“For a woman to come to come forward in the glaring lights of focus, nationally, you’ve got to start off with the presumption that at least the essence of what she’s talking about is real.” Presidential candidate, Joe Biden, shared these words in defense of Dr. Christine Blasey Ford during the Brett Kavanaugh hearings of 2018. Biden also said, “what should happen is the woman should be given the benefit of the doubt and not be, you know, abused again by the system.” But what happens when this champion of the “Believe Women” movement now faces sexual assault allegations of his own, and why has Latin’s response to these accusations differed so drastically from its response to Kavanaugh’s accusations?
As Latin continues to encourage discourse throughout the school, this topic is unavoidable. In Honors American Politics, students engaged in thoughtful and analytical conversation surrounding Kavanaugh’s accusations. That said, the gravity of the situation was not lost on members of the class. Ms. Gallagher, the teacher of the class says, “given the nature of the allegations and the potential to trigger sexual assault victims with unstructured discussions, I planned more deliberate and methodical discussions for students to ultimately have with each other.”
However, Biden’s accusations went undiscussed in the class. “Given the news about the allegations against Biden picked up with greater speed after school closed for the COVID outbreak, we did not get a chance to discuss them in any of my classes,” Ms. Gallagher says. She brings up an important element of these circumstances: timing. It is possible that Biden is getting less media attention because the consumer is overwhelmed with news of coronavirus, while Kavanaugh’s hearing was in the height of the #MeToo movement. From Ms. Gallagher’s perspective, “this amplified national discord that had reached a fever pitch by the fall of 2018, when Justice Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearings began.”
Like Honors American Politics, Latin’s Alliance for Women has offered a safe space for these discussions to be had. One of LAW’s heads, Lulu Ruggiero, says “last year in LAW, we discussed Dr. Ford’s testimony, [but] both this year and last year, we have tried not to politicize the space.” Nonetheless, Ruggiero feels that LAW did not have the opportunity to facilitate discourse surrounding Biden’s allegations. She says, “while we didn’t have a conversation surrounding Tara Reade’s allegations, I know that there would be differences between the two conversations.” The “differences” she describes are related to the legal proceedings that have followed each accusation.
“Both Reade and Ford’s allegations are extremely serious, but the process of adjudicating such claims, as of now, for Biden and Kavanaugh are very different,” she explains.
Ruggiero also details the dilemma that arises in this matter when considering female rights issues throughout Trump’s first term as president. “I believe Kavanaugh faced more scrutiny because many people realize—including the feminist organizations that I follow—that if Biden suspends or discontinues his campaign as a result of the sexual misconduct allegation,” she adds, “there could be tightened restrictions on abortion and birth control, fewer government-funded programs that benefit women and our health.”
As Ruggiero noted, Biden and Kavanaugh have experienced dissimilar reactions from the population. Perhaps this is because Biden and Kavanaugh responded to the accusations against them in such contrasting ways. When confronted with these allegations, Biden said “women have a right to be heard and the press should rigorously investigate their claims.” Even as the Democratic nominee was faced with claims of sexual assault, he maintained his “Believe Women” stance, or perhaps he maintained more of a “Hear Women” stance. Although he defends his innocence, Biden urges the public not to disregard the allegations, rather to assess their validity for themselves. On the other hand, Kavanaugh replied to accusations against him with hints of anger. He said, “this whole two-week effort has been a calculated and orchestrated political hit.” Biden’s response was applauded by many Americans, while Kavanaugh’s fared less favorable.
Maeve Healy, a Discourses editor, says “quite simply, both the Democratic and Republican parties have been hypocritical in these situations.” When the public learned of the allegations raised against the conservative Brett Kavanaugh, many liberals assumed his guilt immediately. Yet when Biden, a Democrat, was accused of sexual assault, many assumed his innocence. “The way these situations have been dealt with in the media and in the government totally compromises the values of the two parties,” Healy adds. Such a scenario forces many to consider the relationship between their individual morals and political affiliation.
There is no doubt that the country is polarized when it comes to politics–is this the reason that one accused man, in the eyes of the media, is more guilty than another accused man? If this is the case, America is far less progressive than it appears. The issue of sexual assault is greater than the power struggle between opposing political parties. Despite the accused, both allegations should be considered equally significant. Ruggiero says, “I encourage everyone to question why they might not support Reade, even when they applauded Dr. Ford.”
This story was originally published on The Forum on May 9, 2020.