The Record

Processing the Kavanuagh hearings

Eliza Bender

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It didn’t hit me until last Thursday. I’d avoided it by quickly skimming the headlines, darting my eyes away from my iPhone news alerts, and rapidly swiping away my social media feeds. Sure, I knew the gist of the events, but I was cautious to fully acknowledge the news surrounding the Kavanaugh hearings. I dodged conversations about it with my parents, sibling, and friends, telling myself that talking about it would only make me more upset. It wasn’t until my subway ride home that I decided to pay full attention to the hearings. As I took the one train downtown, I watched clips from the hearings and read through as many articles as I could load during the brief intervals when I had service. After watching Dr. Ford’s testimony, I was upset–and rightfully so. But as sad as I was feeling, I also felt hopeful. She spoke with eloquence and bravery. I did not feel the same after watching Judge Kavanaugh’s testimony. I was infuriated. Not once did he mention that sexual assault is wrong. He instead displayed rampant entitlement in his bouts of anger and references to his elitist background. Beyond my anger, I felt scared because Judge Kavanaugh’s story felt so familiar.

After Thursday, I was anxious to the point of feeling sick. Kavanaugh made me afraid of being a woman and protecting my body from lingering gazes or “accidental” touches. Everyday activities, such as running in the park or taking public transportation left me feeling paranoid and full of dread. I became hyper aware to every microaggression, joke, or conversation, now noticing the underlying misogyny I had been surrounded by my whole life.  I reflected on events and traditions that had previously partaken in, even as innocent as mock beauty pageants at summer camp, now seeing them in a different light. I didn’t know how I could continue being complacent when complacency came at the expense of my equality. This epiphany sent me into frequent flashes of panic, leaving me jittery and nauseous. I was dissociated from my friends and family, worried that if I talked to them about how I was feeling, they would reject my emotions. I allowed this fear to consume me and prohibit me from carrying out my normal life. At its peak, my anxiety was so bad that I couldn’t talk to my classmates for fear of not being safe or understood because I am a woman.

Over the past few days, suffice to say, I’ve calmed down; I can better cope with what I see in the news. However, this doesn’t mean that I feel any differently about the pending Kavanaugh confirmation. In fact, I still find myself getting upset and distressed about it. But, what I’ve realized is that, while difficult, we must separate our personal lives from the political cycle. For me, that meant partially accepting what was going on and forcing myself to rejoin my regularly scheduled programming. For too long, my mind kept making connections between what I saw and heard in classrooms and what I saw on the news. I felt stressed by talking to HM community members who did not share my beliefs. But ultimately, I realized that these fears should not inhibit me from living my life.  I do normally feel safe in the HM community and with others around me, but there are definitely moments outside and inside school where this isn’t always the case. However, if I continue to sit alone thinking about all the ways misogyny occurs in the world around me, I would miss out on real-life opportunities to experience equality. Having conversations with peers and classmates reminds me that I am not alone in my beliefs. Even talking about unrelated events, like the Cheez-its at break or the strenuous walk from Tillinghast to Lutnick, reminds me that I am more similar than not to my peers and mentors.

From my experience, I have also learned that separating yourself from the current events allows you to broaden your views and stay active in discussion. I think it’s often easy for people in our school to disconnect themselves from conversations about issues such as sexual assault because it’s easy to think that these issues don’t apply to us. But, just because we possess a sliver of positive experiences does not mean that we aren’t affected by violence against women. It is too easy to believe that just because we ourselves haven’t experienced assault, harassment, or abuse, that the same conditions apply to others. And, it is also too easy to ignore microaggressions that fuel a larger misogynistic trend and attribute them as normal behavior for teenagers. For many of us, it can be uncomfortable to look at our community and see sexism. It makes us question our judgement as we realize that the people with whom we spend our weekdays and weekends are not always as well-intentioned as we thought. I think it can be even scarier to recognize that the thoughts and behaviors we find abhorrent are sometimes found within ourselves. If our school continues to pride itself on being safe and caring, we have to talk about these issues before they become a part of the larger epidemic. For many teenagers, the idea of having conversations about sex and sexual assault in an academic setting is awkward to say the least. But, given the other media that provide sexual education, it seems that having meaningful conversations with community members, peers, and mentors is the best option for cultivating a healthier culture.

As the topic of sexual assault gets brought up in classes and school social circles, I encourage everyone to seek out meaningful dialogue. Take advantage of the resources that Horace Mann provides, but remember that for many, sexual assault and misogynistic culture are very real and very personal issues. Think before you contribute something controversial to a class discussion, and make sure that you carefully phrase what you mean to make sure to avoid misunderstandings. Bring in outside sources, articles, and/or examples from entertainment to discussions as tools to talk about issues without hitting too close to home. Check in with yourself and others around you. Reach out to the people around you to make sure they’re okay, and seek out guidance if you’re feeling distraught.

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Processing the Kavanuagh hearings