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Kavanaugh watch party

Women watch Christine Blasey Ford's testimony at Hawk's Bar on State Street during the confirmation hearing of U.S. Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh.  

The broadcast created a sobering, important reason for the women to gather at a bar on a Thursday morning — an opportunity, they said, to listen to Christine Blasey Ford tell her story with others who understood.

The 10 women sat at the bar at Hawk’s, 425 State St., sometimes crying, sometimes yelling at the television above them. They listened intently as Ford answered questions about the night she says she was sexually assaulted by U.S. Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh. Kavanaugh has denied Ford’s accusations along with allegations of sexual misconduct from two other women — another when he was in high school and one in college.

Ford’s testimony, broadcast live, was a part of Kavanaugh’s confirmation process — one that looked more like a criminal trial rather than a job interview, one woman remarked.

Kavanaugh is sharing his side of the story Thursday afternoon. But for now, hearing Ford tell hers reminded several women watching of their own past.

“There are so many of us who have had these experiences … it’s a terrible sisterhood that no one should have to be a part of,” said Arvina Martin, an alderwoman on Madison’s City Council, hugging a friend next to her. “We know that feeling and it’s important to be watching her testimony and hear her story with people who understand.

"She is showing incredible strength and we owe it to her to listen.”

One positive aspect of what is happening with Ford and Kavanaugh is that it is spurring more conversations about sexual assault and how to listen to women's stories, Martin said. It is also inspiring bravery in others.

“There are so many of us who have had these experiences and have kept silent for decades,” Martin said.

During a break in testimony, the women circled together, chatting about what they had seen so far and how the rhetoric of the hearing affected them.

A bartender suddenly interjected: “Hawk's is offering a shot to anybody who needs one, or wants one, after that.”

The Ford and Kavanaugh news prompted Louise Lyall to have a conversation with her boyfriend, who had not fully heard the perspectives of women who have experienced assault or abuse, she said. He could at times be defensive rather than a listener, Lyall said.

The men she has spoken to about the Kavanaugh case in light of the #MeToo movement are seeing a lot of perspectives they never understood, said Lyall, who works for One Wisconsin Now and graduated from University of Wisconsin-Madison in May. “It takes (men) being quiet and I think that’s what’s hard sometimes.”

The Kavanaugh case reminded Amy Kortbein of Anita Hill’s testimony, one she thought would have resulted in more change on issues and discussions of sexual assault.

“I’m a lot older than they are. They keep saying the young people are going to take care of this and it’s going to change society,” Kortbein said, tears in her eyes.

She said she was a young person during the Anita Hill hearing and recalls people then saying that her generation was going to change society for the better.

"Here we are back again and now we’re putting it all on her generation,” she said, pointing to Lyall. “It doesn’t work that way. We all have to participate ...  it’s this constant ‘the next generation will take care of it, the next generation will take care of it,’ and it doesn’t work that way.”

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Several women nodded, noting that it is a common misconception that the passing of time makes an assault or abuse experience easier to discuss. It often doesn’t, they said.

Erin Forrest, executive director of Emerge Wisconsin, a group that trains women to run for Democratic office, organized the event for women to come together to watch the hearing. She said she is dismayed to see how large numbers of people in society don’t recognize the sexism women still encounter. She acknowledged that while some things are better, they are not where they should be.

“Part of the rage is that we were told sexism was over and we were told things were different, told that our individual experiences were individual and not a part of a systemic issue in society," she said.

There are huge numbers of women coming to understand that that is not true, she said.

Regardless of how the hearing ends, Kavanaugh will still be a federal judge, noted Analiese Eicher. The hearing is supposed to be a job interview, not a court trial, she said.

“He still gets to be a decision maker,” she said,

As the hearing gets underway following the break, Forrest noted that she had a conversation with her 11-year-old daughter about Kavanaugh, asking her what she understood and explained the hearing to her.

It was a poignant discussion, Forrest said, because she, too, was 11 years old during the Anita Hill testimony. Wiping tears from her eyes, she shook her head.

“I don’t want her to have this conversation with her daughter, I’ll tell you that much.”

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Katelyn Ferral is The Cap Times' public affairs and investigative reporter. She joined the paper in 2015 and previously covered the energy industry for the Pittsburgh Tribune Review. She's also covered state politics and government in North Carolina.