Alyssa Milano on Being Inside the Kavanaugh Hearing: “It Was Nauseating”
“The majority white men looked at their phones while a woman was telling her story of sexual assault.”
“I’m watching people be arrested right now. Are you watching this?,” Alyssa Milano asked me while watching MSNBC on Friday morning. It was the aftermath of Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh’s alleged sexual assault hearing in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee, which the actress had attended as a guest of Senator Dianne Feinstein the day before. Milano is, of course, much more than an actress: She’s also the activist responsible for resurrecting Tarana Burke’s Me Too movement by transforming it into a hashtag last October, prompting a wave of women to come forward about their own experiences with sexual assault in the reckoning post-Harvey Weinstein.
To have one of the figureheads of #MeToo seated in front of the camera, directly to the left of those testifying, then, made quite the backdrop for both Dr. Christine Blasey Ford—a woman who, like Milano herself, took decades to report her alleged sexual assault—and Judge Kavanaugh, who loudly refuted her allegations. Unlike those watching on TV, Milano could not see either Kavanaugh nor Blasey Ford’s faces, but only those of the senators they faced. This was a drawback, yes, but one that also made one of the most arresting reports to come out of the committee room, as Milano tweeted the senators’ reactions and other observations a riveted TV audience couldn’t see. Here, she shares what it was like to witness such a surreal turn of events, how it felt to a survivor of sexual assault like herself, and what’s next.
First of all, I know I’ve barely slept the past two nights. How about you? How are you feeling right now?
I feel overwhelmed. I feel a certain amount of… I guess it would be rage. I think this is a really hard time for survivors, for women, and that’s why I felt it was so important to be in that room yesterday.
Can you describe what it was like to arrive to the hearing—passing the protesters outside, and going into that tiny room with bright spotlights?
It was very tense from the very beginning. You know, I’ve done a lot of work in D.C.—a lot of lobbying and meeting with senators and congressional members—and I have to tell you: I’ve never, in my 20 years of being politically active, felt that kind of sickness in the air. The only true lightness in the room actually came from Dr. Ford—she was the only one that sort of brought any relief to that heaviness. I found her opening statement and her Q&A to be incredibly honest and filled with integrity. She was a really, really strong example of everything you would hope for someone who’s been put in a really horrible position—to be able to overcome whatever she was feeling in her body, in her heart, in her soul. I can’t imagine having to sit there and having to relive my own abuse not only so publicly, but also with such high stakes. And then came this incredibly angry, emotional, volatile man who I believe, if a woman acted like that during a line of questioning, she would be considered unhinged or to be having a total meltdown.
What did you think of Kavanaugh’s opening statement?
It was compelling and impactful. But to be honest, his Q&A made me feel like he doesn’t have the temperament to be on the Supreme Court and gave even more reason not to confirm him. The fact that he made it so partisan—not only with his opening statement, but with the way in which he respectfully answered the Republicans’ questions and disrespected the Democrats. That’s not what a Supreme Court judge is supposed to do. The whole time, he didn’t answer any questions, and he’s clearly against an FBI investigation [Ed note: Throughout the hearing on Thursday, Kavanaugh repeatedly dodged questions about whether he felt such an investigation, which is reportedly taking place, was called for], which was very suspicious to me because I’d think that a man who wanted to clear his name and has nothing to hide would understand a fair process means calling other witnesses, getting other testimonies, doing more investigation, bringing in the other women that made claims. And there’s the fact that if he really feels his reputation is so permanently destroyed, why not bring a defamation claim against the people that lied?
It really struck me when he told Sen. Kamala Harris he didn’t watch Dr. Blasey’s testimony—you’d think a judge would want to hear and evaluate exactly what he was being accused of.
To me, everything stuck out. But because of the size of that room, and because his back was to me the entire time, I didn’t see a lot of what was going on with his face, so I purely had to go off of what I could see of his body language, and listen to the emotion coming from him. I didn’t realize he was sticking his tongue in his cheek as much as he was, because I didn’t see his face. I could just go off of how uncomfortable I was made by his discomfort.
Did you get that impression from the reaction on the people whose faces you could see? I saw that you tweeted that many people seemed to be tuning out Dr. Ford, but that everyone was at attention when Kavanaugh took the seat.
I mean, here was the difference: When Dr. Ford was testifying, the Republican party had the counsel asking her questions, which I think they were trying to do because they were fearful of the optics of white men asking a woman about her sexual assault. But what really ended up happening was the optics looked worse, because it looked like a bunch of white men who didn’t care to ask questions of a woman about sexual assault. So because they didn’t have to engage with her, and look her in the eye, in my opinion, they were totally distracted—they were looking at their phones and zoning out, and I think that’s because they didn’t have to be on alert and give her their attention or any brain capacity.
How about when Kavanaugh was speaking?
Oh, they were looking at him longingly and with sympathy and empathy. I’m very grateful that Tarana Burke and Fatima Goss Graves were right behind me—I’m bonded to women for life for all of the obvious reasons—and Congresswoman [Carolyn] Maloney, who’s a dear friend. It was just… It was nauseating. I don’t know how else to convey the physical feeling that was in my body all day—being a survivor, being someone that can look at what’s happening right now and say, “You f—ing idiots, this is exactly why on, a grand scale, women don’t report sexual assault.” This is exactly our worst nightmare coming true.
As a survivor of sexual assault yourself, was there any moment that particularly resonated with you?
The thing that struck me the most was the little details that she remembered of that day, because we, survivors, all have our own moments that we will never forget. You know, how she remembered the stairwell and hearing the banging; how she remembered wearing a one-piece bathing suit that day because of diving practice. All of those little details were the most striking for me, because there are moments about my sexual assaults that I remember really clearly—that I think will always be imprinted in my mind, body, and soul.
I could see you throughout the entire hearing, and even Kellyanne Conway tweeted about how you were right in front of the camera. What was it like to be watched the entire time you were thinking about this? Were you struggling to maintain your composure?
Here’s the thing: I feel like there’s a time and place for protest and rally, but I felt it was important to be respectful and let our elected officials do their jobs and hope for the best outcome. Still, it was very difficult for me to keep that composure—I’ve had some friends send me screenshots of me laughing and rolling my eyes. [Laughs.] But I did the best that I could under those circumstances.
At what point in the hearing was your phone confiscated?
It actually wasn’t—I don’t know where that came from. I had a warning for taking a video, but that was it. The only thing that happened when I took out my clipboard, I had a “Believe Women” poster on it from the day before, which I’d totally forgotten was there, and I was asked to remove that, along with asked not to take video. But both weren’t big deals at all—of course Twitter’s going to make something of everything.
I also saw some tweets criticizing you for the “revealing” way that you were dressed.
I know, how perfect was that? It just completely made the point of what we’ve fought against forever—that we should look a certain way to be in a certain place, and expect to be objectified.
What was the atmosphere like in the room when things finally came to a close?
I was lucky enough to be able to go meet Cory Booker’s chief of staff and give Cory Booker a hug and thank him for his respectful line of questioning for both Dr. Ford and Judge Kavanaugh; and that, to me, was a hopeful way to end the day. I’m very grateful that I was able to do that, because honestly, if I wasn’t able to thank him in that moment of total despair, I don’t know if I would have been able to go home and be okay.
What did you do after a day like that?
I went out with some friends and rewatched a lot of it. I have a friend that works on the Hill, and he said this was the worst day in his time on the Hill, and that’s what it felt like.
When you were rewatching it, was there anything that you think didn’t come across on-camera?
Correct me if I’m wrong, but during her testimony, you couldn’t see the senators, and that’s the part I’m bummed about, because the level of disengagement versus having to be engaged because the Democrats had to actually ask her questions and look her in the eye was truly startling.
Do you have any advice for women or survivors for how they might be able to cope?
Yes—wherever you are, within driving distance, there is a race going on right now. We get to actually vote to take back the House and the Senate. I would channel everything that you’re feeling, go volunteer, or, and phone bank—and you know, if you live in California but you’re from Tennessee, there’s no reason you can’t phone bank for the candidate running for governor in Tennessee. Be a part of the political process. It doesn’t work if we’re not involved. I think women throughout this country are really going to remember what the Republicans did yesterday and what they’re doing right now. We’re going to remember this moment, where the majority white men looked at their phones while a woman was telling her story of sexual assault.
Given their lack of attention, do you think that, in the end, her testimony made a difference?
I think it didn’t make a political difference, but a social difference. I think she gave millions of women throughout this country the strength to come forward and tell their stories, and that’s really special.
You’ve spoken before about how much Anita Hill’s hearing shaped you. Did you find this to be on a similar level?
We’re in such a different time right now, so I think it’s a lot more jarring because there’s a level of transparency with our politicians—it’s hard for them to be protected and sheltered and puppeteered. For me, it feels a lot more corrupt. And for me then, it felt like an awakening of the way in which any woman from anywhere with any job could be treated. Right now, I feel a political darkness, and it’s very hard for me to cut through to see the light, which is very unlike me—very unlike me.
What do you honestly think will be the outcome of all of this?
I think he’s going to get confirmed, and I think we’re going to take back the House and the Senate. And I’m going to lobby and try my hardest to get Democrats to put up policy for Kavanaugh’s impeachment. It’s an emotional time—it really is. I think women are scared to death—we’re watching them strip away our rights, and we just have to keep fighting.
I hope you’re hanging in there.
I am. And if I’m not, trust me: Everyone will know. [Laughs.] I’m not shy about it.
The Surreal Kavanaugh Hearing, Summed Up in 25 Photos
The image of Dr. Christine Blasey Ford being sworn in to the Senate Judiciary Committee, shortly before she told those assembled that she was “terrified” and “did not want to be” there but felt it was her “civic duty,” was later widely shared by those praising Dr. Blasey for her bravery in testifying.
Whereas Anita Hill’s hearing took place in a large ceremonial chamber, Dr. Ford’s was in what the Washington Post described as a “smaller, more utilitarian committee room with little space for spectators or journalists”—not to mention the two stadium spotlights that shone directly on Dr. Blasey when she spoke, which reporter Jodi Kantor said gave off the “overwhelming feeling of being under inspection.”
During her brief breaks, Dr. Blasey was constantly outnumbered.
After a fair amount of grilling in the spotlight, Senator Mazie Hirono at one point reminded Dr. Ford and the room at large, “this is not a criminal proceeding. This is a confirmation hearing.”
Those words apparently did not fall upon the ears of Brett Kavanaugh, who did not watch Dr. Blasey’s testimony. Instead, he was preparing for his own—and sending a clear message by arriving holding hands with his wife, Ashley.
The Senate Judiciary Committee Republicans enlisted Rachel Mitchell as their counsel so that a woman would be the one doing the questioning—which resulted in Dr. Blasey being confronted by a crowd of male senators while a woman interrogated her on the specific radius of the country club in the Washington, D.C. suburbs where she said she was swimming earlier on the day of the alleged assault.
With Dr. Blasey’s testimony out of the way, Kavanaugh was ready to tune in. Look how tiny the room was.
It wasn’t long before Kavanaugh, like Dr. Blasey, was in tears. In his case, though, it wasn’t due to recounting memories of an alleged life-changing sexual assault; Kavanaugh, who also described going to church as being as “automatic” for him as brushing his teeth, was instead recalling how his 10-year-old daughter, “little Liza,” had said that their family “should pray for the woman”—meaning Dr. Blasey—the night before.
After getting even more emotional over the course of a long description of his father’s decades-long tradition of keeping a calendar—a word that he said no less than 19 times during his statement alone—Kavanaugh made an effort to perform-stifle his constant perform-sniffling.
Kavanaugh’s parents’ tears and loving looks at their son confirmed that, yes, a love of calendars indeed runs deep in the family.
Kavanaugh eventually had to put an end to his monologue, so that he could then interrupt every single person who spoke after him.
The hearing then briefly transformed into a real-time documentary of a white, privileged man coming to the life-shattering realization that, perhaps for the first time ever, there wasn’t a guarantee that he’d get what he wants.
Get ready for a lot more of this face.
Too bad for Kavanaugh that these Senate-branded ultramini kegs were not full of beer.
“Where’s the beer?”
Dear Alyssa Milano, does the back of his head look as dumb as the front?
Ted Cruz, perhaps realizing he has met his match in the dour face competition.
As the pressure mounted, Kavanaugh returned to his other love: calendars.
“No, you’re being childish.”
On the other hand, the possibility exists that this is simply Kavanaugh’s resting face.
When it was his turn, Senator Lindsey Graham knew exactly how to make it clear to Kavanaugh that he was among friends.
And since Kavanaugh had been wildly gesticulating…
…Graham made sure to air his own ranting and raving, too, passionately declaring the hearing to be “the most unethical sham since [he has] been in politics.”
Meanwhile, as men continued to wave their hands wildly, Senator Kamala Harris was coming to the realization that she would have to ask Kavanaugh a question as simple as “Do you think it is possible for men to be both friends with some women and treat other women badly?” (And that even a question that simple wouldn’t yield a response.)
Nevertheless, he persisted.
Related: How Twitter Reacted to Brett Kavanaugh’s Senate Judiciary Committee Hearing