Photograph by Saul Loeb / Bloomberg / Getty

Brett Kavanaugh’s Straight, White, Male Fragility Has No Place in the Supreme Court

The quickest way to a man’s tears and rage? Threaten his privilege.

Toxic masculinity has ingrained in all of us that men are not supposed to show vulnerability or emotion. They’re supposed to “suck it up and be a man” — “be strong.” And — be warned — they’re not supposed to be made uncomfortable or unhappy. So when one encounters male tears, the internalized framework based on a misogynistic, patriarchal society causes automatic reactions of pity and concern— as displayed vehemently by Republican Senators. As widely noted, this reaction is strikingly different than the “too much” women get when showing emotion. We’d be reading very different headlines had Dr. Christine Blasey Ford showed the escalated emotion that Brett Kavanaugh did.

And that’s how privilege works. Privilege is not having to suppress your feelings. Privilege is being able to show rage.

The emotion we saw from Kavanaugh was not simply moments of tears related to how this has influenced his family. We saw interrupting, rage, his face turning red, continuous avoidance of using “yes” or “no” to answer questions, and sarcastic and condescending comments (“ Senator, what do you like to drink?”). The behavior today was indicative of defensiveness. Not distraught.

What’s missing in our conversations is that we’re watching a man with the lottery of privilege — high-income, able-bodied, straight, white and male — react to his privilege being challenged. Perhaps for once he is being confronted and held accountable for his actions without reliable protection of his privilege and “the boy’s club.”

This reminds me of Robin DiAngelo’s concept of “white fragility.” She defines white fragility as:

a state in which even a minimum amount of racial stress becomes intolerable, triggering a range of defensive moves. These moves include the outward display of emotions such as anger, fear, and guilt, and behaviors such as argumentation, silence, and leaving the stress-inducing situation. These behaviors, in turn, function to reinstate white racial equilibrium…
Those who lead whites in discussions of race may find the discourse of selfdefense familiar. Via this discourse, whites position themselves as victimized, slammed, blamed, attacked, and being used as “punching bag[s].

Kavanaugh is, indeed, facing stress related to his gender and abuse of power. And he has indeed painted himself as a victim. Is it because his identity of entitlement and the entitlement he’s felt towards women is finally being questioned? He’s cornered, with his life on the line, like so many underprivileged Americans — especially women — find themselves, through a system (except for them it’s rigged), every day.

As often in examples of white fragility and making a remark of having friends of color — he has named and pointed to all of the times in which he was kind, liked and spoken highly of by women. He simply doesn’t get it. And the worry is that the Republican Senators, protecting their own fragility, will not get it either.

My hope is that Senators will see the parallels between this dynamic and the one between Trump and Hillary before they give another misogynist a lifelong appointment. You may remember how Trump’s “nasty woman” comment came as he got “increasingly angry over the course of the debates.” His temperament, in contrast to Hillary’s levelheadedness (you know — that exhausting balancing act women are forced to maintain in order to be heard), and his own fragility are part of what makes him so terrible for our country.

Being on the Supreme Court is a lifetime privilege — one that’s actually earned. It is an appointment for administering justice. Not only do I believe Dr. Ford but Brett Kavanaugh’s defensiveness and emotion appear to be deeply rooted in multi-privileged fragility. If someone has not unpacked their own privilege, they simply can not unpack justice, fairness and equity. Hopefully, for the first time, Kavanaugh will see that he is not entitled to this privilege — because he doesn’t deserve it.