30 Jan 2019

For Spiked, sexual harassment is a weapon wielded by women against men -– not the other way around.

In the third of a series of four articles exposing how Spiked misrepresents feminism, Sian Norris looks at its reporting of the Kavanaugh hearings, and asks if sexual harassment accusations are being used by women to terrorize men.

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Sian Norris NewsMavens, Europe
For Spiked, sexual harassment is a weapon wielded by women against men -– not the other way around. - NewsMavens
Washington DC protests against Brett Kavanaugh nomination, YouTube

Between August 31, 2018 and January 10, 2019, Spiked published 14 articles about the #MeToo movement and the Kavanaugh Supreme Court confirmation hearings. In the articles, they claim #MeToo activists use sexual misconduct as a weapon to threaten democracy and due process. They argue that the movement has handed women “a dangerous tool […] the ability to accuse a man of misconduct and ruin his life on a dime, with or without evidence.

In 2018, US President Donald Trump nominated his choice for a judge to replace Anthony Kennedy on the Supreme Court. He picked right-wing, anti-choice, anti-LGBT rights Brett Kavanaugh.

Following the nomination, academic Christine Blasey-Ford came forward with an allegation that when they were both teenagers, Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her at a party.

In the first instance, Blasey-Ford maintained her right to anonymity. However, as speculation about her identity grew, inaccurate reporting took hold, and Republican camp made the anonymity of the accuser a point of attack. She decided to publicly tell her story, calling it her “civic responsibility.” She was then invited to testify at Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearings for the position of Supreme Court Judge.

For Spiked, the accusations against Kavanaugh proved how #MeToo was “poisoning American politics”. In an article published in September 2018, Sean Collins wrote that “the presumption of innocence has been overturned for Kavanaugh, and a serious alleged crime is being judged via extralegal means, without full due process”.

This was not the case. These were confirmation hearings, and due process was followed according to the rules of those hearings. This was not an attempt to convict Kavanaugh of alleged crimes without a criminal trial. Blasey-Ford was asked to provide a testimony for Congress to see whether Kavanaugh was a suitable candidate for the Supreme Court. Those in power decided, despite her claims, that he was.

Collins goes on to say that “what we are witnessing is the use of sexual-assault accusations as political weapons” and that “#MeToo is a cancer for a functioning democracy.”

You can only make this argument if you believe women’s voices don’t matter in a democracy, or that men should not be held to account in a democracy.

Compare this to an article by Ella Whelan on Democrat Presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren. In her piece, Whelan claims that women politicians “play the sexism card” to avoid being held to account for their political views and actions.  

Yet when it comes to holding men to account, allegations are dismissed amid outrage that women are trying to “destroy their careers”. There’s a real double standard at play here, where men accused of sexual misconduct are shielded from accountability, while women in the public eye are told to shut up and take whatever is thrown at them.  

Spiked wants to defend due process -- but due process for whom?

Collins’s arguments are echoed by Spiked’s associate editor Joanna Williams, who called the Kavanaugh hearing a “show trial”.

Referring to the “evidence-free testimony of Christine Blasey-Ford”, Williams argues that “after a year of #MeToo activism, just one woman needs to point, to accuse, to allege sexual misconduct, and her word alone is sufficient to overturn past political conventions, override Trump’s democratic mandate, and disrupt the daily workings of government.”

This would only be true if one woman’s testimony alone had done all of this. But it didn’t. No conventions were overturned -- the confirmation hearings went ahead as planned and were only minimally delayed to accommodate an FBI inquiry. Williams might have found it distasteful or irrelevant that “what two teenagers may or may not have got up to in a bedroom” was brought up in government, but that doesn’t mean Blasey-Ford’s testimony was disruptive.  

Williams doesn’t stop at minimizing Blasey-Ford’s claims of sexual assault with her “two teengers” comment. Employing popular rape myths to paint Blasey-Ford’s testimony as unreliable, Williams writes that:

“what happened clearly wasn’t so terrible that Ford felt compelled to report it to her parents, teachers or the police. Yet, decades later, we are expected to believe that this highly successful psychology professor, an articulate and poised professional, was so traumatized by what took place on that summer afternoon that it has had an impact on the rest of her life.”

There are many issues with Williams’ assertions. The first is the statement that Blasey-Ford’s testimony was “evidence-free”. This ignores how a woman’s sworn testimony is in itself evidence. If that sworn testimony is proven to be false, it is a criminal act.  

Considering Spiked writers are such huge fans of due process, their refusal to take on board that women’s statements count as evidence is odd. It’s an example of how, all too often, women’s speech needs to be corroborated by an external source to be believable.

The use of rape myths to undermine Blasey-Ford is also troubling. There are many reasons why women and girls don’t disclose sexual assault after it initially happens -- not least shame and fear of not being believed. It’s also untrue to assert that a woman’s success and articulate delivery means she does not feel trauma about something that happened to her as a girl. There is no “correct amount” or expression of trauma. Sexual assault survivors don’t owe it to anyone to prove a “ruined life” and it is ugly to suggest otherwise.

Then there’s Williams’ suggestion that “an accusation of sexual harassment is a very safe straw to grasp” -- as if women are now blithely and happily accusing every powerful man they don’t like of sexual misconduct and doing alright by it.

This ignores Blasey-Ford’s own reluctance to waive her anonymity or come forward with her allegations at all -- a reluctance totally overlooked by her right wing critics. She believed that accusing Kavanaugh would mean having “to suffer through annihilation” while not affecting his nomination, and that she felt “anguish and terror at retaliation”. As the death threats against her piled in, she was proven right.

Following the Kavanaugh hearings, the FBI undertook a much-criticized investigation into the allegations. A report by Vox found that the investigation “wasn’t thorough. From the very beginning, the investigation of the sexual assault allegations was limited -- in terms of time, which witnesses the bureau could talk to, and what other kinds of evidence the FBI could obtain.”

Spiked writers were dismissive about the idea of an FBI investigation, with Luke Gittos writing “quite what this new investigation would resolve is unclear, given Dr Ford [sic] has been unable to offer any corroborating evidence so far.”

Considering that Spiked deemed Blasey-Ford’s testimony and accusations of Kavanaugh as “the end of due process”, it’s odd that they simultaneously think she should have provided more evidence in that “extralegal” setting. This statement also ignores how more evidence could have been collected by a thorough, unrestricted FBI investigation.

There is a further hypocrisy at play here, too. The GOP, the ring wing in America, and Spiked all accused the Democrats’ push for an FBI investigation as a stunt to try and stall the confirmation process in the hope that Kavanaugh’s controversial appointment would clash with the 2018 Mid-Term elections. The Democrats allegedly hoped any results from an FBI investigation would harm the Republicans’ chances in November’s crucial vote.

However, Spiked ignored how the Republicans were also playing politics with Kavanaugh and the election -- trying to rush through a limited FBI investigation so that it could all be done and dusted before the Mid-Terms. This is a clear double-standard in their approach to due process and deciding who gets to weaponize the Kavanaugh case for political means.

Reading Spiked’s reporting on Kavanaugh and #MeToo, you’d be in your rights to presume that right now, Kavanaugh is languishing in a cell following a show trial in a kangaroo court led by “crying actresses and weeping journalists”, his career in tatters and abandoned by his colleagues and family -- while Blasey-Ford is feted and celebrated by all she meets, due process guidelines ripped up and thrown in the bin.

Instead, Kavanaugh is sitting on the Supreme Court, where he can rule on laws that will impact women’s freedoms and bodily autonomy. He’ll hold that seat until the day he dies. Christine Blasey-Ford was still receiving death threats months after she first came forward.


This is the third of four articles analyzing Spiked magazine’s representation of feminism.


Project #Femfacts co-financed by European Commission Directorate-General for Communications Networks, Content and Technology as part of the Pilot Project – Media Literacy For All

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NewsMavens is a media start-up within Gazeta Wyborcza, Poland's largest liberal broadsheet published by Agora S.A. NewsMavens is currently financed by Gazeta Wyborcza and Google DNI Fund.
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