Criticism of the California Senator is just another example of the objectification of women
California Senator Dianne Feinstein has been in the hot seat lately. She has become one of Donald Trump’s targets at his recent rallies, and her decision to silently provide the FBI with a copy of the letter from Dr. Christine Blasey Ford detailing her allegations against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh has become a lightning rod for the right.
The argument goes as follows. Conservatives argue that Feinstein withheld the letter until the last minute of the confirmation process to throw a wrench into it. They argue she should have brought it up at the first public hearing on his confirmation, or discussed it with him in private, or simply made it public earlier. They accuse her of timing the release of the letter to spawn the greatest damage to Kavanaugh’s confirmation hopes.
There are two problems with this line of argument. First, conservatives would have decried Feinstein’s action no matter how she approached it. Remember that Feinstein was not the first person Dr. Blasey approached with her allegations. She contacted the Washington Post and her local member of Congress, Anna Eschoo, before sending her letter to Feinstein’s office. Had either of these parties taken action, Feinstein would probably never have gotten involved.
Recognizing that the letter was explosive, Feinstein ultimately decided to forward it to the FBI, the agency tasked with exploring the background of judicial nominees. This was done in secret since Dr. Blasey had decided that she wanted to remain anonymous. She rightly feared the disruption the revelation of her identity would create in her life, while still believing that this information had to be considered as part of Kavanaugh’s background. By quietly forwarding the letter to the FBI, Feinstein was trying to respect Dr. Blasey’s wishes.
Some time later, word leaked that such a letter was in the possession of the FBI. There could be a number of sources for this leak. It could have been the White House, known to be leaky as a sieve, after the FBI added the letter to Kavanaugh’s background file. It could have been someone in the FBI. It could have been someone in Feinstein’s office or Feinstein herself. We will never know the truth. It is instructive, however, that Dr. Blasey’s lawyer, Deborah Katz, does not blame Feinstein, believing it was others who did not respect Dr. Blasey’s wishes to remain anonymous.
Once news of the letter leaked, Feinstein continued to respect Dr. Blasey’s wishes. In response to inquiries she issued a statement that protected her anonymity, writing “I have received information from an individual concerning the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court. That individual strongly requested confidentiality, declined to come forward or press the matter further, and I have honored that decision. I have, however, referred the matter to federal investigative authorities.”
It was only later, after the Republican Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee Chuck Grassley released the letter to the press, unredacted, that Dr. Blasey’s identity became public. Obviously Grassley did not respect Dr. Blasey’s wishes for anonymity.
So this all brings me back to my first point. What could Feinstein have done differently that would have satisfied the Republicans? They would have howled if she had brought it up at the first open Senate hearing, claiming she was seeking to embarrass the nominee. They would have swept it under the rug if she had just brought it up to Kavanaugh in private. The truth is that the Republicans are just angry that this issue got in the way of their clear path to confirm Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court. They hated that this information came out when they had so carefully worked to keep any other embarrassing details of his record private. This was an embarrassment. They felt they could not attack Dr. Blasey, so they attacked Feinstein instead.
The second, and more important flaw to the conservatives’ argument criticizing Feinstein is that it once again objectifies Dr. Blasey. Rather than being a real individual with a story to tell, the conservative narrative turns her into a political tool, to be used as needed whatever the consequences to her personal life. Where Feinstein’s actions indicate a recognition of Dr. Blasey’s humanity, the Republicans’ actions paint her as a one-dimensional figure to be manipulated in support of a political agenda. Anyone who watched Dr. Blasey’s testimony knows how wrong that characterization is.
Certainly, Feinstein is not above criticism.Caitlin Johnstone, Michael Tracey, Amy Sterling Casil, and Austin Frank have all raised legitimate issues. There are those who believe her conduct at the hearing was too solicitous of this nominee. A single mother who was broke barriers to serve as Mayor, Governor and ultimately Senator, she saw in Dr. Blasey someone she could relate to. That’s probably why Senators Lisa Murkowski, Republican of Alaska, and Heidi Heitkamp, Democrat of North Dakota, could not vote for Kavanaugh.
To vote for Kavanaugh required a Senator to ignore Dr. Blasey’s humanity. I guess it’s no surprise then that the white Republican men who supported him have had to treat her as a thing, as a symbol to be interpreted as they see fit. After all, that’s historically how privileged men have treated women in general.
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