I expected blowback for my post on Brett Kavanaugh, and I got buckets of it. But I knew I was courting trouble, arguing that Kavanaugh's alleged behavior as a drunken teenager in the early 1980s shouldn't automatically disqualify him for the U.S. Supreme Court.
What I didn't expect, however, was how much the negative/positive reaction would be divided along gender lines. Many women took strong issue with my post. Here's a sampling:
- You just excused his alleged behavior through rape-culture stereotype excuses . . . Shame on you!
- I have followed your column for years. I find this one abhorrent.
- You are tone deaf about sexual harassment.
- Your article is exactly why girls and women don't speak up about their situations like this.
I don’t agree with those assessments. What I tried to do was to look at Kavanaugh’s alleged behavior in context. I wrote: “Not only were Kavanaugh and his friend feckless teenagers, but they were apparently drunk out of their minds.” Those are stabs at understanding his alleged behavior, not excuses.
Several women wrote me lengthy, anguished emails, accusing me of minimizing the pain of Christine Blasey Ford, the woman who accused Kavanaugh of attempted rape, and siding with Kavanaugh’s supporters. One woman went so far as to suggest that I excused “attempted rape and murder—as long as you are 17 and rich.”
Quite a number of women—and one male reader—said that Kavanaugh’s accused crime aligns with his position on abortion. One reader told me: “Kavanaugh’s behavior at 17 was a symptom of the toxic masculinity and privilege that underpins his political views about controlling women’s bodies.”
Others sent me obscenity-laced personal attacks—though I was impressed that most attached their names to the message.
By noon of the day the post went up, I admit I was feeling besieged. Am I not empathetic enough to women who’ve been assaulted? Am I falling under the Kavanaugh’s spell, becoming one of his fawning groupies? Am I morphing into Sarah Huckabee Sanders? Should I apply for a job at Fox News?
Adding to the confusion was the starkly different view of my male readers. They used words like “spot-on” and “balanced” to describe my post. Another typical comment from men: “Doing stupid thing as a teenager shouldn’t disqualify a person for the Supreme Court . . . and reflecting on that behavior when older, can result in an adult person of character who can credibly serve their country.”
It took a while, but gradually emails from women who shared my view trickled in. One woman wrote to me: “I am troubled both by the bad behavior of many men and the extreme pendulum shift that now requires women to immediately jump on a #MeToo movement and immediately condemn every act brought forward by an accuser.” Though she said she believed Ford, she added: “I worry that younger women see these situations only in black and white and as a ‘cause’ that they must join such that any accusation = guilt regardless of investigation.”
What's clear is that we are living in a time when issues about sexual assault are cast in the starkest terms, as if questioning a woman’s victimhood is a betrayal of equal rights. Am I a traitor to the cause because I question whether there’s a clear red line between groping and attempted rape? I think when it comes to teenage sexuality, especially in the ancient 1980s, there’s plenty of ambiguity.
But let me make one thing clear: I am not here to give succor to Kavanaugh’s supporters. I don’t believe for one minute he’s honest and open-minded. I’m tired of his earnest Boy Scout persona, when it’s pretty clear he was a hard-drinking, hard-partying privileged prepster in his youth. (And let’s not get into his weird gambling debts.)
Some male readers expressed concern about how difficult it must be for Kavanaugh to have to explain the allegations to his daughters. I don’t share those concerns, because on that scale, Ford’s trauma outweighs Kavanaugh’s current moment of shame.
Which brings us to the much-anticipated testimony of both Kavanaugh and Ford on these issues. It’s critical that both the accused and the accuser be heard, though it’s unlikely to solve what exactly happened that summer evening in 1982.
“If Ford has PTSD now, after a stale/male/pale judiciary committee of only men get through with her, she would have PTSD in spades,” says Mercedes Meyer, a partner at Drinker Biddle & Reath in Washington, D.C.
Think we’re polarized now? It’s just the beginning.