On being … a civics lesson

By Ingrid Sapona

When news broke that a woman accused Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh of sexual assault, there was wide-spread speculation about her motivation. I wasn’t concerned about her motivation for coming forward, I just thought she was crazy. After all, though Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s a few years younger than me, she’s old enough to remember how Anita Hill was treated before the same committee. (Talk about déjà vu – though the Clarence Thomas confirmation hearing was over a quarter century ago – some of the male senators who were on the committee back then are still on it.)

On Thursday, Dr. Ford testified under oath before the Senate judiciary committee and she addressed the issue of her motivation head on. In her opening statement, Ford said that she came forward because she felt it was her civic duty to make public this information about someone who may be appointed (for life) to the Supreme Court. After noting that she was terrified to be there testifying, Ford then carefully, and in detail, described the sexual assault and the lasting impact it’s had on her life.

Like many watching, I admired Ford’s bravery and poise under stress. Most people would have a hard time talking about such a painful experience in private, to people who aren’t there to judge you. Imagine being willing to tell it to a room full of people who are sceptical, if not outright antagonistic. Despite assurances from people like Senator Dianne Feinstein that Dr. Ford was not on trial, given that she was under oath, had to hire lawyers, and was questioned by a seasoned prosecutor, I’ll bet it felt like it to her.

Dr. Ford’s willingness to put herself (and her family) through the whole thing speaks to her both character and her belief in the importance of the Supreme Court. In coming forward, Dr. Ford may not have swayed members of Congress about whether Kavanaugh’s past behaviour makes him unqualified to sit on the Supreme Court, but she reminded women that victimization is perpetuated, in part, through silence. In an era when ego and self-interest trump everything else (no pun intended), the idea of a civic duty is so rare that it’s remarkable and that it sets an example that I so wish everyone will learn from.

Of course, Ford’s behaviour was not the only lesson delivered on Thursday. Judge Kavanaugh’s and Senator Graham’s bombast, fury, antagonism, and blaming also set an example to men and women around the world. They made it loud and clear to everyone that when a man is called on to answer questions about his behaviour vis-à-vis women, he should come out swinging. And, if he does, odds are that other powerful men will come to their defense to keep women in their place, if not quiet.

But, the clearest lesson of the whole two-day affair was delivered on Friday by two sexual assault victims who stopped Senator Jeff Flake in an elevator. Ana Maria Archila said to Flake, “I have two children. I cannot imagine that for the next 50 years, they will have to have someone in the Supreme Court who has been accused of violating a young girl. What are you doing, sir?” That encounter apparently helped Flake see the light and at least lobby for further investigation, which is better than nothing. (He could have voted against allowing Kavanaugh’s name to go to the full Senate, but he didn’t.)

Regardless of the outcome of the FBI investigation into the questions raised by Ford’s testimony, the underlying civics questions remains: is Kavanaugh suited for the Supreme Court? For the answer to that, we need look no further than to Kavanaugh himself. On Thursday he showed his true colours under pressure. He was belligerent, pompous, and partisan.

Dr. Christine Blasey Ford thought it was her civic duty to raise concerns about Kavanaugh’s suitability to become a Supreme Court justice. I guess now we’ll see what the Senators make of their civic duty regarding who they allow to sit on the highest court in the land.

© 2018 Ingrid Sapona


On being … able to

I’m sure you heard about Cosby show actor (Geoffrey Owens) who was working at a grocery store when a shopper recognized him a couple weeks ago and snapped a picture of him. But that wasn’t all she did. She then shared the photos on the Internet. It’s not clear to me whether she posted them on regular social media (like Facebook), or whether she sent them to so-called celebrity websites, though she says no one paid her for the photos. In any event, shortly after she posted the pictures, a UK tabloid ran them and interviewed her about them.

To start, the idea of intentionally taking a stranger’s photo is really odd to me. It’s one thing if you’re taking a photo of something and there are anonymous people in the picture. That’s innocent enough – kind of like seeing someone walking on the street in a Google Earth photo. But to surreptitiously take a photo and then post it, you have to wonder why?

I realize that, thanks to cell phone cameras, taking pictures is a regular thing. And I know that people post all sorts of things on-line. Indeed, that was basically the rationale given by Karma Lawrence, the woman who took the photos and posted them. She said, “I figure everybody does it.” My immediate reaction was that her mother probably never chided her about not jumping off a bridge just because all your friends are doing it.

Anyway, after the initial “shock” that a once well-known actor was working in a grocery store got out there, the focus of the story shifted to Karma and her intent in posting the photos. Lots of people accused her of “job shaming”, which she denied.

By the end of the week, the tawdry tale ended up as a good news story, of sorts. Owens took the high road throughout the kerfuffle. He politely explained (not that it was anyone’s business) that he took the job because he needed to pay bills and support his family and because it offered the flexibility for him to go to auditions and the like. He also stressed the dignity of honest work, regardless of the pay or the status. A few days later, word came that he accepted a role on Tyler Perry’s TV show. So, all’s well that ends well, at least for Mr. Owens, so it seems.

The most ironic twist of the whole tale doesn’t relate to Mr. Owens. It relates to, Ms. Lawrence – Karma – and the fact that she seemed surprised by the backlash and nasty comments directed at her. After the incident, she was quoted as complaining, “So much hate. So much nastiness. Oh, it’s been terrible”. (I guess her mother never told her that what goes around comes around… Perhaps she figured naming her Karma would be enough of a hint.)

The reason I wanted to write about this story is because of what I think it says about normalized behaviour. Actually, I was going to say “acceptable behaviour”, but that’s what I think the problem is. I’m concerned about behaviour that’s questionable – or wrong – but that people feel comfortable doing because it’s somehow become acceptable.

I jokingly commented that it seemed Karma’s mother never warned her about not following her friends off a bridge, but that really speaks to simply avoiding the herd mentality. Though that’s clearly at play, what concerns me more is that there’s no shame in shaming people.

More and more these days, people’s behaviour is governed simply by what they are able to do (like taking a photo and posting it). It seems people don’t stop and ask themselves whether what they’re about to do is right or wrong, or what the repercussions might be – to others or to themselves even. (Hence the surprise Karma Lawrence had about, well, the law of Karma.) 

And, with the president of the Unites States exhibiting no impulse control and relentlessly engaging in bullying, shaming, defaming, and mocking people, countries, and institutions, it seems more and more people feel empowered to follow suit. Indeed, I think that’s the legacy from the Trump years that will do the most damage.

Maybe all those folks who support Trump, or who dare not contradict him, figure that eventually the law of Karma will catch up to him too. I imagine it will, but between now and when that happens, I wish people would remember that just because you can say or do something, it doesn’t mean you should.

© 2018 Ingrid Sapona