In my early days of reporting, I learned a valuable lesson from an older colleague –
If ever a man won’t return your calls – just call his mother. Call his mother, tell her about the story that you’re working on and then explain that you can’t seem to get in touch with her son. You’ve left several messages, yes, but to no avail. Oh, and even if he just wants to offer a “no comment,” could he please just let you know? You would be ever so appreciative. Thank you.
It worked. I can’t tell you how many times I called mothers – who then called their sons and relayed my messages. Along, of course, with their own recriminations.
This my friends, is called “The Power of Shame.”
Unfortunately, all too many old, white, privileged men have lost the ability to feel shame. And their mothers died years ago.
Enter the next generation of men – who are married to women like me.
Today, we witnessed the power of shame when two women confronted U.S. Senator Jeff Flake in the elevator just moments after he announced that he would support Brett Kavanaugh – the latest example of disastrous lapse in GOP … er, judgement?
Enter two courageous women, who, in public and on camera, shared their own trauma and SHAMED Flake for his intent to give Kavanaugh a pass.
Also, this morning, Flake’s friend from across the aisle, Chris Coons, was clearly stunned and upset by Flake’s announcement that Flake would support Kavanaugh.
Informed of Flake’s decision by a CNN reporter – before today’s vote – Coons said: ““Oh fuck. We each make choices for our own reason. I’m struggling, sorry.”
Again, Flake was shamed, this time by a man he clearly respects and considers to be a friend.
How do we know this? Because after Coons’ emotional response and after the two women confronted Flake as he attempted an elevator get-away, Flake did something that GOP men just don’t do – he actually changed his mind.
He crossed the aisle. He met with Democrats. And then he said he could not support a full Senate floor vote if the FBI were not asked to investigate the allegations against Kavanaugh.
Because he, when confronted by real people – traumatized and angry women – and the disappointment of a man he considers to be a friend, Flake … felt shame.
It’s a pity – no, it’s infuriating – that so many white men – especially those in power – have lost the ability to feel shame.
But it’s apparent that they have.
Exhibit A: Mitch McConnell ensuring the public that the Senate would “plow through” with this confirmation.
Exhibit B: Chuck Grassley’s eagerness to just move on a vote and adjourn. His demeanor throughout the confirmation process can be described only as dismissive and harsh.
Exhibit C: Lindsey Graham’s abject horror over poor, poor Kavanaugh – as opposed to a woman who had, convincingly, just laid herself bare when describing how she was sexually assaulted at the age of 15. (If ever God decides to throw down a meaningful lightning bolt to remind us of who is boss, I’m pretty sure she’ll hurl it at Graham. OK, or Paul Ryan. Or Mitch McConnell.)
I could go on and on where senators of a certain age are concerned.
But the point is this – if only their mothers were still alive, I would totally encourage every victimized woman and every female journalist to call them.
Because apparently, these days, where too many members of Congress are concerned, there needs to be some sort of catalyst in order for them to actually feel … shame.
Of course, we know that some Republican men are simply incapable of feeling shame. And that should disturb us. Remember – Kavanaugh’s wife and mother were present yesterday when Kavanaugh decided to rant about how his (entitled, per him) path to a seat on the highest court in America had been made bumpy by a woman who came forward to accuse him of trying to rape her.
And there his wife sat – in stoic silence. And there sat his mother – in support of her son.
So we can conclude that white, affluent Republican women also have lost the ability to feel – let alone, prompt – shame.
Where does that leave us? Well, if we can no longer depend on mothers, then it’s up to those of us who relate to the “Elevator Women.”
We must use our voices. We must tell our stories. We most show ourselves to be relevant. We must remind them also of this – We. Are. Voters.