Christine Blasey Ford went before the Senate Judiciary Committee today (Sept. 27) to offer testimony about her allegations that Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her in 1982. She says these events left her traumatized for decades.
Watching Ford persist through questioning, sometimes with her voice shaking, sometimes near tears, there could be no doubt that this was an emotional experience. But she also seemed eager to cooperate with her interviewers, no matter what side of the aisle they were on. At one point, Ford brightly asked if the timing of a planned break worked okay for committee chair Chuck Grassley. “We’re here to accommodate you,” Grassley said. Ford responded: “I’m used to being collegial.”
“Painfully evident to viewers, and particularly to the women watching, is Ford’s eagerness to be accommodating to those who are interrogating her,” Doreen St. Felix wrote for the New Yorker. Writer Jennifer Senior observed Ford’s “desperate and earnest desire to please,” while HuffPost editor-in-chief Lydia Polgreen noted that the same quality is instilled in all women from the get-go. And writer Anne Helen Peterson observed that her demeanor was typical of an intelligent woman who know they can only advance by “not pissing the men around her off.”
All the people quoted above seem supportive of Ford. But it’s not quite accurate to describe her as eager to please. She’s eager to do the right thing—to offer testimony that will help government leaders decide whether to grant her alleged aggressor tremendous power for the rest of his life. She is ready and willing to put her civic duty before herself, even at great personal cost.
On a personal level, Ford has little to gain by testifying in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee and the world. In fact, doing so has actively put her in harm’s way. During her testimony, she described the weeks of abuse and harassment she and her family have received since her name was made public, and dismissed allegations that she had appeared before the Senate at the behest of some political group, saying, “I am an independent person and I am no one’s pawn.”
Instead, she said, she had a single motivation—”to tell the truth about what Mr. Kavanaugh and his friend Mark Judge did to me.” She added, “My sincere desire is to be helpful to persons making the decision” about confirming Kavanaugh as a Supreme Court Judge.
Later, she clarified that she was appearing before lawmakers “not because I want to be, [but] because I believe it is my civic duty to tell you what happened to me while Brett Kavanaugh and I were in high school.”
Ford’s demeanor is a necessary part of her testimony. Throughout hours of questioning, she remained calm, helpful, and—in her words—”collegial.” Women stand to lose credibility very quickly if they’re perceived as aggressive or anything less than accommodating, both professionally and personally. As Peterson and her mother observed, learning to do act this way remains a necessity for many women in male-dominated fields.
But time and again, Ford came back to the word “help.” Asked by senator Cory Booker about how felt about the committee’s process of investigation (or lack thereof), Ford replied, ”I wish that I could be more helpful and that others could be more helpful and that we could collaborate in a way that would get more information.”
Rather than Ford’s desire to help as a sign of being “desperate to please,” perhaps we should consider what could be gained if men were held to the same expectation—and if the compassion, collegiality, and helpfulness that Ford displayed in the court was the norm for everyone, regardless of gender.