Like most Austinites, I have family elsewhere in Texas that hold different political views than I do. And like most of our parents’ generation, they have a great deal of enthusiasm for sharing their beliefs on Facebook. That means that the liberal social media bubble that most people enjoy is different for me — mine is occasionally popped by a zealously conservative post from one uncle or another. I’ve learned to resist the bait — well, usually — but in the wake of the Brett Kavanaugh ’87 LAW ’90 accusations, one particular “F— You, Libs” post on the Team Trump timeline inspired me to engage in a different way, a way that didn’t involve leaving a strongly worded comment.
The post in question was about an interview with a woman named Juanita Broaddrick. If you’re an undergraduate, you may recognize her from the 2016 presidential debates, where she was Donald Trump’s guest of honor. But if you were watching the news in the late ‘90s, you’d immediately recognize her as the woman who accused then-president Bill Clinton of raping her at a nursing home in 1978. This September, she received a third wave of media attention for telling Fox News that she didn’t believe Christine Blasey Ford. The post I saw used Broaddrick’s interview, in furious capital letters, to dismiss Kavanaugh’s accusers as political puppets and denounce the #MeToo movement as partisan and hypocritical.
When I scrolled by it mid-procrastination one Monday night, I wanted to dismiss it as yet another attempt to prevent women from being heard. But when I heard Broaddrick protest that Democrats had never reached out to her, I paused. I considered the Cross Campus posters — why hadn’t Broaddrick’s name been included? Could that have been one reason they were torn down? I suddenly felt a responsibility to take a closer look at my own party.
Curious, I broached the subject in the Grace Hopper dining hall. I was floored to discover that even my close friends — ardent feminists, many of whom are sexual assault survivors themselves — immediately and repeatedly questioned whether Broaddrick was telling the truth. It was surreal to watch the staunchest advocates for victims like Ford use the exact lines that Kavanaugh’s defenders had used to dismiss Broaddrick. When the perpetrator falls on our side of the political aisle, and the victim isn’t someone we like, the concept of believing all women disappears — and if I’m being completely honest, that’s how I felt, too.
I found myself empathizing with Juanita Broaddrick, but still struggled to understand why she was so dismissive of other survivors. I sent her an email and let her know that I was a Democrat who believed her and wanted to reach out. When we spoke on the phone, she maintained that the #MeToo movement hadn’t included conservative women. “I felt neglected by them,” she shared — but she also acknowledged when progress had been made. “The movement started after Hillary lost,” Broaddrick commented. “The first true article was the one in the New York Times with the headline ‘I believe Juanita,’” she continued. “That was very shocking to me.”
She couldn’t have been more kind or open, and I was grateful for her willingness to meet me where I was. But I was also struck by how differently we saw the issues. “Your readers won’t want to know that, but they should know it anyway,” she remarked on her support of President Donald Trump, despite the numerous sexual assault allegations against him. On Ford, she insisted that “it just wasn’t believable to me — I’m a victim, and I know what a victim goes through, and I could not see it.” Ultimately, though, she acknowledged that her platform doesn’t center around her expertise. “All I know is what happened to me.”
Regardless of her politics, the survivor I talked to over the phone was a kind person who deserves to be heard. As such, I was grateful for the opportunity to have a thoughtful conversation with someone who sees things so differently from me. But most importantly, I learned a lesson. A lesson that we need to support survivors like Broaddrick not because of who they are or what they believe in, but because they have had the courage to come forward, because their stories have the power to spare the coming generation of women and men from sexual assault. I believe Juanita Broaddrick, even though her experience doesn’t give her the right to detract from the legitimacy of Ford’s experience. It is not mutually exclusive to believe Broaddrick while disagreeing with her politics, her support of Trump or her treatment of Ford. Ultimately, both sides of the aisle can get behind the fight against sexual assault — I believe there’s no reason the #MeToo movement can’t be a conversation that brings us all together.
Cat Orman is a first year in Hopper College. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org .