Content Warning: This article contains graphic content about sexual assault.
The #MeToo movement has won many victories ever since it began to saturate popular culture. “Me Too” and “I Believe Women” have sometimes felt like battle cries to fight back against the sway of rape culture, like mantras to remind survivors that they aren’t alone or like prayers that women across the globe can get through it — whatever “it” is. #MeToo has been not only a movement of awareness, but also one of solidarity. But in the last few days, the movement has become imperiled on both fronts.
In a SoundCloud interview with writer and filmmaker Katie Halper published on March 26, Tara Reade made the groundbreaking allegation that presidential candidate Joe Biden had sexually assaulted her when she was working as a Senate staffer in his office in 1993. Biden has denied the allegations via his deputy campaign manager. Mainstream news outlets have made the unsurprisingly slow march towards covering this story. Journalists across the political spectrum have viewed news of the allegations as too politically volatile to cover and have failed to give it the attention it deserves.
And yet, this is not the first time that Reade’s allegations have been suppressed. Reade has been trying to speak about this since it happened. In April 2019, at the height of the #MeToo movement, she followed Lucy Flores’s accusations against Biden of inappropriate touching and came to The Union, a California newspaper, with part of her own story.
More recently, it was discovered that Time’s Up, a non-profit organization created to bring sexual assault victims’ stories to light and fund their cases, refused to help Reade. Time’s Up claimed that a case against Biden would affect their tax-exempt non-profit status since Biden was a candidate for federal office. Reade also faced death threats and media suppression, in large part by the very people who espoused #MeToo so much: the Democratic base.
Her story is incredibly painful to listen to. For anyone with an experience of any kind of sexual harassment or assault, her experience hits close to home. You can hear the pain in her voice as she tells it. The narrative, too, is not new. According to the interview, Reade delivered a gym bag to Biden in his office. He then pinned her against the wall, kissed her mouth and neck, slid a hand up her skirt and penetrated her with his fingers. When she pulled away, he allegedly said to her, “Come on man, I thought you liked me.” It is the same flipping of responsibility that is so common in assault cases: Biden was essentially saying to her, “You made me do this.”
Reade is hyperaware of that feeling that she could be blamed for what had been done to her. In her interview, she is forced to justify every detail of her life that day. For example, she said, “I was wearing a skirt, you know a business skirt, but I wasn’t wearing stockings. It was kind of a hot day.”
To go through #TaraReade on Twitter means you have to wade through a pool of thinly-veiled misogyny, and it takes strength to do it. The core argument made by ardent Biden supporters is that Reade is a Russian spy, deployed to swing the vote towards Trump, despite the fact that Reade has been alleging this publicly for close to a year and that it lines up with many of the other allegations raised against Biden in 2019.
One can’t help but wonder, if these “Biden Bros” are right that this is all a ploy to eliminate Biden, then why come out with this during the primaries? Why not wait until the general election when the only other option is Trump? Considering the amount of media attention given to scrutinizing Sanders’ every move, inflection and facial expression, why has not even a fraction of that same attention been given to this very credible rape allegation? Biden’s behavior seems to be above criticism. The media paints “Bernie Bros” as vicious for commenting snake emojis on the other candidates’ posts, but does not target Biden supporters for failing to hold Biden accountable.
For moderate Democrats, it is clear that protecting their political interests far outweighs investigating someone accused of rape. For the right, perhaps the lack of coverage is due to their fear that Sanders will replace Biden as the Democratic nominee. In all likelihood, once centrists help Biden secure the nomination, only then will the right-wing media jump on Reade’s allegations to completely decimate Biden. Why would anyone want it to get to that point? Why would anyone want to have to choose between two alleged sexual harassers for president?
Beyond exposing that the Democratic Party is so hell-bent on protecting establishment interests that they’d ensure a candidate with a very questionable record receives the nomination, Reade’s story speaks to a glaring hole in the #MeToo movement. With a shaky voice, Reade claimed that Biden also looked at her after she pulled away, smiling in his anger, and said, “You are nothing to me.”
Women have been routinely silenced throughout history for speaking out about sexual assault, and sexual harassment has been systematically normalized, whether through media, legislation or societal suppression. The American political establishment has used the #MeToo movement to put some women in uncomfortable spotlights while others are silenced. What does it say about a movement that is meant to protect women if it so quickly excludes them when it is politically convenient to do so?
Tara Reade — and all sexual assault survivors — are forced to witness again how their voices only matter when it is favorable to others. Amidst the put-downs and interrogations of Reade, one can’t help but hear “I don’t believe women” and the haunting fact that Biden was right: Tara Reade means nothing to the system.
MIRANDA JEYARETNAM is a first year in Pierson College. Her column runs on alternate Mondays. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org .