As the hearing has unfolded today at the Senate Judiciary Committee with Dr. Christine Blasey Ford testifying that she is “one hundred percent” certain that Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her in high school, the response from many women to the systematic gaslighting of the professor and research psychologist has been frustration, anger, even reliving trauma. Despite the 27 years that have passed since the Anita Hill hearings and the more recent successes of the #MeToo movement, many see this as evidence that nothing has changed — that any woman who reports sexual assault will be dismissed, impugned, and degraded.
And it’s not just men doing the dismissing. A group of Republican women who recently stepped forward to dismiss Ford’s claims reinforced this as well — claiming alternately that she was unreliable, jealous, and even if the violent assault she described happened, that this is normal, everyday behavior for young men. “Tell me what boy hasn’t done this in high school,” said one. “Please, I would like to know.”
In the midst of this swirling tempest of misogyny, both internalized and regular flavor, another voice emerged to minimize Ford’s heartbreaking testimony: Rachel Butera, the voice actress for General Leia in the upcoming animated television series Star Wars: Resistance. In a now-deleted tweet, Butera posted a video where she repeatedly mocks Ford’s voice during the professor’s testimony.
“This is how I sound,” Butera imitates in a high pitch. “I know it’s a surprise to even me that I talk this way and I’m a doctor and a grown woman. I sound like I’m still back at that high school party. I can’t help it. I just have this kind of a voice, like a baby, even though I’m a doctor and I’m on this media circus political stage and I have kids myself. I don’t know why I speak with vocal fry. But you can listen to my testimony and hear that a grown woman sounds this way.”
It’s stunningly insensitive: attacking a woman testifying about an alleged sexual assault as her voice breaks with emotion while describing traumatic events that she says “drastically altered my life” and “have been seared into my memory.” If she were still alive, it would almost surely have infuriated original Leia actress Carrie Fisher, an ardent feminist who spoke loudly and often about the importance of valuing the ideas of women over more superficial qualities.
It’s also a familiar avenue of sexist criticism. Just ask nearly any woman who has worked on the radio or a podcast how routinely they are criticized not for the substance of their work, but for the tone of their voices. Again and again, they are told that vocal qualities and tics like higher pitch, upspeak, and vocal fry — which are usually associated with women — are worthy of condescension and invalidating to the speaker. Which is to say what Butera says in her video: the more stereotypically female you sound, the less credible and worthy of respect you are.
There have been many bizarre attempts to invalidate Ford, including questions that implied she might be unreliable and untrustworthy because she had to overcome a fear of flying in order to travel to Washington, DC. Mocking and infantilizing Ford simply because her voice was high-pitched and quavering while describing an alleged sexual assault is further evidence of how deeply entrenched sexism is in our culture, particularly when it comes to believing women.
While this type of critique is most often directed at younger women by older men, the video by Butera (who has since locked her Twitter account) proves exactly what that group of Republican women proved when they dismissed Ford: that while men may lead the way when it comes to reinforcing sexism, women are plenty capable of it, too.
By Laura Hudson