auletta started sniffing around when Ambra Battaligia Gutierrez publicly accused Weinstein of sexually assaulting her in 2015, but ultimately declined to pursue the story “after lawyers convinced him Gutierrez was not trustworthy.” Bob Woodward easily could’ve been one of them too. The investigative journalist got booed Thursday night in D.C when he interviewed the She Said authors, constantly interrupting them with misplaced questions. It’s clear that no woman would’ve ever trusted him with their story, if he’d even cared to listen. The Times itself hardly covered Guttierez' claims in 2015, and ran a big puff piece on Weinstein as his movie, Finding Neverland, was coming out.
But the women reporters weren’t so easily pushed off of the story. They crouched in doorways to stake out sources and hunted down retired civil servants in California for court records because they knew these women were worth it. No one had to sell them. In the acknowledgement section of their book, they thank the women whose paid work caring for their kids makes their own work possible. I can’t recall ever seeing a male author do that.
Now the consequences of male conspiracy could be significant for the country. On Friday, the court announced that it will take up the first abortion rights case since Kavanaugh took his seat. But not before Tuesday, when it will hear a glut of cases about whether Title VII protections extend to trans and gender non-conforming people covered under the famed caveat to the 1964 Civil Rights Act, “because of sex.” The ruling could send American workers back to a world in which a young Ruth Bader Ginsberg couldn’t get a job.
When the #MeToo floodgates first broke there was a lot of “I didn’t know!” excuse making from men about what other men were up to, some of it honest, much of it willful. But with Kavanaugh, we can’t unknow what Dr. Ford chiseled into our collective hippocampus, as she explained with scientific precision the brain’s mechanism for memory. And we can’t pretend this is about just one man and his career.
A year after Kavanaugh’s confirmation the outstanding question remains: What will men writ-large continue to tolerate?
Recently I got an answer. A friend was advising another man against taking a job with an employer who he knows to be problematic. The man wanted to know where in the “Biden/Weinstein” matrix this prospective employer fit in, citing lots of “gray area here”—essentially confirming that there is some threshold of female discomfort he’s willing to passively or actively ignore for the right job.
The correct answer is, of course, zero.