Empowered: to be or not to be
As I watched and subsequently read through Christine Blasey Ford’s account of being attacked by a drunken teenager when she was 15, I could not help but shiver. Especially upon hearing/reading that at first someone pushed her from behind into a bedroom, and later the attacker held a hand over her mouth to prevent her from screaming.
From the online literature I was able to access, I determined that she had a narrow escape from a fate far worse than a physical assault. Nonetheless, her quivering voice and nervous demeanour marked the burden of the terror and trauma she continuously carries with her.
Ford’s descriptions and emotions resonated with many, as women of all ages came forward on social media and news channels to describe their experiences of similar and more grievous sexual attacks.
If the #MeToo was not compelling enough, the issues surrounding the Kavanaugh hearing certainly illustrate the length and breadth of sexual offences against women of all colour, class and race in various stages of their lives, by men of all colour, class and race in various stages of their lives.
It seems to me that more women have encountered being assailed, than not. Therefore, when Brett Kavanaugh’s daughter said of Ford, “We should pray for the woman”, I wholeheartedly agreed. Not only for Ford, but for other victims of sexual assaults, and nonvictims too, as I feel no one is immune.
It is not all doom and gloom though. The UN General Assembly this year, which coincided with the Kavanaugh hearing, boasted an impressive presence of highly accomplished women. The Assembly programmed women’s rights as the foremost priority, thereby not only acknowledging that women may lead in governance, but that gender equality has yet to be realised in many parts of the globe.
In this paradoxically complex world we live in, the narratives of women’s empowerment intermittently intersect with the narratives of sexual assaults, as in the case of Ms Ford and countless others whose names and faces we shall never know. And it is such women that I admire.
Take Ms Ford, a research psychologist and professorwith impressive academic qualifications,married with two children, and a diver too. As the prosecutor questioned her, she admitted to a dread of flying, yet she travelled via airplanes to a number of destinations outside the US for her love of diving.
I concluded from her testimony that the attack she experienced at 15 was psychologically debilitating, and her participation in the Kavanaugh hearing is likely to magnify her trauma, as she received death threats, was harassed, and was forced to relocate from her home (it is unclear what those threats were and exactly why).
Ms Ford is representative of the many women who have experienced a spectrum of physical assaults, and as a result been scarred with lifelong apprehension and anxiety. Yet, they have progressed on to becoming accomplished and active members of society;they chose not to pander to their trepidations, they chose not to remain disempowered.
Whether we see it through the structuralist or the subjectivist lens, the path to empowerment will involve overcoming shame and managing fears. We would do well to take our cues from the likes of Ms Ford.
Chintamoni grew up in Dhaka, where she will always belong, but never quite fit in. She is an enthusiastic traveller, a compulsive procrastinator, and a contumelious raconteur.