Searching for justice

It’s been a year, this weekend, since The New York Times published Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey’s investigation into Harvey Weinstein’s decades-long abuse pattern of sexual harassment, assault and cover-up. The New Yorker followed soon after with its own reporting, which exposed how the famed producer wielded and misused his vast power.

“His movies have earned more than three hundred Oscar nominations, and, at the annual awards ceremonies, he has been thanked more than almost anyone else in movie history,” wrote Ronan Farrow of Weinstein, “ranking just after Steven Spielberg and right before God.”

A time before Weinstein’s abuses were known now feels like another life. And yet, in the slow push of social change, a year is nothing. Momentous events stretch time in strange ways.

There’s a sense in some that the reckoning we seek from men about their past behaviours is being pushed forward at the expense of the time and space survivors need to tell their stories. Others see the momentum of Me Too, its ability to crash through calcified power structures, as central to its survival.

Either way, the questions we face a year on seem more knotted. Less a definition of morals and more searching for procedure, accountability and justice.

Perhaps it’s merely the timing – anniversaries make for neat parallels – but the Supreme Court nomination of Brett Kavanaugh has morphed into something of a pressure test of Me Too, of whether it has had any meaningful impact. In this, Christine Blasey Ford’s testimony has become the voice of all women, writ large, and Kavanaugh’s confirmation will be proof that nothing has changed.

For others, the hearings are seen as proof that all this “consent madness” has gone too far – that a man’s reputation being publicly torn to shreds over decades-old allegations is a logical end point for our politically correct culture. To them, the idea one woman’s testimony could bring down a powerful man is a terrifying prospect.

The fear in men was foremost in United States president Donald Trump’s mind as he addressed a rally this week. “I think that it’s a very scary time for young men in America,” he told the crowd, “when you can be guilty of something that you may not be guilty of … This is a very difficult time.”

A year on from Weinstein, it’s not clear whether women are any less afraid. They probably are not. Perhaps the only thing that has changed is that the anger – gathered over a lifetime, sharpened by our current moment – has overwhelmed the fear.

Maria Gallagher comes to mind, the 23-year-old who stopped Republican senator Jeff Flake in an elevator after he voted to advance Kavanaugh’s nomination to the full Senate. It was the first time she had spoken about her own sexual assault. Watching the footage of her confronting Flake, it feels as if something broke.

“I was sexually assaulted, and nobody believed me,” Gallagher tells the senator, as his aids try desperately to close the elevator doors. “I didn’t tell anyone, and you’re telling all women that they don’t matter, that they should just stay quiet, because if they tell you what happened to them, you’re going to ignore them …”

The camera follows Flake’s face as he tries to shy away from the press pack that gathered around the scene.

“Look at me when I’m talking to you,” Gallagher tells him. Look at me. “You’re telling me that my assault doesn’t matter … That’s what you’re telling me when you vote for him.

Don’t look away from me. Look at me and tell me that it doesn’t matter what happened to me.”

It’s excruciating to watch. Gallagher’s voice is hot with tears. Flake squirms, visibly uncomfortable with her vulnerability, and perhaps with his own actions. He just keeps saying thank you.

At some point, this stream-of-consciousness thread Gallagher has pulled trails off, and fellow protester Ana Maria Archila jumps in.

“Senator Flake, do you think that Brett Kavanaugh is telling the truth?” she asks, her finger pointed right at him. “Do you think that he’s able to hold the pain of this country and repair it?”

“That,” she says, “is the work of justice.”

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on October 6, 2018 as "Searching for justice".

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