During a heated moment in Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh's testimony in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-California) asked calmly why the judge had not called for an investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation of Christine Blasey Ford's sexual assault allegations. The FBI could have asked him these questions, Feinstein said. "I'm sorry to interrupt," Kavanaugh interrupted, "but you're doing it [right now]."
Their exchange progressed: Feinstein posing questions, and Kavanaugh growing more and more indignant. "The Swetnick thing is a joke," he said when Feinstein brought up Julie Swetnick, a third accuser. "That is a farce."
"Would you like to say more about it?" Feinstein asked.
"No," he said.
Throughout the hearing, Kavanaugh's tone ranged from angry to injured, appealing often to an all-American image and belaboring his own struggle: "This has destroyed my family and my good name ... a good name that I've built up for decades," he said. These kinds of comments reflect common patterns in speech and rhetoric that systematically undermine female authority—in spite of Kavanaugh's repeated claims that he respects, promotes, and is friends with women.
Here are some key takeaways from Kavanaugh's testimony.
Kavanaugh Frequently Interrupted Women—Which Doesn't Bode Well for His Supreme Court Conduct
The incident with Feinstein was not the only time Kavanaugh interrupted or contradicted a female senator. He also turned the questioning back onto Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-Minnesota) with what the Washington Post called an "aggressive remark." Later, Kavanaugh apologized, professing his respect for her and saying, "Sorry I did that, this is a tough process."
If Kavanaugh were to be confirmed, this does not bode well for his conduct on the Supreme Court—but it is in line with the behavior of his prospective male colleagues: A 2017 study in the Virginia Law Review, evaluating 15 years of Supreme Court oral arguments, found that male justices interrupt female justices three times as often as they interrupt each other. Study authors Tonja Jacobi and Dylan Schweers wrote:
"We find that judicial interactions at oral argument are highly gendered, with women being interrupted at disproportionate rates by their male colleagues, as well as by male advocates. Oral argument interruptions are also highly ideological, not only because ideological foes interrupt each other far more than ideological allies do, but we show that conservatives interrupt liberals more frequently than vice versa.
(Still, the nominee did not only interrupt women; in an exchange with Senator Patrick Leahy [D-Vermont], both men cut each other off.)
Republican Senators, Often Joined by Kavanaugh, Emphasized the Judge's Own Suffering
In his opening statement, Kavanaugh called the hearing "grotesque," painting himself as a victim and Democrats as the enemy. He also implied that Ford was the pawn behind their "coordinated political character assassination," which included getting "revenge on behalf of the Clintons."
This kind of rhetoric continued throughout the questioning, as senators used their time to commiserate with the judge. "Would you say you've been through hell?" Senator Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina) asked. "This is not a job interview. This is hell." The anger embedded in these comments, while not explicitly directed at Ford, takes the tack of blaming or discrediting the victim. Studies have found that this practice is common in sexual assault trial judgments, in which judges frequently use linguistic devices such as euphemisms to blame victims, mitigate perpetrators' responsibility, and strip survivors of their agency.
Ford, Meanwhile, Had to Recount Her Experience of an Alleged Sexual Assault in Front of a National Audience
Ford, who has received death threats, was forced to recount the abuse in front of a national audience—a process that can be traumatic for survivors of sexual assault, who, as Pacific Standard reported, often experience post-traumatic stress disorder or difficultly recalling details in an interrogation as a normal response to fear.
By many accounts, Ford gave gripping testimony, often using her expertise as a psychology professor to describe the effects of the trauma on her memory: "Today, she finally got to explain—with the precision of a scientist, with the authority of a professor. Because that is who she is," The Atlantic reported.
As his testimony concluded, Kavanaugh continued to tout support from his many female friends and his record of promoting women. But as Senator Kamala Harris (D-California) pointed out, one can be friends with some women while still abusing others.