Christine Blasey Ford shows us vulnerability is strength, not weakness

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Christine Blasey Ford clarified her intentions at the very start of her testimony before the Senate judiciary committee.

“I am here today not because I want to be. I am terrified. I am here because I believe it is my civic duty to tell you what happened to me while Brett Kavanaugh and I were in high school,” she said. “Apart from the assault itself, these last couple of weeks have been the hardest of my life…I have had to relive my trauma in front of the entire world, and have seen my life picked apart by people on television, in the media, and in this body who have never met me or spoken with me.”

Three words especially—”I am terrified”—have reverberated. They’ve been recounted on Twitter, echoed in newsrooms, read in office cubicles, and seared into millions of women’s memories, as their chests pound with an intensity felt only when you understand someone else’s pain. Because it’s also your own.

What women live with it every day

As my colleague Annalisa Merelli writes on Twitter, womanhood is fundamentally defined by fear:

And yet, despite the tremendous trauma she’s endured, Ford did not visibly shed a tear throughout an excruciating hours-long hearing. Her sanity, mental health, memory, and credibility were relentlessly questioned. She addressed every question. She’s repeatedly described vivid details about the scene of the assault she says Kavanaugh made on her. By her account, there was the stairwell Kavanaugh and Mark Judge, his friend, stumbled down after they had attacked her; the bed where Kavanaugh held her down, which was on the right side of the room; the bathroom in close proximity to the bed; Kavanaugh holding his hand over her mouth so she couldn’t scream; her worrying Kavanaugh that would rape and accidentally kill her.

And though Ford remained admirably composed, she refused to deny the horrendous pain she has been haunted by since 1982. The details she has shared are deeply intimate, forcing every listener to visualize an agonizing assault:

“The uproarious laughter between the two, and them having fun at my expense,” she said, charging that Kavanaugh  pinned her down on the bed and that Judge egged him on. “They were laughing with each other. Two good friends having a really good time with one another.”

Ford said she was “too afraid and ashamed” to tell anyone the details of the assault for years. She spent countless hours in individual and marital therapy. She insisted on installing a second front door when she and her husband remodeled their home, still traumatized by her assault, needing to see more than one way to get out.

In sharing these traumatic details, Ford opened the floodgates to criticism. Many will inevitably question the veracity of these details. More may even get it wrong on her bigger message—and see her vulnerability as weakness.

A new legacy from living out loud

The patriarchy is quite literally founded on the idea that women are weak and helpless. American culture—from 19th century literature to today’s sappy rom-coms—oozes with men’s infatuation with women’s inability to manage their own feelings, desires, and struggles. Easier to indulge women’s emotional instability than acknowledge their strength, as she who cannot control herself is easily controlled by others.

Yet what if vulnerability—sheer, unfiltered, emotional honesty—equated to strength, not weakness? Ford’s testimony proves that it absolutely does. “I have found you powerful and vulnerable,” said Connecticut senator Richard Blumenthal. “And I believe you.”

The #MeToo Movement, at its core, is the epitome of vulnerability at scale: It’s women, and some men, coming forward and admitting the pain that they’ve kept secret. It’s millions of people worldwide seeing themselves in these women’s honesty, in Christine Blasey Ford’s honesty, and saying, loud and clear, Me. Too.

If women do not find inspiration and motivation in one another’s suffering, we paralyze our own prospects. After all, the patriarchy exists to oppress all of us, not a select few. When we distance ourselves from this reality, we are ill-prepared when sexism inevitably crosses our path.

In being so vulnerable, Ford has invited women—and men—to not only see themselves in her pain but also to see themselves in her survival. Ford has endured damage, and has gone on to become an incredibly successful academic, wife, and mother. What’s more, Ford has found the confidence to show up today, despite death threats against her and her family, and speak her truth.

She said a man she knows as sexual predator should not be appointed to the highest court in the land. Her supremely brave act was driven by equally courageous vulnerability.