Kavanaugh, Consent, And Why What Happens in High School Can’t Stay There

Today, the nation watched as two adults explained their teenage experience with sexual assault. The woman, Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, was clearly scared but in control of her emotions. She revealed her soul, trauma, and hippocampus to us all, declaring that she was “100%” certain who attacked her, remembering the sound of his laughter. The man, Judge Brett Kavanaugh was irate, fuming, and breaking down into tears. He categorically denied every charge made against him whether it was sexual assault, binge drinking, or bragging about (perhaps fictional) sexual exploits. He did not display a sound understanding of consent.

There’s a lot of conversation around consent these days. Kavanaugh is hardly the only one who seems confused about it. We teach it in schools, we pass new legal definitions for it, we include it in college orientations. But the truth is, the vast majority of people understand what consent is on a gut level. One in three women may be victims of sexual violence but that doesn’t mean that one in three men are sexual predators. No, studies show that what we have are a few men who habitually abuse women and culture, institutions, and systems that protect those men. Brett Kavanaugh appears to be one of “those men.”

Dr. Christine Blasey Ford isn’t the only woman to come forward. It appears Judge Kavanaugh had quite the track record as a young man of ignoring women’s boundaries. I want to believe that people can change. That what you did in the past doesn’t have to define who you are now. That no matter how terrible the sin, a person can change and overcome it. The thing with growth, though, is that it doesn’t happen automatically. It is hard. And that’s why I don’t buy the whole “youthful indiscretions” line when it comes to Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh. Why you cannot explain away the charges leveled against him with “that was the time.”

Yes, high school and college were a long time ago for Judge Kavanaugh who graduated from Yale undergrad in 1987, 30+ years ago. Hopefully, he’s not the same guy he was then. Hopefully, he’s learned and grown in important ways. Unfortunately, he doesn’t seem to have found respect for women, our voices, or bodily autonomy. He’s calling his accusers liars, categorically denying their claims along with those from classmates with corroborating accounts. He interrupted, condescended, and was so rude to the women Senators questioning him that he had to apologize. He certainly doesn’t believe in the right to choose. He commended Judge Rehnquist’s dissent in the landmark Roe v. Wade case. He did everything he could to keep an immigrant girl in state custody from obtaining an abortion. This isn’t the behavior of a guy who made a mistake (or two or three or four or five) when he was young and has since changed. If that were the case, he’d own the “mistake,” apologize for his actions (yes, to the American people he served as a federal judge, but more importantly, directly to the women he victimized), and try to make amends.

Today Judge Kavanaugh said his life and career had been ruined but that hardly seems the case. He is still a federal judge, his family appears to be sticking by him as does the Republican establishment. A ding to your reputation is hardly a fair punishment for sexual assault. These are crimes we are talking about with jail time attached. Just ask Bill Cosby. But if no one’s prosecuting, I’d take him signing up for a batterer’s intervention class, hefty donations to whatever charities Dr. Christine Blasey Ford picks, and some form of public penance like providing free legal services to organizations that help survivors of abuse.

Of course, Judge Kavanaugh isn’t going to do anything like that. He isn’t taking responsibility at all. Instead, he and his supporters are acting like he’s owed a spot on the Supreme Court. That these credible claims should be ignored, that the women are liars or pawns of political operatives (or both), and that the alleged crimes are irrelevant anyway.

I disagree. In my book, believing that women have the fundamental right to control our own bodies is a prerequisite to serving on the Supreme Court of the United States. Really it ought to be required of all public officials — women are more than half the “public” so if you don’t agree that our basic rights should be protected, you can’t serve us, the “public.” And that’s what makes Kavanaugh so different from say NFL quarterback Ben Roethlisberger or comedian Louis CK. Like Kavanaugh, these guys hold prominent positions, jobs that are a privilege and make them role models to some. Also like Kavanaugh, they have been accused of sexual assault and have faced no jail time. Yet, they aren’t making decisions that affect the laws of our nation, that determine how the “public” interacts with the state, that shape our very citizenry.

You see, in “public” opinion (there’s that word again), things like the right to choose are settled law. The majority of Americans believe abortion should be legal. More Americans disapprove of Brett Kavanaugh than support him — a first for a judicial nominee. Judge Brett Kavanaugh should withdraw his nomination.

Professional feminist. Amateur woman, Chicana, mother, partner.

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