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The Kavanaugh claims: an education for girls

In light of the sexual assault allegations against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, we have heard a lot about the culture of an all-boys school, like Mr. Kavanaugh’s alma mater, Georgetown Prep. But what about the culture of an all-girls school?

I am an alumna of Roland Park Country School, a non-sectarian, all-girls independent school in Baltimore, similar to Bethesda’s Holton-Arms School, which socializes with Georgetown Prep. I am also a cultural anthropology major at the University of Pennsylvania. The combination of these experiences leads me to believe that we can learn more about this specific conflict not from boys, but from girls. Indeed, the lessons from general conflict often come not from the powerful but from the powerless — how we treat them when they dare speak up.

Roland Park encouraged us, as young women, to take up space and to use our voices to lead. Our math teacher urged us to say “I need to work on…” rather than “I am bad at…” Our Chinese teacher told us to sit on the edge of our chairs, rather than shrink into ourselves. Our public speaking teacher advised us to end presentations with “Any questions?” rather than asking, “Did that make sense?”

Roland Park instilled in us a resilient spirit and a tenacity of purpose. We learned about girls stripped of education in rural countries, from the movie “Girl Rising,” in Upper School Meeting. We learned about teenagers coerced into sex trafficking, from a survivor in our life skills class. We learned about women used for medical research without permission and without compensation, from a book in chemistry class.

Mine was an education that recognized girls’ full value and showed girls how to bask in it. It’s an education every girl deserves.

Yet, as a grown woman, Christine Blasey Ford, who, as the first accuser to come forward is expected to testify Thursday before a Senate committee, is now getting a very different education from some in society who want not to empower her but to make her disappear — to shrink Christine Blasey Ford’s space and to mute her voice. They condemn her for her resilience in bringing up a painful past and for her tenacity in asking for a fair FBI investigation into Brett Kavanaugh’s prior behavior.

For Brett Kavanaugh, this is just an accusation about a 35 year-old incident, something in the distant past that he denies. But for Christine Blasey Ford, the event she describes does not seem so far away or so fuzzy. As a 15 year-old, when she said Mr. Kavanaugh attacked her, pinning her to a bed and covering her mouth as he groped her, she probably had just started to learn how to protect herself from outsiders (carry pepper spray in a purse, bring a buddy to the bathroom, pay attention to surroundings, make keys a weapon, never leave a drink unattended, and on and on). She probably hadn’t even yet considered that she’d have to protect herself from her own circle.

As an all-girls high schooler, however, she certainly would have known the power of community gathering and of story-telling — whenever it occurred. Now, Christine Blasey Ford is finally getting to gather her community and to tell her story. For the past 35 years or so, she may have been asking: Should I be a leader or a follower? Do I give up or do I stand up? Do I retreat or do I pursue? Now, she is answering those questions.

Alumnae at her all-girls’ school, Holton-Arms, support her. “We believe Dr. Blasey Ford and are grateful that she came forward to tell her story,” they wrote in a signed letter, calling the allegations against Mr. Kavanaugh “all too consistent with stories we heard and lived while attending Holton. Many of us are survivors ourselves.”

Others are telling a different story in an attempt to unmask some vulnerability in Christine Blasey Ford. They claim she’s not to be believed because she, like Brett Kavanaugh in her account, was drinking, or because she, unlike Brett Kavanaugh, has a faulty memory or is supposedly part of a left-wing smear campaign. It’s a similar tactic predators use for prey — knock them down and take advantage of them.

Even before these allegations, the Kavanaugh nomination was significant because his conservative bent puts Roe v. Wade — and therefore legal access to abortions in America — in jeopardy. That’s made the idea of “judicial precedent” critical, as in “he won’t overturn Roe V. Wade because of judicial precedent and his respect for it” (if not women).

But at this moment, I’m more concerned with educational precedent. Today’s young people and future generations will judge America’s senators by how they treat Christine Blasey Ford’s accusation and by how the prosecutor they selected grills her during Thursday’s hearing.

But even more importantly, young people and future generations will judge society — based on how we listened to, labeled, and discussed Christine Blasey Ford. Those who continue to dismiss Christine Blasey Ford are sending a message to girls and young women across the country, and to their male peers, that women are powerless. It’s a tired, untrue tale. In the twenty-first century, we should know that time for that thinking is up.

This is a precedent I will no longer silently tolerate. Will you?

Susan Radov (susanradov@gmail.com) is a graduate of Roland Park Country School and a current student at the University of Pennsylvania.

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