TIME’S UP! Until they wind back the clock.
Progress is a funny thing. I should know. As a designer, it’s my calling card–I make a living out of finding ways to change existing situations into preferred ones. The roads can be treacherous, our journeys long — but, in the end, the pursuit of progress is worth it.
Except, of course, when it isn’t. When all it takes is a few overly entitled men to set us back; to take a look at all we’ve achieved and, in a cold, cruel instant, declare “Nope. Time to start over.”
The following are some words I put together over the course of Sunday evening, October 7, in Sydney, Australia, several hours after news broke of Judge Brett Kavanaugh’s appointment to the Supreme Court of the United States.
Having spent the day feeling a sort of ‘pent-up anger’, to borrow a phrase, I found the process of writing to be somewhat cathartic. And as I continued, I felt compelled to share my voice and find allies in my indignation — if not on Capitol Hill, then at least in Microsoft Outlook.
So I clicked ‘Send’ on a company-wide email that would reach over 1,000 staff in almost 30 Fjord studios around the globe — and hoped that I hadn’t violated Accenture Policy 1002. Now, I share that very same email with you, and make known that my postings reflect my own views and do not necessarily represent the views of my employer. (I’ve read up on Policy 1461.)
As an aside: this also happens to be my very first published piece on Medium. And at no point did I envisage it being on a topic like this. But as a human first, and designer second, I can think of no other subject matter I’d prefer to devote my energy to. All I ask for now is 10 minutes of yours.
Hello dear Fjordians.
Earlier today, I woke up to the news that Judge Brett Kavanaugh, accused of sexual assault by Dr Christine Blasey Ford and other women, had been confirmed and sworn in as a justice to the highest court in the United States of America. And I’ve spent the entire day feeling distressed.
After weeks and months of keeping abreast of the details of this story, consuming breaking news and discussing opinion pieces from all sides, I spent the best part of today unable to read much at all — just whiling away the hours since I learnt of the decision in a restless, anxious, angry state that I struggled to let go of.
Yes, I’ve been told to — to not let it get to me. From those close to me, and even Mitch McConnell, US Senate Majority Leader, who said just this morning that “these things always blow over”.
But, in my most mindful of moments, I decided that I want it to affect me. I want it to affect all of us. To change us for good.
And so I send you this with that intent in mind, a look at this brutal passage in history that has shaken me to my core. As I wrote about all of it, I decided to write in detail, because what I’ve learnt of late is that not all of us have been so consumed by this as some of us.
I also wrote this with the intent that it soothes my soul, hopefully to the same extent that reading it fuels your passion. At the very least, sending this — as opposed to not sending it — felt like the right thing for me to do.
But, in my most mindful of moments, I decided that I want it to affect me. I want it to affect all of us. To change us for good.
So as to ruffle as few feathers as possible, I considered moving swiftly past the political dimension to all of it, to speak only of my concerns for society and equality and our humanity instead — but I can’t. I can’t draw such clean lines between everything. Life is more complex than that, and there are things that I believe need to be said, that I will stand behind, and you happen to be the most ‘captive’ audience I have.
I’m no arbiter of what’s appropriate to send, so I’ve decided to share this — with the belief that I’ve been able to tread that fine line between political correctness and freedom of speech.
Also know that any discomfort or disagreement you might experience as you read this — if you choose to read this — pales in comparison to the experiences of countless women these past few months.
The appointment of Kavanaugh has been a vicious political battle. But in a system where Supreme Court justices are selected and elected by the Executive and Legislative arms of government, it was always going to be — to one degree or another.
However, the flagrant, toxic partisanship on show has felt like the sort that could, and indeed has, chiselled away at the separation of powers. Even from the other side of the world, it’s been a frightful thing to witness, in a country that is a self-proclaimed ‘beacon of democracy’.
We’ve been schooled, especially by those looking to appoint Kavanaugh, that judges make decisions based on law and not policy, or political pressure.
But it was Kavanaugh who shed his judicial robes when he opened his hearing by referring to it as a “calculated and orchestrated political hit” by the angry left-wing, seeking revenge on behalf of the Clintons. He had previously warned Democrats that ‘what goes around comes around’ and, in his rage, as he claimed to be the victim of a left-wing conspiracy, he revealed his nomination as a right-wing political operation — and killed off any remaining hope that the highest court in the land might still be a non-partisan institution.
We shouldn’t be too surprised. The Senate Majority Leader has been on record as saying that “this project is the most important thing that the Senate could do for the country … Putting strict constructionists, relatively young, on the courts for lifetime appointments is the best way to have a long-term positive impact on America. And today is a seminal moment in that effort.”
Here and now, I’m not asking anyone to reconsider which side of the political divide you find a home in. I’m asking us to value the preservation of a balance of power. It’s important in the environments we work in, and even more important in the governments we place our trust in.
I’m also deeply disturbed by what seemed to be a sham of a process — and I reckon you should be too. Don’t be fooled into thinking that one had to find Kavanaugh guilty of what he was accused of in order to reject his appointment. The threshold is far lower than that.
As Senator Feinstein remarked, “this is not a trial of Dr Ford”. But nor was it a trial of Brett Kavanaugh. He is not facing punishment for a crime; just an assessment of whether he deserves a position that grants him power over the lives of all Americans. There’s no beyond reasonable doubt test, or consideration of the balance of probabilities, required.
Of course I uphold a presumption of innocence (despite the fact it’s being spouted by a party that still chants “lock her up” at presidential rallies).
But “Am I certain that he didn’t do it?” feels the more appropriate question to consider here.
And maybe even regardless of your answer to that, it should be asked: “Is he the best we’ve got at this moment in time?”
It does not matter that he is highly qualified — there is no shortage of highly qualified (conservative) justices waiting in the wings.
As Senator Feinstein remarked, “this is not a trial of Dr Ford”. But nor was it a trial of Brett Kavanaugh. He is not facing punishment for a crime; just an assessment of whether he deserves a position that grants him power over the lives of all Americans.
It’s also absurd that a hearing was forced to take place before any investigation into Dr Ford’s accusations. And when it did take place, it was severely limited in time and scope — even if you accept that it was undertaken honestly. The process did not appear to enable the truth to come to light, because those in charge of the process did not want it to. Instead, it shrouded America in a darkness.
Here and now, I’m not asking anyone to consider whether Brett Kavanaugh is guilty, in the criminal sense, of sexually assaulting Dr Christine Blasey Ford. I’m asking us to question whether the process — like any process we like to follow — was in service of the right questions and whether it was a due one, reliable and robust in seeking answers.
Putting the process aside, I also sit here, quite bemused, struggling to reconcile all that has gone on with the idea that Kavanaugh is fit to serve.
His anger is understandable, if he thinks he is a victim of mistaken identity. But, the way I see it, he went beyond anger during his hearing.
He indulged in anti-leftist rhetoric, referring to pent-up anger about Trump. He evaded questions, and sparred with a Senator about whether she had ever blacked out from drinking. Confronted with accusations against him, and the sort of examination he could rightfully expect, he chose rage over reason. He’s on the record as saying “to be a good judge and a good umpire, it’s important to have the proper demeanour”.
Wise words I don’t think he was able to live by.
And after all this, I struggle with the idea that any self-identified Democrat, or leftist, or sexual assault victim (or even any non-Republican) would get a fair go from Kavanaugh.
Here and now, I’m not asking anyone to consider whether they would’ve maybe acted similarly if they found themselves on trial. I’m asking us to consider, with hand on heart, whether Judge Kavanaugh is the right leader for a job that demands independence, impartiality and fairness.
But what scares me most of all, politically, is that I’ve seen what untamed power can accomplish.
I feel it’s brought into disrepute the credibility of the highest court by demonstrating that fury and insults represent no barrier to serving.
I feel it’s hardened the resolve of a party backed by entitled, old, white men — one that now surely holds the title of ‘America’s most elite fraternity’.
And I feel it’s widened the already sizeable gap between the political majority and the minorities, by cementing the message that there is nothing a straight, white man can do, no matter how big or small, that is enough to discredit himself, especially if he comes with an elevated status.
Just think about that, long and hard.
Such forces, of course, have ramifications beyond the political sphere.
A year has passed since #MeToo represented the birth of a global reckoning.
And it’s taken just one year for the fall of powerful men to be met with their resurrection. It has moved me, if only temporarily, to a state of desperation and pure deflation. And fear — I’m fearful about what we’ve learnt and of what is to come.
There is nothing a straight, white man can do, no matter how big or small, that is enough to discredit himself, especially if he comes with an elevated status.
Just think about that, long and hard.
I’m fearful for Dr Christine Blasey Ford.
There seems to be little doubt, in the minds of those who witnessed her testimony, that she is credible. More than that, she presented as the sole image of grace and dignity throughout the most turbulent of proceedings.
Science, too, says she is to be believed — citing that one of the few types of memory that gets preserved instantly is that which is caused by trauma. Indeed, I can’t really imagine how Dr Ford could have created a false, or fake, memory of the assault — but I can pretty easily imagine that Kavanaugh would have no real reason to remember the incident.
Kavanaugh’s reward for denying the accusations is a lifetime appointment to the Supreme Court; Dr Ford’s ‘reward’ sees her and her family put at great risk, and her way of life, even mental state, potentially damaged forever. Just ask Anita Hill.
Here and now, I’m not asking you to join the chorus of those that say she is unequivocally telling the truth. I’m asking us to empathise with her, with what she’s already gone through and with what she is yet to face. With that compassion, craft her a short message, a postcard, a letter of support and send it to:
Dr Christine Blasey Ford
c/o Palo Alto University
1791 Arastradero Road
Palo Alto, CA 94304
I’m also fearful for sexual assault victims everywhere.
Just as the gay rights movement empowered millions of gay people, one-by-one, to come out of the closet, masses of women who have suffered sexual assault are starting to tell those close to them and make their voices heard.
But just as they are finally mustering the courage to speak their unspeakable truths, they are told they are believable — without actually being believed.
It’s even worse than that — they’ve learnt that they can come forward, undergo the trauma of a public hearing, ward off social media abuse and even death threats, and suffer mockery and mimicry at the hands of the President, only to find it all counts for nothing.
We shouldn’t wonder why victims don’t report rapes.
And we shouldn’t wonder why only a small minority of those reported end up in convictions — because only a small minority end up with investigations in the first place.
I guess we’ll now be wondering whether these paltry numbers are set to decline even further.
Here and now, I’m not asking you to provide rationales as to why sexual assault victims should come forward earlier. I’m asking us to simply communicate to all the women (and men, and those who don’t identify as either) in our lives that “I am here for you, I will listen to you and #ibelieveyou”.
I’m fearful for women — seen, as they have been for centuries, as being at fault for men’s sins.
Ever since Eve offered Adam an apple, women have been unfairly, and at times despicably, depicted as temptresses, more liable for the acts of men than men themselves.
Just as women are finally mustering the courage to speak their unspeakable truths, they are told they are believable — without actually being believed.
The extension of such thinking is that men can get away with more, driving a behaviour that seeks to test the limits and do just that. Of course, I’m not speaking of specific men, or all men, but just the male species in the general.
Such behaviour has seen women adapt to this context, employing a host of strategies to minimise the risk of sexual assault. When asked by social researcher Jackson Katz what they did on a daily basis to avoid being sexually assaulted, men and women answered in the following ways:
It’s an awful world where women need to do all this, and act this vigilantly, but still suffer sexual assault.
It’s an even worse world where these same women finally speak up, but get told “we believe you, we just don’t care”. And that might just be the world we now inhabit. The message out of these past few weeks seems to be that the patriarchy will limit women’s voices. Their next conquest will be to limit women’s choices.
Here and now, I’m not asking you to defend yourself and proclaim that you would never come close to engaging in sexual assault, or to blaming something on a woman. I’m asking us to understand and legitimise what the female experience is like today, so we can start to act in ways, however big or small, that move us towards a future where female fears of this sort do not exist.
And finally, I’m fearful of men.
For starters, the smearing of Kavanaugh’s accusers shows that a good chunk of men automatically assume that women are liars — especially if they accuse a well-connected man in a position of power. Women have probably known this all along, but I’m just finding out.
I’ve also learnt that too many men are too full of empathy for alleged perpetrators and too short of empathy for victims. Maybe they can’t imagine what it’s like to be a victim of sexual assault because they’ve never tried.
Well I want you to try, damnit.
But I’m not just scared of who men have been, but who they might now become. Told by the President that they are the ones most at risk, facing a “scary and difficult time”, I shudder to think what a group with so much power, acting on the belief that they are marginalised, feels driven to do.
Yes, this is what I fear most: toxic masculinity, male supremacy, the ‘pernicious patriarchy’.
A force that tells girls and women that they can try (and fail) to seek protection and equality, at all cost to them. And tells boys and men that the might of the USA will protect them, no matter what, at no cost to them.
A force that sees men but also women, like Senator Susan Collins, betray women everywhere because they put their own proximity to privilege and power above all else.
A force that threatens to blame, shame, disbelieve and discredit women (and anyone that doesn’t fit its mould) for as long as it exists — for lifetimes.
You might think it took some courage (or huge amounts of hurt, or maybe even stupidity) for me to send this email.
But it takes far, far more courage for women survivors of sexual assault to keep coming forward, and for women everywhere to simply keep showing up.
And it will also take courage for men to stand up to this patriarchy — to a system that has birthed them, nurtured them, protected them.
And so here and now, I’m asking us all to do just that.
To chisel away at male supremacy, even if it means you end up distancing yourself from privilege.
To peg back, or at the very least refuse to engage in, ‘bro’ culture.
To make your voice heard when you hear something disparaging said of women, or of anyone, by men in positions of power.
To stand up to predatory men and bring to light their behaviour, where previously it was relegated to networks of whispers within the workplace and beyond.
And to protect and applaud anyone who does these things, so as to encourage more to do the same.
Designing the future we want to live in starts with mindful, purposeful actions today, and every day.
So far, the wave of private responses from Fjordians around the world has been incredibly touching.
If I took a small step towards living our value of Bold (maybe recklessly so), they’ve certainly been more than Generous — both in their gratitude, but also in their vulnerability, opening themselves up to past hurt so we can all move forward together.