So, we end up where we began.
Things have not changed for women as much as we had all hoped.
For weeks, President Donald Trump, Senate Judiciary Committee Republicans and women like Sarah Huckabee Sanders and Kellyanne Conway have repeatedly sought new and inventive ways to defend the indefensible, moving heaven and earth to protect white privilege and patriarchy.
This effort was sadly exemplified by the speech Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, gave on Friday afternoon. Collins’ decision to vote to confirm Kavanaugh put a dispiriting exclamation point on something I’ve known for quite some time: The Republican party has turned its back on women.
America was founded upon the principle that all men (people) are created equal. It was understood that citizens of the Republic would have the right to think and express themselves freely, be secure in their persons and be grounded in certain “unalienable rights.”
Of course, we know that those “rights,” penned so eloquently by Thomas Jefferson (arguably the original “Republican”), were only granted to white, Protestant men or white male landowners. Regardless of birth or station in life, white men in the early colonies owned the land, they owned the commerce, they owned the slaves, they held all the elected positions and they held all the wealth.
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In short, white men — by birthright — were entitled to everything.
This is important context for the moment we now find ourselves in. Republicans — male and female alike — have finally achieved what they wanted: the confirmation of Judge Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court, no matter its bitter and divisive cost to the nation.
I am a middle-aged professional black woman — not exactly the GOP’s core constituency base. I am also a childhood sex abuse survivor, but I only recently came forward with my story after reading thousands of stirring #WhyIDidntReport posts on social media.
Ever since I was old enough to vote, I have proudly called myself a Republican. I was proud to work for President George H.W. Bush’s 1992 re-election campaign, for Sen. Pete Wilson (R-CA) and for New Jersey’s first female governor, Christine Todd Whitman. I was proud to be the first black woman counsel working with the House Government Reform and Oversight Committee. Men like Jack Kemp and Ed Meese, both conservatives, helped support my career as a young woman.
My GOP was the party of Abraham Lincoln, the party that worked to pass the thirteenth, fourteenth and fifteenth amendments to the U.S. Constitution, the party that supported the suffragist movement, the party that was home to Chief Justice Earl Warren and Dwight Eisenhower — who desegregated and integrated schools in the south. My female political hero, Maine Republican Margaret Chase Smith, gave us something to aspire to in her “declaration of conscience ” speech, in which she laid out the principles of "Americanism:" The right to criticize, the right to hold unpopular beliefs, the right to protest, and the right of independent thought.
The GOP’s slide into the Party of Trump isn’t new. But if moderate Republican women either can’t or won’t stand up for what’s right, who will?
But as I watched a parade of Republican women line up to cast their vote for a sitting federal judge credibly accused of drunkenly sexually assaulting multiple peers in his youth, I did not see a Senator Smith. I saw women upholding male power and privilege. The GOP’s slide into the Party of Trump isn’t new — people like me have been watching and talking about the party’s challenges for years. But if moderate Republican women either can’t or won’t stand up for what’s right, who will?
Certainly not Republican men like Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-SC, who stood up in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee to defend Kavanaugh stating: "I know I'm a single white male from South Carolina, and I'm told I should shut up, but I will not shut up.” Meanwhile, hosts on conservative talk radio and Fox News have opined about an assault on white males — women like Laura Ingraham and Megyn Kelly included. Ford waited too long, they said. She is jeopardizing the future of America’s precious sons, they cry.
Of course, in reality white men are nowhere close to being marginalized or mistreated in America. And white boys are not routinely imprisoned or shot down by police. So, let’s be honest about what is at stake here: This is not just about a Supreme Court seat. This is about who governs America and how the rest of us are supposed to accept it.
Collins and her cohorts affirmed the reported more than 50 percent of white women who voted for Trump in 2016. These women clearly have no issue with the president’s openly misogynistic behavior, his demeaning of female reporters and his mocking of Ford last week.
Twenty-eight years have passed since the debacle that was the Anita Hill hearings in 1991. And the past is once again prologue. Almost. In 1991, there were only a handful of female senators. Today there are 23. A woman has been nominated for the presidency. More than 30 women head Fortune 500 companies. And yet women of all stations and races still find ourselves on the outside looking in. Six Republican women, who are in the majority, had the power to stop Kavanaugh — not to support the Democrats, but simply to reject a troubled nominee with a horrible sexual scandal hanging over his head.
Only one, Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, stood up.
Ultimately, the vote on Saturday was about preserving the status quo. It was about keeping women in our place. There are currently four female Democrats serving on the Senate Judiciary Committee, but no Republican female. In fact, there has never been a female Republican on the committee in its 202-year history. When asked why he thought that might be, chairman Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, initially said it might be because of the workload. (He later walked back those comments.)
Some wondered earlier this week if the Kavanaugh vote would be Susan Collins’ “declaration of conscience” moment. Instead, Collins defended Kavanaugh and implied that Ford must have been mis-remembered her assault since the FBI could not corroborate facts from 36 years ago. I know that even though my own abuse started when I was only eight years old, I will never forget the man who did it. I will never forget his face. Ford said she was 100 percent sure that her assailant was Kavanaugh and I believe her. Shame on anyone who would call her “mixed-up” or “having a false memory” in the name of protecting the reputation of a “good man.”
The bottom line is that the modern Republican Party still only respects certain kinds of women. They have not embraced the changing demographics of America, they have not embraced the true diversity of America. They are a party run by white men, for white men, with the tacit support of a certain kind of white woman. But if recent polls are accurate, they will soon pay a steep price for their increasingly narrow vision.