It was the laughing, she said, that she couldn’t forget. Christine Blasey Ford, in testimony lauded on both sides of the political aisle as credible and moving, told the Senate Judiciary Committee on September 27 that the amusement of her tormentors was the most lasting memory of the sexual attack she alleges Brett Kavanaugh committed in 1982.
“They were laughing with each other,” she said through tears, “two friends having a really good time with one another.”
A cruel irony of sexual assault and harassment is that the traumas which frequently determine the trajectory of women’s lives are just as often unremarkable to the men who have inflicted them.
This is why, I suspect, these men become so shocked and enraged when they’re asked to answer for their actions: When they say “nothing happened,” it’s not just a denial — it’s that they truly believe the incident was not a big deal.
Incredulous male rage has snowballed recently, rolling alongside the #MeToo movement at a steady pace and picking up steam over the last month. Men accused of being abusers are demanding back their coveted spots as comedians, writers, radio hosts and more. How dare women take them away to begin with!
Yesterday, Kavanaugh was the face of that backlash — an avatar for entitled, white male rage in the U.S. Angry, sputtering, petulant — the judge could barely contain his fury over being expected to answer for himself. As Slate’s Lili Loofbourow put it: “This person does not seem to have a lot of experience coping with not getting what he wants.”
Instead of responding to questions directly, Kavanaugh repeated his professional and academic bonafides as if his elite background was proof of good character. When Senator Sheldon Whitehouse asked the judge about references in his high school yearbook about drinking to the point of vomiting, Kavanaugh responded, “I was at the top of my class academically.”
“Captain of the varsity basketball team,” he continued. “Got in Yale College. When I got into Yale College, got into Yale Law School.”
Don’t you know who I am?
When Sen. Amy Klobuchar — who prefaced her questions with anecdote about her own father’s alcoholism — asked Kavanaugh if he had ever blacked out, the judge snapped, “Have you?” Even after she repeated the question, once again Kavanaugh sneered: “I’m curious if you have.”
Alexandra Schwartz at the New Yorker called this behavior “a model of American conservative masculinity…directly tied to the loutish, aggressive frat-boy persona that Kavanaugh is purportedly seeking to dissociate himself from.”
And, as is often the case with frat boys, Kavanaugh’s brothers had his back. One after another, the male Senators gave emotional apologies to the judge for even having to be there, bemoaning the loss of his life and reputation. Like Kavanaugh, they were appalled that the judge was expected to explain himself.
As if the possibility of him not ascending to the Supreme Court — and just continuing to serve on the second most important court in the country — would be a travesty. As if Kavanaugh was owed a smooth, unquestioned, path to whatever he wanted.
And with that, the hearing stopped being about Blasey Ford’s experience or even Kavanaugh’s fitness for the job, and instead became a stage for broader and bitter male resentment — furious over the seemingly new expectation of accountability, and raging over not immediately being given what was promised to them.
That Blasey Ford was so accommodating and kind throughout the day — repeating multiple times that she just wanted to be helpful — only drove home this feeling: Even as women calmly and expertly explain the ways in which men have hurt us, our pain is immediately drowned out and glossed over by men’s belief that they should not have to answer to us, of all people.
My optimistic side would like to think that yesterday was the last loud gasp of a dying patriarchy, an astounded sexist minority trying its best to rebel against an emerging feminist majority. The less hopeful part of me, though — the part that still thinks quite a lot about America’s history of choosing poorly between a measured, informed woman and a belligerent, snapping man — is worried that Kavanaugh, and the men like him, will still be laughing in the end.