If we're tempted to think the war on pumpkin spice lattes defines misogyny—and the worst of the autumn season—it's bracing to remember what the real thing looks like. In Trump’s America, October has come to mark three consecutive anniversaries of women’s collective outrage.
Nearly two years ago to the day, on October 7, 2016, the nation reeled when the Access Hollywood tapes surfaced, documenting Trump’s pussy-grabbing bragging. And just shy of 365 days later, on October 5, 2017, the New York Times published the first gruesome account of Harvey Weinstein’s alleged abuse of power and the burgeoning sexual assault allegations against him.
In response, millions took to the streets, marching on Washington and in cities worldwide. #MeToo and #TimesUp erupted. Women are running for public office—after emerging victorious in primaries—in record numbers. Our stories, our safety, our sanctity—all of these finally seemed to land at the center of public recognition and response.
Or so we thought.
Now, as we enter another Red October—this time, the grotesque debacle of the Supreme Court nomination of Brett Kavanaugh—the rage is fresh and raw all over again.
It echoes in the deep well of familiarity too many of us felt while listening to Dr. Christine Blasey Ford provide searing detail of the attack she endured as a teen.
It bubbles up in the sheer privilege flaunted by Kavanaugh himself—the cries of self-pity, the inappropriate partisan escalation, the belligerent conduct during questioning, and the lies and half-truths.
It heaves in response to the misogynistic camaraderie displayed by majority members of the Senate Judiciary Committee: Senator Chuck Grassley, who barked at being “rudely interrupted” by Senator Kamala Harris; Senator Lindsey Graham, who bared his teeth and bellowed that Kavanaugh’s charmed life is ruined.
At the same time the hearings took place, another travesty for women gathered steam on Capitol Hill. The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), the landmark law to combat sexual and domestic assault and fund victims' services and prevention programs, was set to lapse, its expiration date September 30. Fortunately, a stopgap spending bill signed by Trump in the eleventh hour to avoid a government shutdown included a brief extension of VAWA through December 7. Time is still quite limited for Congress to act. Yet the need is urgent.
Why does VAWA matter? It is the first and most far-reaching federal legislation to support sexual and domestic violence survivors, providing funds for critical resources like rape crisis centers, safe shelters, and legal assistance.
At its start, VAWA enjoyed bipartisan support. Then-Senator Joe Biden first drafted the bill in 1990, and it received widespread support from Congress before President Clinton signed it into law. Over the decades, it has been reauthorized three times and expanded to include increased protections for underserved populations—LGBT individuals, immigrant women, and tribal and Native communities—and a wider range of support on issues ranging from dating violence to stalking. With the next two reauthorizations—first in 2000 and then 2005—support from both sides of the aisle remained strong. Yet notably, when VAWA was last reauthorized in 2013, a familiar cast of characters voted against it: leading members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, including Senators Grassley and Graham, as well as Senators John Cornyn, Ted Cruz, Orrin Hatch, and Mike Lee.
If Congress fails to reauthorize VAWA this year, the impact will be hard felt. Not only could it mean a loss of essential services that enable survivors to heal and seek justice, but it will inhibit states’ ability to fully prosecute sex crimes.
We know women who go public face immense risks. Consider Dr. Blasey Ford’s testimony: with all her poise and composure, her willingness to be “pleasing” (in the very words of Senator Hatch), the Senate Republicans still refused to budge. For those who are most marginalized and least resourced, who rely solely on VAWA-funded services, the burden will become downright impossible. The pursuit of gender justice will be exponentially harder, too, with men like Trump in the White House and Kavanaugh on the bench—the latter a lifetime appointment.
Navigating life in America without the full protection of VAWA—and in the hands of leaders who ridicule, degrade, and aim to harm us—is a terrifying, dystopian proposition.
Protecting women from violence should not be a partisan issue. Yet right now it surely is. Who can watch the news of the day—the hearings, the rallies, the tweets—and think anything but?
While the final legacy of this Supreme Court nomination has yet to be determined (please, please don’t stop calling your Senator every day until the vote!), the future of a strong and well-funded VAWA is still a live battle. It deserves a central role in our activism. We must demand that Congress act before the looming expiration date in December—and raise our voices now while the nation’s eyes are on these very issues. Women’s lives depend on it.