On Thursday, September 27, 2018, an extraordinary airing of a sexual assault accusation happened not on social media or in a courtroom or even at a closed-door Title IX hearing on a college campus. The question of who is telling the truth in a case of sexual assault landed in the political sphere as the nation heard in real time the very public accusation of Dr. Christine Blasey Ford and Judge Brett Kavanaugh’s vigorous defense. Only a few days later it has become cliché to say this was a watershed cultural moment with the potential to shift gender relationships and long held power structures.
Left and right, Dems and Republicans, CNN and Fox are all arguing over a simple but pivotal question: Who is telling the truth? In emotionally fraught scandals like this one, reason takes a back seat to gut reactions and ferocious defense of the victim. But what is going on when both sides are claiming to be defending the real victim? What scraps of truth can we find amidst the accusations, anger, hatred, and scapegoating?
Though it may be hidden right now, we at the Raven Foundation believe that the truth is still out there – or at least buried under a huge tsunami of anger, hatred, conspiracy theories and scapegoating. By applying the insights of mimetic theory, the biggest idea to hit the behavioral sciences in the last 60 years, we believe it’s possible to discern a bit of truth amid the lies and accusations. With that hope in mind, we invited our distinguished Raven Board member Dr. Martha Reineke to be our guide for an analysis of the testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Dr. Reineke is uniquely qualified for the job. She is a Professor in the Department of Philosophy and World Religions at the University of Northern Iowa where she previously served as Director of the Graduate Program in Women’s and Gender Studies. I especially wanted to bring her insights to our subscribers because of her expertise in theories of sex and gender, psychoanalytic theory, violence and trauma. Most recently, she is the author of Intimate Domain: Desire, Trauma, and Mimetic Theory (Michigan State University Press). And she has published extensively on the work of René Girard and currently serves as Executive Secretary of the academic organization dedicated to research in mimetic theory, the Colloquium on Violence and Religion.
In our interview held on Monday, October 1, I asked Dr. Reineke to address the legitimate questions relating to Dr. Ford’s memory: How is it believable that she could remember what happened 36 years ago and why does she remember some details and not others? Dr. Reineke’s analysis is enlightening. In the full interview, we then turn to Judge Kavanuagh to ask what to make of the many women who have come forward to testify on his behalf. These women, whose honesty we have no reason to doubt, insist that he is respectful toward women colleagues and has in fact actively helped advance their careers. How do we make sense of the two very different pictures of Judge Kavanaugh that emerged from the hearing?
We then moved into a discussion of toxic masculinity, the #metoo movement and third wave feminism, and most importantly the question of healing. Men and women have suffered psychologically from the distorted power structures that have historically governed gender relations and the entire culture stands in need of healing. Dr. Reineke’s comments offer hope that even a fraught day like the one Dr. Ford and Judge Kavanaugh endured can be a healing experience for them and for our nation.
He Lied/She Lied: Discerning the Truth in the Testimony of Dr. Ford and Judge Kavanaugh – Transcript
Recorded on Monday, October 1, 2018
SUZANNE ROSS: What I want to do with you today is sort of step back from that really reactive place where we are just sort of mirroring and imitating one another and try to get more nuanced evaluation of what we are all talking about, which is who is telling the truth, who do you believe? And so, let’s just dive in right there and look at the testimony and some of the… I think really legitimate questions that are being raised about credibility of the witness testimony; so let’s start with Dr. Blasey Ford. One big question that comes up, for her and for all trauma victims is the question of memory and recall. Especially in this case where it’s decades old, it’s 35 or 36 years old, the incident. So people are asking, how can she remember what she remembers and why doesn’t she remember the things she doesn’t remember. So can you talk to us about the relationship between trauma and memory?
DR. MARTHA REINEKE: I’d be happy to do that, I was a little nervous about this whole program, because every 5 minutes, the news changes. As like, I’ve been busy, today, so how can I keep up, but, I did check NBC News and, as luck would have it, President Trump actually talked an hour or so ago about trauma, using the word and saying that Bret Kavanaugh had experienced great trauma. So that places trauma in the vocabulary of persons talking about Kavanaugh and also talking about Dr. Ford.
One of the things to help us get at what questions of her credibility and relationship to trauma, I found it helpful in my work, is to use the thought of Juliet Mitchell who distinguishes kinds of trauma. She talks about there being weak and strong trauma, and weak trauma is the most common kind trauma we talk about. When we say, I lost my job, I found it very traumatic; I survived a tornado, that was traumatic; I was divorced. There are episodes in our lives that we rightly describe as traumatic and I think that’s probably what President Trump is referring to that the last 3 weeks he said has been extremely traumatic. But the kind of trauma that Dr. Ford is reporting on and which psychologist refers to as a deep trauma which is not immediately evident and which really breaches the fundamentals or structure of the psyche. And the way it does that, and Dr. Ford reported on this in her testimony, is that what has happened to us is usually not available and so we have our memory traces in the part of the brain that preserves emotion and feeling.
When we think about her testimony she talked about what she does recall. She recalls things that happened to her body. She describes the young man whom she called throughout her testimony Brett, grinding his body against hers. She talked about not being able to breathe with the hand over her mouth. She talked about him moving his hands up and down her body. She is giving words, she shares these experiences, but the initial experience was entirely wordless. It was feelings that she was having, sensations that she was having. Trauma connects to those sensations as only after the fact that it gets connected to words, ideas, and often doesn’t get connected to those. That’s why she doesn’t remember whole bunches of data that would be something you actually put on the calendar, it’s a body memory.
Her credibility is a credibility of body memories and whether we believe those. Psychologists tell us, yes, we should because deep trauma is visible in over time, over years, in a kind of repetition of the pain, of the suffering. That’s not something you bring to words but something that is expressed in return of the fright or flight sensations. So that while she talked about describing remodeling on her house is needing 2 doors, what was motivating that was not a recollection of the next time I am in a danger situation, it will be helpful, to have 2 doors, not one. What was motivating it was the still lived experience of being 15 years old and not knowing if she was going to make it out the door alive. So that kind of embodied fright is what is very, very credible because we don’t have control over the summoning of those feelings.
SUZANNE ROSS: Part of the questioning that was coming at her was ‘okay, let’s accept the reality that you did suffer some sort of traumatic assault, but maybe you’re mistaken about who the perpetrator was.’ How do you address that?
DR. MARTHA REINEKE: I think that what many persons heard in her commentary is that the suturing, we could say, of those embodied memories of, who was touching her was a very strong suture to this particular person, Brett. So I think it would be unlikely that she had sort of the wrong person in her memory because those memories are… I guess I just like the words suture, it’s like threaded together with impressions that would be linked to ideation, on who was in that room.
Another thing that she pointed out was the most powerful experience of all, was the laughter, of being laughed at. The emotion of humiliation is one that, again, can get encoded in the brain in a way. We can’t summon humiliation. If you ask me right now, please I want you to demonstrate humiliation, it’s not something I can do. If you ask me to count numbers, well actually I can’t count either. But you are asking me to express ideas, so I can do that, so I am expressing ideas. But if you ask me to summon shame and have my face flush; summon humiliation, and have my body expression of that, that’s not something that you can do, on purpose.
SUZANNE ROSS: Is there anything you would like to say about memory?
DR. MARTHA REINEKE: One more thing, some other person who’s been really influential in my work, her name is Cathy Caruth, and I was re-reading, for our conversation, some of the things she said about trauma and memory. I think it’s extremely insightful giving that our Dr. Ford’s testimony, that she talks about when you survive a deep trauma, which means that you have some fear of not continuing to exist. And that was her experience, she thought she might be accidentally be killed by Brett. That what is traumatizing isn’t the actual experience but that one does survive and doesn’t know how. So what becomes repetitive in one’s life, why you can’t let go, often subconsciously, you can’t let go of this lived trauma is not what happened in its specifics, as she described them, but the trauma hinges on I have no idea why I survived and because I don’t, it could have happened again until I figure that out. Then your future is foreclosed. I found it extremely interesting that her voice, Dr. Ford’s voice that is basically of a 15 year old girl. And in some ways, that breach in her psyche to me suggests that in some ways time stopped for her when she was 15 years old and that part of the foreclosure of the future. She did leave everything she knew, she talks about leaving Washington DC, and moving to California to start a new life. Am not sure she was so much starting a new life as she was moving into a kind of liminal state that has lasted for 30-some years, where she hasn’t had a future, because she hasn’t reconnected that traumatic experience.
And then lastly, the last thing I say about Cathy Caruth says how can you break through that, and one other thing she said is that when a victim of trauma actually reaches out to another and connects with them through that compassion or empathy, it can open up the previously closed future. So I think that this testimony that Ford gave, Caruth would suggest that there is potential in that for a kind of healing, that an ethics of empathy that comes through in her very courageous act.
SUZANNE ROSS: A healing for her? You mean having to say publicly because all I kept thinking…
DR. MATHA REINEKE: She is being re-traumatized. In which is possible, but if the structure of trauma isn’t just telling your story, the real structure of trauma is having no future because you locked into an embodied experience that makes you existentially a creature of fright. Then moving out of that may take an action and Caruth suggests that action maybe that emphatic outreach.
I also think that I read a really amazing piece yesterday from the Atlantic by Deborah Kopaken. She talked about the eve of her graduation from college on a date, she was raped and she held that for 30 years. Then she reached out and sent apparently an email to the man who had done it and told him that she been carrying this around for 30 years. He called her within 30 minutes of receiving that. He had no memory because he was blacked out drunk, and he spent the next 20 minutes in profuse apologies to her. The next day she went to the services -it was at the time of Yom Kippur, so it was very recently- to services of forgiveness, and she wrote this piece for the Atlantic saying his outreach and acknowledgment of what he had done, the wrong he had done to her, combined with a ritual of forgiveness for him has been very healing to her.
SUZANNE ROSS: That’s hopeful. Let’s look at some of the defenses that has been offered for Kavanaugh perspective. It is very interesting that he has offered in his defense the testimony of dozens of women who have come and given a very different account of his character; one who is very collegial with women, who even goes out of his way to support their careers, and help them advance, and so forth. I find no reason to doubt these stories from these women. I think they are very credible and so the question that comes up in my mind, it’s almost like can both accounts be true or does one sort of cancel out the other in some way? Is he a different person now, how do we make sense of these two very divergent, if we give Dr. Ford the benefit of the doubt here, that this is the man who assaulted her, can they both be true and how is that possible?
DR. MATHA REINEKE: I think two things, I mean, that’s what we are all pondering except for persons who clearly has decided one or the other is not telling the truth. But if we find both of their testimonies, at least his testimony, he didn’t do this, I mean there are a lot of other issues with other aspects of his testimony that are in the news non-stop. But if his assertion I didn’t do this is something that he is truthfully saying, that he has no memory of this, and she is also credible, then how do we rope this together. So my sense is that the explanation for that is the same one in the Atlantic article by Deborah Kopaken, that he was blackout drunk. And he has no memory of it. So that’s one explanation. Another explanation is looking at a person who simultaneously objectified a girl, assaulted a girl, and, taking the larger perspective that a person who respects women would not have done that. Therefore he could not have done that, never mind whether he had the memory of it or not, just taking the piece of it.
It seems to that one of the issues that I find particularly illuminating of his life is the concept of toxic masculinity. And there are like fifteen features of toxic masculinities, one of which is the tendency to create out-groups and in-groups. So we could say not all women are created equal. Within the context of an elite private school education, and an elite law school education, and a career that has moved consistently towards the top of the legal profession, there are women who would be in his in-group, who would be owed a kind of respect. And in the families of these young people, they tend to marry amongst -not always with great enthusiasm- in some ways there is a structure of arranged marriages that you only have a very small eligible pool of these other elite families.
It would make perfect sense to someone who looks at this in-groups, out-group phenomenon that certain women who are perceived to be good women and should be owed respect. And then he, actually in his testimony, Kavanaugh made some comments about Dr. Ford’s high school not being – it was a private school, but it wasn’t in the same social circle. So in a hierarchy of the elitism, she was one removed. She was from a school where there would be question of the presumption of goodness. And this gets also to the dynamics of bifurcating of females into, in sociological terms, the virgin or the whore. So there is a kind of dualism. Ford was in a high social circle, where she was not necessarily vulnerable but, perhaps within that group, she was particularly vulnerable. And then I found absolutely fascinating the total mistrial of the third woman’s complaints within the context. That Julie Swetnick went to public high school and that would, in this very competitive hierarchical, only some woman are owed a kind of respect, etcetera, she would fall outside that, network, entirely. There is only one characteristic of how in a certain sociological construction of masculinity of class, differences play a really critical role of who is owed respect and who is not owed respect.
SUZANNE ROSS: Can you say a little more, Martie, about the concept of toxic masculinity because I heard of it now come up a couple of times in conversation and am not exactly sure what it means. For someone professional like you talking about it, what is it?
DR. MATHA REINEKE: As far as I understand it, Australian sociologist Raewyn Connell who coined the phrase in the mid-2000 and it has a number of characteristics where there is a firmed division of gender along various kinds of lines. For example – I talked about in-group out-group in terms of high school – but there is a focus on the elite acquisition of various things. You acquire the best in education, a very much focus on acquiring wealth, managing that wealth, and, also, physical prowess. Actually, it’s a little scary when you go down the list and say I wonder if Kavanaugh can be exhibiting any characteristics of toxic masculinity because his obsession with physical prowess is very strong. In fact, I must admit I watched Saturday Night Live, the cold open, and they were making fun of he’s off at wrestling practice or whatever, bodybuilding, every night. That is very typical, you prove yourself through physical prowess.
In addition, there is the competitiveness and then what makes it toxic is this really limited range of emotions that are possible under this form of masculinity. Anger is acceptable, it shows you are a man. Kind of physical aggressiveness, engaging in actions that elicit feelings of humiliation in others, but could out of play in toxic masculinity are empathy, expression of woundedness, expression of vulnerability. With this very limited range of emotions, your capacity to interacting in ways that you describe at the beginning of our conversation where we don’t demonize the other, to not demonize the other we need to have empathy with them. We need to be able to step into their shoes, experience their vulnerability. When we are unable to do that because of the code of masculinity tells us that; to do that, I mean the vocabulary for what you would be called is not something I want to repeat, but let’s just use fairly mild terms, you are a sissy, you’re a woozy. Their vocabulary would be much harsher with each other and has into question all aspects of their masculinity in ways that would be degrading to anyone who was even in the neighborhood of empathy.
That would pretty much restrict it. If you grow up in a culture that from elementary school, boys don’t cry; boys don’t express their emotions, you have to be competitive; you have to be engage in sports that really don’t fit your body type whether you like it or not. All of these pressures mean by the time you’re in the high school, a junior or senior; that the elements of that expression of your identity are really very powerfully secured and you are invested in demonstrating to each other. One of the essential features in the very strong male bonding, so that ultimately in-group are other men of your social class, same race, same interests, and you have to prove yourself to others to remain. In that way, I in my own effort to understand Kavanaugh, I really see him as a victim of that toxic masculinity. Now at the same time, I think he is a grown up, he is not responsibly addressing all the privileges that go with his life.
The notion when I say he is a victim of toxic masculinity, I am saying he grew up to become a person with very limited options, but am not saying he is a victim in this scenario. That’s a different thing. I think he is responsible for his behavior and the fact that he has multi-year problem with alcohol, etcetera, etcetera. But I think toxic masculinity is one of the forms of masculinity and there are various forms of what we are saying, the way women are socialized as females, as well. We haven’t even gotten into by definition toxic masculinity is heterosexual. We haven’t even got into all those themes, but toxic masculinity creates warped men, men who have very sad lives, and that’s not good.
SUZANNE ROSS: No, it’s not good. And hearing you talk about it that way, I think it does help those of us who are naturally sympathetic to Dr. Ford. Her narrative just really struck a chord with so many women. It’s prompted a lot of outpouring about, not just of stories, you know, people starting to tell stories from many years ago, but of anger. It is really interesting that the whole issue of how men and women deal with anger is really sort of coming to the surface now.
DR. MATHA REINEKE: Right, because there is a question historically women – it’s not been appropriate. For example, if Dr. Ford had come in with a level of anger in her testimony, that would have been unacceptable. And I must say it been very difficult for me to try to get to a place in my head where I can humanize Kavanaugh because when I saw his testimony, I found his persona, his presence extremely frightening. I thought if that’s the way when he is stone sober, I mean, when they talk about him as a drunk, I would really be frightening to be in his presence. I really have concerns about persons in his life who would confront him when he is in that state. It’s been very difficult for me to reflect and to try to come to some sense of empathy. But I don’t think we… I think that’s one of the ways that what Raven does and mimetic theory, we don’t solve social problems when we demonize others. We solve social problems when we try to understand what creates persons who act in ways we find so appalling. Because only then can we actually leverage an entry into that that would be challenge that.
There was the author of the book, Raising Cain, Adam Howard wrote Raising Cain, (note: Dan Kindlon and Michael Thompson wrote Raising Cain. Howard cites Raising Cain in his book Educating Elites: Class Privilege and Educational Advantage) and he talked about the creation of toxic masculinity in the school system, largely in the elite school systems. The only way we can interrupt the structure is if we, instead of saying persons who to go to schools like that, and families that raise children like that, ‘oh that’s a horrible thing’, that’s not going to change anything but to figure out how we can break through and have alternatives to that.
SUZANNE ROSS: Yeah, and I am interested in hearing you, Martie, talk about the different ways, I mean, we are seeing the women’s movement, feminism and MeToo movement really trying to address issues that have impacted women in negative ways and the social and cultural issues. It seems like men need that kind of healing to happen, too. So I am wondering if you could sort of talk about how these two people sort of fit in with the larger cultural moment and the history of gender identities and relationships. It is a big question.
DR. MATHA REINEKE: No, it is a cultural movement. I found it, I mean when I do step back, and it’s difficult to step back because all of us bring so many powerful emotions to this. But I had actually thought that second wave feminism’s contribution to our various cultural moments were done, it was over. So, anyone listening who doesn’t know what second wave feminism is, it’s basically the feminism that emerged in the 1970’s where the first wave of legislation were women make it no longer be fired when they are pregnant, women could finally sign contract in their own names, they didn’t have to use their husband’s name. Though I must say, when I moved to Iowa the 80’s, the local bank had not gotten that memo yet, so, my husband had to sign for my piano that I bought.
In any case, the women’s movement began in the 70’s and persisted. The second wave is women who were part of that, the founders of it, so to speak, are in their 70’s. And somewhere women in their 40’s and 30’s, somewhere in there, there is a transition to third wave feminism, where the achievements are second wave have been consolidated, and perceived, and other interests have emerged. There has been a critique of the limitation of second-wave feminism in terms of what it actually focused on, and, perhaps, became consumed by. But who would have thought, I mean, I never dreamed that we would have, at this point in time, second-wave feminists and it’s not exclusive, they are not the only women talking about sexual assault, but the pattern here is women talking about assault that happened 30 years ago. And so, Ford, I think, if she hadn’t come forward, there may have been another person who functioned as this voice. Because I get the sense that the women who… One of the critiques of second-wave feminism is that it is largely white, middle class. So it’s not a coincidence, she is a professional woman who had the achievements of second-wave Feminism. She bears those with her life. She is a very successful woman and those successes are made possible by those changes in the 70’s and 80’s that gave access to woman to go to grad school, and etcetera, etcetera.
She, I think, is emblematic of something that you have achieved all of these things in your life but you haven’t addressed something in 30 years, that is nagging away. And, finally, after all this time, it welled up. I think MeToo, which is much more varied in the ages, college women are very much involved in MeToo, also. I think MeToo probably was the kind of nudge, at some level, that brought this forth. If you look at social media, Twitter, etcetera, hundreds of thousands of women talking about, for the first time, they’ve never told anybody what happened to them 30 years ago. That is a phenomenal, I would never anticipated that, I would have thought that, all of that was trauma that was never going to surface. As a consequence of this cultural moment, there is a revisiting. I don’t know if culturally there is a going back to the 70’s and 80’s, but for individuals the healing work that was what was never done, they built their lives over the top of, now there is opportunity to confront and hopefully to heal it.
SUZANNE ROSS: I have been this sort of watching the generational response to these too, because my daughter and daughter-in-law are in their 30’s. They have young children, so they are not as connected to what’s happening in the world. My son and son-in-law, too, out of the 4 of them, really only my daughter-in-law is kind of tuned in to this conversation and affected by it. The rest of them, it just seems to be sort of like not going on for them. Almost like unnecessary, like we are passed it, which is a funny thought to have, you know when you are talking about this generation of trauma, that is caught bubbling up to the surface. But it is kind of hopeful, too, when you think this generation maybe something has happened in the relationship between the genders, male and female, in a way that is shifting. I don’t know.
DR. MATHA REINEKE: Well, on the one hand I think that’s true. On the other hand, I think that, some things still, that if women of who are looking back at things that happened 30 years ago, and if their children or in the case of women who are in their 70’s and 80’s, their grandchildren are saying well that doesn’t happen to us anymore. Well, there was a letter that was put out by girls from the Catholic high schools in Washington DC saying am sorry but this kind of thing is still going on. I think that there is a name for it, so that when Dr. Ford had her experience the naming what has happened to her as date rape, wasn’t in our vocabulary. But, just because there is a name for it, doesn’t mean that it’s not going to happen. I think the difficulties that girls have with adjudicating their gender identities or sexuality has how they are going to relate to boys, I think not that much has changed. Where the changes come, I think, that are the college-age women may have a greater sense of agency than their mothers and grandmothers did when they were in college. But even then, I am not sure. That’s why, but perhaps, it’s because I am from the second wave feminism that’s saying take seriously how slow change is, and don’t be overly optimistic that you achieved these things. That you’re going to get into it, you maybe insulated from it in college, but you are going to get into the workplace, and you are going to experience things that may not show as much change as you thought.
SUZANNE ROSS: I think there is still a lot of cultural messages around what it means to be a woman what it means to be a man that are just extraordinarily problematic. I know I still deal, you have just have these tapes that play in your head about what it means to be a woman. I was very struck by Dr. Ford’s, the way she presented herself. She was very deferential, non-threatening, and nothing threatening about her at all.
DR. MATHA REINEKE: Suzanne, I think that’s an extremely important point that you could make for members of your family who are saying this is all passé. The way she had to present herself, to be credible and the effect that she wasn’t feigned. I really don’t think her attorney sat down with her and said ok, only way you are going to be able to do to this is if you perform a role of reticence and helpfulness. No this is who she is when she is in a situation, when she is wondering if she is an okay person. Which is what happens a lot of the time, right. And so the fact she didn’t think she could own the room, she had to be nice to everyone and she had to make sure, she was accommodating and helpful to be believed. Not that much has changed. And the fact that, Kavanaugh could come in and bluster, and bang his fist, and slam his papers down, and take physical charge of the room in such a dramatic way, just shows that we have a long way to go in broadening the range of emotions that are acceptable in public as an expression of interactive styles, I should say, between men and women.
SUZANNE ROSS: I mean, certainly, a lot of women react and say, well, I can be angry, too. I want to say well, wait, Kavanaugh could been a little more differential too. I would rather see that, masculine style be more shifted towards the feminine than the other way around. But sometimes I don’t know, I think anger can be quite effective and useful. I just don’t think it worked for him in that hearing. It didn’t serve him, I don’t think.
DR. MATHA REINEKE: Persons might say, well, he did cry. He did cry but I think that his tears, as I interpreted them, were the tears of someone who has experienced a kind of outrage against his status and claims that he finds offensive in way that the emotional repertoire he could bring was not only anger but, tears. I think that the only time we saw the tears in a different kind of manifestation was when he was talking about his father. I think there we saw a sense of him, realizing he could be perceived by his father, this father-son relationship, in a way that was destabilizing to him. But the male bonding that’s so primary to his identity really limits for each emotion the spectrum that it covers. So that he couldn’t summon the kinds of anger about the situation in which he might have participated, sort of anger at himself and the range of tears representing a kind of vulnerability. It was more than he has been assaulted rather than he was open to expressing a vulnerability before charges that have been made. … I misrepresented that, emotions have lots of different valances and he was playing to a rather narrow range of them.
SUZANNE ROSS: I would agree with you. It didn’t seem a possibility for him to do that sort of reaching out and apologizing. I mean, he is in a highly charged political situation and that limits the moves you can make, I think, as well. You have a sort of … you know, he was doubly constrained, I guess, by that. But, it would have… I don’t know, if an apology, if he had approached it more contritely and said gee, I was a jerk in high school, I was just a jerk, am not like that anymore. I admit I was a jerk, I’m past it. I think that, for me, that would have gone over better, but…
DR. MATHA REINEKE: I think when this first came out, if he had called a news conference or whatever and said that I feel horrible, I was a bad person in high school. I have no recollection of this because I spend a lot of high school drunk. We are very big in America on the redemptive narrative. I think that he could have risked that narrative and all of his successes might have been a successive narrative if to say how he changed, that he would never want his daughters to go through what he put young women through, etcetera, etcetera. Sort of place it in the perspective of a falling person who is realized what he did and deeply regrets it. And that might have been effective but instead, he acknowledges none of that.
ADAM ERICKSEN: We have a few comments in that session and I have a couple of comments and questions. First, Martie, this has been fascinating and thank you for being here.
DR. MATHA REINEKE: It’s pretty funny! I am talking about masculinity and what do I know about it?
ADAM ERICKSEN: Well, you and me both. I would not be any better because I have no idea what it means. So, Susan says, I agree his tears more reminded me of a toddler’s tantrum and she says, I agree Suzanne that would have been more authentic. That was when you were talking of him having a contrite at the beginning and saying sorry, I was a jerk. This brings up questions for me about -you touched on it earlier Martie- performance. So I, unfortunately, was what watching on Facebook. I was reading the comments, which is awful. Because you have when she was talking, when Ford was talking, there were all of these comments saying, those are crocodile tears, she is not really crying, she is performing, she is faking it. And then when you have Kavanaugh up there, it’s nobody who was innocent would ever be this angry. We are just kind of like judging the performance of both of these people. I don’t know what to make of it, there are times when I’m sure people who are innocent have been wrongly accused and have been angered by it. I don’t know what was going through his mind. You know his whole thing with Amy Klobuchar, when he was like, I don’t know, have you ever blacked out. It’s ridiculous! Right?
I have my own, like Susan and I was talking about these the last time, I have my own, I am partisan in this. So how can I come to this with more of an objective view when I am grading these performances?
DR. MATHA REINEKE: I see two things, one about the discussion about, I don’t know, if you have a blackout or I like beer, do you like beer? A number of the comments that he made about alcohol and I think Klobuchar was aware of this, because she has alcoholism in her family. i am not saying that he is a functional alcoholic, but what am saying is, anyone who has lived with a functional alcoholic, and my father-in-law as a functional alcoholic, very successful in his profession, but he came home every night and got drunk. And he was a nasty drunk, every night, for his entire career. That anyone who knows the pattern and can recognize certain patterns that look like functional alcoholism. And that occurred to me, and I think it occurred to the senator as well, having lived with that, in her own family. But to get back to your point of our willingness to take a position on either Kavanaugh or on Dr. Ford, and to say they are performing, to think the worst of them in their sense of believability, I interpret that as a protective mechanism on the part of the people holding those views. That they are by suggesting that it is a performance they are insulating themselves from identification with the other that would create the discomfort in themselves. So it’s a variation on she protest too much. But that kind of rigidity suggest actually a protective mechanism. So how do you break through that, well, I don’t think you can break through Facebook comments, if you can, well good luck with that. I think you could break through it with on one on one in small groups, or tell me how you feel about what you heard, etcetera. And that would enable you to… (I have a wonky eye, am not crying here, I just have a wonky eye and I am starting to tear up, ok, have a handle …).
Does that make sense that it would be, the only way you can break through that, is by trying to create a safe space, to address persons’ investment in it, that skepticism, which isn’t a rational skepticism, it’s a highly volatile skepticism about the believability of someone else.
ADAM ERICKSEN: This leads to Maura’s comments, she says Kavanaugh’s anger was contagious and clearly infected some of the Republican senators on the committee. I am reminded of Graham and this is another thing that a lot of liberals are saying, is Lindsey Graham was performing for Trump in order to be the next attorney general, or something like that.
DR. MATHA REINEKE: Yes, I think there is an element there with him of performance, and I think in Kavanaugh’s use of some phrases that came out of the Trump playbook, that was the kind of intentional overture. But, when you talk for so long, for hours, in the case of Dr. Ford, and a somewhat shorter the time for Kavanaugh… Not only do I think who you really are, comes through but, it doesn’t do any of the rest of us any good to be skeptical of that. Because if we value genuine communication starting from the position this person is a fake, well, you’re just going to be stuck there. Whereas if you give someone the benefit of the doubt, you are opening a space for them to actually be genuine with you. You are reaching out to a position of safety for them.
ADAM ERICKSEN: Maura talks on toxic masculinity. When men I know said their daughters won’t be able to date until they are in their 30’s, I’d say something like “they would date men like their dads.” Often their response is “well, that’s why.” To me, that reflects a notion of toxic masculinity.
I want to ask, you and Suzanne had a little conversation about the MeToo movement, and I wanted to ask you this. One of the criticisms of the MeToo movement, because, in the mimetic theory, we often have this narrative that victim can become the abuser. And you don’t want to go too far in this movement, otherwise it’s going to be an attack on against men. You were talking about it being very healing movement. I am wondering if that aspect of the mimetic theory in this do you find helpful or is there a way, that maybe this movement is challenging that part of the mimetic theory? What are your thoughts on that?
DR. MATHA REINEKE: I think it’s extremely complicated and there is actually been… it’s not a perfect division because there are what we call, third wave feminist who have been quite skeptical of the threat and focus of MeToo. And there have been second-wave feminists who really embrace it one hundred percent. But there’s been a typical distinction that a number of second-wave feminists have thought that, been concerned that Me Too is muddying the waters of appropriate agency. So, for example, there was the… I can’t remember his name, he was comedian (Aziz Ansari). A woman had a date with him that she wrote about as example of MeToo that she was disrespected on a date. That led to a lot of conversation among feminists about she was misinterpreting what she was calling sexual assault was just an evening of bad sex. I think were we adjudicate lines of agency and responsibility in the MeToo movement, there has to be care so that no one is the perfect victim and no one is the perfect perpetrator. There has to be specificity where the preponderance of one’s reflections on an incident show either a breach in agency on part of one side or the other.
What’s different about Ford, what’s different about so many of the women coming forth in for the last two weeks, is that we are not talking about how women, we are talking about girls, or we are talking about women who didn’t have access to the kinds of agential behaviors that made it possible for them to resist or say no to sexual assault. It’s a class privilege to have certain kinds of access to Human Resources departments. So that if you have a job where there is no HR department and it’s one of 3 jobs and it’s minimum wage, your access to challenging harassment at the workplace is much more limited. My sense is that where this last two weeks differed, is that we are talking about girls. We are talking about something that happened to 15-year-olds, 18 years old, in this spectrum, where especially culturally in the 1980’s, Trump says you should have told your loving parents, well, no. No, you didn’t tell anyone when you were that age. Nowadays, young women have a lot more support networks. They have a vocabulary for describing what is happening to them. Their capacity for agency, I think, is different. It makes MeToo accountability for not taking responsibility for your own behavior much more complex. But it also makes going back in time, I think, to a need because when Dr. Ford was 15, and many of these women are saying, I haven’t told anybody in 30 years or the age they were when it happened , there was no vocabulary that they could access to acquire agency. There was no support network, because if Dr. Ford has told her parents, if she had told anyone, she would have been shamed. Because girls in that time period ‘they asked for it.’ And we still say that, but there is a cultural space, where you have a vocabulary for saying ‘no, I didn’t ask for it. It had nothing to do with the way I dress or the fact that I had a beer or this that and the other thing.’ I don’t know if that helps, I think it’s a very complex issue, and, when you are in the middle of a cultural moment, it’s hard to sort it all out.
SUZANNE ROSS: Right, because it’s like the MeToo movement has sort of swung all the way to the other side where women had no voice at all, no credibility. Now, everything seems to be up for grabs, if you will, up for an accusation. To me, it’s swung too far the other way. As a woman who wants women to have a voice, I thought the voice was being too much of a victim identity thing coming out and too many accusations that, I think, weren’t parsed properly. Like you said, bad sex is different than…
DR. MATHA REINEKE: Sexual assault?
SUZANNE ROSS: Yeah, so, how do you tell the difference?
DR. MATHA REINEKE: I think it’s a really good point that you are making. If we say that anyone who speaks up must be believed, that is problematic. That makes, as you say, the perfect victim is someone who is perfectly a victim and is 100% to be believed. There have been comments to that effect in the past two weeks. I agree with you in some ways that suggests an absolute view on MeToo that’s problematic. I think the cure for that is to look at nuances. It’s easier for us to look at those nuances talking about something from 30 years ago than from talking about something that’s been in our own workplaces, for example, and trying to figure out that, those nuances. I think that it’s easier for us to say, what is the context in which this happened and were there opportunities for agency that would enable us to look and say this young woman had an opportunity to say no, to do this, to do that, and the other, and she is not taking responsibility for her own behavior. That’s very context specific and we see can see truly in the case of Ford she didn’t have those options. There was no place for blaming her for any of the things that happened to her. And that’s just legally statutory rape. There is a point of common recognition but it’s also very messy because we are trying to adjudicate in real time now, who do we believe, who we don’t believe. The kind of creation of perfect victims and perfect perpetrators that demonizes, depending on who’s side you are on, demonizes one or the other, that’s not going to be helpful.
SUZANNE ROSS: Yeah, and I think that part of the problem is the speed, that these things happened and the way we tend to, social media lets us pile on without really asking those questions. We want to be supportive, we want to be support victims because no one wants to be, you know, on the side of the perpetrator, but it takes time. In our conversation with James Alison two weeks ago, he was very much in the Catholic Church abuse scandals talking about, it’s painful to have to go slowly, to figure these things out. Victims are suffering and we have to solve this problems, but we can’t solve it fast. Not in a good way.
DR. MATHA REINEKE: I completely agree. One of our candidates last spring for governor on the Democratic side in Iowa, Nate Boulton, was written up in The Washington Post as someone with the promising national future. A month or so before the election of was accused by women, a couple of women, of being at a bar and the friend of Nate’s wife said that he had touched her inappropriately in a bar. Social media went into overdrive. Within days he was gone. There was another complaint that when he was in law school, he had also made inappropriate moves in a bar. For me, I was chastised because am part of indivisible in Iowa, so I wrote and said, whoa, if every woman whose best friend was touched inappropriately by her husband, when he is drunk, would have reported this to the Des Moines Register, the Des Moines Register would be 500 pages long. Because guys who are drunk make passes at their wives’ best friends. That’s just what happens. It’s boorish behavior but it’s not sexual assault. And the way you handle it is it’s you take him aside, and you say, if you ever do that again, I am going to tell your wife. End of story. If someone behaves boorishly at a party, making a pass at you, this is not the way that you get a date with me, stop it. If you say it in an appropriate way, the guy’s going to be humiliated. He is going to slink off and won’t do it again. My sense is that with just those two examples, a political career ended. It was the social media-driven demonization, without, I think, the facts to back it up. There is a real risk that social media can bring/do great things for justice, for the speed of communication. For example, the women who confronted Senator Flake in the elevator as CNN was covering that live, and, from what we understand, may have made a difference for him. That kind of speed, in that case, created a moment of social justice, but it also can create a mob. In mimetic theory, mobs do not think rationally.
SUZANNE ROSS: It was for me, that, I am glad you brought that up, because I am, you know a child… I was born in 1955 am a child, I raised as a good Catholic girl, and girls don’t get angry. We are very nice and polite and so I very much argghh, anger makes me scared and crazy. But I saw in that instance a very effective use of anger. It was controlled, it was very… on a particular issue and subject, and it was just like you saying, don’t approach me like that, look at me, don’t turn away, look. At first, I was a little traumatized and then I thought, oh my God, that was brilliant, a great use of anger. Anger all the time is not going to be effective but in that very targeted situation, I thought it was.
DR. MATHA REINEKE: In the whole look at me, I mean, our human connection to each other is eye to eye contact. It’s difficult to demonize the other when you are looking into their eyes. Now when you are looking at them more globally, I mean, Kavanaugh can look like a monster in his anger, but if it’s someone saying, look at my eyes and look at my pain, which that woman was doing, that’s a point of connection. That was a humanizing expression of anger rather than a dehumanizing expression of anger.
SUZANNE ROSS: It didn’t become contagious. Senator Flake didn’t mirror it, the anger. But what he did, he saw the pain that was motivating it. This to me was an incredible moment caught on tape. So, Adam, before we wrap up…
ADAM ERICKSEN: We’ve got a few comments. I want to get Mary’s in here because, Martie, your comments about this struck me, too. Mary says “I watched all day Thursday and much since then. Martha and Suzanne are providing undoubtedly the most helpful, the most helpful dialog, and I am learning a lot, ‘breaching the fundamental structure of the psyche’ what a phrase, absolutely”. Martha’s observation on Dr. Ford’s voice, this struck me, too, when you said this Martie, ‘I was struck by the high pitch that day and became used to it’, unsure what to make of this. Thank you, Martha, for explaining what maybe the reason”. I was also struck by this, too, because it was in another part of the comments. Somebody has said, ‘Oh she’s like talking like she is 15, so that makes it just performing”.
Mary bringing this up, that kind of opened it up for me, something about her stopped at 15, and so her voice being that way, might be a sign of credibility.
Susan says, “If am not mistaken the man you are speaking of Martie, the governor, is also an African American, which adds another layer to the situation”.
DR. MATHA REINEKE: No, no, the person I was speaking of isn’t.
SUZANNE ROSS: He is the comedian.
ADAM ERICKSEN: Aziz Ansari (Aziz Ansari is Indian American)
Mary says, “I, too, was frightened by Bret Kavanaugh’s temperament in the afternoon.” Susan says, “Yes, I totally agree with Mary.” Thank you for such a great conversation, yes, I agree too.
SUZANNE ROSS: Thank you for those comments everyone. If you want to go more deeply into what Martie was talking about trauma, and healing, and memory, especially. And that idea that traumatic event is about having survived and not knowing how, that’s explored in here in a wonderful way. Intimate Domain is the name of the book and I highly recommend it. It has a lot in here, too, about parent-child relationship, sibling relationships, because that’s the intimate domain of the family in which healing can take place. Martie, thank you so much for giving your time.
DR. MATHA REINEKE: It was so delightful. It is a serious topic, so am not delighted by the topic but the opportunity to share and think about it, sort it out. That was a great opportunity.
SUZANNE ROSS: Well I think give us a little quiet space, you gave us a little space to think and to reflect on our own emotional reactions to what we been seeing. Thank you very much. We are going to be watching the events as they unfold and we may have to bring you back again.
DR. MATHA REINEKE: That will be fine.
SUZANNE ROSS: Thank you very much, I appreciate it very much. Thanks again to the subscribers and we be in touch. Thanks, Martie.
DR. MATHA REINEKE: Thank you. Good evening.
SUZANNE ROSS: Bye-bye.
Siblings by Juliet Mitchell (strong/weak trauma)
Raewyn Connell – Australian sociologist who coined phrase toxic masculinity)
Educating Elites: Class Privilege and Educational Advantage edited by Adam Howard and Rubén A. Gaztambide-Fernandez, R. (Eds.). (2010). Howard cites Raising Cain in his book.
Raising Cain is by Dan Kindlon and Michael Thompson
Aziz Ansari (comedian) Original article in Babe by Kate Way I Went on a Date with Aziz Ansari. It Turned Into the Worst Night of My Life.
- The Humiliation of Aziz Ansari in the Atlantic by Caitlin Flanagan
- Aziz Ansari Is Guilty. Of Not Being a Mind Reader. in the New York Times by Bari Weiss