Recently, talking to a panel of five influential Republican women, CNN reporter Randi Kaye elicited a tidy list of reasons why they believed Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh hadn’t done anything wrong; why Christine Blasey Ford, who has accused him of sexual assault, must surely be lying or trying to ruin him; and, simultaneously, why even if she were telling the truth, it wouldn’t be a big deal. In under three minutes, the panel’s participants delivered a comprehensive and common litany of rationalizations for assault, battery, clothes-ripping, pussy-grabbing, and broad acts of misogyny among some of the most privileged males of our species.
These arguments are specious. I have condensed them into 10 talking points, followed by some well-worn responses that I had the foresight to store in a time machine some 27 years ago, when Clarence Thomas was questioned over Anita Hill’s accusations of sexual harassment.
1. ”Look at all the good stuff he’s done; he’s an altar boy and a scout.” Many people who do good stuff also commit terrible wrongs; the question is whether the accused did what his accuser said he did. Have we learned nothing from Larry Nassar and Jerry Sandusky, both of whom were popular sports figures and child molesters at the same time? When actions in one sphere, or appearances like beauty or class or race or the number of advanced degrees, become ciphers for embodied goodness or badness, we are in the slippery realm of profiling and prejudice.
2. ”She’s the only one coming forward. If he’d really done it, there would be others.” How many do there have to be? A second woman, Deborah Ramirez, now says Kavanaugh thrust his penis in her face during their time at Yale. But the point is not whether Kavanaugh did another thing at some other time and place. The idea that assault doesn’t count unless it comes in multiples is logic akin to a dog being granted “one free bite.” As the woman who was raped by Stanford University student Brock Turner wrote: “We should not create a culture that suggests [rapists] learn that rape is wrong through trial and error.” Nor should we forget the lessons of Anita Hill’s experience: It is very hard for witnesses to come forward and present themselves publicly—and even globally—to discuss such intimate and humiliating experiences.
3. ”It was 36 years ago. After so much time, she’s still stuck on that?” Funny that, how trauma and PTSD linger so annoyingly, long after the party’s over…
4. ”It wasn’t intercourse; it was just a touch.” Ms. Blasey Ford did not allege that she was penetrated. She alleged attempted intercourse—attempted rape by any other name. The common-law definition of battery is harmful or offensive nonconsensual contact with another’s person. Surely Blasey Ford’s allegations constitute “just a touch” of that.
5. ”What boy hasn’t done this in high school? You can’t judge a man’s character based on what he did at 17!” Many boys endure surges of testosterone; most retire to their bedrooms, rather than assaulting girls, to relieve themselves. And while, as a legal matter, the lack of a fully developed frontal cortex may indeed mitigate some punishments, it doesn’t excuse a person’s actions outright. It is simply not true that every high-school boy does what Kavanaugh is alleged to have done; nor is every wayward teenager the beneficiary of such “boys will be boys” excuses for their bad behavior. When the probation officer in Turner’s case cited his having had to give up a “hard-earned swimming scholarship” as a reason for mitigation, his victim’s response was apt: “If I had been sexually assaulted by an unathletic guy from a community college, what would his sentence be?”
6. ”The allegations against Brett Kavanaugh are ‘destroying his life.’” It hovers somewhere between privileged arrogance and outright gangsterism to assert that allegations of urgent public interest shouldn’t be put forward if the other party will lose face. If we are to have deliberative fact-finding bodies as part of our governance, it is both cynical and corrosive to dismiss those processes out of hand as “lynchings,” “witch hunts,” or “mob rule.”
7. ”If it were true, she would have said something sooner.” There are many reasons that victims of sexual assault find it difficult to speak, not just “sooner” but at all. Indeed, the very power of #MeToo is precisely the accumulation of narratives whose telling provides courage as well as corroboration, and without which individual stories might never be connected to others in bringing about broader notions of justice.
8. ”Maybe she liked him. Maybe he didn’t pay attention to her afterward. Maybe he went out with another girl and she got jealous.” For those who were born after the Hill-Thomas hearings, it’s worth going back and listening to the transcripts—in particular, the incredible rant from John Doggett III, a Texas lawyer who pilloried Hill as a lonely, pining, spinsterish “erotomaniac.” When Senator Orrin Hatch recently said that he believed Blasey Ford was “mixed up,” all I could think of were his own prior descriptions of Hill as jealous and demented.
9. ”An investigation wouldn’t help because it doesn’t matter what anyone else has to say.” This is a particularly cynical form of closed-mindedness, a seeming commitment to a framing of “he said/she said” even when testimonial, forensic, or other kinds of evidence might be brought to bear. It’s an ultra-libertarian way of saying “I don’t care,” a doctrinally rigid manner of asserting “My mind is already made up.”
10. ”Who are we to judge?” Who, indeed. “We” are “the people.” And in the present circumstance, it is precisely our democratic duty, and that of our elected representatives, to hold to the highest account—to judge—those who would judge us.