Don’t Let Jeff Flake Make Himself The Hero Of These Women’s Stories

While the story of Kavanaugh’s confirmation is relatively unique, it has some familiar beats. An entitled, privileged man is accused of sexual misconduct and denies the charges, a survivor bares her soul in public simply asking for the benefit of the doubt, the man plays the victim and complains he’s being treated unfairly. Stories are shared, details are scrutinized, credibility is debated. Lather, rinse, repeat.

In the background of this numbingly familiar cycle is a chorus of women who share their own wrenching stories of assault, pleading with people in power (men mostly) to listen and believe. Each time we go through this cycle more and more women add their voices to this deafening chorus. It’s a routine that’s as emotionally exhausting as it is familiar but on Friday two brave women went off-script.

Before the Senate Judiciary Committee voted to advance Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court to the Senate floor. Jeff Flake, who earlier issued a statement indicating his intent to vote in favor of the accused assailant’s confirmation, left his office and entered an elevator. There he was confronted by two brave women, Maria Gallagher and Ana Maria Archila, and they chastised the senator for his shameful choice.

“I was sexually assaulted and nobody believed me,” Gallagher said. “I didn’t tell anyone, and you’re telling all women that they don’t matter.”

A chastened and clearly uncomfortable Flake stared at his shoes, offering only fleeting glances in the women’s direction.

“Don’t look away from me,” Gallagher continued, her voice breaking. “Look at me and tell me that it doesn’t matter what happened to me, that you will let people like that go into the highest court of the land and tell everyone what they can do to their bodies.”

What these women did was commendable and heroic and gutting. In an interview after the confrontation, Gallagher revealed that Flake was the first person she had told. Not even her mother, who saw the exchange on television, knew about her assault.

Gallagher never intended to lay her soul bare in front of a complete stranger (never mind a U.S. Senator) or the entire country. But faced with a daunting task and up against a rapidly approaching deadline, Gallagher tore her heart out and held it up for Flake to see. She has none of Flake’s power and all (and more) of the moral courage he lays claim to during his tedious floor speeches.

And it worked, sort of. Flake changed course and—after voting to proceed with Kavanaugh’s nomination—told his colleagues he would not be in favor of the confirmation unless the vote was delayed for a week and “no longer” so an FBI investigation could be conducted. It’s an arbitrary deadline during which time an investigation may be conducted but potentially not completed.

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What these two women got from Flake was not what they earned. They did not get a change to the ending of the story, but a brief intermission. A week is a long time in politics, especially these days, but Flake seems just as likely to vote to confirm a man who he has “doubts” about to a lifetime position where he can make decisions that affect all women.

“I’m a conservative. He’s a conservative. I plan to support him unless they turn up something—and they might,” Flake said of the FBI investigation into Kavanaugh.

That’s because Flake knows how the story is “supposed” to end, with the male-dominated power hierarchies in the country reaffirmed. The hero, to Flake, is “the process” or “due diligence” or even himself and the growing chorus of those sharing their stories is not a powerful populist movement of women demanding equality, it is merely background noise.

To the rest of us, the heroes are these two women and the countless others—especially Dr. Ford—who keep throwing their bodies on the machinery of an unjust system only to be crushed by its cruel inertia. It’s past time for that story to change.