Only a woman can write this


Perhaps not even any woman, but a “survivor”. I can imagine the howls of outrage if Lionel Shriver was male (she’s not, despite the first name). Instead, there will simply be howls of outrage about her being a heretic who has internalised misogyny:

Purportedly, at age 15, Ford was pushed into a bedroom at a teenage gathering by two boys. One laid on top of her and began ‘running his hands’ over her body and ‘grinding into’ her. She yelled, and he put a hand over her mouth. The other boy sat down on the mattress twice. She escaped to a bathroom across the hall.

Although the dump-Trump media all reference this incident as ‘attempted rape’, nothing in Ford’s account substantiates that her assailant had any such intention. She was afraid she’d be raped, and that part, for a young girl, is likely true. However briefly, she was also afraid she’d be killed — I’ll barely buy that — but nobody tried to murder her, and they didn’t. The boys locked the bedroom door, but on the inside; she was not locked in. While Ford claims Kavanaugh tried to remove her clothes, he didn’t. Her testimony doesn’t cite so much as a strap being tugged off her shoulder. If she escaped from two older boys, they weren’t trying very hard to detain her. The boys’ laughter at her expense would certainly have felt painful; nevertheless: welcome to high school. Finally, given how little actually went down, that experience probably lasted all of two minutes.

Now, I wouldn’t call that an account of nothing. One recent loss I rue is our ability to categorise any sexual indignity in the medium range. It either didn’t happen at all, or it was the most horrifying defilement in the history of the universe.

Still, I am baffled why this abbreviated encounter would traumatise anyone so intensely for the following four years that it gets the blame for poor academic performance and chronically dysfunctional relationships with men. Nor do I understand being ‘haunted’ by it for decades thereafter, and suffering as a result from ‘anxiety, phobia, PTSD-like symptoms’, ‘claustrophobia’ and ‘panic’ into one’s fifties.

Droves of Democrats have hailed Ford as a hero for her courage as a ‘survivor’. But I fear the deferent and visibly fragile academic with a high, mousy voice makes a lousy role model for young women today, who are too often fed the message that weakness is their greatest strength.
Everyone is differently wired and will therefore respond differently when put in a particular situation. I imagine the range of responses follows a bell curve of sorts, with the majority clustered around a “typical” response, and then fewer outliers, who for whatever number of reasons will react in unusual ways.
When I was reading Ford’s testimony, I confess to pondering how on Earth have the hundreds of millions of people who survived wars, occupations, totalitarian regimes, natural and man-made disasters, extreme privation and other traumatic events, which seem to be a common human lot, particularly in the less developed and less fortunate parts of the world, managed to get through and somehow live afterwards? I can well imagine concentration camp survivors being haunted by their experiences for the rest of their lives and frontline soldiers suffering PTSD after weeks under fire and seeing their friends die gruesome deaths, but are we perhaps becoming significantly less resilient in the West that an event such Ford has allegedly experienced appear to be life-destroying? This is not to excuse what happened to Ford – if it did happen – or to excuse this sort of behaviour generally. But Shriver is surely right to write that

Collectively, then, Ford’s culture has encouraged her not to put that incident in perspective and get on with her life, but to treat the assault as a precious commodity — as a means of commanding sympathy and special treatment, and as a source of identity. No wonder the experience of being pinned to a mattress has loomed only larger in her mind through the years, when across those same years both the news and the arts have been consumed with sexual victimhood.

Hey, I have my own sexual abuse story, and it’s way worse than Christine Ford’s. You’ll have to take my word for it — or not — because it’s my business. But it irks me to feel obliged to trot out my Official Abused Person credentials, without which I’ve apparently no right to pass comment. The last year, that’s been the take-away: every woman needs a tale of sexual violation to secure standing. No ‘survival’, and you have to shut up.

But I do have standing. Thus I can testify that what happened to me does not haunt my adulthood unduly, does not explain all my problems, and did not result in a host of ineradicable neuroses. I don’t mean that others who still battle demons as a consequence of sexual trauma simply need to suck it up. I mean only to establish that moving on is possible, and to suggest that we start celebrating resilience as well as baring our scars.

We need to try to chart a middle course between an attitude that ignores or downplays negative experiences and one that privileges eternal victimhood. Neither is healthy for the individuals affected and the broader society.