By Mark Vander Vennen
I am writing these lines three days after the explosive testimony by Dr. Christine Blasey Ford and Judge Brett Kavanaugh before the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee on September 27, 2018, regarding an alleged sexual assault and sexual misconduct by Judge Kavanaugh as a high school student. I do not yet know the outcome of the possible appointment of Judge Kavanaugh to the U.S. Supreme Court. One day later the decision to initiate an investigation by the FBI was made, in part due to the confrontation of two sexual assault survivors with Senator Jeff Flake. Two days earlier, on September 25, 2018, Bill Cosby was sentenced to prison because of sexual assault.
I do not wish to reprise or capture all of the extensive media coverage of both events, or to repeat what commentators have said. I have written previously about two earlier high-profile events of gendered, sexual violence—the Gomeshi trial and the Dalhousie Dentistry School scandal—both of which were precursors to the #MeToo movement, and I will not reiterate what I’ve written there.
Instead, I want to focus on a profound dynamic that I think the #MeToo movement is generating, one that has been powerfully demonstrated by the testimony of both Ford and Kavanaugh.
I am struck by how electrified people were from all across the political spectrum in the United States, not to mention in Canada and around the world, as they listened to and watched the testimony by Ford and Kavanaugh. Not since the U.S. Senate Watergate hearings (every minute of which I watched on TV, as a young person in Chicago), it seems to me, have people in the U.S. been so transfixed. One reporter happened to be on a flight during Dr. Ford’s testimony. He wrote, “16A: Crying. 14B: Crying. 17C: Weeping.”
What is going on here?
The morning of the testimony, a Fox television news anchor, Chris Wallace, said on air that, like many American families, his family was discussing Dr. Blaise Ford coming forward at the Kavanaugh confirmation hearings, and their discussion led two of his daughters to disclose, for the first time to their family, their own stories of what happened to them in high school a number of years earlier. Wallace added, “Certainly they never reported it to the police.” His conclusion: we need to take the testimony of Dr. Ford seriously.
His story (and that of his daughters) is a perfect emblem of the theme I wish to highlight, and I know of no better way of doing it than to quote Jesus: “there is nothing hidden that will not be disclosed, and nothing concealed that will not be known or brought out into the open” (Luke 8:17). There is an apocalyptic dynamic of disclosure of secrets happening, a dynamic that is riveting and destabilizing.
What do I mean by “apocalyptic?” In popular understanding the word “apocalypse” has been terribly deformed to mean something like “cataclysm at the end times.” The actual meaning of the word is “unveiling.” It means the unveiling or disclosure or “revelation” of a truth that has been hidden, held secret. That is what has been happening as a result of the #MeToo movement: stories and experiences of victimization and perpetration are being unveiled, are coming into the open. And that also means that the hidden machinations of violent power are being exposed, and thus weakened, because they can be sustained only if they are kept secret.
That is the hint or nuance of “apocalypse” that many people are sensing today, with the cascade of disclosures, stories told with fear and trembling, the repeated unveilings of a sordid, deeply destructive pattern. What we know of how the world works is crumbling. It’s falling apart. That means that an “end” of something is coming. Much too late for far too many people. And much too incomplete right now. As former U.S President Jimmy Carter, Nobel Peace Prize laureate and evangelical Christian, has recently said in a TED Talk, “Without any equivocation… the number one abuse of human rights on earth… is the abuse of women and girls.”
In the face of that, however, what is hidden is courageously being disclosed, and what is concealed is being brought into the open. Survivors, indeed all of us, long for the day when all that is hidden will be revealed, because then the machinations of power will be rendered fully impotent. Justice and peace may have a chance then. The unveilings may be unsettling, even terrifying. But because of the promise they contain, I thank God—and the courageous people of the #MeToo movement—for this apocalyptic moment.
Mark Vander Vennen, MA, M.Ed, R.S.W. is Executive Director of the Shalem Mental Health Network.