Dr. Ford’s voice sounded about like that of a fifteen-year-old. High and cautious. If you closed your eyes, you might’ve thought it had a little girl quality. Grown women who speak in high, girlish voices used to be a pet peeve of mine. “Use your big girl voice!” I would yell at the T.V. as I watched yet another twenty-three-year old model try to portray a convincingly hard-boiled homicide detective. But after years of teaching, and observing people struggle with trying to improve, strengthen, or change their voices, I know it’s not so simple. For example, breathing is important to vocal training, but if someone isn’t taking a good, deep breath, there’s a reason, and sometime that reason has to do with sexual boundaries that have been violated.
“Breathing should be so low, you can’t talk about it in public,” said the great Wagnerian Birgit Nilsson, referring to what we singers call “releasing the perineum,” which means to let all the muscles of your groin relax as you inhale, so that the organs of the lower abdomen can move downward, allowing the lungs to fill up entirely. But victims of sexual assault can have real difficulty breathing in that way, because there is, as method actors describe it, “emotional memory stored in those muscles.”
So I heard Dr. Ford, with her multiple masters degrees, sounding about fifteen, and I thought immediately, “Yes, this happened.”
It is a scary thing to step forward and tell one’s story in public. That’s why public speaking is one of the most commonly held phobias. But by saying “something” happened to her, these men, and some women, are using an eraser. They’re trying to edit her story. Why? So they can still get what they want, yes. But also so they can keep their old ways of defining the world. They are not yet willing to pay the price of changing their lives to really incorporate the newly revealed information, because it is too inconvenient, unwieldy, and frightening.
Perhaps we as a country are ready to believe the reality that one in six women will be sexually assaulted in their lifetime, (and that is a low estimate.) But perhaps we are not, as a society, ready to believe what that truly means: that some very high percentage of men in our society are, or have been, sexual predators. And furthermore, that some of those predators wear suits, have law degrees, and went to elite prep schools. Some of them are polite in society, respectful to those in power, and have “many women friends.” Some of them, in fact, look just like Brett Kavanaugh.
Dr. Ford’s story showed us that truth. But what about her "voice" in the larger sense? I believe Dr. Ford’s demeanor and methodology have much to teach us. Her physical voice was small, and quiet. But also her manner was submissive, and by some she was criticized, as if acceding to the wishes of the senators as far as when to take breaks, for example, was a further sign of victimization. But I don’t see it that way. Not everyone who is traumatized transforms that trauma into wisdom. She did. As a victim of violence, she educated herself about human psychology, and seems to have learned how to become a completely unaggressive person, practicing something like what psychologist Marshall Rosenberg called non-violent communication, making very clear “I” statements, while also being interested and respectful to what those around her had to say.
Many years ago, my Dad testified before the Senate Judiciary committee, offering evidence about Judge Rehnquist. Dad is a trial lawyer, of the fighting Irish variety, and he and Orrin Hatch really got into it. I was proud of him. And still am. But neither Dad nor Dr. Ford were able to slow much less stop the steamroller, but I don’t fault them for it. You can’t win when the game is rigged. We need to change the game. And lost in the shuffle of “he said, she said,” Dr. Ford showed us a way to do that. So today I’m proud of Dr. Ford, for not getting into it with those men. For bringing her story forth, and sharing it fully, yes, but also for negotiating the practicalities of the day -the breaks, the beverages, all procedural specifics- in such a way that they brooked no argument. Indeed, at the end of her testimony, many pundits thought it was over for Kavanaugh, because when someone engages in non-violent communication like that, it’s virtually impossible to argue with them without looking like a jerk. So the Senate republican men had to wait till she was out of the room to make their case.
And when they did, they won. But they were wrong. History will show they were wrong, and those who are educated about sexual assault know right now that they were wrong. Someday, when society as a whole has faced more of the reality of how and why people commit violence, Kavanaugh’s lack of self control and belittling of Senate authority will be considered “corroborative evidence” that he has an aggressive, entitled temperament, and we will not be moved or pitying that he, as all perpetrators do, sees himself as a victim. We will understand that all of those things make it entirely likely that he could be a capable of something like this. Vocally, he whined, he cried, he yelled, he mumbled, he stuttered. He made all manner of uninhibited, unattractive sounds. (As many memes pointed out, if a black man or white woman had put on a show like that, the straight jackets would have been waiting at the door.) Some say he was coached, but as a voice coach I can tell you, you can’t coach somebody that quick. He had that in him, ready to go. He felt entitled to show that range of feelings, trained over decades the same way everyone's vocal habits are created. He spoke with a complete lack of inhibition, the way one does among friends. Despite his complaints of conspiracy, those in charge of that day were his buddies. He was emboldened to behave like a jackass, perhaps as he was once was in the company of Mark Judge.
Some people found the horror stories that emerged in other accusations too far-fetched. I didn’t. I personally have met two women who were gang raped. (Yes, I say they were gang raped, not that they told me they were gang raped. Do we ever qualify people’s experiences as much as we do about sexual assault? Do we ever say, “I met someone who says they went to Costa Rica, or who said they got mugged once when they were in high school?)
One of the women did not remember the incident for many years, and then, when she began to remember, became a writer to grapple with her own story. One of them, a very young woman gang raped by a bunch of guys at a drunken party, had a complete mental breakdown immediately after the experience, and required hospitalization in a psych ward.
Courage and honesty are contagious. Women like these exist in great number. Their stories are out there, and the lid is off. The senators can “plough right through” all they like. But someday, perhaps some day soon, we will know more about these women, and the men who attacked them. This may come about through activism, but also through the most fundamental human act of story telling.
Khaled Hosseini, author of The Kite Runner and other novels, said in a recent interview, “We need to be invited into the lives of others,” adding, “Stories remain our best teachers of empathy.”
So when I say “Remember Dr. Ford,” I mean remember her story. And I don’t just mean the story of a fifteen-year-old girl being viciously attacked at a party. (Do you quibble with my use of the word “viciously”? Remember, they locked the door.)
I’m sorry if this is too graphic. I’m sorry if it shocks you. It has been a horrific few weeks, and many of us are shocked, traumatized, and retraumatized. I believe Brett Kavanaugh was traumatized. Having his worst behavior, something he’d locked away long ago, perhaps not even remembered, come back in such a public way would undoubtedly be traumatizing. But what shocked us this week will someday not shock us. It will grieve us. It will inspire us. It will motivate us. Christine Blasey Ford’s story -of a woman who came forward and faced the loss of everything to help move the country in a direction of fairness and truth- her story, and the way she came forward to tell it, can help us to own up to every part of us.
Stories like Dr. Ford’s bring us closer to understanding and accepting the entirety of our human experience, and move us towards the day when we are all allowed to show every one of our myriad emotions. Brett Kavanaugh didn’t watch Dr. Ford’s testimony, and frankly, it’s his loss. Her testimony, for anyone who cared to listen, was a transmission of bravery. Perhaps it didn’t go well for her. Perhaps we didn’t “win” this battle. But she did it. She told her story. And she will be remembered for it. Kin of Rosa Parks. Ghandi. And Joan of Arc.
For those who emerged from this week feeling discouraged, please bear in mind, the campfire circle is more ready than ever for us to gather. Some day all of us will be allowed to tell our stories and sound as we feel. Someday, we will listen deeply to one another’s stories and not feel threatened, even when they come out of mouths that are black, brown, female, transgender, disabled, or in some way "other." And when that happens, our voices will change. They will be high, low, loud, soft, and everything in between.
And when that day comes, we will all take a very...deep...breath.
#resist #Ibelievesurvivors #IbelieveChristine