A disturbing number of Republicans have taken to defending Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh against Christine Blasey Ford’s allegation of sexual assault by normalizing sexual aggression among teenage boys — essentially arguing that because so many men and boys do it, attempted rape is no big deal.
As Jia Tolentino noted in The New Yorker, the situation has laid bare a previously unspoken element of American society: “that it has traditionally been accepted for men to sexually assault women, particularly at parties, particularly when they’re young.”
> These defenders think that the seventeen-year-old Kavanaugh could easily, as Ford alleges, have gotten wasted at a party, pushed a younger girl into a bedroom, pinned her on a bed, and tried to pull off her clothes while covering her mouth to keep her from screaming.
> They think this, they say, because they know that plenty of men and boys do things like this. On these points, they are in perfect agreement with the women who have defined the #MeToo movement.
But it is in their conclusions the two groups diverge, and in such a manner that “seems almost deliberately petulant” on the part of Republicans:
> We now mostly accept that lots of men have committed sexual assault, but one part of the country is saying, “Yes, this is precisely the problem,” and the other part is saying, “Yes, that is why it would obviously be a non-issue to have one of these men on the Supreme Court.”
Tolentino notes several conservatives who have taken this stance in recent days:
> The people who appear willing to believe Ford include Rod Dreher, the American Conservative writer, who tweeted, “I do not understand why the loutish drunken behavior of a 17 year old high school boy has anything to tell us about the character of a 53 year old judge.”
> The former congressman Joe Walsh tweeted, “If stupid, bad, or drunken behavior as a minor back in high school were the standard, every male politician in Washington, DC would fail.”
> An anonymous lawyer close to the White House told Politico, “If somebody can be brought down by accusations like this, then you, me, every man certainly should be worried.”
> Bari Weiss, the Times opinion columnist, said, on MSNBC, that she believed Ford, and then asked, “What about the deeper, moral, cultural, like, the ethical question here? Let’s say he did this exactly as she said. Should the fact that a seventeen-year-old presumably very drunk kid did this—should this be disqualifying?”
> On Fox News, Ari Fleischer said, “How much in society should any of us be held liable today when we lived a good life, an upstanding life by all accounts, and then something that maybe is an arguable issue took place in high school? Should that deny us chances later in life?”
While these individuals might not be putting a stamp of approval on the type of behavior Kavanaugh is alleged to have exhibited, each one is granting this abuse a pass by defaulting to “hey, we’ve all been there.”
> But the fact that this behavior has been tacitly understood as permissible does not mean that people—even while young, even while drunk at parties—have understood it to be O.K. It’s true that our earliest sexual experiences tend to be messy and confusing, and that this is, to some degree, inevitable and natural.
> It’s also true that, even in the Reagan era, and even to a sloppy and inexperienced teen-ager, preventing someone from screaming in fear during a sexual encounter is a stunningly clear and universally recognized sign that something is wrong.
> Kavanaugh’s defenders are putting plainly a previously euphemized message: white and wealthy teen-age boys have the right to engage in criminal sexual cruelty as long as they later get a good job, start a family, and “settle down.”